BY KURT MICHAEL FRIESE
Last year I had the honor of preparing more than 60 different foods for Slow Food USA’s Ark & Presidia Committee. The Ark is a catalog of foods that are in danger of extinction due to the industrial standardization of flavors and agriculture. A Presidium is a more active intervention on the part of Slow Food, on behalf of a particular Ark-listed product, in an attempt to recreate a market for it, and therefore conserve it.
The Committee asks these questions about a food being considered for the Ark: Does the food provide a unique, pleasurable, high-quality gastronomic experience? Is the food or its method of production at risk of extinction? Is the food produced or harvested sustainably? Is the food historically, socio-economically, or culturally tied to a specific region or locality? Is it cultivated or produced according to specific techniques? Foods that meet these criteria are then listed on the Ark catalog (www.SlowFoodUSA.org).
Among the most interesting foods we prepared that weekend were the squashes. Kent Whealy and his staff at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah (www.seedsavers.org) grew most of the foods we sampled specifically for this purpose. Among the most beautiful and delicious of all the foods were the squashes.
We sampled 6 different heirloom varieties of squash: Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish Pie, Boston Marrow, Winter Luxury, Sibley, and Musquee de Provence. For the purposes of this analytical tasting, each was prepared in the same fashion, simply roasted with a very light coating of olive oil and a little salt. Then the 12 members of the committee would sample a small slice of each, discuss its history and origins, and vote. All but one of these squashes was “boarded” on the Ark as a result of this process.
The Pennsylvania Dutch, which looks like a crook-necked butternut, was deemed to be bland and unworthy by the committee and was unceremoniously shoved off the gangplank before boarding. However, that evening I made a salad using thin ribbons of the rejected squash, tossed with hazelnut oil, thyme, white wine, and lemon juice. So well received was this salad that the committee reversed its own earlier finding, and the Pennsylvania Dutch joined its comrades on the Slow Food Ark.
If you know a neglected and maligned heirloom food that should be considered for the Ark, especially if it has a history here in Iowa or the Midwest, I’d like to know about it. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can’t get that seed your great-grandmother brought over from the old country listed, and hopefully rescued, on the Slow Food Ark.
Here’s a simple soup that can be made using any winter squash, though I have most commonly used butternut. A Cinderella pumpkin is mighty good too.
Squash Bisque with Maple and Bourbon
2-1/2 pounds butternut (or other) squash, peeled, seeded & diced
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, peeled & diced
1/2 pound red potatoes, washed
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 cup bourbon
1/2 cup real maple syrup
Water, to cover
Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Simmer all ingredients except bourbon and maple syrup until very tender. Remove bay leaf. Puree and pass through a fine strainer. Return to heat, bring to simmer, and add the bourbon and maple syrup. Season to taste with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Serve immediately, or cool and store up to 3 days. Freezes well. Serves about 8.
Kurt Michael Friese is co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He lives with his wife Kim in rural Johnson County. Comments may be directed to Kurt@EdibleIowaRiverValley.com.