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Rural Romanticism About Food


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Let me start off by saying I love where I live. In DE I am smack dab in the middle of the most densely populated corridor of the US, I have Philly half an hour away, Baltimore 45 minutes, and NYC 2 hours. I have countless mexican markets in my immediate area, and a bit of a drive downstate offers Indian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Philipino grocers. If I head into PA I can pick up Italian delicacies with ease, and cheeseteaks, chinese, mexican, red gravey italian, pizzas, etc are merely a phone call away from being delivered to my door. What more could a guy ask for?

Well.... somehow, I always seem to wax romantic about rural down to earth humble cooking, food tied to its roots, at least in presentation. There have been lots of threads about the lack of good options in dining in many rural areas, yet still, I dream of, 40 years from now, retiring to a small place in St. Alban, England, wandering to the Cathedral on Sunday mornings, and then enjoying a hearty steak and kidney pie and a pint of ale while discussing the latest soccer match with the locals (err, I should figure out something about soccer before then). Will I ever do it? Will I miss the multitudes of options I have now if I do?

There are some members of eG who live in rural areas such as this where great authentic local cooking abounds. There are many more who live it up in the big cities, being able to flit from 4 star joint to 4 star joint on a whim. Then again, the majority of us are probably living it out in suburbia as am I, taking out enjoyment from bits and pieces between the two extremes.

Is romantic idealization about rural cooking a luxury and pipe dream for those who don't live it? Do others who live outside of the soulful bossomy areas of the world have these kind of longings as well? Would those of you who do live in such areas give it up for the bustle and options of the bigtime city life?

Discuss

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Rural cooking?

What IS that, Nullo Modo?

Tell us more.

What was that you said? Something about romantic and. . .was it idealism. . .both in the same sentence!?

P.S. I am smiling.

And wait a minute. You even ended up with something about soulful bosomy areas.

Heh heh.

............................................................

Nullo Modo.

Write a menu for what this food, this idea, is to you.

As a starting point.

This is fun.

Please. Imagine a menu that would fulfill this wish?

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Interesting topic, NulloModo. But I'm not sure how this translates internationally. Rural trattorie in Tuscany and Umbria can be fantastic. Likewise for rustic cafes and brasseries in a region like La Provence. But the area whose rural cooking I have most experience with is the East Coast of Peninsular (West) Malaysia, particularly Terengganu. In the 70s, with the exception of some special occasions and individual terrific home cooks, I had to go to the cities (small cities in those days, mind you, but still cities) to get great meals. There were a few popular coffee shops in the village I lived in, but that was really home cooking, too, plus iced drinks using blocks of ice transported from the city and kept in a bin until they melted (no refrigeration). Ingredients during most of the year except for the monsoon season were fresh but not necessarily sumptous, and the people were poor. Actually, the food I had in the elementary school canteen during recess was terrific, but my daily fare tended to be over-full of belacan (shrimp paste) and included much more ikan selayang (the cheapest and most dependably available fish in those days, with lots of thin, long bones to spear one's gums and scrape one's throat with) than I would have liked. No complaints about the great cultivated and wild fruits and vegetables, though.

Nowadays, things are very different. The people are much wealthier, and the kampung (village) food available in coffee shops is excellent and much more varied. The local cuisine has also benefitted from a strong infusion of culinary influence from Thailand.

So where does this leave us in this discussion? First of all, probably in much the same way that all politics is local, all culinary questions are local. Secondly, if I chose to live in Malaysia and wanted to live in my old village for personal reasons, there's no doubt I could be happy with what I ate there. And I'd certainly get fresher produce there than in Kuala Lumpur, in general (it always pays to live in an agricultural region if you want things that are really fresh). But if I wanted to live somewhere in Malaysia where I could get the best quality food and most variety, that wouldn't be in the countryside or even on the East Coast (much as I love Kota Bharu food); it would be in a West Coast city like Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, or Penang (caveat: I haven't been to Penang in 28 years, but it's always been well-known as a place to get terrific food).

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Hehe, the things I were thinking about were similar to...

a country ham and collard greens both raised in the farms in some some town in VA or AL right outside of the restaurant in which it was served, steak and kidney pie, a pint of local ale, and some chips in a pub in England, boullabaise from a coastal town in France, Aloo Gobi and fish curry in a village in India, authentic bruschetta, a simple yet hearty pasta dish, and some great locally cured antipasto somewhere in Italy.

I think the menu could vary endlessly wherever it is being eaten, but I am talking about simple, heart, no-nonsense salt of the earth food. Cooked by those who learned it from their parents, which in turn learned it from theirs... Nothing fancy, nothing looking for a michelin star, but not too much from a can other than when it is an absolute neccessity. The cliched dishes that you think about when you think of the local cuisine of a region... does such a thing even really truly exist, or is it just some food-lover's fantasy?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Yes, but not always in the countryside. I've gotten things I consider analogous to that in Kuala Terengganu and Kota Bharu, Malaysia; Delhi and Srinagar, India; and Nice, France. When you go to Nice, try some of the seafood and fish dishes there. The memory of them makes me smile.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I agree, you can get great fresh food in the cities and industrialized regions as well... but when I think of really fresh, really honest, really true to it's heritage food, my mind conjures up images of idyllic pastoral settings, forests, beaches, running streams, scraggy mountains abundant with goats and wild oregano, etc.

I'm betting that I am not the only person on this board that entertains these images when digging into some 'rustic' fare. I am just curious, is this just silly nonsense we city and pseudo-city dwellers come up with as a form of escapism, or does that type of stuff really exist in abundance across the world?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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You post made me think of great meals in villages in Italy and Greece where there are a few local specialites(smoked fish in Ioannina!). In the US, it's more like clambakes and, in the midwest, fish boil. The classic US rural meals are very good but I think of them as once in a while stuff even for the residents. Like the hunters' dinners they have in New England with all the game meats.

My friends who live in quaint little villages in the UK and go to the pub after church mostly seem to eat things like satay and vindaloo.

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I agree, you can get great fresh food in the cities and industrialized regions as well... but when I think of really fresh, really honest, really true to it's heritage food, my mind conjures up images of idyllic pastoral settings, forests, beaches, running streams, scraggy mountains abundant with goats and wild oregano, etc. 

I'm betting that I am not the only person on this board that entertains these images when digging into some 'rustic' fare.  I am just curious, is this just silly nonsense we city and pseudo-city dwellers come up with as a form of escapism, or does that type of stuff really exist in abundance across the world?

As I said, I've experienced that in parts of France and Italy. No, it's not just escapism.

But having lived in both a big city and a village, I know that neither is a paradise, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I'll never have papayas, ginger, turmeric, long beans, sweet potatoes, limau nipis (a fragrant kind of lime), cashew leaves, and lemon grass growing outside of my apartment in New York, nor fresh eggs laid that day by hens in the chicken coop near the fence, nor are there fresh clams to dig up in the mangroves in East River Park. But I also don't have to hire someone to slaughter a goat or drive 25 miles on a 1-lane-each-way highway with dangerous curves and animals lying on it or walking back and forth in order to get Chinese food I like. No, it's not the chili lobster-shrimp (udang galah) of blessed memory, but I can get it delivered to my apartment in 15-20 minutes. And many of those things I'm describing about the place I lived in 3 decades ago are no longer true there, anyway, for good (mostly) and for ill.

Life is always about tradeoffs, ain't it? :wink:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Okay. Seriously.

I think it is easier (no matter what one's income level) to find a good variety of good-tasting things to eat in any city that is large enough to really be called a city.

Once you know the byroads to follow for your own tastes and pocketbook, the places are there. They may fail, or they may move, or they may be uneven sometimes in performance, but they are unending. The city grows itself. It is always moving.

On the other hand, rural areas. . .the attraction about true rural areas to both those that live there and to those that visit is their unchanging quality. The sense of time standing still, the sense of the earth and the sky and the people who have lived there since forever.

It's both romantic and true, if you can find the romantic truth in it. This is easier to do when not living there, though. When I lived in rural areas, certainly I found great romance in things that were considered everyday sorts of things, for they were "different" to me and had a charm of their own that appealed to me.

But as far as finding great places to eat? Serendipity can provide these, but I do not remember too many people who learned to cook at their mother's knees running restaurants with great food that was provided by the kitchen garden and the pigpen out back. Wish I did. That would have been something to see. And to eat.

Unfortunately, most of the people I met did not enjoy cooking, just as they had no real wish to go out and feed the cows every morning. A nice job at a auto parts store desk would be much preferable to that, and a nice frozen quick and easy to make dinner preferable to them, too! Most people, I say. Not all. And why not? Romance is where you find it. . .or make it. Romance, to them, was not inherent in rural life, for the most part. Rural life was just what they knew and lived.

The best place I can think of, of the sort that you are describing, in the area of southern West Virginia where I lived. . .was actually a "dairy bar". Ballard, West Virginia. Nobody has any reason in the world to go there. Most people don't.

At the bend in the road, the Dairy Bar is open in the summer. White clapboard building on the corner of town (town consists of the Dairy Bar and a gas station with a game checking station and a country store) across from. . .a deserted old ranshackle house on one side. . .a Christian Church of some variety of Baptist with dire warnings about where you would end up if you didn't show up there on Sunday posted on its half-falling down billboard in the dirt front yard on the other side. . .and the country store right in front of it, with garden-fresh dirt covered vegetables in bins in front of it and customers who pulled up in pickup trucks with barefoot children who would run into the darkness of the store to hopefully get an ice-cream pop or a chunk of the wheel of orange cheese that sat usually half-uncovered on a wooden block to the side of the white bread rack.

The Dairy Bar offered burgers which tasted like. . .I don't know. They tasted like Ballard, West Virginia. Oh, no. Not fancy at all. Probably frozen too. And they offered fried oysters, of all things, which were also pretty good. Place your order, wait for your name to be called, then chow down on the picnic tables stuck under what looked like a garage roof behind the place. Once, on a hot summers day, I asked the lady that owns the place for an iced coffee. Honey, I made her day! She had never heard of such a thing, and wanted the recipe in detail. She didn't dare to try it herself, though.

How I would have loved to have seen that place serve some of the more "authentic" country foods we read of, of that some of us (as you have) have had in our past with our families.

I didn't find too much of that, though.

So, yes. I think you are being romantic. But why not?

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!

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I enjoyed that post, Karen. Just one small quibble: Rural areas change, too. In fact, I'm sure you could tell us a lot about that.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I agree with Carrot Top. In my former life as an interpreter, I did things like traipse around all of NZ's commercial slaughterhouses, take TV crews to vegetable and shellfish growers, accompany technicians to repair factory machinery in the back of beyond, etc.

The TV crew wanted to eat dinner with the vegetable grower's family, using the abundance of nature etc etc, but the grower's wife said she didn't know how to prepare half the vegetables they grew. So as well as being the interpreter and coordinator, that day I got to rush down before filming started and cook the dinner...

In other cases, where people had started up NEW farming enterprises such as oyster farming, the owners tended to be more moneyed, mobile, and educated than those running traditional farms. In these cases, the family could and would serve up city food using rural ingredients, but they were also using ingredients that their neighbors had never heard of and had no access to.

Here in Japan, for a while I belonged to a natural foods co-op. Part of the deal was offering city homestays to rural producers in town for meetings. That was really interesting! I asked if they ate food from other co-op producers, but no, they said, it was far too expensive for a large multi-generation rural family, they ate mass-market items available from local shops like everybody else in their area.

As for country restaurants, if it's a really rural area, then by definition there's no restaurant - nobody can run a business on the dining-out requirements of the 10 families who live within an hour's drive, that's why! What there is, is quick chow for passing travelers, and especially for passing truckies and salesmen.

I do think that people in production areas are often better at judging the quality of the raw materials - I sometimes think people are too easily convinced that a fashionable sauce and skilled presentation can turn a floppy, watery hunk of chicken into good food! It's easy to think that a nice, green bunch of spinach is fresh, but if you've ever fought to get a REALLY fresh bunch of spinach into a bag, you know the difference between supermarket-fresh and garden-fresh.

So what's romantic about food in the country??? Maybe food and romanticism have to do with socialization - there's more opportunity to eat with people outside your immediate family in the city, and therefore more reason to turn food into something special - people in the country enjoy special occasion food and notice, comment, and preserve forever in the annals of local gossip who brought what to which occasion, but the expectation is that food for funerals, weddings, family get-togethers, and local PTA bazaars will be predictable rather than surprising. People came to my local small town bazaars looking for jam from Mrs. X and cakes from Mrs. Y, and so the job was not to tempt the unkown passer-by, but to live up to the standard of previous years in the quality and range of items offered.

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I enjoyed that post, Karen. Just one small quibble: Rural areas change, too. In fact, I'm sure you could tell us a lot about that.

That is nice of you, Michael. . .but my own background in food in rural areas only began as an adult, so. . .well, I probably could make something up and that would be fun, but I'd rather read "the real thing" as in your stories of Malaysia.

Beyond that, the food of my childhood (which was spent in suburban areas till I left home for New York at 14) was made by my mother who thought cooking a chore and food something that had to be eaten at regular intervals to stay alive. She made simple, quick meals from cans and boxes, and she had no ethnic or cultural food memories to carry on. (My mention in the post of "some of us have memories" was meant in a global way. I didn't want to spoil the idea of the thing by mentioning that I in particular did not have these memories!!)

I wracked my brain for some ancient food thing that I could share that would show change, and the only thing that came to me was my mother's voice telling me that I should not take my children out for french fries at McDonalds because "You could save a lot of money by making them for them at home". And by that she meant, buy the frozen fries and pop them into the oven till heated. Her culinary philosophy was obviously not about how things tasted. . .but more about not wasting money on frivolous things like this! (Growing up in Maine at the time she did can do this to a person, I guess. . .)

So. Anything since my own childhood food has been an improvement. McDonald's french fries included!

Actually, going back to the theme of romantic ruralism, the thing is that for a rural person, the idea of having a McDonald's "up the road a piece" can seem like quite a romantic thing to them, so I guess part of this whole thing is perception and "where you're coming from"!

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There are some members of eG who live in rural areas such as this where great authentic local cooking abounds.  There are many more who live it up in the big cities, being able to flit from 4 star joint to 4 star joint on a whim.  Then again, the majority of us are probably living it out in suburbia as am I, taking out enjoyment from bits and pieces between the two extremes. 

Is romantic idealization about rural cooking a luxury and pipe dream for those who don't live it?  Do others who live outside of the soulful bossomy areas of the world have these kind of longings as well?  Would those of you who do live in such areas give it up for the bustle and options of the bigtime city life? 

Discuss

i'm grateful for all the city dwellers who romanticize about those soulful, bossomy areas where food is not just prepared, but actually created......

living in those areas, and creating that food, is a lot of hard work..........

and there's not much romance in that.........

i left the comfort of my bed this morning at 4 am to milk goats........

just got home.........

rural people that i've seen and known, don't really dream of city life, most have never been very far from home..........

they toil, in physically demanding work, and do as best as they can.......

they romanticize about getting into heaven...............

i think what your really dreaming about is being able to "travel" to all those quaint places and enjoy the local fare.............

i know i do the same thing..........

i've also learned that wherever i'm living, i'm romanticizing about how good some food would be from somewhere else..........

regards, john

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An interesting topic, Nullo Modo.

What fascinating responses are being written from different places!

In thinking more about what defines the rural romantic food experience, for me, it would be simplicity and lack of pretension. Along with the food being native in some way to the region.

I can think of two sorts of places that still offer this on the East Coast of the US, at least.

Lobster shacks in Maine would be one. You can still find a lobster shack that has been open for years with the family operating it, with boats bringing the lobster to the dock each day, with only a few things on the menu, with picnic tables to eat at outside. Of course these are seasonal, and generally found in areas where tourists or vacationers will be coming through, for the native population can not support it.

Barbecue in parts of the South. I know of two good barbecue joints within an hour and a half drive of here. . .one in Hinton, WV and one in Beckley, WV. Again, basic menu (and yes, they offer greens sometimes, with pot likker!). Both these places are set on the side of roads leading to town, roads littered with strip-mall sorts of stores.

...............................................................................

When I lived in the countryside and had time on my hands, naturally one of the ideas that came to me was to open a restaurant. For I was hungry for good food.

Good food that I didn't have to make myself!

Nobody in (the very small) town where I lived expressed any interest in the idea of

any sort of ethnic food. Some had not even eaten Chinese food before, and had no urge to do so. The idea of an upscale sort of place that offered different tastes, was ridiculous. That idea was an anethema to anyone that I mentioned it to. They had to try hard not to roll their eyes at me in exasperation at my nonsense.

So. How wonderful to start a barbecue place, yes? There were people around that knew how to do this, how to barbecue a whole cow or pig, or parts of. . .but two things came up in conversation and in doing research about whether this would be possible and desireable.

First, the guys that knew how to do this would not want to leave their jobs in the armory an hour drive away or the plastics factory half an hour away, for there was sure not the small financial security they had there, offered to them in a barbecue joint on the side of a road in a small town (a small town that they had grown up in and seen so many attempts at small businesses of all varieties start and die lingering deaths, small businesses started by locals themselves, not even by newcomers. . .).

And second, there were a lot more restrictions and problems inherent in the operations and business parts of opening such a place, than would have been if the place had been started-up some number of years ago which would then allow the ability to grow into the factual demands of operating a food business today.

One example: (Remembering here that I am trying to be authentic to the foods of the region.) If I had chosen to have pigs as the main staple meat of the menu, I would have to find someone that still raised pigs. Nobody in the areas did anymore, everyone had gone to steer. But did people mostly want to eat BBQ beef? No, they wanted pork. And then, even if I had found a pig farmer, it would not have been possible to get the pigs butchered by the local slaughterhouse, for due to the lack of pig business, they did not "do" pigs anymore. I was told that there were a couple of old guys over the other side of the hill (which means about at least a half hour away) that would butcher pigs, if I could find them. They weren't often available by phone, for they didn't bother with answering machines and sometimes had their lines turned off for non-payment.

And of course, the financial demands of building a place where one can serve food to the public have risen astronomically over the years due to tighter and tighter codes in all areas. . .construction, health codes, etc. You just can't pull out that 50 gallon drum and fire it up, washing your hands from the pump out back, as so many really regional, country places started up many years ago. On a shoestring.

Now, the shoestring needs to be a mariner's rope. And the intellectual demands require encyclopedias and lawyers.

......................................................................................

I guess the best thing to do, for one who has that attraction to (ha, ha! I love this line) rural romantic soulful bosomy areas, is to get there as often as possible, travel there as much as you can.

They need the support, lots of them.

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I lived in rural Minnesota where we joked that every restaurant in the county had one menu. They all offered the same things: roast beef and mashed potatoes, homemade soup all year long, fried chicken, and burgers galore. The food was all homemade and very good.

I don't think the rural setting is what made the food good though. When I travel, I always seek out small restaurants -- the type that locals eat at and typical tourists ignore. These are places owned by people who honed their cooking skills under the watchful eye of parents and grandparents instead of culinary instructors.

When I lived in rural Minnesota I was an hour's drive away from the nearest big grocery store. Now I live next to a small city and I'm 10 minutes aways from an assortment of grocery and specialty stores. I have all that convenience, yet I still have a cafe just down the road from my house that serves homemade foods native to this region that are just delicious.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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In my opinion, you're going to need to find another country than the US to get this. The closest thing I've found to this has been in the wine countries of CA, but even that is rather staged. That is, less homespun and more a result of other urbanites moving to the country and opening upscale spots. That doesn't sound like what you're looking for.

Now I live in North Carolina and tend to find it's really slim pickings when you head out of town. You're more likely to find velveeta sandwiches than anything inspired if you dine in the country. Certainly there's BBQ, but you many not want to eat that every day of your life.

I am proud to be an American chef and feel that modern American cuisine is up there with anyone else. However, I don't think our country has the fundamental and historical dedication to good food that other cultures have. Thus, good food in this country is primarily driven by young urban chefs cherry picking the cuisines of the world. You're not going to find this in the middle of nowhere.

I'd go so far as imagine that you're going to find it less and less even on the dinner tables of country homes as more people out there are driving a somewhat long distance into the nearest town to work and are probably stopping at Hardies on the way home for dinner.

This isn't to say that rural US is a total culinary wasteland, but I feel it safe to say, that good food is the exception rather than the rule.

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here have been lots of threads about the lack of good options in dining in many rural areas, yet still, I dream of, 40 years from now, retiring to a small place in St. Alban, England, wandering to the Cathedral on Sunday mornings, and then enjoying a hearty steak and kidney pie and a pint of ale while discussing the latest soccer match with the locals (err, I should figure out something about soccer before then). 

Here's my take on it. I've lived in some 37 places, including states as far north as Alaska, south as Florida, and several foreign countries, in rural areas as well as densely urban ones. And I agree that in rural settings you often can find wonderful small restaurants serving excellent local fare made from the freshest local ingredients.

But there's usually just one. Two at the very most.

So should your fantasy come true, you'd be going back to that exact same spot, and having that exact same hearty steak and kidney pie and pint of ale. And discussing things with that exact same crowd of locals. Over and over and over.

Until you're sick to death of all of them.

:cool:

What cities offer you are choice and variety. Which cannot, in my opinion, be overestimated.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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...yet still, I dream of, 40 years from now, retiring to a small place in St. Alban, England, wandering to the Cathedral on Sunday mornings, and then enjoying a hearty steak and kidney pie and a pint of ale while discussing the latest soccer match with the locals (err, I should figure out something about soccer before then). 

Rule #1: it's football.

Since I cook much more than I dine out, I'd really like to live some place with more ready access to local produce. Suburban NJ is a mess in that regard unless you want to spend a lot of drive time. My town has a serviceable farmers market from July thru Oct - I'm pretty happy with that - but the rest of the year, fuggidaboudit.

Of course the American production/distribution system is geared to bringing produce from California & Peru to my doorstep, not to trucking local produce 1% of the distance. I don't get it.

Me, I'd rather retire to almost anyplace in Italy.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I think you all need to break out your John Thorne books and re-read them. Isn't that what he celebrates?

Thanks for mentioning him. I did a search and came up with his eGullet Q&A, which I hadn't realized existed. It's interesting.

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Nullo, I think maybe you've been in the sun too long! :biggrin:

As someone who grew up on eastern Long Island, with very fresh fish and vegetables, in the rural farm area, I think I can comment. When I grew up food was fantastic. All my uncles would go fishing, clamming and bring home some for us. Farm stands had vegetables and fruit picked that day. My aunt would go to a peach farm and get a bushel of bruised peaches to make that year's jam. My aunt knew how to hunt for wild mushrooms. We'd pick beach plums in the summer (on the beach of course). It was fantastic.

Fast forward ... lived in Manhattan and California and Philadelphia ... and now I've realized my dream to live in a rural area again, complete with barn and horse. I'm in upstate New York among the dairy farms.

The food choices are pretty poor here. The locals like to consider "spiedies" a local great food but it's just chicken or pork marinated with vinegar and spices. Good but nothing to write home about. With cows all around you'd think someone would try artisal cheeses but I haven't found anyone doing that yet (maybe me when I retire?). The other local speciality is venison in hunting season, which only home cooks have; I haven't seen any in the area restaurants. The onlly really good local cooking is in an old Italian neighborhood but they don't showcase any local ingredients.

So I think generalizing about the cooking in a rural area is just not possible.

And I've had some pretty atrocious food in some British pubs!

Good luck with your dream, maybe you can find such a place!

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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Is romantic idealization about rural cooking a luxury and pipe dream for those who don't live it? Do others who live outside of the soulful bossomy areas of the world have these kind of longings as well? Would those of you who do live in such areas give it up for the bustle and options of the bigtime city life?

I think there are places in every area of the world where rural cooking/eating is readily available. Here it's boudin and smoked sausage and roasted pig. There are many, many places north of I-10 that are local favorites for the way they cook a plate of meat. Are the potatoes from the back yard though??? I think not, nor the cabbage for the cole slaw. So it's a hybrid thing of 'home cooked' and 'prepared on premises'. Sometimes it's darn right schizophrenc. Less than a mile from the gulf of Mexico (and all over the gulf coast) is one of hundreds of little rural grocery stores that sell everything from food to bait to crab nets to tackle. They always have a 'deli'. On that steam table will always be a large selection of fried things..frenchfries, boudin balls, chicken and catfish! the fish didn't come from anywhere near that store. It came from a box of flash/individually frozen FARM RAISED catfish. Why? Because it's less labor intensive and they're not a full fledged resturant with guys in the back to clean fish. Its economics pure and simple and they don't advertise it expecting you to believe it's any different. Are there places that do take local catch and serve it? you bet, but it's not likely that anything but the fish came from around there. I think the best one can do with the reality of the thing is to cook what you have available at home. I'm lucky to have access to a garden that provides me with tomatoes, potatoes, cuc's, beans, zuc's etc. and I'm amazed sometimes what I can make out of it...throw me a pig butt from down the meat packers, or let the boys catch some fish and that's as local as it gets! I enjoy it when it's available, the rest of the year I'm buying from Albertson's just like you.

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Very interesting topic, NulloModo. I grew up in a very small town (pop. 1200) in very rural North Dakota. There were only two restaurants, and the nearest town was 30 miles away. One thing I know is that none of the cooks in those places grew up cooking at their mother's knee or was actually a good cook. I know this because at the tender age of 17 I was hired to be a weekend cook at the better of the two restaurants. I was left alone for the breakfast rush, such as it was, on my second day on the job. Burned the sh** out of my right index finger scraping an egg shell off the griddle (DOH!). Turns out I was one of the better cooks because I could coordinate the disparate orders coming in during the evening dinner rush. Since it was both a steakhouse and cafe (separate sections for each, and I use those terms loosely), a dinner order could include prime rib au jus (I can't remember if the menu said "with au jus" or not...) and an egg salad sandwich. It wasn't too bad since almost everyone ordered their beef medium well or well done, but I was able to get most things plated up at roughly the same time without ruining anything and was therefore considered a good cook. It was/is a job no one wanted, with poor pay. There are no chefs in places like that.

With the exception of the prime rib, which was actually pretty good, most of the food was/is pretty godawful. Nearly everything comes of the Sysco/US Foodservice or whatever truck. Boxed scalloped potatoes, canned vegetables, premade frozen beef patties, monochromatic fried things. I go back every year and the food doesn't get better (in fact may be worse or is that my palate changing?).

Now there is only one restaurant, with self-service coffee so they don't have to pay for more than one waitress. Part of the problem is the old-timers are very cheap and complained bitterly when coffee went up to more than 50 cents per cup. The median age of the population is probably about 60 so there isn't an impetus to change.

Even with all that, I still dream about buying the second restaurant (which I could get, turnkey, for about $20k) and opening up a place that served good food, maybe something a little out of the ordinary, catering to the younger people and hunters, who are coming in more and more frequently to hunt upland wild game. There is also a growing Hispanic population, moving up to work the corporate farms (I think if you offered simple but authentic Mexican fare they would be ecstatic). My dh and I have discussed it a few times but realize it is probably a yellow brick road straight to bankruptcy...yet still I dream...

I think it is a neat romantic idea to retire to an idyllic small town, but don't count on being able to find a lot of good food.

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I'm surprised Mayhaw Man hasn't weighed in here. Where y'at, Brooks?

I grew up in Lafayette, LA (I think the population then was around 40k, now closer to 80k), which can't really be considered rural itself, but is really close to rural areas (at least it was when I grew up), and full of folks who grew up in the country.

A salient point in this thread is, as Carrot Top put it, romanticism is what you make of it. I would add that anyone with ties to rural life is just more likely than an urban dweller to be in tune with things like picking there own figs or catching their own fish -- not so much because it's necessarily special to them but because that is what is there. A passion for making the best of all the local land and water has to offer is certainly not a given.

Which reminds me, I need to check on the blackberry bush on my property that I noticed a few weeks ago for the first time in the four years I've lived here. Oh the shame!

Bridget Avila

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