Choosing the onion for the November feature stems not only because it has elevated the Thanksgiving green-bean casserole for more than fifty years. The onion has quite a history, with historians telling us that onion remains have been found in Neolithic Age settlements in Jericho, Palestine, dating back to 5000 BC. Onions appear in tomb paintings and ancient Egyptian documents dating from 3200 BC. The Romans took the onion to Britain; Columbus included the onion in his supplies on his voyages where it was appreciated in the sick bay as well as the galley. One medicinal use was restoring circulation to frozen feet by rubbing them with raw onion.
The onion abounds in literature and nature writing from the Newbery award winner Onion John to Gunter Grass’s memoir Peeling the Onion to the very local In the Land of the Wild Onion: Travels Along Vermont’s Winooski River .
Of course, it goes without saying that the onion is omnipresent in the kitchen. Julia Child announces, “It is hard to imagine a civilization without onions…their flavor blends into almost everything in the meal except the dessert. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook offers onions sliced, chopped, boiled, baked, sauteed, fried, stuffed, pickled, braised, roasted, suggesting they be used in soups, stews, casseroles, sauces, “and just about anything else.”
In his Odes to Common Things, here’s how Pablo Neruda begins his “Ode to the Onion” (Oda a la cebolla):
Your beauty assembled
petal by petal…
Meal preparation at the Senior Center often begins with the onion, pretty much as related by the beginning William Matthews’ poem “Onions”:
How easily happiness begins by
Onion peeling and dicing are a ubiquitous activity at the Senior Center, but certainly cooks there, who with much laughter, guess at who will cry first, aren’t the only ones who will relate to this Neruda line: You make us cry without hurting us. (Nos hiciste llorar sin afligirnos).
We’ll give Jonathan Swift the last year with his onion rhyme:
This is every cook’s opinion—
No savory dish without an onion,
But lest your kissing should be spoiled
Your onions must be fully boiled.
Put “zucchini recipes” in a Google search and in 0.78 seconds they’ll spit out about 95,900,000 results. We’ve tried but have not yet reached the half-way point on those dishes. The 40 lucky noshers who followed The New Yorker’s Calvin Trillin on his annual two-and-a-half-hour restaurant crawl sampled potato and zucchini pizza at Grandaisy Baker, among other savories. Anyone traveling to New York City should know you can still get pizza delight there, and yes, this still includes zucchini.
Adding zucchini to your pizzas, soups, and stews offers a nutritional benefit. It has a high percentage of water content. Maybe not so obvious: it’s low in calories, carbs, and sugars–very low on the glycemic index. And there are added benefits: Zucchini is high in essential nutrients like potassium, manganese and antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin A. Alas, all this doesn’t quite add up to an excuse for an extra piece of chocolate zucchini cake.
Thomas Jefferson grew various species of Cucurbita (a genus that includes pumpkins, squash, and gourds) at Monticello and his writings are filled with references to it. In bloom at Monticello offers information on his gardens. FDR hated broccoli, and we heard a lot about George H. W. Bush’s opinion of it, but maybe he wasn’t so hard on zucchini. Barbara Bush offered a recipe for zucchini soup to the USO Celebrity Cookbook.
President Obama sampled a baked zucchini fry after dropping by the Kids State Dinner.
Zucchini Squash Blossoms were on the menu for the Trump White House State Dinner for the prime minister of Australia and his wife. No word on whether the president ate any. In 1985, he did write a letter to Mayor Koch complaining about the “humongous vegetable stand” destroying property values at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
Writing in the Hartford Courant, Karent Mamone offered recipes ranging from a zucchini cocktail to lemon zucchini muffins. She says you can substitute apple for zucchini in the muffins, but “that doesn’t help you get rid of it.” Mamone proposed a zucchini festival: We could rival Mardi Gras with the Connecticut Zucchini Festival. We’ll call it Mardi Vert– Green Tuesday — and hold it on the last week in September just before the first frost ends the season and the kids are sick of school.
There would be awards for biggest zucchini, of course. Smallest. Longest, fattest. Zucchini that looks most like Richard Nixon or other presidents. And an adults-only category for zucchini that looks like naughty stuff.”
Mamone suggested this more than a decade ago, and it didn’t catch on, so there’s an opportunity for Charlotters to step forward.
The Tomato is a plant originating in South America whose fruits are known as a vegetable because of the primary culinary use to which they are put. The Aztecs cultivated the plant, which traveled to Europe in the early 16th century. A Neapolitan book, La scalco alla moderna, contains a recipe for Tomato Sauce, Spanish Style which sounds very familiar: finely chopped parsley, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil added to finely chopped seared tomatoes. The fruit/vegetable took longer to gain popularity in France and England.
Miles Kington, a British writer who began his career at Punch, observed that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. John Denver said that there are only two things that money can’t buy: true love and home-grown tomatoes. And Will Cuppy noted, “Just when you’re beginning to think pretty well of people, you run across somebody who puts sugar on sliced tomatoes.” Finally, here’s John Updike: “Of plants tomatoes seemed the most human, eager and fragile and prone to rot.”
Tomato ketchup, reportedly found in 97% of U.S. homes, has interesting origins. The word “ketchup” comes from the Chinese and means a fermented fish sauce, and it was brought to Europe by Dutch traders. There were many different kinds, characterized by their salty taste and concentrated texture and the fact that they kept well. Over the years, mushrooms, oysters, mussels, walnuts, lemons, celery, and many other ingredients have been used to make ketchup.
History.com tells us: “One oyster ketchup recipe from the 1700s called for 100 oysters, three pints of white wine and lemon peels spiked with mace and cloves. The commemorative “Prince of Wales” ketchup, meanwhile, was made from elderberries and anchovies. Mushroom ketchup was apparently Jane Austen’s favorite. But all these ketchups lacked the one important ingredient we take for granted in today’s ketchup.
National Geographic tells us: The first known published tomato ketchup recipe appeared in 1812, written by scientist and horticulturalist, James Mease, who referred to tomatoes as “love apples.” His recipe contained tomato pulp, spices, and brandy but lacked vinegar and sugar.
“A relatively new company called Heinz introduced its famous formulation in 1876, which contained tomatoes, distilled vinegar, brown sugar, salt and various spices. Heinz also pioneered the use of glass bottles, so customers could see what they were buying. ” These days, Heinz, the most popular ketchup producer, sells more than 650 million bottles a year. In this country, this translates to about three bottles per person per year.
Blueberries are a healthy food, but they are not a panacea. As Marion Nestle observes in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What we Eat, observes: From 1997 to 2000, half the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission’s marketing resources went into repositioning blueberries as a health icon. . . Studies of how well antioxidants protect against disease yield results that are annoyingly inconsistent…The USDA no longer publishes data on food antioxidant levels “due to mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health.”
People who eat more fruits and vegetables have less risk of chronic disease, but nobody really knows whether this is because of antioxidants, other food components, or other life-style choices.
We offer blueberries at the Senior Center for their good taste. We don’t present them as a miracle food.
For a quirky change of pace, take a look at the way Sean Charmatz anthropomorphizes everyday objects. From bananas to chewing gum, he offers universal emotions of surprise, frustration, and togetherness.
Julia Child’s French Onion Soup is, of course, legendary. Sit back and just enjoy watching her prepare it–right here.
In an article titled “Food for the Soul,” The Washington Post offered this observation:
“Cooking for others is a powerful wellness-booster because it is a fundamentally altruistic act. And research shows that altruism can help release endorphins and boost feelings of gratitude. If you can do the cooking together, even better. It’s a vehicle to share recipes, stories, and memories.”
Monday Munch at the Charlotte Senior Center offers you this wellness-booster opportunity. Altruists of all ages have joined our ranks. The youngest was 7, the oldest isn’t telling. The results have ranged from that 7-year-old advising that the soup needed more salt to a highschooler’s pickled onions to Grandma’s rice pudding. What lingers are the stories that traveled with each one.
Some stories, such as the time our tomato soup exploded, set the fire alarm off, and brought the fire department, continue to resonate years later.
Yes, our kitchen can be frantic at times, but it is mostly fun-filled and very satisfying. It is a smile-filled place. So come join us and release some endorphins.
In Inside the Elaborate Schemes Restaurants Use to Survive Health Inspections, the New York Times describes dramatic tactics employed in city restaurants when health department inspectors arrive.
Health department inspections are, of course, unannounced–in New York and in Vermont. Recently when the health department inspector arrived at the Charlotte Senior Center it was business as usual in the kitchen. No diversion tactics needed. We are proud to report that our grade was 99.
Garlic, allium sativum, the most powerfully flavored member of the onion family, has been known in China since antiquity, has been found in Egyptian tombs. In the Old Testament the exiled Israelites lamented, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.” The Greeks saw garlic as a strengthening food, ideal for workers and soldiers, and respected for medicinal value.
Garlic evokes strong feelings. The Roman poet Horace declared it was more harmful than hemlock. When Dr. Seuss described Mr. Grinch as having garlic in his soul, he wasn’t being complimentary. But William Shatner counters with “Stop and smell the garlic! That’s all you have to do.”
Vermont: Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook, available from Salvation Farms as a book or a pdf file, offers history, growing and storage tips, and recipes for cooking garlic, including Garlic Scape Soup.
Vermont’s own Mary Azarian has a wonderful woodblock print titled “A Tribute to Garlic.” It begins:
GARLIC ALL POWERFUL;
YOU ARE THE ESSENCE,
THE INCENSE WHICH
REVIVES AND EXHILARATES….
Go to www.maryazarian.com for the rest of this ode as well as lots more of her delicious art, much of which is available as notecards.
Here’s a food preparation tip for another item found in all kitchens: How to hard-boil a freaking egg
Put your eggs gently into a small pot filled with cold water. Bring the water to a rapid boil. As soon as the water is boiling, shut off the heat and put a lid on top. After 10 minutes, remove the eggs and slide them carefully into ice water to cool. When cool? Peel. Here’s how you know if you’ve done it right: If the egg is cooked through, the shell peels off cleanly, and the yolk is not surrounded by an unsightly gray ring.–Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking
by Vachel Lindsay
O dandelion, rich and haughty,
King of village flowers!
Each day is coronation time,
You have no humble hours.
I like to see you bring a troop
To beat the blue-grass spears,
To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
Like fate’s triumphant shears.
Your yellow heads are cut away,
It seems your reign is o’er.
By noon you raise a sea of stars
More golden than before.
This poem is in the public domain.
Think of May flowers and the lovely daffodil comes to mind but the pesky dandelion, omnipresent, offers a lot in the way of eating. One of the most widespread of wild plants, its leaves, root, and flowers are all edible.
“Dandelion” comes from the French dent de lion (lion’s tooth) and refers to the serrated leaves. Its other name, pissenlit (pissabed), refers to the diuretic properties attributed to dandelion root.
Dandelion leaves are an excellent source of vitamin C, and all parts of the plant are rich in vitamin A and iron.
Dandelion leaves can be served in salad. Fanny Farmer says to add bacon. Alice Waters recommends shallots, fennel, small red radishes, and lemon zest. During the 19th century the dandelion root, roasted and ground, was tried as a substitute for coffee–and it’s still around. You can get Dandelion Mocha Chicory Herbal Coffee as well as Dandelion Tea.
The French cramaillotte is a brownish-orange jelly made from dandelion flowers.
Bon appétit !
Of course, with May comes one more persistent entity: the ant:
the ants who also appeared in the kitchen as if
the first daffodils in the yard trumpeted directions to them
to carry items thrice their size right away
finding just what they needed.
from “Regardless of Disaster” by Jessica Greenbaum
iPads* at the Library
The library has two new Health & Wellness iPads.* with links and apps on a variety of topics. For example: A to Z info on herbs from acai to yohimbe; five things you should know about stress; Household Products updates (from Abhusha Jewelry Cldander to Zyban WSB pesticide). And lots more. Go to the library and take a look!
*Funded in part by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester.
The Seed Library is a project of the Charlotte Library, to encourage and support our community’s home food producers and seed savers. It is part of a network of Seed Libraries and Seed Savers worldwide which promote the growing of heirloom varieties. This year the focus of our Seed Library is heirloom vegetables.
Get more info here.
Carrots are served often at the Senior Center. There’s a reason. Visit the World Carrot Museum
Food Quiz: Healthy or Not?
Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists Disagree
by Kevin Quealy & Margot Sanger-Katz,
New York Times, July 5, 2016
Take a look at these foods. Which ones do you consider healthy? Check your answers with those of the public and nutritionists here:
Here’s where they mostly agree.
Percent describing a food as “healthy”
Climate Tip: Those coffee grounds are compostable. Dump them into your garden, NOT in your trash.
March comes in like a lion, but we’re ever hopeful for the appearance of the lamb.
- And so by degrees the winter wore away…and the chill,bitter, windy, early spring came round. The comic almanacks give us dreadful pictures of January and February; but, in truth, the months which should be made to look gloomy are March and April. Let no man boast himself that he has got through the perils of winter till at least the seventh of May.–Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne, 1858
- It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.–Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1861
- In a couple of months, we’ll have asparagus, fava beans, baby lettuces, ramps, fiddleheads and pea greens, the bounty of early spring. We’re moving forward. It will get better.–Sam Sifton, “What to Cook This Week,” New York Times, March 3, 2019
May the good meals you’ll find at the Senior Center inspire conversations about friendship and food, and not too much griping about the weather.
- Homemade baking powder: Sift together two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda. –New York Times Cooking
- Warning: Fast-Growth Chickens Produce New Industry Woe: ‘Spaghetti Meat’
The delicious Monday desserts served this month all come with stories.
- Here’s the story of chocolate chips
- Read how early American skillet cake became Pineapple Upside Down Cake
- Often associated with Lent, Hot Cross Buns may date much earlier. Historians note that Egyptians and Saxons used small bun-like breads in sacrificial ceremonies to their goddesses, including Eostre, the goddess of spring. The cross also stood for the four seasons and the four phases of the moon and was used on breads made in honor of lunar goddesses in several cultures.
- Assessing the fruit available in Paris, Thomas Jefferson concluded that “they have no apple here to compare with our Newtown pippin,” and he requested that James Madison arrange shipment of both a barrel of the apples and fifty to one hundred of its grafts…less for his own use than to establish the American product in France.
—Dining at Monticello, edited by Damon Lee Fowler (Thomas Jefferson Foundation)
- Asparagus is surely a harbinger of spring. In his Garden Book, Jefferson noted its harvesting and arrival at his table twenty-two times, the average date being April 8.
- Cork City, Ireland exported vast quantities of Corned Beef around the world from the 1600s to the 1820ies, but whether Corned Beef & Cabbage is a traditional Irish dish or as American as apple pie is up for discussion.
- Enjoy Chicken Cordon Bleu, while noting that Cordon Bleu was originally a title reserved for the Chevaliers of the Order of Saint Esprit (the highest order of chivalry under the Bourbon Kings), to whom it belonged because of the blue sash they wore. The term gradually focused on cooks, particularly a very skillful female cook (une cuisinière très-habile).
- As for Boeuf Bourguigon we’ll just let Julia Child have the last word: Boeuf Bourguignon: one of the most delicious beef stews concocted.
More often than not, Monday Munch features soup, a great variety of soup. Here’s a bit of White House soup lore.
Richard Nixon did not agree with the old Spanish proverb “Of soup and love, the first is best.” After his first state dinner, Nixon complained that the meal had gone on too long and since “Men don’t really like soup,” the soup course should thereafter be omitted. Other presidents disagreed. Thomas Jefferson wrote out directions for preparing white bean soup, which you can read here.
Abraham Lincoln chose Mock Turtle Soup for his Inaugural luncheon menu in March 1861, along with Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes, and Blackberry Pie.
President Eisenhower, more interested in cooking than his wife, offered a recipe for Green Green Turtle Soup that begins, “Cut off the head from a live green turtle and drain the blood.”
President James Garfield, in office for only 6 ½ months before he was assassinated, liked squirrel soup, as did Benjamin Harrison. The recipe requires three or four good-sized squirrels.
If your travels take you to New York City, you can give sheep’s head soup a try. The New York Times calls kelle paca “a velvet sheath for the tongue, a declaration against winter.”
One of the Wednesday lunches this month features Shepherd’s pie, which can be dated to the introduction of potatoes, a New World food, in England. Introduced by the Spanish in the early 1500s, potatoes did not gain popularity in England until the 18th century when frugal housewives in the north of England and Scotland came up with the idea for Shepherd’s Pie, using minced meat and topped with mashed potatoes. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the name comes from the fact that there are large numbers of sheep in that region.