Memories of local food

More people are talking these days about getting food from local sources. Our family has a small garden patch and I go to the growers market each week to pick up more food for our table. Many other people do the same thing, but I've still heard estimates that people in the Rogue Valley get only 1 to 5 percent of their food from local sources — even though we live in a prime agricultural area.

I can't help but think how, when I was a kid, my family got almost everything locally.

I grew up in Salmon, a small town in the mountains of central Idaho.

Our house was surrounded by trees that gave us three kinds of apples, pie cherries and dark red cherries, oval purple plums and round maroon plums, apricots and pears. Nowadays, it seems like people don't plant fruit trees anymore because of the mess the falling fruit makes on lawns and sidewalks.

There were so many apples, my cousins and I would take two or three bites out of an apple, then fling it aside or see who could throw their apple the farthest. Then we would all grab new apples.

Asparagus and rhubarb sprouted near our shed, which was bordered by a garden with potatoes, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peas and corn. It was so easy as a kid to graze in the garden, never thinking about "eating my vegetables." I hunted for grasshoppers in the corn, then imprisoned the insects in a jar to feed to my grandma's turkeys.

Our family visited peach and cherry orchards to pick the fruit by hand, which my mom would can and store in our dark basement, the cement floor covered with a few inches of cold water from seeping groundwater. The basement shelves were lined with canned fruit, vegetables, jellies and jams.

Raspberries grew along our fence, with the astringent fruit from a chokecherry tree hanging overhead. But my mom would boil the chokecherry juice with sugar and make delicious syrup.

In the mountains we picked huckleberries. Some of the huckleberries went to make syrup, while others we kept frozen in the freezer to add to waffle or pancake batter.

My mom would drive an hour out of town to a fish hatchery, which gave away the bodies of salmon after the eggs had been harvested. We usually ate the salmon smoked.

Each fall, my dad would shoot a deer or elk. He never shot anything for sport, and would try to go for a young buck or bull elk known as a "spike" for its single antler — instead of aiming for a trophy animal with older, tougher flesh. One year, he got a pronghorn antelope.

My parents and my aunt and uncle also bought a cow from a local rancher so that each family would have a half-cow's worth of meat for the year.

While they wrapped steaks in butcher paper and fed red meat and trimmings of fat into a meat grinder to make hamburger at the ranch's on-site butcher room, my sister, my cousin and I marveled at kittens with six toes on each foot and sprayed milk from a dairy cow onto their faces for them to lick off. We ate apples as big as grapefruit, rode a wide-backed ancient gray horse and squeezed through the narrow corridors between towering stacks of hay bales.

Of course, as a kid, I didn't fully appreciate that my food was fresh and locally grown. Few things are as disappointing to a kid as to take a bite of spaghetti and find out it's been made with gamey elk hamburger. Weeding the garden was a dreaded chore.

But I want my own kids to have some happy memories of getting their own food, even if it's just snipping off rosemary with their little scissors to flavor tonight's chicken or picking raspberries off the new plants growing along our fence.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.

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