Friday, February 12, 2010

On the eve of the Hunger Moon

The Indians had names for each month's full moon; to some this month is the Full Hunger Moon. Harsh weather conditions and heavy snow made hunting difficult. Supplies of The Three Sisters , dried for the winter, were dwindling.

It is different now in America. One can eat 24 hours a day if one has the money. Not necessarily well, if the number of obese children I see is any indication: that is another rant. Americans, with notable exceptions like the Donner party, those first winters in Jamestown and Plymouth, and certain Rebel cities during the Civil War have not had experience with the other side of plenty: scarcity. When I stumbled across Patience Gray's unique memoir, Honey From a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany,Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia , it was a Zen smack in the head. Welcome to Stone Age and Bronze Age food ways, where "the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons".

Gray came to write this book when she and her companion The Sculptor (Norman Mommens), seeking marble, lived in the places of the title. Because they lived with not amongst Tuscans, Catalonians, etc. , they showed her what was available to eat in their rough countryside. These people read landscapes, not books. They showed Gray the good weeds, mushrooms, and shellfish, mostly. She was, after all, still an outsider. Gray includes many recipes amongst her flinty prose. There is even a recipe for fox. Pig ("winter saviour of mankind") recipes abound, and, being the countryside, 'everything but the squeal' is used. Gray recognized how 'doing without' increases the value of what one has; it is the basic idea of this unique and wonderful book.

*Photo from Persephone Books*


Barrett Bonden said...

Over the last two years I've been editing a biography of an American writer, Kevin Andrews, famous for a travel book about Greece (The Flight of Ikaros) where he lived for much of his life and for the fact that he finally took Greek citizenship. At one point two American women are reminiscing about him:

"Another contact that I remembered is a book by an English woman, Patience Grey, Honey From a Weed. The book is delightful. Patience Grey wrote articles about food and cooking for English mags and newspapers. She married a Belgian sculptor and they went to live near stone quarries in the Mediterranean. Her book is about the recipes and people that she met in villages and cities, literally learning about weeds and honey and people, and all. She met Kevin and there's a recipe he gave her there."

We appear to be drawing nearer and nearer.

Relucent Reader said...

Way back when I first started scribbling this thing, Plutarch or someone mentioned he had perused my favorite books list in my profile. This book is near the top o' that heap, and I wanted to explain, to give a coarse hint as to why it is there.
Our synaptical touches never fail to amaze me, BB.