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 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 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).



What happened to the flour, Part 2 by sarah kavage

Continuing the report-back from the flour giveaways, here’s three more.  There is no real theme for them other than they pleased me:  one because it had to do with beer, one because of the connection to my Washington state home, and one because it’s just super sweet.  Actually, they are all super sweet and in different ways exemplify the sharing I hoped would come out of this process.  Hopefully it’s not too annoying to read these email threads; I like presenting the reports the way they actually came to me (I have made minor edits to correct for typos and such).

The first is from N. who bravely took home several pounds of wheat berries to use to make a wheat beer.  She is, so far, the only person who committed to using the wheat in the brewing process, although I haven’t heard a final report from her on how the beer turned out.  I recently started brewing up my very first batch of homebrew so finally understand how it all works.  The flour N. took ended up feeding the annual Brew Not Bombs fundraiser in Chicago this past September:

From: N –
To: sarah
Date: Thu, September 30, 2010 9:19:26 PM
Subject: Re: industrial harvest update & upcoming events

Hey Sarah
So….You gave me flour and whole wheat berries. I haven’t yet used the berries but I plan to roast them and then make beer. With the flour, I made a huge batch of caraway almond biscuits for Brew Not Bombs and they were devoured by ravenous anarchists and beer lovers. My friend also used some of the flour to bake loaves of sourdough bread which was also DELICIOUS and served to kids at Brew Not Bombs to allow the beer drinking to continue late into the night.

Thanks so much…I also put little notes out at Brew Not Bombs about how the wheat came from Industrial Harvest.  I’ll keep you updated about the beer.
-N.

Next up, these notes from a couple who brought the flour on a trip to Washington state and shared it with their host:

From: E
To: sarah
Date: Tue, October 5, 2010 9:56:18 AM
Subject: Industrial harvest flour!

Hi, Sarah! This is E. My girlfriend contacted you earlier. We received some of your flour from Edible Alchemy in Chicago and used it to make this handsome apple pie while couch-surfing with T. in Walla Walla, WA.
Thanks so much for the flour and the fun!

From: F
To: sarah
Date: Tue, September 28, 2010 10:46:55 AM
Subject: Wheat tracking

Hi Sarah,
I think your wheat project is wonderful. I hope everyone who gets word of your project appreciates the nourishment as much as I do. My lover, E. and I got about 3 lbs of flour from your wheat from ECO and took it with us on our summer vacation which began in mid August and lasted for three weeks. During our trip, we visited Walla Walla, Washington for the first time. Also for the first time, we couch-surfed with a collage student there, T. It was a new experience for us and to show our appreciation to our host, we used a bunch of your flour to make a beautiful apple pie which we all shared. It was delicious. Thanks!
peace
– F.

to thine own self be true

Walla Walla apple pie

Walla Walla apple pie

And lastly, I talked to this woman at the Hull House and she, her father and her son were all dedicated bakers.  She was very excited to have three generations of her family participating in this project, and later forwarded me this sweet email from her father (note the awesome review of the flour’s performance!):

From: R –
To: sarah
Date: Mon, August 30, 2010 7:50:46 AM
Subject: Fwd: Pizza

Dear Sarah,
I saw your talk at the Lill Street Art Center and got some flour from you. I gave it to my dad, who is a retired chef, and has more time to bake than I do. He absolutely loved it. Thanks so much!
– R.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 8:23 PM
Subject: Pizza
To: R-
Dear Daughter:
I thank you for giving me the experience of working with the best flour I’ve worked in my chef life for the last 12 years.
The natural gluten and the freshness of the flour gave me a perfect dough. I’m sorry you are not here to enjoy this wonderful Marguerite pizza.
Love,
Dad



St. Columbanus by sarah kavage

Every Wednesday, at around the same time the traders are headed down to LaSalle & Jackson, hungry folks are lining up at St. Columbanus church in West Woodlawn for their weekly food pantry.  Food distribution starts at 10 a.m., and people stand in line for several hours or more to make sure they get a spot in line in order to receive one of the 500 bags of produce and dry goods.  When the food pantry at St. Columbanus started 5 years ago, they served about 50 people a week.  When the economy crashed in 2008, they saw a spike in the number of people seeking help, and reached 500 people in February of 2009.  At this point, 500 people a week is their limit – although they sometimes do serve a few more if they have extra food.  “It’s hard to turn people away,” their director, LaVerne Morris told me.  Although their dedicated volunteer crew shows up at 6 a.m., there’s only so much you can do with volunteers before people burn out.

LaVerne signed up for a bulk donation of 2500 pounds of flour – enough for 5 pounds per food bank client.  She had extra volunteers come in to bag up the flour the night before the distribution, and, wanting to see their operation in action, I offered to come down and pitch in for a few hours.  6 a.m. was a little too early, as I’ve been keeping late nights working, so I showed up at 9 like a real Seattle slacker and LaVerne put me to work on the “assembly line” for the produce bags.

When you’re serving 500 people, you’ve got to be or-gan-ized, and LaVerne and her crew had things tight.  One set of volunteers walked around with bags open, collecting the produce that the other set of volunteers dropped into the bags.  I got a plum duty (couldn’t resist that one), working with Jerome over a giant box.  Each bag got 4 plums.  Or maybe 6, if the ones you picked up were small.  Or 8, if Jerome and I happened to each put in a handful.  Or a dozen, if you were feeling like there were so many that you’d never reach the bottom before the bags ran out.  Or 4, if suddenly the plums all disappeared and there were still bags to fill.  Jerome, who has been a St. Columbanus volunteer for 4 years now, was a great ambassador and a friendly guy, telling me that he the feeling that he gets from working at the food pantry is “like nothing else.  It just makes you feel so good, helping people like this.”
The bags contained plums, carrots, potatoes, watermelons, meats and cheeses, and a bunch of other fresh veggies that I didn’t get to see because I had my head down in the plum box.  Clients also got separate boxes of dry goods.
At just after 10 a.m., we were ready and LaVerne began directing the crew to their stations for the distribution.  I was put inside the “glass house,” where the clients register, so that I could hand out the flour.
The lineup for the food bank stretched around the block.  People had brought folding chairs like they were lining up for concert tickets – it’s either that or stand up for 4 hours (or sleep in and risk missing out entirely).  Slowly, the line worked its way through the glass house and back outside to the food distribution area on the other side of the church.  Troy and Dee greeted the clients and directed them from one place to the next.  People were polite and mostly subdued, but not quite downtrodden – more like maintaining in the face of what must be so many challenges.  Some were styled out, some didn’t seem to have a roof over their head.  A few were obviously embarrassed to be in such a situation, others seemed downright used to it.  I wondered which was worse – feeling humiliated, or being so used to getting handouts that it becomes the status quo.  In a conversation with a friend later that day, we talked about how food banks are this huge band-aid for so many of the structural inequities in our society.  Although I would never describe St. Columbanus as anything other than amazing and positive, because the root causes of hunger in our communities never really get addressed in a serious way, food banks become institutions that feed (literally) the dis-empowerment of entire communities.

PS:  a reminder that TUESDAY (tomorrow) NIGHT it’ll be time for COMMODITIES TRADING 101 at Mess Hall, 6932 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park, 7-9 pm.  If you want to understand the commodity / Board of Trade system, this is your chance to get the lowdown with two longtime brokers.  Paul Maggio and Russ Rsezsutko have 50 years of experience between the two of them, and will able about how futures trading works, the history of the CBOT, recent changes there, and how what happens on the trading floor impacts eaters, farmers and real food.  We’ll have a PIT tournament afterwards, so get ready to unleash your inner capitalist.  See the rest of the schedule for my remaining week at Mess Hall here



catching up by sarah kavage

It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve got some catching up to do on recent events.  Rob (on a visit from Seattle) and I were lucky to be included as part of one of the semi-regular trips to Angelic Organics’ rural Learning Center with folks from the Heartland Alliance’s Kovler Center and their sister program, International FACES.  Both programs work with refugees and victims of torture.  Many of the refugees come from rural or agricultural backgrounds, and many of them rarely get to leave the city (for some of the folks, this was their first trip outside Chicago since their arrival in the US).   Angelic had a wood-fired oven, I had some flour, Rob had a camera, and the refugees had their traditional recipes from their home countries.  We harvested vegetables, rolled dough, and talked.

I think Rob, the son of refugees, puts into words what I can’t about the experience.

Speaking of putting things into words well, Martha Bayne really did an amazing job with her feature article about this project in the Reader.

And, one last thing, I got an answer to the question in the previous post about how farmers benefit from an increase in wheat prices if the harvest is already past.  I’ll be posting that in the comments section of the post momentarily (or maybe tomorrow).



Flatbreads day at Kendall by sarah kavage

I was invited by Melina Kelson, who teaches the artisan breadbaking class at Kendall College Culinary Schoool, to spend this morning talking to her class and baking pizza / foccacia in the brick oven she built with 4 students last year.  Today was the last class day of an intense session, where students come to class for 10 days straight, 6 am – noon.  Finals are tomorrow, so today was sort of a fun day.  The dough was made with the Industrial Harvest all-purpose flour, which Melina was quite happy with.  She said it is perfectly aged and working beautifully.  Greenfield Mills does it again – !

The students started by weighing and apportioning the dough into 12-oz pieces.

The dough is then rolled into balls.  Melina had the students double-fisting – rolling up two balls of dough at a time, one in each hand.

After each students rolls up their dough balls, they label it with their initials…

…and it is covered and left to proof.  The many gaps between breadbaking tasks leave plenty of time for short lectures, so we’d talk in between. We spent an entire break talking about the specifics of my futures transaction – pretty impressive!  The students asked lots of great questions and made it easy and fun to talk about what I was doing.

Here, Melina (center) demonstrates rolling out pizza dough.  I’ve seen this done many different ways, and Melina started with a rolling pin and then began to stretch the dough with her knuckles.  Her tip:  stretch the edges, the middle will take care of itself.

The final demo pizza:  thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes (a waxy potato that will retain its crunch better then starchy varieties), carmelized onions, blue cheese.

We migrate out into the courtyard, where the oven has been heating up all morning, and Melina loads the pizza in the oven.  She cracks an egg on top right before it goes in.  The oven needs to be at least 450 degrees, preferably hotter.

The demo pizza cooks for under 5 minutes, is lovingly documented and then consumed.

The finished demo pizza.  It was incredibly delicious.

We also got to make our own pizzas, and the students shared their dough with me and showed me the ropes.  Hannah was on top of it enough to suggest that she take a picture of my pizza going in the oven.  Having worked in at least 3 pizza restaurants in my “career” in the restaurant industry, I had collected a number of tips over the years:  don’t use too much sauce or cheese, oregano goes in pizza sauce (not basil, that goes in pasta sauce), and brush the crust with olive oil.  There were so many toppings that it was tough to decide what to do, but I went with olives, mushroom, mozzarella and parmesan.

The finished pizza – a couple blackened blisters which could have meant a re-do at Two Boots, but overall was great.  All in all, a pretty good morning’s work – I took it home and we had lunch, with 2 pieces left for dinner.  Thanks so much to Melina and all the students for creating such a sharing, welcoming atmosphere – I really had a blast playing chef for a few hours.



To Market by sarah kavage

Yesterday was the first flour giveaway at a farmers’ market.  I have been working on setting up a few farmers’ market appearances around town, and this one is a brand new market on the UIC campus organized by the Hull House Museum.

Having several friends that are seasoned flea-market vendors, I dig the market vibe.  It can be an endurance test in the same way that waiting tables is – you either seem to be standing around twiddling your thumbs, or totally “in the weeds” – and there’s a cameraderie among market vendors that comes from going through all of it together, the same way there is with a good restaurant staff.  I’ve spent many an hour hanging out at friends’ booths, which usually means helping with setup / breakdown, watching booths during bathroom breaks, running food and water, kvetching about the customers and maintaining a running commentary on street style and dogs as the parade of humanity goes by.  So, given that I’ve also been schooled on proper market presentation, here’s the market signage…

We didn’t even get a chance to take a picture of the whole setup.  It was complete madness, in a good way of course.  The kind folks at the Hull House had arranged for a volunteer to help me.  I didn’t even know I needed help but was so, so glad to have it!  Cristina, a grad student in urban planning who is studying food systems, helped me set up, I walked her through the drill of the flour distribution and accounting “system” and we were swamped with “customers” shortly thereafter.  A line of people kept us hopping – Cristina did the accounting and label preparation, and I scooped flour into bags.  I started having flashbacks from my restaurant days and kept having to remind myself to relax.  People did not seem to mind standing around for 5 minutes, and if they did, well – whatever, it’s free.

Most of the folks that came by were from the UIC community – many of them had read about the project already, but for those who didn’t Cristina and I got lots of practice explaining the project.  There were a couple repeat customers from the Hull House talk, some visitors from New Orleans, an economist, most of the other market vendors, and the UIC food safety officer, who seemed curious but completely unphased by what I was doing (as it should be, but a relief nonetheless).  Someone pointed out to my surprise and delight that the vintage scale reads “not legal for trade”!  It took about 2 hours for the “lunch rush” to die down and we were able to visit the other market booths for some lunch of our own.  One of  the vendors told me that he thought we’d helped bring him some business – awesome!

By 3:00 the sun had taken its toll.  We had no tent or shade, and I could feel the sunburn / heatstroke coming on.  So we packed up (another nice thing about giving stuff away is that I’m not losing any money by going home early) and got out just in time.  Hopefully those that came later in the afternoon were not too disappointed.  I’ll surely be back to Hull House again and will also be making appearances at other markets around town.

Upon returning home, I was thrilled to find out the “official” ledgers had arrived!  These gorgeous ledgers have been gathering dust at home for at least several years, and when I realized they’d be the perfect thing to use for accounting purposes, I had Rob ship them out.  Much better than an old crappy notebook.  Get ready for a barrage of statistics.
FYI, these are actually Czech ledgers (you think they still make things as nice as this in the US??).  They appear to be made to track blood transfusions…

Shifting gears now as I go up to Wisconsin for the opening weekend of the “Women in Grains” show in Reedsburg…