Food source and preparation, the basics, is out of sight and out of mind for most of today’s population. Who thinks about the fact that gelatin comes from processing skin and bones of animals as they eat Jello salad?
I once asked an elementary school class what main ingredient was used to make hamburger buns. A few said flour; only one knew that flour started out as wheat that he might or might not recognize growing in the field.
Not so long ago we lived at the source of our food supply. We didn’t see sugar made in this part of the country, for example, but when our sorghum formed crystals around the sides of the jar we understood the principle of how and from what sugar was made. We knew if tiny tomato seeds were not sown under the plant bed canvas to sprout into slips and set out and tended that we would not have any tomatoes to eat.
We were a party to the slaughter of chickens and pigs we had petted because it had to happen.
My mother’s middle name could have been “Clean.” She was persistent about the house, her personal self, and above all, her cooking being clean. Yet, things happened that people who are isolated from the source would frown upon today—unaware of worse ways that food products might be handled in our mega-facilities where we don’t see.
If a fly landed in the bucket of milk we were carrying from the cow to the house, we dipped out the fly with our fingertip and flipped it away beside the path. You didn’t pour out two gallons of milk because of a little thing like that. The strainer caught the hay leaves that sifted down into the bucket from the loft as we were milking.
I was always a little leery of butter churned away from home. Perhaps I was unduly influenced by the lines in the rhyming ditty that we sang as we jumped rope: “Fly in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo …Hair in the butter, pull it out…Skip to my Lou my darling.”
Prize hams and shoulders that were cured and stored in the smokehouse in the most careful way could still be invaded by larva in the crevices of the outer surface as they hung from the rafters. Again, we did not destroy the meat but simply trimmed away the affected part and went on to enjoy perfectly good flavorful slices fried in an iron skillet and put on a platter with redeye gravy poured over the top.
We coexisted with mice more than we do now with our tighter houses. They found their way around traps and got into cabinets where staples were stored. We saw their tracks and other signs that they had walked through the flour bowl. We took out the droppings with a pinch of the flour underneath and were careful to sift the rest in case we missed any. That “tainted” flour made some of the best biscuits in the world.
Have we become more protected from such unsophisticated food preparation practices? Maybe, but probably chemical substances new on the scene that we can’t see should be of more concern than a fleck or a fly in our food.