From Ick to Aaaah - The Flavors of Earth

Chives Hieroglyhpics

Chives Hieroglyhpics

I interpret the chive-o-glyphics on my potato soup: "Where winter meets spring." After a lifetime of fighting against potatoes, and a sweet long stretch living with a pomme-o-phile, my resistance to the earthy-cellar smell and zero taste of potatoes is eroding. For one thing, potatoes keep from fall harvest through March (at least), and that earns my respect. I have to admit, too, after making this soup of my own free will (and stash of Elmwood Stock Farm potatoes), that it has potato flavor, quite a lot of it, and I like the flavor. That surprises me.

The people at the great Elmwood Stock Farm grow potatoes of a spudly beauty, wide variety, and - yes - full flavor in their certified organic soil. This year I realized how different their Russets (fluffy/dry and almost lemon-y) are from their yellow-Yukon types (creamy/moist, almost sweet), and how well the redskins accomplish that complex trick of crisping on the outside and melting on the inside when the skilled Potato Maven in my house fires up his big cast iron skillets and pours in the olive oil.

When I want adventure, Elmwood grows mysterious exotics, too -- strange fingerlings and the blues-all-the-way-through or reds-inside-and-out. Nearly a full rainbow just in potatoes alone.

As I made my soup with the flavorful Elmwood potatoes, class of 2008, topped with up-to-this-minute 2009 chives from the herb bed on the southeast side of our house, the scent reminded me of supper smells in the houses of my parents, aunts, and uncles. All of them liked potato soup as a quick, easy supper meal - and I never did. Maybe I wasn't old enough, until now, to appreciate the ancient flavors of potatoes cooked in milk and butter, with a bit of sprightly onion or other Allium like my fresh chives, seasoned with good shakes of salt and black pepper.

Elmwood's decades of dedicated care for their soil help our planet, certainly, and the planet in turn pours its rich flavors into Elmwood's certified organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chicken and eggs. How great is it that the best flavors come packaged in the foods that have the best upbringings? I believe it more as I experience it more: intrinsic flavor can be a guide to foods that grew in ways the earth can sustain.

Alice Waters -- not to utter fighting words -- said in an awkward 60 Minutes interview a few weeks ago that she did not start out to change the way we cook and grow food or shop for it. She started out in search of flavor. That led, eventually, to her pushing us all to grow good food ourselves, insist that our institutions grow good food, patronize our neighbors who grow what we cannot, and eat what is in season.

I keep flavor in mind as I note a recent batch of stories from the New York Times-- not to utter still more fighting words. As far as I can tell, we can save the earth and savor it at the same time.

Heritage beans -- not just an afterthought of a side dish anymore.

Mangalitsa Hungarian pigs -- as ugly as possible, and making a center-plate comeback.

And the most local of all -- home-grown -- does not have to be salted with much sweat if we take the 'Slow Gardening' path. As a handome/kind/wise guy friend notes, "I always wondered what Jeff 'the Dude' Lebowski's garden would look like." See for yourself in this story. And note this dude rates a nice gardening story in the Times without growing the first potato.

Bonus: The flavor of connection (I'm straining my framework here, and not for the first time) -- enhanced when we can contact the farmer who grew what we are eating.