Apart from a few days when we had friends visiting, the weather here in Würzburg has been absolutely lovely in the past few weeks. We’ve enjoyed warm, sunshine-filled days with trees, shrubs and flowers bursting into bloom and filling our lounge with the most heavenly summertime smells.
Although in the middle of reading a couple of other books (North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell through a free email subscription service called The Daily Lit and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie), I decided I wanted a third read that’s in tune with the season, so to speak. So I picked out Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life from my library. I have many good books that I bought before the move to Germany and I’ve been saving up.
Kingsolver is my favorite writer. I was introduced to her work on the Tibetan plateau in 1999.
Back in college, I did a three-month long study abroad program in India, Nepal and Tibet. During the course of our three-week camping trip through Tibet, I became ill and had to spend a couple of days in my tent waiting for whatever illness it was to pass. (You don’t exactly find a lot of medical clinics in the remote regions of Tibet.) A friend I made on the program gave me two books to read: The Notebook, by Nicolas Sparks (which I’ll admit to both really enjoying and crying like a baby at its conclusion) and Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. I had never heard of Barbara Kingsolver and had no idea what to expect, but what I discovered was my favorite author and to this day, still my favorite novel. When I learned that Kingsolver was a graduate of my alma mater, DePauw University, I felt an even deeper connection to her and her writing. DePauw is a small, private liberal arts college in a small town in the middle of Indiana. Not that many people have heard of it (no, you’re probably thinking of DePaul in Chicago), and even fewer have attended. So to me, it’s a special connection. From that point forward, I began devouring Kingsolver’s works. She recently wrote The Lacuna, which is also buried in my library waiting for the rainy day when I will pull it out and treat myself. Kingsolver is a brilliant but not terribly prolific writer; I’ve learned that I need to squirrel away her works to tide me over until the next fix.
Anyway, I pulled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life out of my library a couple of weeks ago and decided the time was right to start reading it. The book is, as Kingsolver puts it, “Part memoir, part journalistic investigation…The story of a year in which our family deliberately fed ourselves on products grown close to home, and what we learned from the experience.” I’ve come to this book already knowing in advance what its general themes would be, and embracing the ideology behind it: that the food we consume should primarily come from local sources and not moved long distances. Kingsolver is definitely a locavore, but she also believes in eating food that is produced as naturally and healthily as possible, too.
While the Mr. and I can’t grow all of our food for a year in our shared, small garden here in Germany, I can try to buy as much of my produce as possible from local farms at the farmer’s market. I can try to buy organic produce and humanely raised, organic meat. And if I’m not shopping at the Farmer’s Market, I can try to be knowledgable about where the produce I’m buying is coming from: Italy, a train ride away, or Argentina, where I’m guessing that however they’re shipping it, it’s using a heck of a lot more fossil fuel to get it here. It’s a small thing, checking a label and choosing something more local, but if we all did it more we could strengthen our communities and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
While the book is a compelling read all unto itself, I love the recipe sections at the end of each chapter. The book is written following the calendar year, progressing through each season, and the recipes correspond with what’s in season at that time of year. I’m reading slowly, so I’m still in the late spring/early summer season. Asparagus and strawberries are in season here in Germany at the moment, so we’ve been eating much of both. I decided I would like to try a dessert recipe with rhubarb as it’s also in season. I decided to make this strawberry rhubarb crisp from the book:
3 cups strawberries, halved
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup honey
Mix together thoroughly and place in an 8-by-8 inch ungreased pan
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar; or a bit more, to taste (which I now have, thanks to my wonderful friend Fenella!)
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice (which I didn’t have, so I threw in a pinch of nutmeg)
1/3 cup butter
Mix until crumbly, spread over fruit mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until golden
I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. It smells heavenly when it’s hot, a little like cotton candy. When we had it on the first night, I found it sometimes tasted a little bitter, depending on the bite. Rhubarb is a very bitter vegetable (it’s actually not a fruit at all), and strawberries can also be quite acidic sometimes, so given the qualities of these two I think it tasted much better on the second day after the honey had soaked in a bit more. When I make it next time, I think I might consider reducing the fruit a little and increasing the crumble bit. But even with the recipe as is, it didn’t last long!