Meet the Original Locavore – THIS SATURDAY!

October 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Know Edna Lewis, Edna Lewis Dinner


UPDATE: This event had been postponed after we first posted, but it is VERY much back on and set for this Saturday, October 5, 6PM, at Inspiration Kitchen.  Details and ticket information here.

edna lewis

In 2007, the new Oxford American Dictionary recognized locavore as the “word of the year.”

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

It was noted that the term was coined a few years earlier by four women in San Francisco who proposed that people should eat food grown or produced nearby. No one bothered to mention or credit someone who earlier made such an approach highly desirable, Edna Lewis.

Her life is rather famous in foodie circles. Her Wikipedia page conveys the story of Southern women established herself as a well known New York cook and restaurateur then became the doyenne of country-cooking, but her New York Times obituary adds what is most vital, “Miss Lewis turned the focused, close-to-nature cooking of her childhood into the second of her four books.  It is here, where the locavore movement should have taken off.

Like so many books these days, Ms. Lewis organized Taste of Country Cooking by season. She guided the reader through her memories of the yearly cycle of planting, foraging, harvesting, putting away and celebrating. There are so many things I find useful and admirable in the book, but what struck me most was how elegant and grand it presented her cooking. To the New York Times, it “helped put an end to the knee-slapping, cornpone image of Southern food among many American cooks.” Maybe because the first set of recipes included, for dessert, the old fashioned French pudding, blanc mange, it did seem far from Cracker Barrel. You expect Southern cooking to be filled with vegetable recipes, but this collection was filled with dishes that sound like they could also come from a Paula Wolfert cookbook, lentils and scallions for a race day picnic or steamed wild watercress that went with Christmas dinner. What most surprised me was the attention to salads (and how apt her advice remains).

Near the start of her tale, Lewis explains:

There were no special rules on the serving of salads. Salads were served in accordance with the season of the particular leafy green–the first being the salad below [scallions or young onion plants and "Simpson" lettuce]. Later, there were beet tops, lambs quarters, puslane and Cos [Romaine] lettuce. And in the middle of summer these would be used for salad instead of boiled leafy greens, such as rape, dandelion leaves, wild mustard and beet top.

A part of every table’s centerpiece were canister of jars holding vinegar, oil, mustard, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Everyone was free to mix his or her own dressing for the salad.

Oh, what we could learn; the frugality of gathered plants like purslane; the phytochemicals ever present at the meals. Is this instead, Mark Bittman? Michael Pollan?

Taste draws you a map to lead an ample locavore life, but a later book, In Pursuit of Flavor, fills in the details. If I could throw out a Jewish analogy that will probably fly right past most of you, Taste is the Torah while Pursuit is the Talmud, the specifics to get you to the order laid out earlier. I love the simplicity in the Pursuit recipes, but I like more how the directions are presented against an actual range of fruits and vegetables I see while trying to eat local. I think Edna Lewis would most appreciate you using her approach for your regular meals, there is something about her presentation that also inspires grand fetes.

One of the finest meals I’ve ever enjoyed was an Edna Lewis/Slow Food Chicago dinner cooked up by Paul Fehribach at Big Jones. There’s another one on the way. On August 17, two organizations that inspire us, the Inspiration Kitchen and Sugar Beet Coop are teaming up for a fundraiser and Edna Lewis celebration dinner. We’ll have menu details soon, but just knowing the original locavore should get you going. Tickets can be had here.

Seasonal Soul Food: A Celebration of Chef Edna Lewis – October 5, 2013

Inspiration Kitchen
3504 W. Lake St
Chicago, IL 60624
United States

One Comment

  1. I loved Edna Lewis! She was one of the first people I got to hang out with in New York writing a magazine feature as a young food writer…so inspiring, yet down to earth…

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