Industrial Harvest


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.



What happened to the flour, part 3: blogroll by sarah kavage

Today’s snippets all come from the so-called blogosphere.  I have been amazed at the profusion of cooking / eating / food-related blogs that exist,  and tracked down quite a few posts that detail baking adventures with Industrial Harvest flour.  Bonus:  food bloggers, if I may generalize so crudely, appear to be quite dedicated.  They take lots of pictures.  They provide lots of loving background detail and backstories.  They also often include recipes!

Some of these have made it to the Industrial Harvest facebook page already, so excuse the repeats if you’ve seen them already.  But let that be a reminder to you:  if you’re on facebook, said page is a great way to let me know what you’ve done with the flour.  Another option:  post photos to our still-underutilized flickr group!

Moving right along:  this blogger made whole wheat biscotti using Alice Waters’ recipe

ECO, a cooperative household in Pilsen, runs a CSA and a co-op.  They did all kinds of stuff with the flour and took wheat berries to plant a cover crop on their rooftop garden.

Last year around this time, I was wrapping up a residency at InCUBATE, which may have been the tipping point at which this project became a reality.  InCUBATE (and I, as resident) shared their Congress Theater storefront with the Chicago Underground Library, and that was how I met Thuy.  Thuy is a pretty serious baker, and turned me on to the magic of pure wheat gluten (if you’ve never tried it, it is a miracle cure for too-dense, heavy bread).  So I knew Thuy would do something awesome with the flour and was thrilled to re-connect with her this fall.  Her beautifully written post is not to be missed.

The Cuentos Foundation had a fundraiser / bake sale in October to raise money for Oaxaca mudslide victims at Danny’s, a classic Chicago watering hole.

My buddies Gina and Jerry in Seattle have been all wrapped up with opening what will surely be a super-delicious, authentic and unpretentious Italian restaurant.  But they still took the time to adopt 50 pounds of flour and bake a huge batch of bread for the local food bank…in their backyard brick oven that they built themselves.

And then there’s this.  Your mouth will water looking at these pictures (click “next post” all the way at the bottom of the page for the finished product).



Ernie’s Apple Cake by sarah kavage

An addendum to yesterday’s post on Edgewater / Care For Real.  Ernie Constantino, who hooked me up with Care For Real, Tom Robb and Mary Ann Smith, was introduced to me at least in part due to his excellence at pie baking.  He lives in Edgewater, so he and his partner stopped by one chilly Saturday morning and took home 40 pounds of whole wheat pastry flour. Ernie has since become one of my most dedicated test bakers, sending me detailed reports on flour performance and recipes.  Here’s Ernie’s recipe for apple cake.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Ernie Constantino’s Apple Cake

Ernie’s report:  “the cake was well-received in spite of my feeling it was way too sweet! … so if you forward this recipe, please give them my notes that the sugar could be reduced by at least 1/2 cup (btw, I used Turbinado/Raw sugar) and also the amount of batter was too much for a standard bundt tube pan …. also it was very moist which is good taste-wise but it crumbled easily esp. with the amount of apples called for in middle of cake … nutrition-wise, I think with the unpeeled hand-picked apples and WWPF*, canola oil, OJ, walnuts and eggs, it’s a winner!”
*whole wheat pastry flour.  Ernie is not the first person to use this acronym, though I’ve avoided it.

This recipe is un-adjusted to reflect Ernie’s notes above.  You can decide about the sugar yourself.

instruction ingredients
Chop and combine 6 apples 

1 Tbl cinnamon

5 Tbl sugar

Mix in large bowl 2 ¾ cups whole wheat flour 

1 Tbl baking powder

1 tsp salt

Whisk and mix with above 1 cup vegetable oil 

¼ cup orange juice

2 cups sugar

2 ½ tsp vanilla

1 cup chopped nuts

Add 4 eggs

Pour half of batter into greased tube pan. Spread half of apple mixture on batter. Pour remaining batter then remaining apples on top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 90 minutes.



Care for Real by sarah kavage
Been a few weeks, eh?  Beware – once you get back to the northwest time just starts slipping away again.  This post has been slow going. I’ve been consumed by trying to re-enter into Seattle life.  Work.  Friends, cat, husband.  So many birthdays (including mine).  A freezing cold apartment.  All compounded by the considerable motivational wallop that a northwest winter always brings.  I’ve been persisting, though and slowly, slowly working my way through a few last reports of my time in Chicago. 

So without further ado:  the final flour donation in Chicago was to Care For Real, a food pantry in Edgewater.  Edgewater was home base during my stay in Chicago, and it was good to me.  Well-treed, not too gentrified with a wide variety of buildings and residents (many of them immigrants or refugees), Edgewater is tucked away by the lake on Chicago’s far north side.  True, it’s less convenient to get to most other places in the city, but it’s also a refuge from the rest of the city.  I described it to husband Rob as “the Brooklyn of Chicago” and when he came to visit he agreed.

I wanted to give back to my home away from home, and it seemed appropriate that the donation to Care For Real was the last one.  I was introduced to Care For Real and its director Tom Robb by Ernie Constantino, who works for 48th ward Alder(wo)man Mary Ann Smith (for readers who are not from Chicago, the 48th ward includes Edgewater; an Alderman is similar to a city councilperson).  The pantry is run out of a tiny storefront in the 6000 block of North Broadway.  Care For Real, like all the food banks and pantries I have talked to, is bursting at the seams trying to serve the ever-growing numbers of clients in need.  When I asked Tom how much flour he wanted, he said, laughing, “I might freak out if it’s over 700 pounds.”  When I arrived, I understood his reply.  There was a front room where the clients signed in and picked up food; it contained a packed waiting area of about 20 chairs, a small school desk and several tables overflowing with food donations from the big grocery stores that are practically right across the street.  In back was a couple of offices and a maze of racks, cabinets and refrigerators all crammed into a space maybe 20 by 40 feet, maybe not even that much.  Here is what part of it looks like:

backstage at Care For Real

backstage at Care For Real

Mary Ann Smith also showed up for a little meet & greet and to pose for some photos on her way to another meeting.  Here we are “unloading the van” (which basically means that Nate and a few volunteers did most of the unloading and we all stood around and got in the way of everyone trying to do actual work and took pictures of it).

Unloading at Care For Real:  Sarah, Nate, Mary Ann 

Unloading at Care For Real: Sarah, Nate, Mary Ann

There was just barely room for the flour in the storage racks.  Fred, who volunteers weekly, was both strong and nimble enough to maneuver 14 bags of flour into place on the shelves.  I was a little worried about the lack of refrigerated space for the whole wheat pastry flour, but with the holidays coming up, the staff assured me that it would not sit for long.

Fred, stocking with a smile

Fred, stocking with a smile



Fraternite Notre Dame by sarah kavage

On Monday, I went to visit the Sisters at Fraternite Notre Dame, a convent in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s far west side.   FND was one of the first flour recipients – back in early July, they took a ton of all-purpose flour to use for their food pantry and kitchen.  Not only do they run a soup kitchen, they fund the soup kitchen by selling French pastries – tarts, croissants – at farmers’ markets around Chicago (The pastries turn up in the soup kitchen too).  I’d been wanting to see their operation all summer and finally, during my last week in Chicago, we were able to arrange a visit.

Having worked with nuns in the past, I am never quite sure what to think of them.  Put mildly, they’re a throwback to another time, and these nuns, not only nuns but French, seem especially out of place.  I hold pretty negative opinions about the Catholic church, but did want to acknowledge the strong commitment to service that these women have.  And all of this made me even more curious to check out what went on in their kitchen.

I arrived as the nuns were in the middle of serving up their daily lunch for the homeless and poor in the neighborhood.  Austin is a neighborhood with a long history – originally a (generally) working class white neighborhood that experienced a long, and especially infamous, transition into one that was (and still is) largely black.  I just began reading Amanda Seligman’s book Block by Block, which chronicles the history of racial transformation in Austin.  The author’s thesis is that systemic disinvestment in the neighborhood, lack of political influence, and neglect of the building stock go back long before the racial changes and white flight began.  The nuns (French, from a breakaway sect of the Catholic church) moved into this melieu about 10 years ago and see about 200 people a day come through their doors for lunch.  When I asked if they ever had to turn anyone away, Sister Marie replied “how can you say yes to one and no to another?”

In the kitchen at Fraternite Notre Dame

In the kitchen at Fraternite Notre Dame

FND, like most of the other agencies I’ve talked to and visited, have seen the number of people in their soup kitchen line grow and grow over the last few years.  The nuns start their day early in the morning with mass, then cooking in the soup kitchen, then serving and cleaning up (people line up for lunch starting at 10 am; lunch starts at 11 and goes till 1).  Once that’s done, they begin making pastries.  Sometimes they work till midnight, sometimes even later if there’s a market the next day,  because the pastries need to be fresh.  They  go through about 400 pounds of flour a week.

pastries to go

pastries to go

As part of my visit, Sister Marie brought me to an upstairs dining room where there was a table set with some juice and a platter of a dozen or so small pastries in white paper nests.  For me.  I was a little dumb-founded – charmed by the decidedly European-style over the top hospitality and the beautiful treats, foggy with a killer head cold, and feeling a little dash of guilt brought on by knowing that in the dining room just below me, people were eating what might be their only meal of the day.  It was a little uncomfortable to be treated like such an important visitor, but I do like pastries.  I did happen to be hungry.  And I didn’t want to be rude, so I wolfed down several  as I told the Sister more about the story of the flour and where it was all coming from and tried to emphasize that I’m not rich or anything.  Then the rest of the pastries were packed up in a little white box, and another white box appeared – this one with a whole, perfect berry tart – and was placed into my arms.  The nuns showed me politely to the door, and there I was, all sugared-up, back on the streets of Austin.



Adaptation by sarah kavage

Back in August, I met N.,who came to the reception at Roots & Culture hoping to take some flour back to Jamaica to give away on an upcoming trip.  She thought it would be a provocative commentary in that island nation, as the recent increases in food prices had had severe impacts on the people there.  N. told me that the government just passes along price increases to the consumers, even though it has the power to do otherwise.  Like many Caribbean nations, Jamaica could easily be self-sufficient in terms of food, as it’s blessed with a year-round growing season and many native sources of nutrients.  But instead, it’s been sold down the river by corporations/governments focused on growing commodities (such as sugar cane) for export, undermining its food security – particularly in tough economic times like these.

So, together with the patient and flexible Mike Wolf, we arranged for N. to pick up a 50-lb bag from the Roots & Culture show and take it with her on the plane.  I hadn’t heard from her much since, but I caught up with her when she came to the commodities trading session at Mess Hall.  She broke the bad news to me:  “It didn’t make it.  I’ve got the day off on Thursday.  I’ll come by and tell you the whole story.”  Read what happened to her, in her own words, here – it’s a great lesson in creative adaptability under pressure.

Speaking of adaptability, check out the newly updated list of upcoming Industrial Harvest events.  Both Mess Hall sessions have now been rescheduled for Oct. 10 (this coming Sunday, 11 am – 1 pm) and Oct. 24 (another Sunday, 3 – 5 pm).  Join us!