Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Primitive Kitchen

I wonder if they still make Universal food grinders and Foley food mills. Does anybody still make their own butter and chicken stock? The primitive kitchen has always appealed to me: the broth on the back burner, the soap perfuming the room as it cures, the blackberry wine bubbling in a gallon jar.

Some of this atavistic enjoyment certainly is due to my learning to cook as a bride on a farm in northern Greece, where things were pretty basic. I balked at the charcoal burner and the north window which were offered me as a kitchen range and refrigerator in our new apartment at the American Farm School outside Thessaloniki.

When I bought a little Swedish kitchen range, it caused havoc among the community women, who up to that point had been content to have their baking done at a public oven seven miles away. My nearest neighbor calculated to the penny what she had to pay the bakery plus bus fare there and back and presented her husband with proof that a cook stove at home would save him money.

The Farm School handymen found a kerosene refrigerator for me. The north window was fine for keeping things cool during the winter with its Vardar winds, but summers were warm and we didn't have electricity at night unless the school was incubating chicks. I don't know how it worked, but as long as you kept it in kerosene and fresh wicks, that machine would even make ice cream.

I learned to whip egg whites with two forks and to make butter by shaking cream in a mayonnaise jar until it separated. I canned tomato sauce in sterilized wine bottles with corks tied down with string and coated with paraffin. I cracked walnuts with a mortar and pestle, sometimes using the pestle to hammer a nail. I picked wild dandelion greens.

Nowadays, I use an electric mixer and buy butter at the store, but I still like to grind meat in the old Universal and make purees with the Foley food mill. I use my grandmother’s rolling pin. I still pick wild greens, make soap once in a while, make bread, and boil up the chicken skin and bones for stock.

The primitive kitchen is the ultimate in Slow Food.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


So many ideas which were science fiction in the late 1960s have become reality that I’m surprised Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, isn’t considered a modern-day Nostradamus.

The most obvious in the life-imitating-art department is the cell phone which is almost identical to classic Star Trek hand-held communicators. This morning’s New York Times had a story about an adaptation which can turn a cell phone into a microscope, making it ever closer to Dr. McCoy’s medical scanner.

Full-body scans are a reality. We don't have phasers, but we have tasers (hopefully set on "stun"). "Warp speed" has entered our vocabulary. Chiropractors are using lasers to stimulate cell repair. The Smithsonian has a Star Trek display.

We watched the original Trek series on our old black and white Zenith television, phoning fellow Trekker and bosom buddy Dick to debate antimatter or race or whatever (then) radical idea Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were dealing with. When actual astronauts landed on the moon, the kids, wearing their Trek tees, were unimpressed because the astronauts didn’t even beam down.

We have seen all the Star Trek television series which followed the original, balking only at Deep Space Nine and the kiddie cartoons. We have tried to read the books. We have seen all the movies. At the most recent movie, we had to explain to grandchildren why certain aspects of the story line were so avant-garde and outrageous in their day. The grandchildren were a little bewildered. Trek technology failed to impress them.

Now we even have a president who is somewhat Spock-like. I wouldn’t be surprised if he instituted the Prime Directive or tried a Vulcan mind-meld on certain inscrutable foreign leaders.