Custom Search

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Frugal Cooking: Honey from a Weed

Readers of this obscure blog may have noticed that I have not posted regularly or responded to comments in my usual way. This is because three members of my Frugal Family were in Arkansas! This was another road trip to check out a college for our beloved Frugal Daughter, the Divine Miss Em. Why University of Arkansas? Because their Honors College was given a $200,000,000 grant by Alice Walton, widow of Sam Walton of Wal-Mart. That’s more than many college endowments. Although I will be writing today about a cookbook and not about colleges, college savings etc, let me say here that if you eliminate some of the usual suspects for your college-bound student, you will find tremendous bargains out there. Some of these less well-known schools, and schools in places deemed less desirable, really do try harder. And cost less.

Anyway, it was a long and miserable drive to Fayetteville. All we knew about the town was that it has “four seasons.” But what a delight! Fayetteville seems to be a little corner of the counter-culture (Who knew?). And the college is beautiful, even though many trees showed damage from the recent ice storm. In fact, the piles of broken branches and the trees with broken-off tops were reminiscent of our post-Katrina universe.

While Frugal Daughter had her interviews, Mr. FS and I nosed around. My favorite spot was Dickson Street Books, a crowded used bookstore, with a fabulous stock and the used bookstore smell, which brought me right back to Bloomington, Indiana and the much-loved Caveat Emptor (!), a wonderful used bookstore.

In a Proustian haze (or daze) of memory, I first asked where the literary theory section was. En route, I passed the cookbook section and there I found the one cookbook I would be—and was—willing to buy: Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray. The hardback English edition was a reasonable $12.00. Reader, I bought it.

When I started reading it, I discovered that this book, which I had checked out of the library in a town I no longer live in, was as good as I remembered. It is a feast of writing, offering a picture of a way of life that was vanishing—and soon may be gone.

Gray accompanied her “Sculptor” to various sites around the Mediterranean, as he sought marble for his work. Gray learned to live—and to cook and eat—as the locals did, with the fasting and feasting of a life where all food was precious.

Here is Gray’s more evocative prose:

Good cooking is the result of a balance struck between frugality and liberality . . . It is born out of communities where the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons.

Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of nature’s provisions epitomized in the raising of a crop, we are in danger of losing touch with life itself. When Providence supplies the means, the preparation and sharing of food takes on a sacred aspect. The fact that every crop is of short duration promotes a spirit of making the best of it while it lasts and conserving part of it for future use. It also leads to periods of fasting and periods of feasting, which represent the extremes of the artist’s situation as well as the Greek Orthodox approach to food and the Catholic insistence on fasting, now abandoned.
(pp. 11-12)

I hope you enjoy that little taste and I’ll offer more as I work my way through it.

Dear readers, any thoughts on college money issues? Prestige and practicality in school choices?

Any thoughts on Arkansas as a place to live and study?

And, my favorite topic: any less-well known cookbooks you would like to recommend? Share them here.


Duchesse said...

That quote from "Honey" was so resonant for me, and I look forward to more of your comments.

Do you know the cookbooks of Claudia Roden? Arabesque, and The Book of Middle Eastern Food?

re Arkansas: I've never been there but will throw in the point that when you're young and enjoying the first freedoms of your young adult life, it is not so important where you are. That is NOT my feeling, it's what I've observed. I would advise a young person to spend 4 or more years in a culturally rich (and as a plus)scenic place, like Paris or Montreal. But so many kinds are happy and well-educated in a dump of a college town. (Like me, in East Lansing, Michigan, and my bro in South Bend, Indiana. My sister got smart and went to college in Miami!)

Anonymous said...

Can't comment on Arkansas (Iwent to university in London) but on cookery books, Elizabeth David is still one of my favourites, both for her recipes and her general writing style. I accept that she is hardly an unknown, but she is always worth a revisit. Another of my favourites is 'Ou est le garic' by Len Deighton (the thriller writer) based on his cookery strip for the Observer). I'll look out for Honey from a Weed.

CC said...

I happily packed up to AR after graduating from my beloved LSMSA (class of '06) and have found it very richly rewarding. I find although one does want for greater access to concerts and museums, central AR does have a lot to offer. I've never been to Fayetteville, but a lot of my AR native friends love going there on weekends. I know A. has advised Miss Em not to go to school in Conway (because it is rather small), but in Fayetteville that shouldn't be a problem.

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Eastern Arkansas is a bit barren, but the Ozarks/Fayetteville are pretty nice.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--thanks. I'll add more as I have time. I love Roden (and talked about her lentil recipe in an earlier post), but have not read Arabesque. I think I spied a copy at the library.

Yes, Paris or Montreal would be perfect! My son, in fact, was thinking about McGill. But one pays a huge premium for these prime locations: my son has a full scholarship to college. He's been to China and Korea as a result and is planning a semester in France for the fall.

Alienne--Love, love , love Elizabeth David. Thanks for the reminder . . .I'm due for a re-reading. And thanks for the Deighton book recommendation--I'd never heard of it.

Frugal Scholar said...

@CC--Thanks for stopping by! I remember your visit of a few years ago. I guess you've heard of Miss Em's dilemmas. I wish she'd talked to you. Try to get yourself to Fayetteville--I loved it and had fun wandering around. My son said you had a great blog yourself--I'd love it if you'd post a link.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Cubicle--I thought Fayetteville was beautiful. My daughter had a hard time driving at first--she's never driven on hills--or around so many curves! I'm sure you remember how flat it is around here.

E.C. said...

I grew up in Northwest Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas last May, and Fayetteville is a wonderful college town. A friend of mine who goes to Reed claims that Fayetteville is very much like Portand, only smaller. There's a thriving local music scene, the Walton Arts Center brings in touring productions from around the world, the public library is fabulous, and, yes, we do have slightly more than our share of aging hippies.

The Honors College creates a nice enclave within the university, which is, in all fairness, still something of a party school with a thriving (and highly annoying) Greek system. I'm sure you've heard the spiel about caring professors, great funding for study abroad, tons of neat undergraduate research opportunities, blah, blah, blah, but I can attest that it's all true. Throw in that I not only graduated debt-free, but never paid a penny and got $1,000 a semester on top of tuition, fees, books, room, and board to use for my own expenses thanks to the generous Sturgis Fellowship, and the U of A proved to be a fabulous and frugal choice.

If you or Miss Em have any questions, my contact information is in my Blogger profile.

Frugal Scholar said...

@EC--I'm thrilled that you stopped by. I will forward your comment to my daughter. Very husband and I went to Reed. Funny that you mentioned it. Thanks so much!

Shelley said...

Elizabeth David is fabulous! One could read her books in place of food I think. If you run across her biography, it's a great read -- she was a wonder rebel -- and reading it explained a lot to be about the British perspective on food.