The first Earth Day was held 40 years ago, on April 22, 1970. Gaylord Nelson, a United States Senator from Wisconsin, was the principal founder of Earth Day. A truly grass roots event, over 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day, creating the nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970, and Senator Nelson’s sponsorship was instrumental in enacting the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental measures. From 1980 until his death in 2005, Nelson served as counsel to The Wilderness Society.
National Poetry Month also occurs during the month of April. The joy of poetry and the enjoyment of food have long been link. The phrase, “a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou…” from The Rubiyat of Omar Khayam (Fitzgerald translation) is just one instance of the marriage of poetry and culinary arts. The Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market is a perfect place to pick up a loaf of bread and other items for a romantic picnic.
In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day and National Poetry Month, this week’s Fresh From the Farm explores two eras of culinary history: the era of fund-raising through sales of cookbooks, and the once common tradition of recipes in rhyme.
In the 1800’s, cookbooks were scarce and the oral tradition was strong. Many beginning cooks were guided in their efforts by recipes in rhyme. Memorizing a poem was often easier than memorizing a recipe in prose. A number of experienced cooks welcomed the opportunity to express their creativity by presenting recipes in rhyme.
One example from the late 1880’s is the salad dressing recipe that English clergyman and writer Sydney Smith set in verse.
Two boiled potatoes strained through a kitchen sieve,
Softness and smoothness to the salad give;
Of mordant mustard take a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites too soon!
Yet deem it not, thou man of taste, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt.
Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
True taste requires it and your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs.
Let onion’s atoms lurk within the bowl
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole,
And lastly in the flavoured compound toss
A magic spoonful of anchovy sauce.
Oh, great and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
‘Twould tempt the dying Anchorite to eat,
Back to the world he’d turn his weary soul
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl.
Oil of Lucca crown refers to Italian olive oil from Lucca, but any good quality extra virgin olive oil would do. The recipe calls for a spoonful of anchovy sauce and egg yolks from hard-boiled eggs, adding zest and sophistication to an oil/vinegrette blend. Anchovies are less common in salad dressing these days than they were decades earlier, but they add an essential balance to the other flavors in this dressing.
A year after the first Earth Day, Senator Nelson’s wife provided recipes for fried chicken with walnuts and fried rice for a League of Women Voters charitable fundraising cookbook. Her recipes were reprinted in The Milwaukee Journal on April 21, 1971.
Fried Chicken with Walnuts
1 lb. Cubed uncooked chicken breast
1 egg white, unbeaten
1 T cornstarch
oil for deepfrying
2 c. shelled walnuts
6 T. cooking oil
2 slices of fresh ginger root.
1 T white wine
1 t. sugar
3 T soy sauce
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. water
Put chicken cubes and unbeated egg white in bowl and stir to coat. Toss in 1 T. cornstarch and set aside. Heat oil. Fry walnuts until golden brown. Remove immediately and drain. Set aside. Heat 5 T of oil and ginger and coated chicken and fry, stirring constantly for a few minutes until chicken changes color. Add wine, sugar and soy sauce. Stir for a few minutes. Mix cornstarch and remaining water. Stir, add into dish. Add walnuts. Mix well.
3 scallions, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. oil
3 c. leftover rice
2 T. soy sauce
Mix Scallions and eggs. Heat oil in large skillet and add egg/scallion mix, stirring until firm. Add rice and soy sauce. Stir. Serve with Fried Chicken and Walnuts.
Katie Malich is a fan of poetry, and the planet. She also loves the Culver City Farmers Market, every Tuesday from 2 to 7 p.m. on Main Street.