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November 21st, 2011

Thankful for the Harvest

nancy-80x80Of the many things I have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, never having to worry about being hungry is a big one. Oh, I don’t mean hungry as in, “it’s been 5 hours since breakfast and my stomach is growling”; I mean hungry as in “it’s been 5 days since I’ve had anything but a handful of rice to last the day.”

Working at Organic Gardening has some unique perks, and one is the plentiful supply of fresh produce from our test garden during the growing season. On those days when I volunteer to help our test garden manager, Doug Hall, with the weeding and harvesting, the vegetables always taste even sweeter. Hard work always sharpens the appetite. Now that the garden is heading into its dormant season, I miss checking out the “harvest table” every Wednesday to see what Doug has grown that week.

I have a lot of 100-year-old Thanksgiving greeting postcards in my collection, and many of them feature scenes of the harvest. People were just as grateful for their daily bread a century ago. Or even 4 centuries ago—the first Thanksgiving, celebrated jointly by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people (without whose agricultural advice they would have starved), was a celebration of the harvest. Often my old postcards feature somewhat fantasized turn-of-the-century interpretations of what Pilgrims and Indians would have looked like.

Here’s a harvest of Thanksgiving postcards for you to enjoy. Hope everyone has a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

This Pilgrim-y lass has a harvest of corn. She was drawn by artist May L. Farini in 1910.

This Pilgrim-y lass has a harvest of corn. She was drawn by artist May L. Farini in 1910.

A lovely sunbonnet lady with a sheaf of wheat, painted by the artist Samuel L. Schmucker in 1911.

A lovely sunbonnet lady with a sheaf of wheat, painted by the artist Samuel Loren Schmucker about 1911.

A pilgrim-y woman in prayerful pose in the pumpkin patch, after the corn harvest. Also by Schmucker.

A pilgrim-y woman in prayerful pose in the pumpkin patch, after the corn harvest. Also by Schmucker, 1911.

A Pilgrim-y couple saying thanks for their crop of corn, fruits, and vegetables.

A Pilgrim-y couple saying thanks for their crop of corn, fruits, and vegetables.

A country couple harvest apples on this card printed in Germany about 1908.

A German farm couple harvests apples on this card from about 1908.

An American boy produces his own apple crop, circa 1910.

An American boy produces his own apple crop, circa 1910.

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November 14th, 2011

Healthy Food, Healthy People

nancy-80x80In my last post, I expressed some smugness about Rodale’s pioneering status in the healthy-food movement. I felt a little guilty about it at the time, but I feel vindicated now. While rummaging through our files searching for essays by J. I. Rodale, I came across a folder labeled “Rodale’s Food Center.” Inside it were a few brochures and a vintage article from Organic Gardening about the Food Center established at Rodale Press (now Rodale Inc.) back in 1979. That’s 1979—when Saddam Hussein became president of Iran, Sony introduced the Walkman, and the McDonald’s Happy Meal was rolled out nationwide. Microwave ovens were the latest craze, expanding from 1 percent of American households in 1971 to 25 percent by 1986. The organization Slow Food would not be founded for another 10 years.

But Rodale was already exploring the relationship between our food and our health. The Rodale Food Center had high ambitions when it was founded:

“From harvest to table,” the brochure reads, “we’re dedicated to improving the way people eat. We’re working to create the best in new crops, recipes, and food products, and to find the best in prepared foods and kitchen equipment. And we help the rest of Rodale Press make that information available to the widest possible audience—to consumers and industry, science and government alike.”

The Rodale Food Center

The Rodale Food Center, circa 1979

The building that housed the Food Center was itself innovative. At the time, adaptive reuse of older buildings was not common, but Rodale repurposed several buildings in Emmaus—including several former silk mills—as part of its philosophy of regeneration. The former Thaddeus Stevens elementary school was remodeled to become the Food Center’s first home (shown above).

To launch its new venture, Rodale chose chef Tom Ney, who had attended of the Culinary Institute of America. He became the director of the Test Kitchen and Food Services (which serves food for Rodale employees). Home economist and nutritionist Anita Hirsch served as the Test Kitchen supervisor. Their photos are featured prominently in the brochure:

FCbrochure01

Tom Ney and Anita Hirsch

“Harvest to table” is a common phrase today, but back then, this was a revolutionary concept. The Food Center worked with researchers at the Rodale Research Center who were developing highly nutritious but relatively unknown crops, such as amaranth, testing different varieties, recipes, and cooking methods to see which would appeal to American consumers. Rodale employees were the taste-testers. (Having had the experience of tasting amaranth, I can say there’s a reason it is seldom on the menu in American restaurants.) This relationship would be discontinued when the Research Center separated from Rodale Press and became the nonprofit now known as the Rodale Institute.

The brochure goes on to say, “We also create many of the recipes we publish because we prefer to use natural rather than overly-processed ingredients and, we’d rather do without certain ingredients like sugar, salt, and white flour in favor of fresh fruits, herbs and whole grains.” Again, these concepts are common in 2011 but were not in 1979. And Rodale continues its commitment to testing and refining recipes to make them tastier and more healthful. Many of the original recipes created by Organic Gardening authors have been tested by JoAnn Brader, current Test Kitchen manager, and her staff, and tasted by our staff at the magazine. They’re often adjusted and improved before publication. The Test Kitchen is also frequently called on to do recipe nutrient analysis for Rodale magazines and cookbooks, which allows editors to substitute healthier ingredients if a recipe is found to fall short of our health standards.

Plans are in the works for a new Test Kitchen facility, occupying part of one of the repurposed silk mills Rodale has renovated. Stay tuned for updates.

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