Monday, April 14, 2014

Protective Foods, Part 1

Lard, Butter, Milk and Eggs

I love old cookbooks, especially the ones from back when people used to cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients and common sense. And by common sense, I mean that people didn’t expect to include many processed foods in their diets in the first place, let alone shun whole milk, eggs and easy-to-digest animal fats. See, people did not immigrate to America JUST for the sake of religious freedom and civil liberty – before even WWI, much of the land in Europe was already spent for farming. Cities were overcrowded and starvation was a reality much of the time. People worked very, very hard for very little. Farms were mostly small homesteads where people eked out a hardscrabble living by trying to feed their own families and perhaps sell a little provender for other necessities. And then they began hearing about this new continent with plenty of land for farming and an abundance of wild game, fish and forests filled with wild fruits and nuts -- people might eat meat and milk and butter and eggs for as many meals a day as they wished. Those were luxuries in much of Europe and elsewhere at the time. (Really, they still are since their food prices more accurately reflect reality than our USDA-subsidized prices here in America – Hans’ mother told him last week she was paying around $10/gallon for regular supermarket milk in Italy right now.)

So anyway, people arrived in America and began to eat very, very well – at least compared to what many of them had been able to eat before. But they still recognized the nutritive value of REAL food, or “Protective Foods” as they are called in most old cookbooks. In spite of the widespread availability of meat, it was never a large part of the diet of most ethnic groups and even in cookbooks from the turn of the century and during the Depression, meat was mostly used as a flavoring or was a special holiday or feast dish. Whole milk, eggs, lard and butter were something else altogether – they were considered essential for good health and used as often as they could be afforded.

One of my favorite older cookbooks is “The American Woman’s Cook Book” first published in 1938 (which was a fairly prosperous time in the American economy). I love the book for several reasons: 1) Preference is always given for seasonal availability of ingredients and meals are planned around that. One didn’t make up a grocery shopping list that included anything more than the bare essentials – homemakers went to the market and added fresh meat or vegetables or fruits to the shopping basket because they were available, then planned recipes and meals around those ingredients. (Milk, butter and eggs were still mostly delivered daily due to lack of refrigeration at that time.) 2) There is an index that includes recipes based on specific ingredients, such as apples or sweet corn, so that if you have an abundance of those foods, you can vary the menu while honoring the season’s bounty. There are even a couple of pages of recipes devoted exclusively to “What to make with extra egg whites and yolks.” Very handy when eggs are abundant! 3) Food nutrition actually made sense! This was long before the insanity of the Food Pyramid the USDA recommended in 1992, which was nothing more than forcing a ridiculous amount of subsidized cereal crops into the American diet by deeming them “healthy and nutritious.” (And mind you, that is exactly when Americans started the descent into obesity – we had very, very few overweight children in 1985 when I graduated high school.) In 1938, five groups of food were recognized and were given mostly equal footing in terms of nutrition. It was recommended that every child receive at LEAST one quart of milk and one egg every day, in addition to plenty of fresh and cooked vegetables, potatoes and fruits; meat (liver at least once a week); and special emphasis was given that the bread and cereal category should be a variety of WHOLE grains, not just foods made from enriched white flour or even whole wheat flour.

I do not want to spend much more time on this subject except to say that between the nutritional wasteland that started even before the Food Pyramid in 1992 and the false health information perpetrated by the USDA, the FDA, the AMA and Big Pharma – that is, instilling in us the terror of whole fats and cholesterol, while promoting shortening and other hard-to-digest oils – it is time we take a look at how much sense nutritional guidelines made so long ago. These “Protective Foods” (such as fruit, vegetables, butter, cheese, eggs and whole milk) provided the building blocks for strong, growing children and healthy adults. They gave us energy without excess carbohydrates, which turn to fat. There is even much evidence now suggesting that cholesterol (and let’s not get hung up on the good/bad here) is responsible for protecting our circulatory system from damage and repairing cells. And there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the chance of heart disease and stroke are not affected in the least by how much or how little cholesterol and animal fats we consume.

The USDA’s “nutritional guidelines” have changed over the years, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we were healthier back when we ate REAL food. And let’s face it – now that America’s lands have been mostly spent for farming any real nutrition out of the ground, doesn’t it make sense to include milk, meat and eggs from free-range, happy animals in our diet? So have an egg, have two. Have a slice of pie with a crust made from real lard. Have a glass of cold, whole-fat milk. Have the good stuff in place of some of those subsidized products, like bread and pasta. Live on the edge and see if you don't feel better for it!

Warm Potato Salad
*Red potatoes, maybe 5-6 medium, boiled or microwaved whole
*Homemade Dressing, to taste, at least 1 cup
*Fresh dill or parsley, chopped
*Fresh garlic, to taste
*2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

Keep it simple folks! This is one of the easiest side dishes imaginable. If I use the microwave and a covered casserole to cook the potatoes, I can have the dish ready in under 15 minutes. Pour the dressing over the cooked potatoes, sprinkle with the herbs and bacon, then stir them roughly with a fork to break them up. We bought 50 pounds of Red Pontiac seed potatoes last month and we’re still using them. Delicious!

Homemade Dressing
This is nothing more than homemade mayo with a little extra stone-ground mustard and salt. I used to dread making fresh mayo, until I discovered the secret of making it directly in a wide-mouth pint jar with a single beater (or whisk) attachment on my hand mixer. Now the only thing to clean up afterwards is the whisk. There’s no need to measure, approximating works just fine. It will taste a little salty and tangy, but the potatoes will balance that out.
*2-3 egg yolks (depending on how much dressing you want to make)
*scant ¼ cup lemon juice (or juice from 1 lemon)
*2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*1 cup (or more, depending on how many yolks you used) MILD-TASTING olive oil or sunflower oil or melted butter

Drop the yolks, lemon juice, mustard and salt into a wide-mouth pint jar, then use one beater (or the whisk attachment) on your mixer inserted directly in the jar to blend. Add a few drops of oil and mix. (It helps to have 3 hands here to keep the jar from spinning!) Add the oil/butter a little at a time while mixing until the jar is about ¾ or more full. Texture doesn’t really matter – the potatoes are going to soak it up anyway.

Potato Salad with Dill and Bacon