This is a rant about folks complaining that fresh vegetables are too expensive in winter - culminating in a recipe for pea soup.
There are folks who are concerned that kids aren't learning cursive writing in school. They can't read analog clocks! They don't remember Fred Astaire. Actually, I don't really give a hoot about any of these things. They will communicate, I have no doubt. And digital clocks will continue to be an option. And Fred was really too old for many of his roles, looking more like a dancing pedophile than a suitor. We have to let some things go. What does concern me, however, is that we have turned into a bunch of blithering ninnies when it comes to our food!
Example: A friend called last week in a panic. "Don't buy vegetables!" she exhorted. Seems she had heard of the cost of a cauliflower and it sent her somewhere beyond reason. There has been a hue and cry the likes of which we haven't heard since Chicken Little thought the sky was falling! It is all over the news! The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is sky high and going higher! We are doomed! This is the end of life as we know it! The cost of the average shopping basket is through the roof! What can we do? Malnutrition looms before us.
So, I trotted off to the grocery store to check things out - Ground Zero of this impending catastrophe. It didn't take me long to wonder when, exactly, we had become a nation of nitwits who could not fathom coping with life beyond prepackaged salads in plastic clamshells, blueberries, raspberries and asparagus in January. We put on our boots and scarves and mitts and slog over ice and through snow - and yet fresh fruits and vegetables seem not at all out of place in our reality. Is it television? The movies? Marketing? Have we become mentally located in California while our feet are standing solidly on Canadian snow?
Of course, you're expecting a long, boring stroll down memory lane when our hardy forbearers clubbed their food to death and dragged it back to their caves. Oh quit! I'm not saying that we have to go that far, but a little common sense might be in order.
What did our parents and grandparents do to survive without fresh berries year round?
We could ask them.
I think of the ice storm when the youth cowered in their beds with their covers over their heads until they peeked out to notice those presumably useless elderly folks swing into action. They knew just what to do and how to do it. Food was prepared, fires were made, generators were perking along, toilets were getting flushed. Board games were dusted off, candles were lit, stories were told, jokes were remembered and, incredibly, instead of the end of the world, some fun was being had. Now granted, we would not wish for another ice storm, but we should have learned one thing. Old folks know stuff.
Before we became addicted to pre-washed, pre-packaged clamshells of produce from Peru, people actually survived the winter in this climate and maybe even some deliciousness was had. Maybe, in this crisis, we should look, once again to our elders.
Just ask them. They will throw back their heads, close their eyes, reminisce about life before boxes and bags of frozen vegetables. They will tell tales of canned everything including game. Canned moose meat. Venison. Bear. Fruits in season were prepared by moms everywhere, canned, jammed, or jellied. Fresh vegetables were canned and pickled. As were sauces and soups. The only vegetables to be had fresh were onions, carrots and the odd dodgy celery stalk or a cabbage that had escaped transformation to sauerkraut in a crock in someone's cold room. Apples were wrapped sometimes or dried. People understood nutrition in those days and didn't feel their lives threatened by the lack of leafy greens.
Somehow we have been sold a bill of goods by marketers that only fresh fruits and vegetables have nutritional value. Nonsense. A casual Google will readily assure you that the nutrient content of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables is comparable to and sometimes even exceeds fresh - especially if the fresh has been in transit for awhile and then been kicking around your fridge for a few days.
Back to the present. Let's branch out, past the flash and dazzle of freshly transported fresh produce that greets us when we walk in the door, and explore other sections of the store for a change. Canned vegetables, sauces and condiments have been there all along! Frozen produce, though naturally more expensive than canned, is readily available. And let's not forget dried beans, peas and lentils! (Did you know that Canada is the largest producer of lentils in the world?)
The cost of fresh produce is, of course, disappointing, but let's keep our shirts on, unknot our knickers and see it as a challenge to create great food at reasonable cost. We can do it! We're Canadians, descended from those wily, hardy folks who knew all there was to know about delicious, nutritious, inexpensive winter cooking.
(All ingredient amounts are optional. Pretty much anything works).
1 lashing of oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 each carrots and stalks celery, finely chopped
A diced, cooked potato is nice if you have one.
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock (Bovril & water works fine. It's just there – at the back of your cupboard).
2 cups dry green split peas.
A generous coil of Polish sausage, casing removed, cut into thin slices
(Traditional recipes use a large ham bone. Great, if you have one handy. I never seem to).
Dried pepper flakes to taste – I like a bit of a kick
Find your stock pot or haul out your slow cooker. Heat oil, add the onion, carrots & celery on low heat. Cook them down for awhile until they are soft but not browned. Throw in the rest of the ingredients and let them putter away for a few hours.
Since there is a tendency to get burny on the bottom even on a low burner, I put the pot into the oven at about 225 degrees. A slow cooker, of course, would eliminate this problem.
Adjust for consistency. It will get thicker as it sits. Just add water.
Adjust for seasoning. You may need salt depending on the saltiness, or lack thereof, of your chicken broth.
Serve with a nice dark bread toasted and cold butter.
By a fireplace if you have one.
With a nice blizzard roaring outside.
Delicious! Nutritious! Cheap and very cheerful!