In honor of my first return to the States after 1.5 years of living in Denmark, I thought I’d share this—the first story I ever wrote for Heirloom Food Project. In those beginning times, this project was specifically aiming to inspire U.S. cooks to participate and take pride in our food culture. Since then, I have realized that many of us living in industrialized nations beyond the U.S. could use this inspiration, too. Enjoy :)
Where do I start?
That’s the question I kept grappling with. My curiosities are many and my subject—American food culture—so vast. How can I possibly find a starting point?
And then I remembered the apple. It’s so central to our culture, so intertwined with food, nutrition, schools, goodness, our largest metropolis, and even technology.
Originally, I wanted to write about the origins of the apple. Its genus. Its rise as icon of food and health in our society.
But then I picked up The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, and it occupied my mind. He speaks about the need for connection to our own work--in this case, participation in our own food culture.
After all, that’s what this project is about—inspiring participation, and consequently, pride—in our food.
So...I put my iconic apple curiosities aside (for now) and baked a pie. Berry talks about how the home used to be a hub for food production, but that it’s now mostly outsourced in our ever-specialized culture:
“Thus, the average—one is tempted to say, the ideal—American citizen now consigns the problem of food production to agriculturists and ‘agribusinessmen’... The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money... From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride.”
I decided that my first act in this exploration would be to participate in food production in my home. That started with a trip to Reverend Nat's Apple Market, where my partner Bjarke and I stuffed one crate's worth of apples into our bike bags and pedaled them home.
I probably spent 4 hands-on hours total with this pie. Initially, I thought “bake apple pie” was a checkbox I had to tick to get this story to you. With that in mind, every glance at the clock made me freak. I need to hurry up! Why am I so slow?
And there she was, the crux of American Culture, in all her convenient glory. Hurry up, she says. This is not a valid way to spend your time, she says. This is not efficient, she reminds. You’re not even making money right now!, she cries.
I ran the butter and flour through my fingers. I took pleasure in pressing the dough into place. I peeled the apple skins slowly. Then I peeled them hurriedly after seeing the clock. And then, after reminding myself that this was worthwhile, slowly again.
"This is As American As Apple Pie," I thought. It’s a constant wrestling match between joy and guilt.
In my case, joy won out in the end. I took care in weaving each piece of dough over another to form the lattice. I beat fresh cream by hand and whisk. I folded in a drizzle of maple syrup from my home state of Ohio.
Although today I don’t bring you facts about apples or the history of their importance, I bring you something that our culture (myself included) so desperately needs: permission. Permission to make something for the joy of it, because of the pride you feel when creating something with your own two hands.
Imagine a world in which the idiom was “As American as Apple Pie, Home-made with Pride.”
That, to me, is a worthy American dream.
I’d love if you joined me in taking a few steps toward this dream. Today, I invite you to:
“Stop and smell the roses”–literally! The apple belongs to the rose family. Each varietal gives off a floral scent. Go ahead, pick up an apple and sniff next time you’re at the market.
Pause during your next bout at the cutting board or stove. Run through your five senses. Enjoy the smells, the sounds of slicing and sizzling, the taste (you ARE sampling, right?).
Put away the utensils. Use your hands to toss a salad, mix a dough, or coat oven-bound veggies with oil.
Did this spark a new perspective for you? If you feel so inspired, please share this story with friends or share it on social media. Let’s spread the good news of food.