Stories of food

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about the changes we are experiencing as we move from South Dakota to Washington. While there are regional differences, there are a lot of similarities between the two places. Although we have made some dramatic moves in our adult lives, we have never lived anywhere in the south. We’re pretty much temperate people, with virtually no experience with warmer climates. We’ve always lived in a place with four seasons, though the coastal region where we currently live definitely has a shorter and less severe winter than other places we’ve lived.

In the part of the world we’ve known, the local fruit becomes ripe in the late summer. In the days before widespread refrigeration, people ate more fruit in the summer and less in the winter. There was an annual cycle to the availability of many foods. In the mountains the chokecherries and blueberries are most prevalent in August and September. Apples, though not a native plant in many of the places I’ve lived, grow well in the north and their fruit also becomes ripe in the fall.

This is not true of every part of the world. Oranges, for example, become ripe in the winter. It’s hard to think in the terms of a place that really doesn’t have a winter by the standards we apply, but even up north, we knew that oranges start to become available in November and December.

I knew this in part because of a family tradition. In the home where I grew up, there was a navel orange in our Christmas stocking every year. That tradition began when my father was growing up on a farm in North Dakota. Every year there would be a shipment of citrus fruit that made its way on the railroad to the town nearest their farm. My grandparents would make sure that they went to town to meet the train that came just before Christmas to purchase oranges for holiday eating. The sweet fruit was a special treat and a stark contrast to the usual winter fare. There is even a family story about the time a really big blizzard trapped my grandparents in town over Christmas and the celebration was delayed with the kids on the farm and the parents in town on the actual day of Christmas.

These days we are much less seasonal in our eating. You can purchase good eating apples in the grocery store in every season of the year. Special techniques for storing fruit make it possible to have fresh fruit year round. We’ve gotten used to being able to buy small mandarin oranges nearly year round. The clementine oranges show up in early November and when they are starting to complete their course murcott mandarines become available. The two types of oranges are often sold under the same brand name and many consumers are not aware that they are actually buying two different types of oranges. Those little easy to peel, nearly seedless oranges have become favorites in our house. This week when I made our trip to the grocery store, I picked up a bag and I’ve been enjoying them with my lunch.

Having moved out here from South Dakota our diet hasn’t changed in any significant way, though we are hoping to learn the local fishing market and eat more seafood.

Before settlement, the indigenous people of this continent definitely had regional diets. On the plains the main source of protein was the American Bison, an animal that we called Buffalo. Semi-nomadic tribes followed the heard and harvested animals for food. The hides were used for shelter. Every part of the animal was used with very little waste.

In the mountain regions deer and elk were more common sources of protein. One of the nicknames for the Shoshone people is “sheep eaters” from their hunting of big horn sheep as part of their diet. Out here on the coast, the Salmon was as essential to the way of life of the tribes that lived here as the buffalo was to those on the plains. The foods became not only essential parts of the diets of people, but also central to their religious practices, stories and traditions.

During the pandemic one of the fields of employment that is considered essential is driving truck. We are used to a huge regular flow of semi trucks that haul food across the nation and make foods raised in distant places regular parts of our diets. There were days when it was hard to find toilet paper in the stores, but you could buy a tomato on every day of the pandemic so far. The climate may be milder here than back in South Dakota, but there isn’t anyone around here still harvesting tomatoes from their backyard gardens.

I’ve been thinking about picking up some fancy navel oranges just before Christmas and being that one gets slipped into the Christmas stocking of each of my grandchildren. I’m pretty sure that it would come as a surprise and leave them wondering why such a common item turned up in a place where they expected to find toys and sweet treats. It might be an opportunity to tell an old, old story, something that they get on a family regular basis from their grandfather. Of course to them something that happened in the 1990’s is part of the distant past and they make little distinction between those “old” days and the stories of the 1930’s that I grew up hearing.

One of the privileges of being the senior generation is that people expect us to tell stories and share memories of the past. Our grandchildren were at least temporarily entertained by pictures of their father when he was a baby. I’ve shown them a baby picture of me, but they can’t think of me ever being a baby. From their perspective, I’ve always been old. They expect me to be a bit quirky and strange and I never fail to live up to those expectations.

On the other hand, I’m having to learn to adjust to their ways as well. Just the other day, my granddaughter suggested that we should have crab for Christmas dinner. It sounds like a pretty good idea.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!