The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many of our daily patterns, none the least of which are our eating habits. The infamous “freshman 15” has been supplanted by the “corona 20.” Sadly, this no longer refers to the number of beers consumed of an evening.
It was jarring to see empty shelves at the supermarket. We Americans are accustomed to an overabundance of everything. To us, a shortage means that we have only 10 kinds of artisanal coffee – organic, ultra-premium beans that were hand-raised by monks who have taken an oath of caffeine abstinence – to choose from instead of our usual 20.
It was also jarring when I went to our local megastore recently to discover that they were almost out of canning jars. It seems that the idea of growing and preserving your own food has become immensely popular during these unsettling times.
This has led to some creative gardening techniques. People are raising tomatoes in raised beds and are growing herbs in urns. In fact, my wife recently commented, “You have so much dirt in your ears, you could plant radishes in them!” Up until then, I hadn’t even considered this promising new alternative gardening strategy.
If you can believe our Facebook feed, many people are now crafting homemade goodies. Old recipes are being dug out and dusted off. Grandma might be gone, but she lives on in the form of her scrumptious herb-infused bacon-wrapped meatloaf, which is packed with enough yumminess to convert an entire village of vegans.
This recent back-to-the-land food fad bears echoes of my childhood. I’m old enough to remember the 1960s, when the so-called counterculture movement promoted simpler living and simpler foods. I found that idea to be somewhat confusing.
This was because our family lived on what was essentially a subsistence farm. We kept a large garden – I hope I never dig another potato – and ate the cattle and the hogs that we raised. What wasn’t consumed fresh was canned or frozen for future use. Mom baked bread daily for our family of 10. The mere idea of making a cake from a box of premix was considered a sacrilege.
Like most kids, we were influenced by what we saw on television. The folks on Madison Avenue imbued in us the idea that we should be eating Wonder Bread, so we began to beg our parents for the stuff. Never mind that Mom’s bread tasted better and was fresher and didn’t have the type of artificial preservatives whose names are impossible to pronounce and contain more letters than the Chinese alphabet.
You knew that Mom’s bread was good by the speed with which mold began to colonize it. Thousands of fun-loving fungi can’t be wrong.
It might seem like a bother to make food from scratch, but the end result can be delicious and rewarding. As a bonus, making one’s own food can involve multiple family members. There’s nothing like slaving over an ancient ancestral recipe to foster familial togetherness.
A good example of this for me would be lefse. For the uninitiated, lefse is a flexible, potato-based flatbread. Think of it as a Norwegian tortilla.
Lefse is commonly produced and consumed during the holiday season, although as far as I know, there’s no law regarding this. Lefse recipes vary widely, but they all start with potatoes and flour. Some lefse recipes call for cream, some for lard.
There can be a huge amount of variance regarding the taste and quality of lefse. I once purchased lefse at a store and found the stuff totally unpalatable, with a texture that made it a candidate for the shoe repair industry.
Mom made a point of teaching her five daughters how to make lefse. As soon as they became old enough, her grandkids were recruited for the lefse-making crew.
The best lefse is crafted from real potatoes. The mere thought of using potato flakes that came from a box is also a sacrilege.
I never helped much with making lefse. My contribution to the process were the potatoes that were dug from the garden, the cream that came from our small herd of Holsteins, and lard from the pigs whose wallowing activities had turned the hog lot into a facsimile of the lunar surface.
Rolling out lefse dough is an artform. Done properly, the lefse is as thin as Bible leaves. The end product is delicate and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Add a light kiss of butter, and you’re in culinary heaven.
Any lefse that I might attempt to make would be a total bust. On the other hand, maybe I could launch a new lineup of handcrafted ultra-premium edible COVID-19 face masks.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at workman.com/products/dear-county-agent-guy.
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