Saturday, June 5, 2010

What goes around, comes around... part 2

Organic Vegetables from Green City Market
June 5, 2010

Dad had an intense interest in organic gardening. 

Our family owned a balloon frame wooden bungalow in the city of Chicago.  Interestingly, Chicago has the reputation of having invented that form of construction, even though there is a fair amount of evidence that many elements of the construction style were in place in other parts of the country since the seventeenth century.  What Chicago did uniquely was replace the mortise and tenoned sills with box sills that used easily available dimensional lumber joined only by nails.  This had occured by the 1880s.  The Lyman Bridges Company exported this technology by preparing ready made houses for transport to the western parts of the United States that were rapidly expanding.  By that time, all things "balloon frame" were associated with Chicago.

I am fairly certain that Dad knew none of this when he came over from Germany after World War II.  One of the families from Belmont Gospel Church, the Muellers, had sponsored Dad and his family and guaranteed that he would be able to find work and become a productive member of our society.  "Sister" Mueller was always treated with special respect by my mom and dad.  Even though we did not have much company when I was a child, if we did, it was likely to be the Mueller family.  To me, she was "Tante" Mueller and every once in a while we would walk the half block to her house to bring her something special from dad's garden. 

My house was actually dad's second house in the States.  In good immigrant style, he first bought a four flat after living in Tante Mueller's house for a short time.  Using the rent from the other three flats, he saved up enought to purchase the house on Oakdale Street.  When I reached my teen years, my brother and I had to trek the mile and a half to the four flat to shovel snow in the winter.  I also have memories of being in a cold, old apartment with a space heater while mom and dad prepared a unit for the next occupant.  I will never forget the feel of frigid linoleum, the choice of flooring for the day.  For a while, one of my real "Tantes" live in one of the apartments until she could get a house in the western suburbs.  I was never as glad as when dad got sued when a tenant fell on some ice and he decided to sell the house for $14,000.  Houses around there go for $600,000 to $800,000 today, albeit with much renovation from the days of linoleum.

The Oakdale house was on a lot and a half.  Instead of 25 feet of frontage, we had 37.5 feet.  Dad used every inch of that additional space for his garden.  We literally had a small postage stamp of grass and the rest was dedicated to producing vegetables.  We grew everything that was feasible at our latitude.  Dad started early in spring with hot houses made from frames of the old wooden storm windows that were gradually being replaced throughout Chicago with aluminum screens and windows.  He would go through the alleys and pick up whatever window was thrown out and use it to construct hot houses for lettuces, spring onions, spring kale and radishes.  Whenever there was a particularly windy spring day, we would probably have one of the windows fly off and break.  No worry... there were a lot of old wooden windows being replaced in the sixties. 

As I go to Green City Market to get fresh spring vegetables, I think of Dad, who was an organic gardener long before the hippies and "Farm to Table" movement.  I pay four dollars a head for butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce.  he bought seeds for ten cents a packet. 

Here is an incredible Kale recipe that I learned about just this past weekend.  To dad (or, should I say mom), kale meant boiling.  This is a little more elegant, but no more delicious.

Kale Chips (from Bon Apetit)

One bunch of kale, cleaned and deribbed.
Olive oil to lightly coat kale
Salt Seasoning of choice (We use Tony Cachere's)

Lightly coat kale with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with Seasoned Salt.
Place in baking pan and bake at 250 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve on a white platter.

They are crispy, but melt instantly on the tongue.  Superb.  I guarantee that none of your guests will have had this before your party!

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