Last evening, CA and I were enjoying a pre-supper appetizer along with an adult libation. She was dipping her favorite little puffy crackers into some spicy hummus and I was having a few slices of my favorite blue cheese on a Ritz, “Everything tastes better on a Ritz”. I mentioned that I had made some hummus from scratch a few years ago. She didn’t seem too impressed. Nevertheless, that thought lifted a rock somewhere in the backyard of my mind from under which crawled all these recollections of those times in my life when I felt that the essence of personhood consisted mainly of the practice of making it from scratch – doing it myself.

The modern D.I.Y. movement is, I believe, the attempt by modern humans to get in touch with the default human activity of making it yourself. Until very recently, everything was the product of a do-it-yourself effort. When it comes to making it yourself, I am a transitional figure. My childhood took place in the 30s when everything that appeared on the dinner table, for example, was made from scratch. Grocery shopping consisted of ingredient shopping. Mr. Galina would dip his scoop into the rice barrel, the flour barrel, the pickle barrel and yes – there was an actual cracker barrel. There was very little in the way of graphic art and packaging to misslead the appetite.

I can remember my stomach flip-flopping as I eyed all those wonderful edibles just lying in a glass case, barrel or big glass jar waiting to be scooped up, put in a paper bag for me to take home around the corner. It’s been a while since my stomach did anything like that in a modern market.

I have to smile as I remember when I first moved to Maine – the quintessential homemade state – that among the first things I wanted to do was to make cheese. That was over 35 years ago and I still can’t recall why I thought that making cheese would define life in paradise. Purchasing a little bottle of rennet was as far as I got.

I’ve been making bread for years. I am fairly competent at it. I remember once when a friend of mine asked me after she sampled my Anadama, “You made this with your hands?” I looked at my hands and showed them to her and said, “Yep, it was these two that did it.” She had this quizzical expression on her face that seemed to say, “I’m trying to decide whether or not you are jerking me around”. I was, of course. Poor thing – she was a sliced Wonder Bread baby.

One more thing: I get funny looks when I talk about one of my favorite homemade meals – rice and gravy. I just had a little for my breakfast. About half a cup of leftover jasmine rice that I made myself. Well I suppose I should say my Tatung rice cooker did it. But I could have done it. I stirred into the rice a dollop of my hand made roux based gravy that is so good that on occasion it has made people forget their names and addresses.

I’ll admit that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but, if it was, they would be better people. I usually make enough of it to freeze and have along the way as needed. If truth be known, and it should, of course, a little gravy is always needed.

FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, THERE WERE TURNIPS IN MY LIFE. Lets hear it for long term memory. It helped that I grew up in a gardening community in the sunny firtile south. Greens were a staple in our diet. Turnips, mustard and collards were the central trinity of the leafy green stuff.

I have missed turnips on my diet since moving to Maine over 30 years ago. I can’t explain it. I’ve grown a lot of things to eat but until this year never a turnip.

I need to make something clear. When talking about the lowly turnip there are the green tops and the rather zippy tasting root bulb. In the markets you can on occasion find the root in the vegetable bin. I have never seen turnip greens in a market in New England. But of course, there are many markets into which I have never stepped.

Growing turnips involves about 40 to 50 days for mature plants. They are cool weather plants permitting an early crop and a late one as well if timed right.
Turnips are very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Vitamin B6, Calcium, Phosphorus and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C and Potassium. Wow! This is a real power food.

So, to be clear, I grow them for the tops. I eat the roots but its the leafy tops that are the prize. I wash them well and pinch the leaves into bits about and inch or two across. Wash them very well. Even clean the leaves will seem to be rough with grime but it’s just the nature of the plant.

Traditionalists will begin with a slice of salt pork in the pot and that makes for a wonderful flavor but it isn’t necessary to do that. I do saut√© some garlic in OVOO and then lay in about half a nice sized sweet onion sliced or chopped, then pile on the greens with the pealed and quartered roots. About an inch or two of water or stock in the pot should do it. Add a dash of sugar – not too much, about half a teaspoon should work. Add some salt and pepper. I also love some heat which is provided with some flacked dried red peppers or Cajun seasoning. You’ll figure it out. Any kind of pepper sauce or Tabasco on the table, of course, is recommended.

These tender greens are a great accompaniment to anything and can, with a wedge of hot cornbread, verily make the heart sing. Though I have no specific data to support it, I am sure that combination covers all the basic food groups.

Nothing is more basic than salt. Sea water covers most of the earth and is salty. Fossilized salt is found high in the foothills of the Himalayas. Salt is harvested from the sea, found in giant deposits in the earth. Salt is everywhere. You even sweat salt.

We just spent a high energy weekend with friends and at one lull in the conversation the subject of cooking came up along with the use of salt, at which point I made the comment that I am tired of recipes calling for Kosher salt when just salt would do the job. Well, I might have well have thrown gasoline on a campfire. Our host – I’ll call her Sue – brought out samples of half dozen salts from around the world as a preamble to setting me straight on this savory culinary subject.

Meanwhile, as I am spouting off about all salt being sea salt, which is close to the truth, and adding that therefore it is all the same, which, as I was about to discover is false, Sue lays out her samples and commands me to test them and see just how uninformed I am.

Well, even with my ancient, mostly numb taste buds, I could detect some variances in flavor and strength between the Hawaiian Black Lava, the Himalayan Crystal Pink, the Persian Blue Diamond, Kosher, Morton’s, and Celtic. After such a demonstration, I felt that my usual mantra that “All salt is sea salt” and is just sodium chloride and therefore is just salt, was a bit thin for this sophisticated company. It’s the size of the crystals and the minerals, of course which differ from place to place and which do impart flavor which is unique.

As to the Kosher question, chefs seem to prefer it because of its milder taste and coarser granule. It has nothing to do with the Rabbinical salting of meats.

So I am duly chastened and set on a path toward more subtile seasoning of everything from my sunny side ups to my regionally famous shrimp etouffeé.

This discussion reminded me of that little packet of Celtic salt I had purchased months ago and forgotten. So when I got home from the weekend I found it and put it into a new salt grinder. My first grinding was into my palm for the “test”. Yep – it was salty!