The Agricultural Culinary Folk Arts, Part 2
By Lily Frey, with photos by Luke Frey
Originally published in the December 2013 newsletter of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC), this is the second in a series of articles relating to what Luke Frey has coined “The Agricultural Culinary Folk Arts” (www.freywine.com). See the first installment, by Christian Saretzki, here.
Welcome to the Primrose Café!
Squirrel Nut-kin crackers with dancing air bacteria, fine fruit,
aged dairy and prideful pesto
Small green leaves with finery and a lemon gowning
Oven roasted bird with yellow flower sauce and pollinators gold,
served on a bed of Irelands Favorites
Transparently rice with all finery, including plant of egg and other peter rabbit donations
Lemon basil san dia
Roasted garden pockets with goodness busting forth and pre-pickle relishing
Served with: Infused elixer of life
Dessert: Sun milk with food of the goods in a cup
Today is a special day. The Primrose Café only opens on someone’s birthday and today is someone’s birthday! I’m in the kitchen and there are five minutes until the first course will be served. Around me are chopped vegetables, fragrant fruits, ground spices, and blessed salt. Food, in all colors and states of preparation: sizzling sautéing delights, simmering bubbling sweetness, golden hot baking, and things cooling carefully. The head waiter and only waiter is a little person. He is getting the plates ready and excitedly saying, “Is it time yet?” again and again, and again.
Smells waft out the window to a group of people in a orchard sitting around a well set table. There are bright zinnias blooming, and a peach-colored rose bush looking lovely. The people about to be served have just gotten a poetry prompt, and are stretching themselves creatively, with pens, paper, and inwardness. An orchard surrounds The Primrose Café, its branches reaching and swaying, offering sweet apples to eager hands. Stretching out beyond the small orchard to one side are gardens filled with the abundance of late summer: rows of carrots, jungles of tomatoes, dark green basil, forests of kale punctuated by vibrant calendula, and borage flowers. Red beets, yellow chard, and lettuces grow eagerly with radishes, fennel, and dandelion in a hidden garden of life and vitality. Looking past the bee hives on the other side of the orchard, three Jersey cows peacefully rest, awaiting their evening hay. Beyond this, a small flock of meat chickens drink whey from those cows.
And then the young little waiter blows the horn to announce the beginning of the meal. With apron on, he proudly flourishes the first course. The food is displayed beautifully, for what is there to life if we can not experience and create beauty? Then, there is the freshness, all grown within sight of where we sit: aromatic, uplifting herbs; dark energizing greens; spry orange carrots; cheery cherry tomatoes; and cooling, crispy, cucumbers. The list is endless, and the courses are as well.
Each dish is brought separately, in carefully arranged small portions, so that it can be fully appreciated. It is exciting for the guests to guess what might be coming next. They see the menu at the beginning, but its descriptions are enigmatic enough to pique curiosity. And as the little waiter brings out the courses, the mystery is slowly revealed: Oven-roasted bird with yellow flower sauce and pollinators’ gold becomes a tangy and rich honey-mustard chicken. A nutty green salad bursting with healthful herbs and topped by a lemon vinaigrette. For an interlude to these courses we serve a lemon basil watermelon slushy, a pleasing palette cleanser. Then, roasted pockets become a roasted pepper stuffed with cheese, vegetables, and seeds with a cucumber relish. The meal is concluded by a homemade fruit ice cream, for which the waiter joins the table.
Our lives revolve around meals, and eating from the earth’s abundance that literally rests beneath our feet. At the Primrose Café, all the food is tied to the land. In this way each dish becomes a story—something beyond what we see on plates and in pots. Everything we eat is an intricate and interconnected character in a saga of sun, seasons, and spirit. But the Primrose Café is not just about food and having it come right from where we sit. It is also about striving for the best, the most beautiful. This includes how the food is grown and cooked, and it also includes how we eat it. There is always some kind of creative expression before the meal—a poetry prompt, creative writing, or music. It is about breaking out of habits and experiencing a meal in a fresh way. Every moment of our lives is a chance to be inspired and work for the best. In my mind, mealtimes and cooking are a perfect opportunity to work on ourselves as well as the food we create. After all, the kitchen is a place of alchemy and transformation.
At The Primrose Café, we strive to meet the moment of the meal with full appreciation and a wholeness of experience. We attend to all elements that became the meal. Often, when we eat a quick lunch on the go or pull together something for a late dinner, we are not fully present in gratitude and we do not recognize the miracle of the human’s relation to his environment. I realize, at some meals, that I am not actually listening to the person across from me. In fact, I am not responding to what they say, but instead I already have something in mind to say. The Primrose Café attempts to cultivate not only the relation between food and man, but also strives to enrich our interactions with each other. It is not about a particular formula or recipe to becoming awake. Rather, it is about maintaining an interest in life and never falling into the automatic. It is about questioning our actions, and measuring them against our ideal of the highest actions. And this attitude of awake interest and questioning can be brought into every aspect of life. How did I awake this morning? What were my first thoughts? First words to a family member? How did I react when I saw the weather or organized my day? And because we must eat every day, the kitchen and meals are a perfect time to really focus in on how we hold ourselves in the world. So next time you’re in the kitchen ask questions and pay attention to the answers. Where was that harvested and when? How was that harvested and by whom? Or how can I use this vegetable in a new and unfamiliar way? How does this make me feel or affect me? This is what the Primrose Café is about: slowing down, creating new things from what’s in season, and conversely creating new things and thoughts from within ourselves.