Saturday, November 28, 2015


            Today’s story really begins around 1536 in Switzerland at a time when the Protestant Reformation was going through internal turmoil over questions about the doctrine and practices of Martin Luther’s church. As people who had long been denied access to the Bible began to study scripture, many could find no defense of infant baptism as practiced by both the Catholics and Protestants. A minister named Menno Simons felt strongly enough on the subject that he publicly rejected the faith and formed a group of followers known at first as The Church of The Brethren, or more popularly as Mennonites. In 1693 a former priest named Jacob Ammann – also an Anabaptist – felt Menno Simons had not gone far enough and became the mentor of a group known as the Amish. Both groups believed that a person was incapable of self-determination of faith before maturity. Seen as in a state of illegal apostasy, a crime against God, they were hunted down by both major faith groups and executed, often being burned at the stake; men, women and children alike. There seemed to be no escape from persecution and worse, and by the end of the 16th century most of the leaders had been killed.
            In 1681 King Charles II of England granted William Penn a large piece of North America as payment of monies owed to his father, Admiral William Penn. What is now Pennsylvania, organized on March 4th, 1681 was the largest personal Royal grant ever handed down. From the first day of its existence the Quaker government promised friendship to all Indians; a promise never violated despite Indian attacks. Then it went further by declaring that Pennsylvania would forever be a place where all who came there would enjoy Freedom of Religious Conviction.
             Pennsylvania with its fertile soil, friendly climate and growing conditions and – most of all – its welcome to all religious faiths became a magnet to these benighted people who had seemingly run out of hope. As the 18th century dawned, Amish and Mennonite people began the long journey to a “promised land,” at first from Switzerland, and then from Alsace and Germany bringing with them centuries of tradition and a strong commitment to hard work, a love of the soil and their Christian faith. With identical religious roots, the two groups associated in many ways, being separated principally over the Amish practice of shunning as a disciplinary tool, and while the latter also remained averse to close contact with all things “English”, the Mennonites were not so strict. Even today a visitor to the region will find Mennonites selling Amish goods, services and crafts to an avid clientele.
             The most religiously conservative of the varying communities are the “Old Order” Amish who pride themselves on living life as “the plain” people – both in dress and decorum (often limiting the use of mirrors and other “prideful” objects in the home.)  From Paul’s council to the Corinthians not to become “unequally yoked to non-believers,” these Amish avoid allowing themselves to become dependent in any way on “outsiders.” Thus there will be no power, natural gas or phone lines connecting their properties, and only their own teachers occupying the one-room school houses bringing an 8th grade education to much-loved – even revered -  children. If disaster or suffering comes along, they take care of each other; insurance salesmen will not do well here. They eschew the Social Security system not because they don’t want to pay into it, but because they do not wish to take benefits out of it. And their aged do not go to some kind of “Care Center”; they are lovingly given a privileged, well-earned and honored emeritus position in the homes of their thankful posterity.
            And  “Grace?” In 2006 a shooter invaded an Amish school house in Lancaster County shooting 10 young girls, killing 5 before taking his own life. The next day the mothers of those girls visited the widow of that non-Amish killer, bringing loaves of bread, love and forgiveness for the act of her husband. At the funeral of the husband, the building was filled with Amish people. No one else even attended.
            As another Thanksgiving arrives this week, I will feel a deep sense of thankfulness, not only for myself and those I love, but for all those who over the years have found succor and religious freedom here in the home of the brave, and for the faith and traditions they and their posterity bring to our Land.

  Shirley Cooper peers into a wood-fired food drying shed on an Amish farm near Nappanee, Indiana.                                                                                                                                                              Al Cooper Photo

Monday, November 23, 2015


            When the Mayflower dropped anchor in what’s known today as Boston Harbor, the Captain and the expedition leaders knew they were hundreds of miles north of the piece of territory upon which they had been granted a Royal patent for settlement rights. In addition to the approach of winter and stormy weather there was one driving reason they decided to go ashore. The wind-driven ship was nearly out of apple cyder, countless casks of which had been consumed during the much-delayed journey.
            In the 17th century no sensible person endangered themselves by drinking water, the source it was believed, of virtually every disease and illness known to a plague-conscious society. The only safe drink for travelers was apple juice which had been allowed to ferment into a stable liquid, similar to a wine. From infants to the elderly, it is safe to assume that everyone got to enjoy a modest “buzz” every day.
            The people coming ashore from the good ship Mayflower were English to the core, and unsure just what they would find growing here naturally, they brought bulbs and seeds and their long traditions with them; and of course they brought many apple pips (that’s seeds) from home.
            Now right here there are some very important things to know about the genetics of apple trees, the first and most important thing being that while the seed of a tree is likely to yield a tree which in 5- 10 years will produce apples, they will not be those of its parent tree. The only way to insure a continuation of an apple variety is by grafting a piece of living membrane – a scion – onto another root stock. The seeds that a succession of colonists brought with them to the new world took root wherever they were planted or dropped, whether in planned orchards or elsewhere. Horses, livestock and black bears shared a love for apples, and so their droppings were left far and wide leaving a trail of young apple seedlings as they went – especially along paths that became roadways and “turnpikes”. And now “chance” takes a hand, because every now and then Mother Nature looks kindly upon a certain seedling and something wonderful happens!
            This occurred recently in the British Columbia orchard of Sally and Wilfred Mennell, growers of the popular Jonagold apple. They became suspicious when they noted that the hired pickers seemed always to empty one particular tree for their own fruit before taking on the regular harvesting order. What the Mennell’s found was lucky for all the rest of us who have come to look upon the Ambrosia as our favorite desert apple. It was a chance seedling which had serendipitously shown up in the company of new seedlings of another variety. The Mennells promptly patented and named it. (At this time of year I try never to run out of a nearby supply of this crisp, juicy, white-fleshed gem of an eating apple.) Then too, once in a while a particular tree will have a single branch which mysteriously produces an apple totally different than the rest of the tree. This accident of genetics will be known as a sport, from which cuttings will faithfully continue to reproduce something unexpected and wonderful. 

        A Wisconsin Heirloom known as the "Wolf River" is so large 2 can make 1 apple pie!

    Beginning in the 1790s, as western migration heated up, millions of apple seeds traveled west with settlers, and with the help of a man named John Chapman of Pennsylvania who appeared to be on a “mission”. Known as “Johnny Appleseed” and pictured in mythical picture book art trudging along with a
bulging sack over his shoulders distributing his pomological burden as he went. Chapman was real, but his work was not some manifestation of altruism run amok. When The Ohio Company opened up its promising welcome gates to pioneer families it offered 100 acres of homestead land to those who met the requirements: establish an orchard of fifty apple trees and twenty peaches. Johnny Appleseed surveyed then planted “nurseries” throughout the region, selling 2-3-year old fruit trees to the settlers following after him, thus providing a substantial head start to people who were happy to reward him. And if you’re wondering why Chapman didn’t plant rootstock instead of just seeds, you need to understand that he was a member of the Swedenborgian Church which forbid the practice of grafting.
            In closing, I must point to the temperance movement and the coming of prohibition in October, 1919 as nearly a death knell for U.S. appledom. Government agents cut down or burned hundreds of thousands

of acres of orchards across the country; they saw every growing apple tree as a source of alcohol, even if growing on private property!! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


            Since Monday – “talk-show day” -- is my day of adrenalin highs and the end-product of a week of creative activity, Tuesday is my day of quiet thoughtfulness; a time to fill its hours with contemplation and spiritual renewal. This Tuesday morning began with views of last night’s full moon setting beyond Wire Mesa just as the first hints of pink and blue outlined the peaks of Zion and Eagle Crags to the east. A cup of hot herbal tea sweetened with Acacia honey filled the living room with a perfume born in Africa’s Cape Province as I sat in my favorite easy chair watching a new day creep across West Temple’s high altars inch-by inch.
            My chosen project of the day had begun the evening before as I set three cups of dry black beans to soak. Now drained and covered with just the right amount of fresh water, they went into my pressure cooker where 17 minutes of steaming time would produce soft – but not mushy – candidates for one of our favorite recipes.
            Meanwhile I was assembling the ingredients for the mire proix which would bring several levels of high flavor to the end product. As I worked at my cutting board I took time to think about all the history, geography and plant genetics over centuries of human selection which delivered this three thousand-year-old legume to my supply room, to say nothing of the smoky fire-scored Poblano pepper still hot and blackened from my outdoor grill.
            I pictured in my mind the colorful open-air markets in central Mexico where straw mats covered with dry beans of seemingly endless variety and a hundred different shapes and fire of chili peppers added a rainbow of colors to acres of canvas-covered landscape where I sampled ears of corn roasted over hot coals as I traveled the rows.
            As I ran my three favorite kitchen knives through the sharpening wheels, I glanced out the window to enjoy the sight of Canada Geese wading through our lower fields, covered by irrigation water which offered a smorgasbord of gourmet munching to a gathering of 24. After a few minutes I was able to identify two different flights sharing the gluttony, one of 14 and the other of 10, each with its own leader and protocols; always a thrill to look in on the highly-developed dynamics of animal behavior.
            Our home has the usual bevy of power kitchen accessories, including choppers and grinders, slicers and mixers, all of which get used. My own preference though is to have personal – hands-on contact with the ingredients I’m working with. There is something elemental, maybe even primal about preparing food as it has been done since the beginning of human life on earth. I like the satisfaction of seeing tiny pieces of minced onion without any need of further chopping fall from the final cut of my chef’s knife into the parent whole, or the half-moons of a frosty-fresh leek ready for the sauté pan with three cuts of a sharp blade. It is all part of feeling “at one” with the gifts of the earth that sustain us.
            Now into the bottom of one of our three enameled cast-iron all-purpose kettles I drizzle several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (could be Spanish, Italian or Californian, depending on my mood,) before scraping in the minced onion from the cutting board. Today I am using a freshly-harvested 2015 Bavarian garlic bulb delivered into my very hands by our friend Brooke Bottger of Baker City, Ore., proprietor of Oregon Trail Garlic Co. for the three fat cloves I need. It will join the onions only after they have been properly caramelized. Known to kitchen scientists as the Maillard reaction, the magic of caramelization takes place when enzymes react with the reducing sugars present in a particular food at temperatures at or above 285 ͦ. Producing hundreds of different flavor compounds, the art has been practiced for unknown centuries, long before Dr. Louis-Camille Maillard, a French chemist identified the process causing different foods to brown in different ways in 1912. Knowing this, I have a special appreciation for what is happening as I patiently stir and mix. A pint of diced Roma tomatoes will be added to the completed mirepoix before it joins the hot cooked beans. All that is left is for each guest to touch it up with a favorite hot sauce. (For me that will be Cholula from Mexico.) Most important though, today will go into my memory bank as one filled with moments rich with mindfulness.