Nature’s Recipes: Living off the Land in Missouri

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Nature’s Recipes: Living off the Land in Missouri
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Glinda CrawfordGlinda Crawford is Professor Emerita of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Ecological Studies at the University of North Dakota.  We interviewed Glinda about her thoughts on living off the land and the impact such a lifestyle has made on her home cooking.  The result is a moving discussion on our connection with nature, our respect for our land, and most important of all, our respect for those that came before us.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I chuckle about this one. The longer one lives, the more we have to tell. I am 61 years old, a Wife, Mother, retired University Professor, always a learner, Gardener, Artist, Writer, lover of Nest Making including Culinary Delights, unabashed lover of the Earth/Nature. I started my professional career as a Home Economics Teacher in 1969 and as a Home Economics Teacher Educator in 1975. Of my 30 years at the University of North Dakota, I taught Environmental Studies classes the last 10. In 2005, I “retired”. And in 2007, I “re-treaded” when we moved to this little Farm.

What inspired you to make the move to a small Missouri farm?

Some moments in Life present arrows pointing in a particular direction. One cannot explain those arrows. Perhaps they are nudges from the Divine. Our move to this 40 acre Farm which we call Butterfly Hill Farm was the focus of a big arrow in our lives.

In 2007, the 3 of us (husband Richard, daughter Melanie and me) entered into a partnership since the Farm was a dream for us all. Richard and I moved back to the County where we grew up after being away 38 years. Our Family History here dates back to 1843 on his side and 1851 on mine. This is an amazing gift uncommon in contemporary times. We have considerable Family living near. At the time of our move, my Parents were still living; shortly after, my Father passed.

All 3 of us have backgrounds in teaching and working in Environmental Fields. Richard taught Environmental Science, Wildlife Management and Ecological Restoration. Melanie taught 5th grade; she later worked in Health Food Stores and on Organic Farms, plus she was a co-author of a Farmers’ Market Manual. My interest was studying the elemental connection (albeit disconnection) of my culture to the Earth which sustains us and exploring means for our return.

By the late 1990s, we had shifted to a diet mostly organic and were growing more of our own Food. We were increasingly concerned about our society’s overuse of resources and toxic loads. As the years passed, sustainability became something we could not just talk about or expect of another, it became something we had to do. We dedicated the Farm toward living sustainably, which includes growing as much of our own Food as possible and reclaiming traditions of living on the Land with updates, of course. The Farm gave us a huge learning curve.  It and we are works in progress.

How has living off the land influenced your home cooking?

We not only grow as much of our own food as possible, we process it too. That includes canning, freezing, drying, and storing to extend the Season of the wonderful produce the Earth provides. We grow Heirloom Veggies and raise Heirloom Chickens (Buff Orpingtons, White Plymouth Rocks, Barred Rocks, Black Australorps, and now Delawares) for Eggs and Meat. We also graze from wild edibles. We have a network of local Farmers who provide food we do not raise, like Beef and Pork. Richard and his Family hunt and fish, so we enjoy bounty from the wild too.

The inspiration for what we eat comes from Foods in season or from what we have “put by”. It contrasts directly to all those years when we ate whatever we wanted from the Grocery Store, or we ate out because we were too busy to cook. We look at what we have in our Family “store” and we make choices about what we will eat. Those Culinary Delights come from Foods we have produced with our very own hands in partnership with the Land. It is deeply satisfying on a level which is hard to describe.

Foods grown from the Land and eaten in season taste the best. The Grandmas knew that. That Strawberry freshly picked from our Patch tastes like it is supposed to rather than those Food Models raised for transportation qualities and appearance which they sell in big box stores. The flavor, nutritional content, and “life’s energy” are at peak.

These days, we are enjoying among other things Wilted Lettuce Salads. It is not spring or early summer without it. The Lettuce, Green Onions, Boiled Eggs are from right here on our Farm. The Bacon was from an Heirloom Pig raised by a local Farmer. The organic Vinegar was the only ingredient not local.

In growing our own food, we get no guarantees. We do our best, but Nature always has the upper hand. That 1st year, we didn’t have a fruit crop because of a late freeze. That meant that we did not eat much in the way of fruit at all. That next season, we had fruit in abundance. Every bite was a gift and a celebration.

Right now, we are finishing the Strawberry Season. Our Patch has produced in abundance. We shared with family and friends. Plus, we took 2 gallons into the nursing home where my Mother is for her and all of her friends there. Enjoying the produce of the season and sharing it are deeply satisfying.

What’s ahead? My Cabbages of which I am very proud are “heading up”; many are suggesting: “Pick me!”  I shall be making Sauerkraut soon which would please both sides of my ancestry.  Melanie and Richard gathered Mulberries today. In fact, Melanie is putting lids on the jars of Jam as I type away at this text. Melanie found a few Black Raspberries which means we will be on the alert for them. They are among our favorites. My brother-in-law Hollis and sister-in-law Deleta are headed to pick up Gooseberries which sister-in-law Connie and brother-in-law Gerald have set aside for us.

Do you feel it is important to pass down and preserve family cooking traditions?

In this modern fast paced era, people have left much behind in our adoration of the “new”. I find this really sad. Family cooking traditions have been left behind by all too many. “We’re too busy.” “It’s too ordinary.” “I don’t know how to cook.” Instead, we seem smitten by Foods and Menus from exotic places just beyond our reach. While such practices do spice things up a bit, they leave behind some things that are important, even essential.

If Family Food Traditions are remembered, they are often prepared by the Older Ones in the Family. Historically, the younger Ones would work side by side on smaller tasks until they knew the Culinary Craft by Heart. In our society, when the Elder is gone, often the Younger Ones have no clue as to how to prepare it. Over time, the memory of Food Traditions is faint. Yet, I think they are imbedded in our cells.

Family Food Traditions open widely the door to Family Story. They invite us into direct connection with our Ancestors. They tell us who we are and what is important. The more I am involved in this, the more I am convinced that we need to bring back and preserve Family Food Traditions. I have written about this and have discussed it with many over the Years. Every time I talk about this with another, the frozen façade of western culture just melts. Folks talk about their own Recipes. Right beside the Recipes, they spill out Stories about People, Time, and Place. You can see a deep connection; they laugh and they smile. I wonder if it is reconnection with the heart. In particular, Family Food Traditions are a means of reconnecting with the stories of Women, since most recipes were prepared by Women.

One of my 1st adventures into this area was reclaiming the recipe for Spiced Peaches of my Great Aunt Lula Myers Hart who passed in 1982. She would often speak fondly of Spiced Peaches when I was growing up, but I never had them. Early in this last decade, I asked Mother if she had Aunt Lu’s recipe. She didn’t, but she got on the phone with any relative who might. Between us, we came up with a recipe and a whole entourage of Family Stories. I made the Spiced Peaches and sent them to those who helped in the process. Somehow that recipe rewove our family back together in a new way.

My 2nd major adventure in this area was reclaiming the recipe for Povitica from my Croatian Grandmother Dragica Budiselic Blaskovic who passed in 1966. Povitica is a Croatian Nutbread, typically rolled up with a walnut filling in very thin layers of sweet roll dough. Over the years, I had many experiences discussing this with Elderly Aunts and fixing it with my Father, who had never prepared it before. Now it has become “routine”. My daughter and I fix it at Christmas and Easter which are traditional times. I even wrote about it on our Blog on the Farm. I was able to track “hits” on our Blog. Just before Christmas of last year, we were getting as many as 50-75 hits a day for this recipe. They were coming from around the world including locations where my Grandparents relatives settled in the U.S. and the area where they were from in Croatia. Grandma would be pleased. Dad would be talking about that with everybody in town.

A 3rd adventure in this area is probably the Granddaddy of them all. Richard’s family has made Molasses (or Sorghum) since at least the early 1900s and through his Grandfather Jesse Sherman Crawford. This is not to be confused with Molasses you buy in the store; that’s a byproduct in the making of Sugar. Molasses (which is the name the family has used for it) is made from Sorghum which is a grass brought to the U.S. from Africa in the mid 1800s. Molasses is a sweetener that families throughout this region could make for themselves. In my husband’s family, the practice laid idle for about 25 years with the ageing and passing of Richard’s parents. The brothers and their families made a decision to reclaim it which we did beginning 2004. This is a big process including growing the crop and using all the original equipment in its production. Molasses making is a community endeavor; it is next to impossible and probably not fun to do it alone. It has been a real family bonding activity which we all love and enjoy. With this return, we began digging around for family recipes: Ethel Crawford’s Molasses Cake, Minnie Slover’s Cookies, Lula Hart’s Molasses Momentoes, Molasses Taffy. Melanie updated them for our family by reducing sugar, using whole wheat flour, using butter or buttery spread.

As a culture in these times, we are witnessing a considerable interest in Genealogy and Family History. Reclaiming Family Recipes is companion. The Old has now become the New.

Some would argue that the modern pace of things has taken us farther from our connection to the natural environment, yet there is a strong movement nation-wide to return to healthier living/cooking and support local food producers. How would you describe the connection that we Americans have to the land surrounding us?

The connection Humans have to the Land is elemental. We are part of Nature rather than separate from her. We are part of that Great Circle of Life, no more or less important than any other Being. As a result, Nature cannot be separated from who we are.

Sadly, our culture sees us as “separate from Nature”, or worse yet, “over Nature”. That approach is not common to all Cultures and especially not to Indigenous Peoples. It separates us from our true identity and contributes to a “dis-ease” so common in our time.

Many may question this. However, one has only to look at the very young and very old to see that elemental connection. Young children are deeply fascinated by Nature. They note everything in the smallest detail which they clutch in their stubby little hands: the worms, grass, flowers, feathers, mud. Sadly, they are told by the Big People in their Lives “not to get dirty”, “come inside”. As they grow up, they increasingly live in worlds where they play in parking lots on asphalt and see Nature as a stuffed toy or a distant artifact “on the internet” or in some protected “zoo”.

In those years between the very young and very old, many of us spend our lives disconnected from Nature. We are busy in our human-centered worlds almost beyond belief. We travel faster than we did the day before. We know tomorrow will demand even more from us than today. At such accelerating rates of speed, how will we know when we have arrived? We quietly and loudly yearn for something more.

The Elderly often experience a return to Nature. I remember my Father’s deep connection with Birds in the weeks before his passing. It was as if no separation existed between him and the feathered ones he loved dear. He shared his breakfast with them. Mother is currently in an area Nursing Home. My daughter and I take things from Nature into the Nursing Home for Mother and for others. People light up when they see Baby Chickens, when they taste a fresh Green Onion, Tomato or Strawberry straight from the Garden. The stories just spill out. The imposed silence of our culture upon our Elders is broken as surely it must be.

When the European immigrants arrived on this Continent, they were desperate for new homes and new stories. Instead of embracing the story of this place, most sought to change it. They saw the Pristine Paradise of their new Home as a collection of “Resources” to be taken. Consequently, many of us have wandered over this landscape for 500 plus years without fully being at home here.

In these times, many focus a wary eye on the tragic happenings in the Gulf. Many describe feelings of profound grief, anger, helplessness at the damage to Nature. We see the glaring reality of the losses underpinning our modern life styles.  Yet we forgot to think about the consequences of our actions.  Surely, this cannot be happening “on our watch”.  I do believe that times of great pain also become times of great growth.  It is too early to tell the direction we will go.  But this singular event puts in dramatic contrast our love of land and Nature, and what we Humans are willing to do to satisfy our own needs. Helpless, we are not.

But in the midst of this drama, our coming home to this landscape is happening in our time and it is very beautiful to see. We have waited a long time for this. We bear witness to it in the increasing numbers of people who garden, birdwatch, set up butterfly gardens. We see it in the increasing numbers of Farmer’s Markets springing up across the country and the droves of people who would not miss them.

In modern times, the average food on our plate has traveled 1500 miles, which in days gone by would have been outrageous. That approach places an ecological footprint upon the Earth which is immense. These days many are thinking how we can reduce our dependence on Oil. Buying local and growing our own food is a huge step.

Food is perhaps our most basic connection to land. Eating locally, eating in season,  growing our own food, and establishing a relationship with local growers are all ways to connect with the specific place on Earth which is our home. When we grow our own food, the taste and living vitality of the food are greatly enhanced. Our bodies and spirits know that. We have a comfort greatly missing in the conventional world.

Gardening is one of the most significant ways to return to being creatures of the Earth. It reconnects us with our ancestors. Many of us grew up gardening or we have stories of ancestors who gardened. They were pretty smart cookies. The sophistication of their knowledge was nothing short of amazing.

Gardening is an act which puts us on our Knees on the Earth. We see the intimate tie that we have to the Earth. We see how we are bound to her health and her vitality. We see how very small we are. That’s good for us and it’s been a long time in coming.


If you had to pick the most important feature of a recipe, what would it be?