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Food for Thought from Fiddler's Green

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The deal in my house growing up was that whoever cooked didn't have to clean up after dinner. They had to do their prep dishes, but someone else would take care of everything after the meal. My mother almost always did the cooking until we each were assigned a day of the week as teenagers, and one of our siblings usually had dinner dishes as their assigned weekly chore.  When my dad volunteered to cook, all bets were off.

My dad came of age the hippie-counterculture of the 70s, so the meals he made were elaborate organic hearty affairs. He rarely cooked the regular meals for our family of seven, so each time he volunteered to cook my mom would step back with a mix of relief and resignation, happy for the help and the break from cooking but prepared for the production that would ensue. He'd use every pot, pan, and utensil in the house sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of our farm chore traffic, and he'd cook slow meals with loooooong preparations.

One day he decided to make a split pea and ham soup in our giant lobster pot. He may have been inspired by the approaching potato harvest, and the beginnings of fall when the air starts to cool down and you know you'll be glad of the warmth and nourishment of a hearty soup. Who knows? Whatever his inspiration was, it took him all day to do and his dishes and ingredients spread from the table to the counters to the stove. 

My mother wavered between amusement and exasperation at the sprawl--there are only so many ingredients in this soup, so it was a mystery as to why it ended up covering the entire kitchen. He just grinned unapologetically and shuffled by to put another dish in the sink and to taste the soup again, slurping soup from his beard and smacking his lips in appreciation.  When he was finished he ladled it into big gallon sized tubs and most of it went in the freezer. 

The rest we had for dinner three times that week, and would have had it a few more times if Papa had his way. Any time we couldn't decide what to have for dinner he'd offer to pull another tub out of the freezer. We had gallons of the stuff. 

(Photo credit: Alan Levine. He has a great story of how he wrote a letter to his grandmother about how much he liked her soup and she sent him her soup pot and her recipe. He's since lost the recipes but has an enduring love of soups that he experiments with. This is his attempt to get closer to his Nana's recipe.)

The five of us kids were young teenagers at the time, and none of us had come to appreciate or love the savory flavors of the spectrum. The granular feel of the starch was unfamiliar, and the flavors didn't speak comfort to us yet. It wouldn't be until years later that I would think with new appreciation of that unending supply of green soup as I sat on a bucket in the jungle in the Peace Corps, grateful and hungry for exactly that combination of green split peas and salt pork, food the body needs when it's working hard and sweating. 

I'm an adult now, and at 33 I'm twice the age I was at the time of Papa's infamous split-pea soup. I've lived in many places and explored so many more foods than I ever encountered in Northern Maine, and I've returned home to our same kitchen where I now spend hours cooking every day, taking up one counter, the stove, and the sink in my own preparations.  My comfort foods have changed, and sometimes all I want is a taste of the timeless pairings from around the world. Split peas and salted ham, fish and citrus, rice and beans, sweet potatoes and bitter greens.

I like staples because they're the simplest things you can fall back on and still meet your daily needs, and I like feeling the echo of centuries in the motions of my hands and the tastes on tongue. I don't even mind cleaning up. 

Here are a few recipes I wish I were able to try out with my dad. I think he'd particularly like the crunchy toasted split pea snacks. Try them out, and let me know how you like them.

Split Pea Soup: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-split-pea-soup-104...

Vegan Dal Tadka:  http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/restaurant-style-...

Cholar Dal (Yellow Split Peas with Coconut Chips): http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Yello...

Toasted Split Pea Snacks:  http://www.everylastbite.com/2014/11/29/split-peas...

Split Pea Hummus:  http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/split-pea-hummus

Let me know about your favorite recipes, or memories of notorious family meals that never ended.  Whatever you're cooking, please enjoy!

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