One of my goals for this year is to get on better terms with structures and tools like schedules, recipes and budgets, in efforts to run an over all tighter ship. I am tired of being caught off guard by bills that shouldn’t have been unexpected, double bookings and staring into the abyss of the fridge feeling existential dread and confusion. I know that there are tools available, and for me, I think it’s about finding ways to relate to those tools in my way. I’ve been doing some interesting experiments with digital/analog//grid/spiral systems and this evening as I was starting to plot out a sandwich to have for dinner (and don’t get me wrong- I LOVE sandwiches), but I looked at the supplies available and instead saw something else come together.
Now obviously one of the ways that I will come to relate to recipes better is by seeing them as a piece in a story. The story for today is one about corn chowder, dementia, crumbling food systems, intergenerational kitchenry, allergies, grief and indulgence.
When I was about 8 years old I went to my maternal grandmothers apartment. My uncle and aunt, her step-son and his wife, were coming to visit as a part of their annual west coast thaw out, hike away from the prairie winter on Vancouver Island pilgrimage. My grandmother was making corn chowder. Her corn chowder was probably in my top 3 favourite foods at the time. I seem to recall the guests remarking at how much soup a skinny little girl like me could put away as I cleaned up at least 6 large bowls, heavy with bacon, butter and cream, thickened to a paste with saltine crackers.
In my 20s I learned to make soup. I can’t remember where exactly, or from who. It was probably a combination of pieces picked up from lovers and room mates and kitchen jobs. After I had gotten pretty good at pulling together a scratch creamy soup, with full fat dairy and fresh garden veggies I inquired to my grandmother about her recipe for corn chowder. I remembered her walking me through it when I was small, bacon in little pieces starting off the whole thing. Her answer served as a red flag to me. The recipe she gave me, was for a soup that involved cracking a series of cans. I second guessed my childhood memory of vegetables being meticulously chopped and cream being stirred into the burbling broth. I knew that I knew how to make a more “real” and hearty and home-made soup than her recipe measured up to be.
I found out shortly after that she hadn’t taken her garbage or laundry out for months, and was only eating frozen dinners, no longer able to perform these basic tasks, but ashamed to admit and ask for help, she played competent and ok. It wasn’t long before she wasn’t living independently anymore, and then in what seemed like a flash, vascular dementia changed her from a vibrant and clever active woman, to a shell, still smiling, but barely in shared reality except for rare semi-lucid moments. There is no pretending to be ok anymore, but what her perception of the situation is entirely speculative at this point. Asking her about a recipe, a story, her children, or even the weather is all likely to receive either no answer, or one that is so far in left field extrapolating any connections may be all exercises in projection.
One of the things that seems to be a fairly consistent lucidity trigger is getting visits from Searyl. They seem to connect in pre/post verbal energetic ways that are beautiful and haunting. In one of my mothers latest visits with her after our last appearance, my grandmother asked about where the baby was. Which is incredible. She doesn’t usually remember things that happened yesterday, who anyone is, who anyone may have been traveling with or how anyone who visits her is connected to her or each other. But she asked, “Where is the baby?”.
I had dreams when I was pregnant where she was holding the baby, but not knowing how to do it safely or gently and was crushing them. When they met in real life I was nervous to let her hold them, unsure whether baby holding is like riding bikes and having sex, and also unsure if those things that supposedly stick, stick through the loss of ones mind. But we found ways, initially resting the baby on a pillow and sitting the pillow on my seated grandmothers lap, so they could hold their little fingers around hers. The last visit involved Sea climbing around between her wheelchair and the chairs of the other residents, dancing to their oldies and dragging one of their pretend babies across the room (much to the concern of another resident).
Sea will never know my grandmothers’ cooking. They’re coming and going has crossed over, but only through these states for either of them that are somewhat between worlds. My grandmother had a friend who had celiac disease, and I remember her taking great pride in having recipes that she could make for her friend. “Helen from the Church” had my grandmother knowing about gluten free before gluten free was a buzz word. And between the allergies of my sister, our cousins, my aunts and our collective string of partners/husbands/wives; everyone in the family has had a couple experiments of trying to make something that is nut free, dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, and all the other frees that can be needed with a big family on the personal edges of a collapsing food system and collectively damaged gut biome.
So tonight, I attempted to take my old recipe, the one I pieced together from how my grandmother may have made soup before the Campbells corporation and a lifetime of cognitive dissonance caught up and replaced it with something simply predictable, prepackaged and entirely forgettable. I of course needed to make a few adjustments to ensure that it was Sea-safe and had a couple chances to enrich it so did.
The broth is something that, especially in winter months, I try to have on at least 5 days a week. It can be scooped into a mug with a spoon of miso for a quick pick me up. Rice noodles + raw grated veg can be thrown in for quick medicinal raman. It can be used in most recipes anywhere you may be asked for water, and in some cases milk products (if you are skipping the dairy like us). When making soups like this one, having the good broth makes it so real and rich and tasty, a real level up from a boullion cube or can of consume.
For the Broth
In a crock pot:
Bones (cut from butchering & saved, bagged and frozen from cooked cuts. Lately I have been using a mix of raw pork or goat bone and saved bones from pork chops)
Apple Cider Vinegar (1 cap full)
Medicinal herbs and wild plants.
Birch Polypore mushroom – 1 slice, dried
Oregon Grape Root- 2-5 1cm root pieces, dried
Sasparilla Root- 2-5 1cm root pieces, dried
Horsetail- 2-5 small heads, dried
Coriander Seeds- 10-15, dried
(there is room for this selection to be driven by plants that you are needing to get into your diet. One of the joys of this strategy is that as it steeps for days, things like roots and tough shelled seeds have lots of opportunity to release their goodness into the water, and potentially bond to the fat if they are better carried on fat.)
Water- to fill the crock, ensure that your crock pot stays on and with a reasonable amount of water.
The broth can just be on in the background, always available to your kitchen needs. Ensure that it stays on and topped up to make sure it is at a safely held temperature to prevent disease and fire.
Corn Chowder (ish)
1 cup Bacon, sliced thick and cut into little pieces (pigs that have lived outside and eaten a mixed diet of grains, fruits, meats and grasses will have more delicious and nutritious bacon. Bacon smoked in a traditional way with a proper smokehouse will also be far more delicious than what you may understand as bacon from a store. This recipe was made with the last of the last bacon from the last round of pigs we raised here at the homostead. It is next level)
1 half a large white onion
1 cup cubed potato
1 cup cubed sweet potato
1 cup sliced carrot
1 stalk chunked celery
1 can corn
3-5 cloves of garlic
1 can coconut milk (if you aren’t skipping dairy I would put the fullest fat cream you can get your hands on here.)
Start the bacon frying in the soup cauldron. Add the onions, garlic, potatoes, and other vegetables. If the bacon fat is not enough to keep it all smooth in this first stage add coconut oil (for non-dairy version) or butter (for the full fat, full dairy version). Keep the heat fairly low and stir often. Once everything has had a chance to get a bit soft around the edges, add as much broth as you have (this time around i think I was at the bottom 1/3 of my crock) and turn the heat to bring it to a boil. Let the soup simmer for some time with a bay leaf. Add the cream/coconut milk, stir and serve.
Enjoy, and tell me what you think about the ways that I am approaching reconciling intergenerational knowledge gaps, recipes and story telling. Please share with your friends.