Articles in Tradition
Gastronomic confréries, or brotherhoods, have grown into one of the most active (and, because of their fantastic costumes) visible food movements on the Continent. France alone has 360 groups registered in the national association with additional outfits that have chosen not to join. Confréries have also sprung up all over Belgium, Spain and Portugal, with each chapter devoted to a particular dish, food product or beverage. Some, such as those promoting the culinary uses of the once-popular and now-overlooked dandelion, have as few as two members. Others boast several hundred. In all cases, the product or recipe to which each is devoted must speak to local history and terroir, making the movement particularly strong on the regional level.
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In May, for example, Charleville-Mezières, near the Belgian border of the French Ardennes and most famous as the birthplace of Arthur Rimbaud, hosted the 10th annual Festival International des Confréries des Ardennes. The event’s warmth and joviality, held in the magnificent brick-and-stone Place Ducale of 1606 (the twin to Paris’ more famous Place des Vosges), defies its most famous citizen’s allusions to the city as an infested backwater.
The festival began with a grand parade, syncopated by several marching bands, of more than 50 confréries wearing fanciful costumes, medallions and banners. The Brotherhood of the Amateurs of the Blood Sausage of Saint-Germainmont wore deep green cloaks trimmed in blood-sausage maroon. The Brotherhood of Amateurs of the Pigs’ Feet of Saint-Ménehould sported crimson and black trimmed with gold as one white-bearded member showed off a stuffed pig, while members of the Confrérie de la Cacasse à Cul Nu marched in potato-colored, monastic-inspired robes and carried a giant stew pot. Liège’s Confrérie Tchantchès, representing local beers as well as bouquettes, a beer-battered, raisin-infused variation on a crêpe, had an elaborate entourage that included Charlemagne and his guard as well as humble serving wenches.
French tradition of Medieval confréries reborn
These quasi-Medieval/Masonic outfits whimsically yet unmistakably point to the fact that the movement began as a revival of the ancient confréries, which started in the Middle Ages as religious brotherhoods but by the 12th century quickly expanded to include professional guilds.
The French Revolution of 1789 swept the guild system away and it remained dead until the Chaine des Rôtisseurs (the Roasters’ Chain) was revived in 1950. In the following decades, other ancient brotherhoods were resuscitated and new groups created, often in collaboration with local tourism offices or agricultural coops.
Although it encompasses well-known products such as Leffe Beer, the movement is overwhelmingly grassroots. It includes farmers, such as Maurice Massenavette, grand master of the Commanderie Cassis and Berry, who grows Berry-region lentils and who produces his own crème de cassis. However, many members have no professional affiliation to the food world at all.
Eric Schreiber, who works for an automobile company, and his wife Catherine, an administrator at a vocational high school, along with some friends in 2001 created a confrérie devoted to the Cacasse à Cul Nu, which roughly translates as “bare-assed potato stew.” The name is a humorous acknowledgment of the fact that one was too broke to add anything more substantial than bacon into the mix. If sausages or meat are added, the dish becomes a Cacasse culottée (in panties).
For the Schreibers, the dish recalled their grandmothers’ cooking and stories of wartime rationing. However, they date its origin to around 1740, when the cook of Gauthier, prince de Château Regnault in the town of Bogny sur Meuse proposed making him a fricassee of potatoes, a food only newly coming into use in Europe.
The prince, who purportedly sat on his commode at table and who suffered from a severe stutter, struggled to repeat: “fri … fri … frifri … fricaaa … cacasse … cacasse!” To this, his servant replied, “Not bad, Monseigneur! And in view of the so delicate position that you find yourself in, we will call it Cacasse à cul nu.”
Cheerful celebration of local specialties
Apocryphal or not, the story evokes the dish’s longstanding status as a regional favorite not least because of its naughty name. The confrérie devoted to it now boasts approximately 150 members.
One of their chief annual activities has been to assist in organizing Charleville’s International Festival, which brings together brotherhoods from both the Belgian and the French parts of the Ardennes. Groups from other French regions also participate.
This two-day food festival featured bountiful free samples and cooking demonstrations. Meals, served under a grand marquee at one end of the square, highlighted local specialties such as the Ardennes’ famed jambon sec and a bacon salad. With free Champagne, speeches and entertainment by the local chanteuse the event felt more like a village wedding. The confréries successfully brought together children, retirees and everyone in between to celebrate the regional cooking of the Ardennes.
La Cacasse à Cul Nu
By Violette Visentin, Daniel Schneider and Patrick Rostier, courtesy of the Confrérie de la Cacasse à Cul Nu, translated by Carolin Young
1 kilo (2.2 pounds) long, firm-fleshed potatoes
4 thick slices of lean bacon
2 onions, cut into rounds
4 tablespoons oil (or lard)
2 tablespoons flour
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
Parsley for garnish
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
1. In a casserole over medium heat, brown the bacon. As soon as the bacon is golden, remove it from the casserole and reserve. Add the oil and turn up the heat.
2. Brown the potatoes whole or cut in two, depending on their size. As soon as they are golden (not black) remove them from the casserole and reserve them on the side.
3. Add the onions and a bit of oil, and cook them over medium heat until they become translucent.
4. Add the flour and make a roux by scraping the bottom of the casserole well.
5. Return the potatoes to the casserole and add enough liquid to just cover the vegetables. Add a branch of thyme, a bay leaf, two or three cloves of garlic, salt and pepper.
6. Let it cook over low heat for about 45 minutes. Then put the bacon slices back into the casserole.
7. Just before serving, sprinkle the dish with fresh parsley and correct the seasoning.
The cacasse can be served with pork, sausages or chicken breasts cooked with the potatoes. It can be advantageously accompanied by a fresh salad.
Members of the Confrérie de la Cacasse à Cul Nu carry a giant pot through the Parade of the Confréries on May 4 in Charleville-Mezières. Credit: Carolin C. Young
Traditions of the ancient Greeks continue to echo through modern life, including food customs such as trahana. This combination of a grain and protein sustains modern Greek supermarket shoppers just as it did ancient travelers.
The temple of Delphi, where the ancient Greeks consulted their politically astute oracle, was once a month’s journey over land from Athens but can now be reached virtually overnight by boat through the Corinth Canal, provided the vessel is shallow and slender enough to slip between the narrow cliffs.
Delphi is no longer inaccessible but can be reached via the port of Itea by taking an hour’s coach ride with fellow tourists through a fertile valley with newly planted olive trees and almond trees. As the road rises into the mountains through pine trees with bee hives, snaking up near-vertical slopes in hairpin bends, the landscape becomes bleak and inhospitable, dotted with thorn bushes. It is dry as a desert, so it is impossible now to imagine the survival of any living thing, let alone a community of the size that occupied what are now the Delphic ruins.
The ruins are visible from a distance as planes of pale stone that reveal themselves, on closer inspection, as a vast stone pavement bordered by half-broken Corinthian columns. The semicircular amphitheater is perfectly angled toward the setting sun and a handful of semi-restored domestic buildings, all reached by a steep pathway heavily trodden by tourists’ feet.
There is a museum, of course, an elegant modern building in which rescued artifacts are displayed in cool white rooms. These include statues, fragments of bas-relief, drinking vessels, amphorae, domestic utensils and jewelry.
Eat like the ancients
In an anteroom, a line of screens displays information in Greek and Italian of the foodstuffs used by the temple-dwellers in the days of Homer. The medicinal plants available in region included lemon, bay, juniper, dianthus, unidentified wild fungi, opium poppy and disinfectant rosemary. There also was tilia, or lime-blossom, for soothing infusions. Hemp was grown for rope, genester for thread, and flax for cloth. Olives were pressed for oil and grapes, Vitis vinifera silvestris, for wine.
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Fruits enjoyed by the inhabitants were rose hips, quince and peaches. The little scarlet fruits of arbutus or strawberry trees were available, as were figs and pears, which were preserved in honey. There was also, on occasion, feasting on fresh meat from the temple offerings because the gods received the smoke and mortals consumed the substance.
More dependable protein, however, was goat’s or sheep’s milk consumed in the form of yogurt or cheese or conserved as a miniature grainfood, trahana. It is prepared by mixing wheat flour into a dough with some form of liquid, such as milk, yogurt or whey from the cheesemaking. It is then rolled or broken into little pieces and spread in the sun to dry.
Given the Delphic spring-water and a store cupboard full of trahana — protein and grain food in a single portable package — the Delphic community could survive without outside provisioning from one year to the next. This was an important consideration when the advice delivered by the oracle didn’t deliver as planned.
Sweet and savory versions of trahana are sold in most Greek grocery stores at home and abroad. Some households still prepare it in much the same spirit as Italians make their own pasta, because it’s good for you and you know what’s in it.
On Ithaca, the island that Ulysses called home, I watched trahana prepared in the old way, with a pestle and mortar for grinding the wheat and the cheesemaking whey used to bind the flour. The dough was then shaped into egg-sized balls turned daily till dry enough to crumble onto clean cotton sheets spread in the sun.
“A most convenient foodstuff,” said my informant, adding that if trahana is prepared in sufficient quantity, your family will never go hungry. Fishermen take it to sea in case they miss the evening tide. Travelers never leave home without it. Trahana, one might suppose, provisioned Agamemnon’s ships as they sailed to Troy to recapture runaway Helen.
1 pound flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1. Mix the eggs with your hand slowly into the flour and salt until you have a few pieces of very stiff dough. If you need more liquid, add a little water. If the mixture is too soft, add more flour. Leave the dough, covered with a cloth, to rest and dry out a little.
2. To use right away — perhaps as tiny dumplings to fortify a soup or as first food for a baby – grate the dough through the largest holes of a grater straight into the boiling liquid and they’ll take less than a minute to soften.
3. To dry trahana for storage, grate the dough onto a clean cloth over a roomy tray, allowing the gratings to fall loosely in a single layer like grains of barley. Leave them on the cloth for 2 to 3 days in a warm dry kitchen, tossing them lightly every now and again to keep the grains separate and allow them to dry evenly till they’re as hard as catapult pellets. Thereafter they can be stored in an airtight tin more or less forever.
To prepare dried trahana as porridge: Bring 1 pint milk and 1 pint water to the boil and stir in the above quantity of dried trahana. Simmer for 3 minutes or so, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Eat with honey and yogurt as a nourishing breakfast, or with grated cheese for supper.
To prepare as gratin: Toss the cooked trahana with butter or olive oil and spread in a heated gratin dish, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake in a hot oven — 450 F — for 10 minutes or till brown and bubbling.
To prepare as a risotto or pillau: Treat dried trahana exactly as you would grains of rice: fry them first with your chosen flavorings, then add the cooking liquid and simmer till soft.
Top illustration: The amphitheater at Delphi. Credit: Elisabeth Luard
Rice is a staple of the Malaysian diet. You can choose to have rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sadly, this habit has contributed to rising obesity cases in the country, according to the Malaysian Ministry of Health. But we Malaysians do love our rice.
One quintessential rice dish considered our darling, pride and joy is the humble nasi lemak.
“Nasi” (pronounced nah-see) in Malay means rice, and “lemak” (pronounced luh-mahk) is translated in the cooking context to mean enriched. In this case, it is enriched with coconut milk. In any other sense, “lemak” means fat. But to directly translate nasi lemak as “fat rice” would be linguistically wrong, gastronomically speaking.
Even expats living in Malaysia, in the west peninsular particularly, are more or less familiar with this rich, decadent dish, which is a staple in most local restaurants. It is hard not to love a nice, warm plate of nasi lemak. It would be like being in Italy and not having pizza or pasta.
Two important elements make up this dish: the rice, which is cooked in coconut milk with little shreds of ginger and lemongrass as well as screwpine (pandan in Malay) leaf thrown in for added fragrance, and the spicy sambal, a chili-based sauce that has either fried anchovies (ikan bilis in Malay) or prawns in it. As many would say, it’s all in the sauce, and this one packs a punch. The other essential condiments usually found in nasi lemak are sliced cucumbers, half a hard-boiled egg and roasted ground nuts. Nowadays, many variations of accompaniments are served with the dish, such as chicken, beef or prawn curry and even fried chicken.
The traditional way of packing nasi lemak is to wrap it in a banana tree leaf, as the leaf gives added fragrance. It is still sold as such throughout Peninsular Malaysia, but restaurants serve up a “modernized” version on a plate with all the trimmings.
One Australian expat I interviewed last year, Hugh Ujhazy, had this to say: “People think it’s a dollar’s worth of rice in a brown paper packet. For me, the rice and sambal has to be just right. I love it with coarse-cut onions, chili, ginger and garlic. The side of fried anchovies is also essential. I have yet to find the perfect nasi lemak,” he enthused.
Origins of nasi lemak remain unknown
Be it that we Malaysians have long claimed nasi lemak to be ours, the truth is no one really knows where it originates from because the practice of using coconut milk in rice is also common in countries like Thailand, Indonesia and India. While driving to work one day, I was lucky to catch an interview with a Malaysian heritage historian — a man named Najib Ariffin — on one of our radio channels, who happened to talk about the origins of the famous nasi lemak.
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Ariffin studies ethnic origins and relationships between cultures, focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. He said he has yet to come across any conclusive evidence on the origin of this dish. There is even a folklore story set in the historic state of Malacca (a couple of hours south of Kuala Lumpur) about a young village girl who, while helping her mother cook, accidentally spilled a cup of coconut milk in a pot of rice, much to the chagrin of her mother, who ended up actually liking the taste, hence the birth of nasi lemak.
The fact that Malaysia is a melting pot of different races — including Malays, Chinese and Indians — translates into our cuisine as well. “Malacca has its own Chinese version of nasi lemak which is judged on how they cook the sambal. Some like it a tad sweeter and some don’t,” he explains.
Some clues show nasi lemak, which is often consumed as a big breakfast meal, originated in the west coast of Malaysia, he said. The east coast, which is the most culturally conservative part of the country, has its own signature traditional rice dishes with prominent, distinct fish flavors. “The nasi lemak has not changed their fondness for their local dishes. It just adds on to the variety of rice dishes available there,” Ariffin added.
He goes on to say that back in the day, in an agrarian society, his grandparents would consume a healthy serving of nasi lemak for breakfast before heading out to the fields. “They really worked up a sweat as farmers so they needed a hearty meal in the morning. Eating nasi lemak kept them full because you have all the food groups covered — carbohydrates from the rice, oils from the sambal and protein from the anchovies.”
It is a pity nothing was recorded on paper back then. “I scoured old books, articles, libraries and even talked to some friends of my grandparents to find out about stories they heard. Let’s just say all the anecdotes died with them,” he concluded.
I love indulging in a hot packet of nasi lemak, but the best is always cooked by my own mother. She has graciously shared her recipe.
This recipe can be made in a rice cooker or stock pot. Make sure you simmer the rice on medium to low heat until cooked. You can cook the dish in your own kitchen, but you may need to substitute some ingredients if you can’t locate them in your area. Some Asian grocery stores might have them in stock.
2 cups white rice, rinsed and drained
2 ½ to 3 cups coconut milk, depending on your desired thickness
2 tablespoons cooking oil (to prevent rice from sticking)
One screwpine (pandan) leaf, or substitute with three bay leaves
1 stick of lemongrass, smashed
Pinch of salt to taste
2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, julienned
1. Wash the rice in a colander or pasta strainer until the water runs clear. Set aside.
2. In a rice cooker or pot, heat the oil on slow fire and add the coconut milk, lemongrass, leaves and salt. Add the rice.
3. When the rice is half cooked, add the ginger and close the lid until it is fully cooked.
This recipe calls for dried anchovies, which can be found in most Asian stores. If unavailable, medium-sized fresh prawns can be used.
2 cups dried chilies, seeded and soaked in water, boiled and blended (If unavailable, these can be replaced with 3 tablespoons of sweet paprika or cayenne pepper)
1 stick of lemongrass, smashed
4 tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup of shallots, ginger and garlic, puréed
2 tablespoons tamarind juice, plus enough water to make ½ cup (This can be substituted with 2 tablespoons of lime juice.)
3 cups of dried anchovies, washed, drained, dried and fried (If you are using fresh prawns, use the same measurement and wash and peel off the veins.)
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste
1. In a stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and add the lemongrass for two minutes.
2. Add the chili mix and stir until fragrant, followed by the shallots, ginger and garlic mix. Sweat it for about three minutes.
3. Mix in the tamarind or lime juice and simmer until everything is fragrant.
4. Toss in the anchovies or prawns and simmer until they are well coated or until the prawns are cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes.
5. Add the salt and sugar according to your preference.
Top photo: Nasi lemak. Credit: Aida Ahmad
Coorg (Kodagu) is a picturesque hill district along the verdant western Ghats Mountains in the state of Karnataka, South India, which is well known for its aromatic coffee, luscious oranges and fragrant spices. This landscape with steep hills, valleys and ravines with countless streams is home to forests of rosewood, teakwood, sandalwood and silver oak. In this setting, one entrepreneur is turning the region’s traditions of beekeeping and honey collecting into a global operation called Nectar Fresh honey.
Honey is an important part of the culture in Coorg, where bees are kept and honey is cultivated throughout the dense forests and on the many coffee plantations. At “A Cookery Year in Coorg,” Shalini Nanda Nagappa writes “at a Coorg child’s naming ceremony, a gold coin is dipped in honey, and touched to the infant’s lips, a symbolic wish and blessing for the child to live a life of sweetness and prosperity.”
Humble beginnings with a dream
In 2007, Chayaa Nanjappa, a young woman from Coorg, decided to leave her job in the hospitality industry to follow her dream of starting her own honey business. Her initial plan was to supply the purest quality honey from her hometown to the local markets in Bangalore.
To learn the ropes of the new business, she trained at the central Bee Research and Training Institute in Pune, Maharashtra. With a small loan from her mother and with the support of Khadi and Village Industries. she started her business Nectar Fresh honey in Bangalore.
Honey is collected directly from the source and filtered. It later undergoes moisture reduction and then again more filtration. It is then cooled and sent to settling tanks. Processed honey is meticulously tested for quality at the in-house laboratory. Initially the honey was processed and packaged for the pharmaceutical, ayurveda, and hospitality sectors. After serving solely as a supplier to other brands, Nectar Fresh began marketing honey and related products under its own label across India in 2007.
Three years later, Nanjappa relocated the flourishing business to Mysore. Kuppanda Rajappa, a well-known businessman of Coorg origin, with considerable experience in management of plantations and retail sector joined the company as partner. Nectar Fresh was initially sourcing honey only from Coorg. Today the company selectively sources raw honey from various honey-rich regions of India. The honey is collected from forests, certified apiaries, tribal societies and small farmers.
Growing Nectar Fresh honey’s export operation
Pure unadulterated Coorg honey is unique in flavor, aroma and color. These qualities vary depending on the nectar source, age and storage conditions of the honey. Honey extracted during different seasons and from various parts of Coorg carries the flavor of seasonal and regional flowers. Color ranges from dark to light amber: Pale honeys have a mild flavor, while the darker ones have more robust flavor.
Honey made primarily from the nectar of one type of flower is called mono-floral. They have high value in the market due to distinctive flavor. Darker honeys are used for large-scale commercial purposes while lighter honeys are marketed for direct consumption and demand a premium price over the darker counterparts. Most of Nectar Fresh honey is organic and the company also specializes in mono-floral honeys, including Coorg honey, eucalyptus honey, acacia honey, clover honey, mustard honey, sunflower honey, jamun honey, lychee honey and forest honey, which is sourced from dense forests where herbal plants known for their medicinal properties grow.
From the new processing plants in Mysore the company started marketing single-portion packs and 30-gram bottles under Nectar Fresh brand for sale in the hospitality industry. Soon Nectar fresh launched retail-portion package of jams and sauces. Nectar Fresh is one of the largest suppliers of bulk honey from south India, and today its products are exported through middlemen to United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and European Union markets. Recently Nectar Fresh met the stringent standards necessary for approval to export honey to Germany.
The company is awaiting the completion of a new processing plant with a much larger capacity, which would enable Nectar Fresh to produce even more honey. Another plant for processing fruit jams and tomato sauces and purées is expected to be operational by June. The company is in the process of introducing Nectar Fresh Coorg coffee. Plans are also in the works for marketing Coorg-grown pepper, cardamom and kokum.
Nanjappa is a member of the National Bee Board of India. From humble beginning of supplying quality honey to the local market, the company has evolved into one of the top five suppliers and exporter of bulk, raw honey as well as processed honey and the only one manufacturing different varieties of mono-floral honey.
Top photo: Nectar Fresh honey. Credit: Chayaa Nanjappa
The number of food stands at the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival in May at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, Calif., was a bit daunting because all the food looked wonderful and smelled even better. One of the longest lines was for the katmer, a baked flaky pastry stuffed with clotted cream, sugar, and pistachios. It was the line we got on.
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The festival is a celebration of all the cultures of Anatolia — Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish — all of which enjoy more or less the same food. There were historical displays, concerts and handicrafts. For me, though, the primary draw was the food court with its stunning display of foods, some of which I haven’t seen since I was last in Turkey and some I had never seen or tasted.
I was beginning to get impatient with the wait and the crowds around me when another couple waiting suggested that under no circumstances should I even consider quitting the line before I had the chance to eat katmer.
The chance to eat katmer is so rare, especially since this katmer was being made by the master katmer maker himself, Mehmet Özsimitci, of the Katmerci Zekeriya Usta in the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Özsimitci had flown in with pounds upon pounds of the best Antep pistachios, the best in the world they say. Mine line mates said they didn’t know of anyone in the United States who was making or even could make katmer, so it was truly a special food.
As our interminable line got closer and closer to the katmer, I began to marvel at the mastery and artistry of Özsimitci’s skill. My first thought, which was confirmed by my newfound Turkish interlocutors, was that this is really tricky to do. He flattened a ball of dough on a greased marble slab and then rolled it out until thin. Then, as if it weren’t thin enough, which it wasn’t, he lifted and flipped and spun the dough repeatedly until it was ultra-thin before letting it land on the slab again to receive its stuffing.
He stretched the dough further and secured its sides to the slab by patting them down and then with his hands sprinkled the clotted cream on top and spooned sugar and ground pistachios on top of that. Then, carefully, he folded the sides of the pastry inward to cover the stuffing, forming a square pastry that he then picked up in one deft motion and placed on the baking tray, which his assistant then placed in the oven.
Katmer is usually eaten as a breakfast item, and it will give one enough energy until dinnertime. They say it is best when eaten hot, and it was. We devoured it while realizing we would have to wait for the next Anatolian Food Festival in two years time before having another one.
Top photo: Mehmet Özsimitci making katmer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Coffee growers are in crisis. According to Kew Gardens, Arabica coffee falls into the vulnerable extinction risk category, though some suggest a rating of endangered is more apt because of the rapid deforestation in Ethiopia. Further deforestation in other Arabica coffee-growing regions and climate change compound the emergency. In short, once Arabica left its place of origin and source of biological diversity, combined with less-than-favorable cultivation practices, coffee plants’ abilities to remain strong diminished. Most global coffee plantations are increasingly vulnerable to the onslaught of pests, diseases and climate change, just like any other monoculture or commodity crop comparable to corn, wheat and soy.
How to proceed, and how to do some good, so you and future generations can still get your coffee mojo? Two approaches: Buy coffee that is produced sustainably and pays a fair wage and safeguard the place of origin of coffee so its rich biological and cultural diversity thrives to benefit all growers in crisis worldwide.
Top tips on sustainable, fair-trade coffee, it’s best to buy:
- Organic or low-chemical and low-pesticide use beans.
- Shade-grown coffee. (Rustic is best.)
- Products labeled fair trade.
- Rain Forest Alliance-certified coffee.
- “Bird-friendly” Smithsonian Seal of Approval coffee.
Also, ask your local markets to carry those brands. In sum, vote with your dollars, ask questions and support other establishments that advocate the above practices.
Ethiopia deforestation and hopeful solutions
More than four decades ago, 40% of Ethiopian land was covered in forests; now only 3% remains, based on a report from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
AFRICAN ORIGINS OF COFFEE
A three-part series:
» Part 1: Coffee's early roots and routes
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Historically, local communities rely on the forest for biological and cultural sustenance. Dependence on subsistence farming, as of late, has changed the delicate balance where deforestation ensues. Partnering with the Ethiopian government, several governmental and non-governmental organizations have designated the Kafa Biosphere Reserve in 2010. The reserve is recognized by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme and tasked to promote sustainable development built upon local community participation and sound science.
An indigenous organization, Kafa Limat Forum, is at the forefront of establishing a National Coffee Museum in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Bonga. The museum will be a crossroads and gathering point for the many diverse communities to celebrate the rich cultural heritage, including the origins and ceremonies around coffee. The museum will provide a sacred space for locals and visitors to unify in diversity. The museum seeks to reaffirm the communities’ connections to the dwindling sacred forests that represent the centers of biocultural variety.
Maybe it is time to support the economy and people of Ethiopia directly with the purchase of Ethiopian coffee varieties grown on smallholder farms from some of the main coffee-growing areas: Bedele, Ghimbi, Goma Woreda, Harar, Illubador, Lekempti, Limu, Sidamo and Yirga Cheffe. Or, better yet, follow the general coffee-buying guidelines and help all cultivators, growers and laborers revitalize their lives and their environments.
Top photo: Coffee beans. Credit: Sarah Khan
This article was partially underwritten by the The Christensen Fund, a nonprofit organization, dedicated to biocultural and agricultural diversity of marginalized people and landscapes globally.
Simplicity is ubiquitous: if you — like I — get sucked down the gorgeous wormhole that is Pinterest, you know what I mean. Click on the DESIGN tab, and there they are: hundreds of rooms painted a dull monochromatic gray/beige/ecru. A single, long Forsythia branch stands imperfectly perfect in a chipped wabi-sabi bud vase, which is set upon an ancient pine side table chinked with time. Click on the FASHION tab: passels of tranquil, doe-eyed models dressed in dull, monochromatic gray/beige/ecru. They’re wearing loose-fitting overcoats, and modern and expensive versions of their grandfathers’ 1930s cordovan wingtips. Click on the FOOD tab: chipped, matte-finished Heath coffee bowls in gray/beige/ecru hues, filled with variations of the same thing — grains, beans, usually some kale, a drizzle of olive oil, a tangle of lemon zest — and set down on askew cream-and-red dishtowels that have seen endless washings and line-dryings. The image, or any number of versions of it, has been re-pinned a thousand times which, in Pinterest parlance, is a really good thing.
Oh, the simplicity, a work-harried friend wistfully whined to me one morning while we were on the train, commuting two hours to our Manhattan jobs from rural Connecticut. I really want to live and eat like that, she added, looking over my shoulder at my iPad — simply and quietly.
Of course you do, I told her. And so do I.
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And, apparently, so does everyone else these days, so much so that a new crop of magnificently-produced, nearly wordless, expensive magazines — maga-Tumblrs, really — has arrived on the scene, promising vicarious calm, conviviality and aspirational serenity of the sort that Thoreau went to the woods to find 159 years ago. Instagram-softened images of meaningful dinner parties abound; young flannel-shirted men in their 20s — Smith Brothers look-alikes — smoke vintage Meerschaum pipes as they gaze across placid ponds at tire swings swaying in the distance while their ladies thoughtfully pour local herb-infused gimlets into authentic 1930s Ball canning jars. You read the sparse text. You swoon. You study. You wonder if these people have day jobs.
The message is clear: You – yeah you, with the three kids in daycare and the divorce, getting off the IRT and running into Starbucks for your McVenti before hunkering down in your cubicle under those fluorescent lights for eight hours while the jackass next to you yammers on his cell phone about the great sex he had last night — you, too, can live a simple life.
That is, if you work hard enough at it.
If you wear the right authentic clothes and drink the right authentic drinks out of the right authentic vessels. If your food is unfettered and unfussy and thoughtfully produced and served in the right coffee bowls of the right color, and was perhaps procured from the right CSA or the right farmers market.
For those of us who have suffered through the fashion of anxious, nervous food — inauthentic, tall, overwrought — such simple, gastronomical style is exactly what we’ve been breathlessly waiting for. But has the style of living and eating this way, with its gorgeous prepackaged rusticity and come-hither appeal, just become exigent fetish? Are our attempts to be “simple” so self-conscious and superficial that the benefits of real simplicity, peace, mindfulness, thrift are lost? Will being simple — eating simply, living simply — go the way of the Pet Rock?
Trends are a direct reflection of our ever-changing cultural and socio-emotional needs. In the greed-is-good 1980s, everything was big — shoulder pads, hig hair — and the contrived food of the time, unnatural vertical and architectural, was an extension of that style. In late 1988, I was served an elaborate, human fist-sized chocolate piano at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. A scaled-down replica of a Steinway baby grand, it had eighty-eight black and white chocolate keys, and strings fashioned from spun sugar. After the grim 1970s, life was suddenly all about the frantic quest for the elaborate and ornate, and the food on our plates reflected it. In the 1990s, everyone declared themselves a home-schooled chef — the Food Network went on the air in 1993 — and we all went out to buy kitchen blowtorches and home foamers and timbale molds. After 9/11, we craved peace and conviviality, and the next big thing was comfort food. The sale of crockpots and Creuset casseroles took off like they’d been shot from a cannon.
So what created this fraught mandate for the ancient saucepan — dented to perfection — that we spend hours searching for at Goodwill? Why the farmhouse tables laden with elemental dishes and the longing gazes serene as stone? Desperation for simplicity and authenticity smacks of a sort of psychic exhaustion, and the stark realization that living and eating in a complicated overdone way will take a toll on our souls. It compels us with an almost furious hysteria to return to preconceived notions of what’s real, even if what’s real is nothing more than an often fetishized metaphor for ever-elusive safety, and a commodified yearning to bind our frayed connection to equanimity and control.
In a world of constant digital connectedness, of nebulous relationships and jobs that disappear before our eyes, of an often fraudulent and dangerous food system, where we feed our children pink slime and anyone can slap a green label on their over-processed product and pretend it’s organic, we’ll pay anything we can to get simplicity, or some semblance of it back.
But if simplicity really is just a fetish, what will happen when the fetish fades and the trend is over? What will we eat and how will we live?
Top photo: Elissa Altman. Credit: © Susan Turner
Sangria is a simple concoction of fruit, sugar, water and wine and a staple in sunny, tapas-minded Spain. Grown-up fruit punch, it’s refreshing and versatile, taking on more savory lemon and lime tones if that’s the fruit you choose, or slightly sweet if peaches are your preference.
But if you can’t be bothered to make your own, increasingly bars are making inventive versions, and good bottled versions abound.
Eppa SupraFruta is a bottled sangria, available in both red and white versions, made from organically grown Mendocino County wine grapes.
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Slices Sangria is the new creation of Mike Kenton, the founder of OFFbeat Brands. Kenton spent much of his career at Codorniu in Spain, where he fell in love with the traditional drink.
He uses wine made from Spanish grape varieties such as Tempranillo and Verdejo, blended with fruit juices such as orange, lime and blackberry (for the red); or lime, lemon and pineapple (for the white).
“Sangria has been on my family’s dining table for as long as I can remember,” said Slices’ Spanish winemaker, Miguel Gúrpide.
Gurpide also makes a sangria rosé (the fruit used includes lime, lemon and strawberry) and two sparkling sangrias, one rosé and one white.
Relatively light in alcohol (usually under 9% alcohol by volume), sangria is an easygoing cocktail to make for one or for a crowd, doused in club soda or given a couple of cubes of ice.
Courtesy Eppa Sangria
2 to 3 cardamom pods
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
2 ounces Eppa SupaFruta Sangria
Pineapple leaf, for garnish
1. In a tin, muddle the cardamom pods.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
4. Double strain over ice in a wine glass.
5. Garnish with a pineapple leaf.
Courtesy Tara and Les Goodman, Adafina Culinary
2 onions, Spanish or sweet, sliced ⅛-inch thick
6 to 7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 cups Spanish olive oil
6 large farm eggs
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the onions and potatoes in a medium mixing bowl, and toss with a couple pinches of kosher salt.
2. Place a 10- to 12-inch nonstick pan over medium-high flame, adding the onions and potatoes.
3. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat.
4. When oil begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, turning frequently, until potatoes are fork-tender but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Remove pan from heat and strain the oil from the onions and potatoes.
6. Set aside oil and reserve for another use.
7. Cool onions and potatoes to room temperature, and adjust for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
8. Beat the eggs and add them to the cooled potato mixture.
9. Return pan to medium heat and stir the tortilla mixture as it cooks until eggs are slightly set.
10. Spread mixture out evenly and reduce heat to medium-low.
11. Cook until bottom is golden brown and eggs are set, about 10 to 12 minutes (you can place pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes if needed to set the top).
12. Remove pan from heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
13. Place a plate face down over the pan and flip tortilla over — bottom side up. Let cool for a half hour or so, and slice into wedges.
14. Serve with Spanish pimenton (paprika) aioli, crunchy sea salt, and a glass of chilled sangria — or a sangria cocktail.
Top photo: Sangria. Credit: iStockphoto