I’m grateful. I’m grateful that the present isn’t the past. When I was a kid, stores didn’t have a cornucopia of exotic food—mangoes, papayas, red, yellow, green peppers—and even if they had, we couldn’t afford them.
We ate a lot of local food. Bush rabbits were a favorite. A .22 shell cost half a cent. If we were a good shot, we only needed one .22 shell to kill a rabbit. Then we took it home with, hopefully, two or three others, and we skinned them, gutted them and gave them to our mother who made rabbit pie with carrots and turnips and gravy. We caught perch at the dock. My father was a commercial fisherman so we always had fish. We also ate a lot of ducks in the fall because the ducks got caught in the nets and drowned. My father sent boxes full of ducks. My mother and I sat on the back steps, plucked and cleaned them. We didn’t have the sense to just slit open the breast, take out the meat and throw the rest away. If my father was lucky at hunting, we ate venison.
When my father and his uncle were trapped in their winter fish camp by an early breakup, they were down to some flour and lard. They had been trapping muskrats on the side so had traps in place. They started skinning and eating the muskrats. My father said they stood them up, heads still on, around the side of a pot of boiling water. He was pretty thin by the time he arrived home.
Now, I go to the Blenkinsop store and buy ground lamb, chicken thighs, the occasional steak. I visit Fairways and buy lamb shoulder chops from New Zealand. Fairways is a local chain. It has large Chinese vegetable sections and aisles of ethnic food. There are things I’ve never eaten. Taro root, bitter melon, chicken feet. I believe the fresh green pod peas are flown in from China. My grandmother and mother grew peas in their garden. We sat on the steps shelling them into a large bowl. Once we ate them there were no more peas until the next summer. Nobody flew peas half-way around the world.
We got some things it is impossible or nearly impossible to buy today. Icelandic skyr, a sort of yogurt but for the initiated, far superior. Blood sausage made locally when animals were slaughtered. Lifra pilsa, liver sausage. Friends of ours would sometimes bring the first milk a cow produced after a calf was born. It was considered healing for people who weren’t well. Most of these things, and others, disappeared with the disappearance of the small farms and dairies and the more stringent health rules.
However, for all the things that have disappeared, there has been a cornucopia of food because of cheap transportation. Grapes in December. Unbelievable! Mangoes, not just one, but many kinds, all year long. I had never tasted a mango until my wife brought one home when we were first married.
Today, I saw trays of something I didn’t recognize. They were trays of sweetgrass, organic, locally grown. What next, I thought. I bought some mushrooms. My mother never bought mushrooms. I don’t know if they were there to buy. Now, there are rows of mushrooms, brown, white, exotic, wild. I bought the white ones. They were on sale. My step-grandmother, Katherine, was a mushroom expert. With her advice, it was possible to pick the large white mushrooms in the cow pastures. I learned to pick those and to pick morels. The mushrooms could be hung up on strings across the ceiling of the kitchen. They were fall decorations. Here, on Vancouver Island, I used to pick chantrelles and oyster mushrooms. Now, I just put mushrooms into a brown bag in the grocery store.
We made the most of what was available. Wild raspberries that grow well in old brush piles, high bush cranberries in swampy areas, wild plums, Saskatoons, wild strawberries (finicky little berries that were intensely flavorful), pin cherries, chokecherries. Here, I only pick blackberries. In the stores, for exorbitant prices, there are commercially grown raspberries, blackberries, strawberries. Still, expensive or not, they are available and there are worse things to spend your money on.
We are blessed. High prices for food, or not. We live in abundance. So much so that we waste too much. My mother and grandmother, my step-grandmother, wasted nothing. Having enough food on the table for a family was a challenge. It required knowledge, skill, experience, work.
When I sit down for supper at my daughter and son-in-law’s tomorrow evening, I will be grateful, not just for the food we will eat at that meal but for all the meals that I have eaten all year. Thank you to the farmers, ranchers, orchardists, fishers who take big risks and who work hard to produce these meals. Blessings upon you. May the rain come for those who so desperately need it. May it stay dry for those who need it. May the storms over the water not be too fierce. May your prosper.