Industrial Harvest


What happened to the flour, part 10: personal use by sarah kavage

Hey, so maybe it’s time for me to tell y’all what I did with my flour…

Presented below, in no particular order, are the occasions of how I personally used the flour to nourish others in the spirit of the project.  I baked for a number of other events related to the Industrial Harvest itself, but these activities are more personal in nature.

For Thanksgiving 2010, I made two batches of dinner rolls and one pear-honey-walnut pie for two different Thanksgiving dinners in Seattle.  The rolls were a recipe my mom sent me, and turned out PERFECTLY for the first dinner, which was held on the official Thanksgiving day at our place with a few friends.  We try to do up a proper feast, usually vegetarian or vegan, every year and as the photo shows, we had a lot to be thankful for this year.  Rolls are in the “wicker chicken” breadbasket, center top; pie is to the right of the rolls.  You may also spy stuffing, two varieties of white potatoes and one of sweet potatoes, succotash with great-grandma’s heirloom red limas, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce, a squash-pecan pie and two breastlike tofu turkey mounds in a sea of roasted root veggies:

The Thanksgiving table

The Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving dinner rolls

Thanksgiving dinner rolls

The dinner rolls were the exception to an otherwise vegan dinner.  I made another batch for a larger Thanksgiving celebration a week later but cooked them in the host’s oven and they turned out underdone (still totally edible and appreciated).

The pear honey walnut pie made at least three appearances over the summer and fall, most recently at Thanksgiving.  It turned out to be the perfect pie for late summer, as pears are in season and you can always substitute apples or asian pears.  Here’s one example (from the illustration on the top crust, this one probably has apples or asian pears in it):

one of many pear-honey-walnut pies

one of the pear-honey-walnut pies

Our Chicago household (myself included) was partial to breakfasting on this pie – there’s barely any sugar in it, and the walnuts add enough protein to get you through the morning.

I made a lot of biscuits.  I probably make biscuits more than any other baked good, and in Chicago that meant several batches for the housemates and myself, some vegan, some with lard, some with buttermilk depending on all our various dietary quirks.  Back in Seattle, I made biscuits for a couple of different visitors, and a couple of batches for myself and my husband.  Sadly, there are no pictures of the biscuits.

And then there was the pizza.  I got tons of practice making pizza last summer – grilled, wood-oven fired, stovetop, plain old oven baked, I did it all.  My favorite episode involved bringing a bunch of excess dough and homemade pizza sauce (made with fresh midwest tomatoes from my housemate’s garden plot!) home to a little family reunion in Ohio, the first we’ve had in years.  Mom was happy to be absolved from some cooking duties, and the huge batch of pizza that resulted fed everyone at the reunion with slices to spare.

Another epic pizza making session took place on another homecoming – the day of I returned from Chicago to Seattle, which also happened to be my birthday.  We’d invited a bunch of friends over to make pizza as a welcome home / birthday celebration and I pretty much rolled off the train and started rolling dough.  The hilarity in the kitchen that ensued was well worth it…there’s some goofy documentation of the evening here.

I did try bread baking a couple of times, with reasonable success.  These loaves were made for our Chicago household on a verrrry hot July day, right after the flour was finished milling.  They’re not the prettiest, but they were tasty.

The lumpen loaves

The lumpen loaves

And lastly, there’s this decorative bread medallion.  It was inspired by a Bread Bakers’ Guild of America newsletter article on artistic breadbaking, which included a recipe.  Compared to the lovely, highly refined decorative breads produced by the pros, my effort was pretty crude.  Nor did it technically nourish anyone, but as one of the few actual art pieces produced as part of Industrial Harvest, I was somehow happy with it and felt it deserved a place in this list.  It was one of three made for the show at Roots & Culture.  You can see the others here (one fell apart shortly after the opening).

wheat penny bread medallion

wheat penny bread medallion



What Happened to the Flour, Part 9: Meat Pies by sarah kavage

Back to the flour stories!  Recently I received the second of two notes which pertained to the making of meat pies on special occasions.  Despite the fact that I’m a vegetarian – or maybe because of it – these stories were worthy of particular admiration.  The first, received on Christmas day, really needs no further explanation as to why:

From: M
To: sarah
Date: Sat, December 25, 2010 11:38:02 AM
Subject: Venison Pot Pie
Sarah,
This Wisconsin Road Kill Venison (collected and butchered by M) Pot Pie was topped with Sour Dough Pastry Biscuits by you and me and enjoyed by many in Chicago.
Thank you so much for your time and effort on the Industrial Harvest project in Chicago.
Your legacy lives on.
M

roadkill pot pie, up close & personal

roadkill pot pie, up close & personal

On second thought, I should note that the road kill in question was butchered by my Chicago housemate while I was living with him this summer.  No, I did not witness the butchering, that was done in Wisconsin on a weekend trip.  But still, I lived with bloody deer parts in a freezer for a good part of the summer, and so feel a special attachment to it – and some serious respect for my housemate.  I think this was his first road kill butchering.

Then yesterday on the Industrial Harvest facebook page, Mike Sula from the Chicago Reader posted his story of the mince (meat) pies that he and Sheila Sachs made for the memorial to writer Cliff Doerksen, who passed away in December.  Cliff won the James Beard award for his 2009 Chicago Reader story on the history of mince pie in America.  The award was well deserved; Cliff’s tale is a great ride through an odd bit of US culinary history which probably would have otherwise been completely forgotten (Mike’s note sent me off on multiple internet tangents, and not knowing anything about Cliff or mince pie previously,  they were welcome and entertaining diversions).  Mike and Sheila’s sweet tribute – seven mince pies, with crusts made with Industrial Harvest flour, fed 200 people at the memorial.  It was an honor to play even a small part in that.  Thanks to Mike and Sheila for including me and creating such a thoughtful send-off to Cliff.



What happened to the flour, Part 8: grandma’s cooking by sarah kavage

There is something about being a grandmother – once you have fed a couple of generations, you are generally considered to be the font of knowledge in culinary matters.  This email from L made me think of my own grandma, also named Sarah. She was a generous, compassionate person who worked as a supervising nurse at the local hospital back before it was common for women to have jobs outside the home.  She could also play cards, tend a garden, sew a little girl a pink princess dress and COOK, all with an inordinate amount of style.  What I remember best is the homemade pasta – beef ravioli, and on Thanksgiving, egg noodles served with “just a little” butter.  Her spirit has been with me throughout this project.

Whatever the dish, there is something special about a grandma’s cooking that is tough to replicate, as L attests to here.  Not being grandmas, we can only speculate about what that is.  Maybe it’s decades of practice, thrown into sharper relief by a culture obsessed with instant results.  I also suspect there’s some secret magic at work, unknown to us ordinary citizens.

From: L
To: sarah
Sent: Wed, January 5, 2011 5:30:40 PM
Subject: flour project
Hi Sarah,
This has been a long time coming, but better late than never, I hope! Here’s my description and photos of what I baked with the flour.

A summer memory: I baked my baba’s famous pie. She’s always made apple or cherry pies, but since harvest season was upon us, I made an apple and a pear pie with fruit I bought at the farmers market. I shared the apple pie with my community garden at our weekly workday. The pear I served at a barbecue I hosted with my old neighbors gathered in the backyard. (Yes, we heated the pie on the grill!)

pies a la baba

pies a la baba

the finished pie (and at least one finished beer)

the finished pie (and at least one finished beer)

My baba’s baked goods have been a family tradition since before I was even born. That side of the family lives about 600 miles from where I grew up, so it was a special thing to have her nowhere-else-to-be-found pastries once or twice a year. She’s 88 now and still baking the same sweets I remember from my childhood. I think her baking is even more special to me now, and I haven’t found a pie that tastes better than the kind she bakes from scratch.

I knew I wanted to share my baba’s pie recipe as soon as I read about the Industrial Harvest project. My crust turned out inferior to hers, probably because she’s been baking for decades and bakes by intuition –  she just adds a little of whatever ingredient is needed if the texture isn’t right – but I’ll keep attempting to maintain the baking tradition. Coincidentally, the day I got my flour was also her birthday.

On Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 2:26 PM, sarah wrote:
L,
that’s a really beautiful story. I have so many fond memories of my Grandma in the kitchen (and the garden) too, and am still trying to live up to her culinary legacy.  I would love to share this on the project blog. Is that OK?
Happy new year!
s

From: L
To: sarah
Date: Fri, January 7, 2011 10:59:52 AM
Subject: Re: flour project
Thank you! That would be great to have the story posted on the blog. Yes, my baba was also an avid gardener in her more energetic days (that’s another trait I inherited from her). There really is something to a grandma’s baking – I think one actually has to be a grandma in order to achieve that level of skill with combining ingredients. There’s a real comfort in those foods.

Happy new year to you, too. I’m so glad that I was a part of this project!
L



What Happened to the flour, part 7: bagels by sarah kavage

Having never made bagels, I’m impressed with this young woman.  I have pretty strong opinions about bagels and still daydream fondly about the Bagel Hole in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a tiny storefront bagel deli responsible for what I believe to be the best bagels of all time.

From: H
To: sarah
Date: Sat, October 2, 2010 8:23:09 AM
Subject: Flour and Bagels
Dear Sarah Kavage,
I am a junior in high-school at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago.
On Tuesday of this past week, I met Tara Lane (at the Hull House soup kitchen) and received a very cool bag of flour.
Before this attempt, I had never made bagels before. I figured the flour should be the main ingredient in the baked good of choice, so bagels seemed to be the ideal new endeavor.
I was so happy when they came out of the oven looking lovely (although not perfect- they had character) and
tasting delicious!
Your project is incredible! If there is any way I could get involved as a high-schooler, please let me know!
Thank you so much for your flour,
and changing the way we relate to food,
H
(P.S. In my AP Lang class at Payton, we are working in conjunction with the Pulitzer center to produce a
documentary on a local issue. My group will be focusing on food insecurity in Chicago. As we develop our
ideas, would it be okay to contact you for new ideas or information?)

bagels!

bagels!

H’s bagels look like a bagel should – shiny crust on the outside, golden brown, not too big or fluffy.  Some sesame seeds on top would be the bomb.  Yum!



What Happened to the Flour, Part 6: Short and Sweet by sarah kavage

Happy New Year!  For all you flour recipients, thanks for all the notes in response to my recent email about what’s happened to all the flour y’all took home.  It’s been fun reading them all.  So far, the emails and reports have ranged from short essays to just a few words.  As much as I love a long, leisurely tale (and there’ll be plenty of entries dedicated to those, don’t worry!), it’s those that say so much in so few words that I want to celebrate in this post.  Because, if you still owe me a note, it’s as easy as these.  Really.  You can write a novel, and I’ll appreciate it, but these are also totally and wonderfully perfect in their simplicity.

From: K
To: sarah
Date: Tue, November 16, 2010 4:08:15 PM
Subject: Taylor’s muffins
Hi Sarah,
Taylor, my 10-year old daughter, and I met you at Forest Park’s market on Oct 8. We loved your flour and made apple muffins. We shared them with co-workers, teachers, friends and neighbors. They were almost all gone before I remembered to take a picture!
Hope your project is going well.

muffins de Taylor

muffins de Taylor

From: M
To: sarah
Date: Mon, September 27, 2010 9:02:28 PM
Subject: Photos of our wonderful bread : )
Hi Sarah,
Here are a few pictures of the delicious bread we baked this weekend. Thanks a lot for providing us with the
free flour and for all the wonderful work you do.

wonderful bread

wonderful bread

I’ve gotten two lovely notes from P. in the last week, both under 10 words with a single picture.  Note that the plates are the same.

From: P
To: sarah
Date: Wed, December 29, 2010 6:50:30 PM
Subject: Waffle
Made with industrial harvest flour & enjoyed with friends. Delicious.

waffling

From: P
To: sarah
Date: Sat, January 1, 2011 3:40:55 PM
Subject: Cornbread made with industrial harvest flour
Part of the traditional new year’s meal.

happy new year!

happy new year!

From: S
To: sarah
Date: Tue, November 9, 2010 1:24:02 PM
Subject: What I did with my flour
Hello Sarah,
I used most of my flour to make waffles for my friends! I hosted a waffle breakfast and fed about 14 people, including moms and other guests from out of town. They were all delighted to participate in your project. Thanks for providing the delicious main ingredient!

and more waffling!

and more waffling!

From: k
To: sarah
Date: Thu, December 30, 2010 10:14:56 AM
Subject: Re: happy holidays from industrial harvest
Hi, Sarah, thanks again for the flour!  I used some for homemade noodles.

and a little noodlin'

and a little noodlin'

From: j
To: sarah
Date: Thu, December 30, 2010 6:47:32 AM
Subject: Going to make oatmeal artisan bread to share
Sent from my Wireless Phone

bread-to-be

bread-to-be

From: c
To: sarah
Date: Mon, January 3, 2011 4:28:57 PM
Subject: chocolate chip muffins!
Unfortunately I did not think to take pictures and have used the whole darn bag but I made a lot of chocolate chip walnut
muffins for the holidays. Delicious and GONE!*

*this was a friend of mine, and it wasn’t till after she sent this email that I realized I had eaten some of those very muffins.  They were indeed delicious.



What happened to the flour, part 5: The ones that got away by sarah kavage

My husband Rob is the documentarian of the family.  I was into photography back in the pre-digital age, but pretty much immediately upon coupling up with Rob I decided I liked having my own personal archivist, put the camera away and just enjoyed living without looking through a lens.

This spring, however, all of that had to change once I realized that I was on my own in Chicago.  No personal archivist, no husband – just me, alone with my poor documentation habits.  Undeterred, I bought a camera and carried it around constantly, ever-so-slow on the draw, trying to figure out how to work the daggone thing on the fly, and re-remembering all that stuff about apertures and f-stops.  Even though I feel like I did a passable job documenting the major events of the summer, picking up the camera to capture a moment never became instinct.

And so, I have some regrets.  Rob will occasionally mention a missed shot from years ago that has been burned into his memory, which I’ve always found impressive but a bit odd.  Why hold onto it?  But now I understand.  This post is dedicated to trying to tell, in words, what I should have captured in pictures.

Two stories stick in my head.  The first happened when D. contacted me about getting 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour this fall:

I am a hobby farmer who happens to produce more than enough pumpkins for myself, family and friends.  Generally I give away the pumpkins and bread I make out of the pumpkins.  The crops are organic and grown in glorious DeKalb County soil in Sycamore, Illinois.  I’d be interested in 50 lbs of the flour so that I can make dozens of loaves of pumpkin bread this season to give away.  I could accept the flour ASAP because I’m already harvesting pumpkins and baking.

A couple weeks after he’d picked up his bag of flour, D. emailed me saying that he had a few loaves of pumpkin bread for me.  I was of course delighted, but running around that day and told D. if I wasn’t at home he could leave the bread on our front porch.

Later that afternoon I got a text from D. that he’d just dropped off the bread.  Although I was home at the time, it took me about 10 minutes to make it downstairs to the porch.  On the porch was a small box containing 5 loaves of pumpkin bread.  And on the box was a little squirrel.  He had chewed through the box, the plastic wrap and was so contentedly munching away on the bread that he barely looked up when I opened the door.  No doubt that if I had gone up to get the camera, he would have stayed there feasting and we could have had an adorable, hilarious photo shoot.  Oh, I could kick myself.

Of course, when I told Rob about this the first words out of his mouth were “did you take pictures?”

The second tale of documentary woes started with an email from N., who works at Urban Habitat Chicago.  They were interested in trying to grow wheat, and maybe taking a little flour too.  We went back and forth to figure out a time for her to come pick some up, and we were both kind of busy and ended up doing one of those “let’s talk on Sunday night and see if we can do it then” appointments that didn’t used to happen before everyone had cell phones.  And then when she called I didn’t hear my phone.  When I finally called back, it was hours later – well after dark – but N. said that was OK.  It would take her an hour to get up to my place, though – she was going to do the hauling by trailer bike.

The trailer was a sturdy, well-built DIY contraption that utilized milk crates, steel tubing and big cart wheels.  Turns out, this was its maiden haul.  I grilled N. about the handling, the weight, the construction as we loaded it up with 50, then 100 pounds of wheat berries and took it for a test ride down the alley.  Getting the bike moving was really not too difficult – with 100 pounds of cargo, you’ve got momentum on your side.  Turning was not too bad either.  But stopping – well, that was tougher.  N. was headed down Damen towards Pilsen, and the only part we agreed might be a bit sketchy was the downhill part of the bridge across the river.  Truth be told, I was slightly worried when I did not hear back from her for a couple of days, but it turned out she, the wheat and the bike made it just fine.  It was only then that I began kicking myself for not busting out the camera.  What was I thinking?  The only human-powered haul of the project (and surely the most bad-ass) and I stupidly missed it.

N. came by again a week or two later to pick up more wheat, but it was raining and she showed up with a friend’s truck.  There are no second chances.



What happened to the flour, part 4: holiday edition by sarah kavage

So far this has been the first handwritten bit of documentation that I’ve received.  It came earlier this week and I’ve been saving it up for a Christmas day post.  It came from an unfamiliar name and address in Chicago.

First off, because I’m the sort who thinks a Christmas card with a sorta-cross-eyed kitten on it is way cute, I had to stop and think:  do I know the person who sent this?


And then, surprise!  When we coordinated the donations to St. Columbanus, although we labeled the flour using the standard label I made up – that has my name, email and mailing address on it – the food bank clients received the flour without any sort of explanation or context.  So I hadn’t really expected to hear from any of them.  Getting a bag of flour that instructs you to correspond with its maker is slightly random.   Perhaps I, also, made some assumptions that people who were getting food from a food bank were not the types to care about an art project, or were not inclined to want to document the act of trying to keep food on the table.  Having these assumptions be made apparent through a single note is humbling.

At the same time, it gave me immense satisfaction to hear that the flour was appreciated by somebody out there.  Mom (who trained me from a young age to write thank-you letters, something I’m not always so good about now) was right:  it just feels good to be acknowledged for a gift.  It put me in the holiday spirit like I have not been in many years.

However you celebrate the winter holiday season, hope it is filled with love and friendship.