I can get behind any movement that encourages drinking wine in a Mediterranean climate. And I support the principle of preserving diversity and local wisdom. However, the movement is drifting towards the aspirational lifestyle. It's in danger of creating a stereotype - the cucina paisan, where a rosy-cheeked daughter of the soil, up to her elbows in flour and a sense of well-being, provides nourishing food for loved ones.
The reality is not quite like that. Providing food for loved ones can feel like a Sisyphean task - no sooner is one meal is cooked and eaten then it's time to start preparing the next one. The reality is less aspirational, and rarely ends with a luxurious dinner party in an olive grove. On a good night, it might end with us eating on the slightly chicken poop-y picnic table under the apple tree, wearing two extra sweaters to combat the fresco part of our al fresco dining.
So I'm championing a new movement, based on my experience cooking in the country. I'm calling it Really Slow Food. I want to recognise our abilities as hunters, stock persons, foragers and growers, and to quantify our skills and our hours in the field as a valid part of eating. Our time in the kitchen is the final stage of a journey to turn raw ingredients into something ready to cook.
Sadly, real life gets in the way of all aspirations. I've included my own personal struggle with the interruptions of daily life that impede my ability to get a meal on the table. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.
Some aspects of Really Slow Food:
1) Most of the ingredients are still in their original form
Often, the main part of our meal is still hanging un-butchered in the chiller, or un-harvested in the ground. It might take me an hour to butcher an entire roe deer, so I can have some of the leg meat for tonight's stew.
2) Sometimes, I have to wait for the ingredients to be ready
During my last cake-baking session I ran out of eggs and had to wait until my hens laid two more, so I could finish what I started. As much as I would love some french beans to go with a fish pie, they aren't ready to pick yet.
The garden is growing, but only a few salad crops are ready
3) When the ingredients are ready, I have to fend off the wildlife to get them
That cherry tree in the foreground of the photo? Every year the blackbirds beat me to the ripe fruit. This year, I'm going to make mesh sleeves for individual branches to keep the birds away. It will take me some time to make the sleeves and the fruit is getting ripe quickly. I estimate that I have a week to get the job done, or my pies will be cherry-less.
4) I'm preparing food for more than one species at every mealtime
There are lots of mouths to feed. The lambs need milk four times a day. The working dogs need extra feeds and table scraps, which I cook alongside our own meals. I have a bowl for chickens' food and a bowl for compost; both get filled as I peel vegetables and pick over carcases, or find I have pastry left over from making a pie.
What really slows down my cooking is the general benign chaos of my life. Here are a few examples from the past week. There are the physical impediments, like dogs wrestling -
Lily and Quincy
Every dog owner knows that dogs prefer to wrestle where they can be most inconvenient to you. Every dog knows that wrestling in the kitchen means a chance to pick up any food that drops on the floor. If you're a labrador, everything is edible.
There are also interruptions, mostly from visitors coming to the door. It's a small village and everyone knows your schedule, more or less. Anyone who knows me knows that I get a lot of my cooking done on my days off, so they can find me in my kitchen. Underkeeper Pete brings me interesting things he catches in his traps -
So besides dogs wrestling, there's now a dead weasel in the kitchen. Hygiene is apparently an optional part of the Really Slow Food movement.
The dead stuff usually stays outside, and I go look at it there. Ian, our work experience student, proudly showed off the first fox he shot. Pete stopped by for a second opinion on what killed a pregnant fallow doe he found -
Probably a pair of running dogs. Something has killed alpaca cria nearby and it's possibly the same culprits. (I expect there will be heated exchanges and recriminations at the next village hall meeting).
Not everything the boys bring me is dead. Sometimes just very close to it, like this kit -
Mike found it in the road with no obvious injuries, just cold and unresponsive. I gave it some warm milk with a syringe, and put it out back in a box of lint next to the dryer. The dryer was on and the shed was warm. The kit recovered within half an hour but I burned a batch of scones, distracted by my impromptu vet duties.
Sometimes it's slow food because I have to make it twice. I had just made a bowl of pasta for lunch when the estate office rang. There was an injured deer in the gardens, could someone please come down and "deal with it". I left my lunch on the sideboard, picked up a gun, and met Mike in the garden. It was a ten minute job, which was long enough for the dogs to help themselves to my lunch.
Finally, there are what I call Random Acts of Husband. These are unpredictable but inevitable events, most often involving expenditure and/or a trip to the emergency room. Thankfully last week it was the former. "Hey honey - Come out and see what I just bought!" -
An old Land Rover. I took it for a test drive while a joint of venison was roasting in the oven. It handles like a supermarket shopping trolley, but it pulls like a team of oxen. Perfect for towing trailers. And, as far as mid-life crises go, it was cheaper than a Porsche or a mistress (Mike says he can't fit his fishing rods in a Porsche. I said the same probably applies to a mistress). The license plate was oddly appropriate too -
This isn't a lifestyle anyone would aspire to, but I wouldn't change these interruptions for anything. They enrich my time in the kitchen. They are the umami of my day.
When my cooking and baking were done, and I earned a reprieve from the kitchen, I sat outside by the vegetable patch with a cup of tea and willed the plants to grow faster. I heard a chirruping racket coming from the starling nest under the eaves of the house. Every few minutes, a starling parent arrived with a beakful of whatnot, eliciting a riot of noise from hungry chicks. One parent would leave empty, and the other would arrive full. The chicks never seemed sated.
I think I know how those starling parents feel.