Pleasure and Purity; A Story of Local Eating
I never did like East Indian food. See, this is a shame because, well, I am East Indian. While the majority of my peers longed for the spices that my culture delivered to the table, I often coveted classic Italian cuisine. The garlic infused oils, fantastic utilization of fresh veggies and herbs, and of course, pasta. When the opportunity to delve into local eating presented itself, I couldn’t help but reminisce on my deep yearning for Italian food. After being given this project, I immediately thought of gnocchi and pesto. It was probably just a momentary craving. I set my sights on this pairing and began my research. As I lay on my couch, my laptop buzzing with recipes, I began to fear my ability to pull off this assignment. Gnocchi seemed incredibly difficult, and local pesto seemed like a whole other challenge. My sister laughed when I finished telling her about my task, saying,
“Wow! I’m sure surprised you didn’t pick your oh so favourite scalloped potatoes.”
I hated myself for not thinking of scalloped potatoes before I finalized my recipe, as this would have been a simple, less than ten ingredient dish. Oh well. No pain, no gain, as they say. I chose the road less travelled, and by doing so, I was about to embark on a journey that taught me history of not only Italian cooking, but the history of basil and potatoes, and most definitely some pretty darn cool botanical facts. Above all, I was unaware that I was about to be enlightened about the joys of local eating.
As I embarked on this adventure, I mentally accounted for information I could gather that may be useful to my task. This is how I live my life, in lists. First and foremost, I wanted a better understanding of my main plant ingredients; potatoes and basil. Where did these plants come from? What did they offer to humanity? What were they all about? These were among the questions ticking in my head. I, the journalist, and the plants, my interviewees.
I started with the most abundant ingredient in my recipe, the potato. With the help of my good friend, the internet, I soon was swimming in amples of information to sort through about the potato, or the Solanum tuberosum. I collectively found out that the potato is native to the Andes. The potato was important to the people of the Andes because of its ability to thrive in harsh weather in high altitudes. Possibly thousands of years ago, early farmers in the area shared their crops farther north and south. The dominant spread of the potato was result of the Spanish invasion of South America in the 1500s.
Today, we are mainly familiar with the popular classics like russet, and Yukon gold, although there are an abundance of wild potato species. This diversity is beneficial for potato breeders who can isolate traits that are found in the wild species, such as disease resistance.
Potatoes are often looked down upon these days based on the fact that they are very filling and often linked to weight gain. I took this opportunity to really delve into my project and find out the truth behind potatoes, and to grasp knowledge about this spud at closer level.
Potatoes are very low in protein and sodium, and high in dietary fibre vitamin C, B and potassium. They have a relatively low amount of naturally occurring fats and sugars. Corn, white bread, beans, pasta, bread, rice. The are all common sources of carbohydrates. Compared to these foods, potatoes have a inferior energy density and supply less calories per gram of food (McGill et al., 2013). I was pretty disappointed to hear that French fries were an exception to this. Typical to many things these days, I found out that potatoes can be good in moderation, and their link to weightloss is still highly debatable. So, if you tend to have hashbrowns for breakfast, french fries for lunch, and a twiced baked potato for dinner, you may gain a pound or two, but hey, I’m no dietary nutritionist. Although the topic of potatoes and weight loss is uncertain, they do have encouraging benefits to cardiometabolic health in humans, such as lowering BP, improving lipid profiles, and decreasing markers of inflammation (Mcgill et al., 2013).
With my discovery of the micro and macronutrients of potatoes, I decided that was enough for me, and that was as close to the potato as I was willing to get! I was feeling highly motivated at this point, and jumped right into my research about Basil.
Basil, or Ocimum basilicum, was thought to have originated in India. It is cultivated throughout Asia and the Mediterranean, as well as California. Basil has been cultivated for around 5,000 years, and has spread all around the world (Collins, 1990).
We all are aware that basil basically makes any dish better (at least in my opinion), but I rapidly found out that this herb is advantageous for many other uses. Basil is beneficial for coughs and colds, calming of the stomach, leveling out blood sugar, aiding ear infections, reducing stress, etc (Encyclopedia of life: Basil). The of the many uses of basil seemed ever growing, and I was shocked. I was inspired to see all these application in action as soon as I got my hands on some basil. This thought quickly led me to another, wouldn’t all of these uses of basil seem much more rewarding if I grew my own basil?
And so began the great basil growing expedition.
Lets just say this expedition began and ended fairly quickly. I had the fortunate, yet bitter opportunity of learning the many do’s and don’ts of growing herbs. Apparently you have to actually harvest and prune the leaves at some point, and ever growing wild leafy basil plant, is an unhappy one. Also, basil doesn’t drink as much water as I do, it really doesn’t need too much. Lastly, when you do actually decide to harvest, there are places on the plant you should and should not take leaves from. Wow! I’ll tell you this much, growing basil was basically like taking care of a child, apparently not my thing.
After my trials and errors, time was lacking to grow a new baby from scratch. Oops, I mean basil! I decided to purchase a basil seedling from the store. I had much better luck caring for the plant the second time around.
Now that I had covered my basis of knowledge for the potato and basil, as well as even obtained one of them, it was time to seek out the rest of my ingredients.
As to quote Charles Dickens, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Some ingredients appeared right in front of me when I least expected, and some I had to search for profusely.
Besides potatoes and basil, the third most prominent ingredient in my recipe was garlic. Garlic, or Allium sativum, originated in Central Asia, and has been cultivated for nearly 5000 years. The cultivation of garlic is very popular, making it quite easy to find locally, or semi-locally. Lucky for me, I came across Elements farm, not too far from town. Here, they had for me the gift of fresh garlic and potatoes.
Who can complain about killing two birds with one stone? Not me.
Did you know there are nuts in pesto? Okay, you probably did, but I was unaware. To say that I was annoyed that pine nuts were regularly used in pesto was an understatement. See, we can’t get these locally as far as I’m aware. Frankly, I found this ridiculous as I am pretty sure those are pine trees I am seeing out this window. I still don’t understand, but I think it’s probably best to move on and stop stressing about this fact. So here I am, thinking that my life has come to an end because pesto has an ingredient that I just cannot obtain. Once again, the internet saved my life. I quickly found out that pesto is fairly versatile. Arguably, I think basil substituted pesto, isn’t really even pesto, but I found recipes that used several alternative. The same deal was with pine nuts. I decided to go with a hazelnut pesto. Hazelnuts are extremely easy to find around Kamloops. I personally took the lazy girl way, and headed to facebook, inquiring about my need. Within minutes, I had several replies from local hazelnut growers. The following day I was a happy girl with a bag of hazelnuts from a local horticulture center.
The last plant-based ingredient was flour. I was dreading finding flour locally, as I was darn sure this would be my one ingredient that was from another end of the earth. Surprisingly this was my easiest ingredient to find. I had stumbled upon all-purpose flour which was made in Armstrong, right on the shelves at the grocery store down the street from my house.
My non-plant ingredients were fairly easy to source semi-locally. Sea salt from Vancouver Island. Eggs from a local farmer friend. French Gruyere cheese from the farmers market. Canadian canola oil.
As I stood in my kitchen, my ingredients strewn in front of me like the pieces to a puzzle, I finally grasped the feeling of local eating.
Everything was starting to come together.
All the local eating facts I had previously crammed into myself were buzzing through my head with every chop of basil, every cooked potato to come out of the boiling water, and every blend of the pesto. I was reminded that the typical item of food travels approximately 1,500 miles from farm to plate (Peterson, 2012), but I had managed to get the majority of my ingredients about 100 miles away, more or less. That was a fifteenth of the usual statistic. How could you not be in shock by that fact? Besides the carbon footprint issue of non-local eating, local food is believed to taste better than food grown from greater lengths away. It is also claimed that local food has a higher trust value than your typical non-local supermarket items (Peterson, 2012).
The basil, garlic, salt, french gruyere, hazelnuts, and oil, were blended together easily, into a smooth perfection of pesto. The potatoes were cooked and riced, kneaded with eggs, salt and flour to an elastic-like dough, pinched into little dumplings, and boiled until they lightly floated to the top. I delicately poured the pesto over the steaming gnocchi, watching the mixture liquify as it drizzled down each little dumpling.
A finished product never looked so pleasing and pure.