Thursday, January 14, 2010

Living from scratch, inspired by Aunt Ella's noodles

by June

Lately, I've been very aware of the work that goes into living the way we do. Mind you, we are not up in the hills or at the end of a long road. We are not off the grid or off the clock. We can walk to the library or drive to the market in a few minutes. We have almost daily obligations to the greater world that require us to check the time, plug ourselves into meetings, grind against deadlines. And, yet, we choose to live on our little patch of land in ways that my great-grandparents would have recognized: We grow much of what we eat. We preserve what we can. We hang clothes to dry on the line and feed the sourdough starter daily. We chase the chickens out of the spring sprouts and gather eggs. We create a meal around a head of cabbage or a batch of homemade noodles. As much as we can, we live from scratch.

But why? My great-grandmother would have loved our electric dryer. The computers, the iPhones, the cameras, these would have boggled her mind. The way we live seems plain wrong-headed on days when we go-go-go then come home ravenous to a kitchen where supper begins with peeling or chopping and ends, if we're lucky, an hour later with a sink full of pots and pans and dishes.

I think the credit (surely not blame) belongs to my dear Aunt Ella. She was my grandmother's sister, and I was born on her 71st birthday. I baked her a birthday cake every year (early on using my E-Z-Bake oven), and she made me popcorn with sugar, gave me her wedding quilt when I graduated from college, and taught me to adore cooking her way.

Aunt Ella's portrait on top of our piano

When I was a child, a certain tone of awe accompanied the words "from scratch." This was at a time when many of the mothers I knew (and mothers, not fathers, were the ones doing all the cooking then) were exchanging recipes that included the word "easy." The easy part involved opening a can or a bottle of catsup. But even as convenience became the chief kitchen virtue, Aunt Ella would make a Sunday dinner of chicken and noodles whenever our Kansas family was coming. My daddy was known to grumble about little bones slipping into the meal, but as young as I was, I knew this was special food. It was made with love and anticipation of a good time: Her sister was coming! Aunt Ella served the chicken and noodles on her good china, and we drank our iced tea and milk from little pink glasses left over from the Depression.

What I learned at my Aunt Ella's Sunday table, I have carried into my everyday life. And somehow it lends every day a little air of celebration: We are together around our table, eating food made with love. Sometimes we even pour our milk from a little pink pitcher left over from the Depression. For me, Aunt Ella's homemade noodles still epitomize the best in life: our own eggs, our hands rolling out the dough, our pleasure in the meal. She gave me her quilt and her locket and a bracelet; and she gave me a way of life.

It's a way of life that families are choosing more often because we must consider sustainability. But what if we embrace this way not because of our fears and guilt but more because it slows us down and reacquaints us with the simple joys of sustaining ourselves: the aroma of soup simmering on the stove all day, the time to think as we pin laundry on the line, the anticipation of warm bread as it is rises and bakes? What if we choose it because deep satisfaction comes from making our own way in the world? For a short span of decades in the whole sweep of history, we humans have dismissed our traditional ways in favor of throw-away convenience. My lifetime has seen the worst of it, I hope, but I feel blessed to have been influenced by someone born in 1893 and blessed also to be able to pass her knowledge on to my children, who were born in 1999. Fern and Blossom can make Great-aunt Ella's noodles from scratch. They are never going to forget that. And they are sure to pass it on.

But living from scratch is work. My father grumbles that there is no can opener in our house, by which he means no electric can opener. It's not that we don't open cans, we do. We just aren't willing to give a can opener space on the counter where we need to knead bread and roll out Aunt Ella's noodles. We just work a little harder at opening a can if we have to open a can.

We work a little harder in general. And it can get tedious. Sometimes I wish Aunt Ella were here to make supper for us, but since she's not, the four of us pitch in together. We pull the meal together, each one doing a little bit: washing the greens or dicing the onion, boiling the water. We talk about our day. We roll out dough and dance to Otis Redding and laugh at ourselves dancing to Otis Redding. Then we eat well and drop into our beds satisfied (and hopefully we've remembered to get the next day's bread rising).

I watch how our daughters embrace this life. They have never known another. Even on the coldest days, they suit up (coat, snow pants, boot, other boot, hat, scarf, glove, other glove) and head out to care for the chickens. I tell them how proud I am. I say that not every ten-year-old would shoulder the responsibility when the wind is blowing two-below. Fern looks up and says, "But then they'd have dead chickens."

So out they go into the bright cold of the new year. I watch them track back and forth carrying water. They examine frost-nipped chicken combs. They find the eggs. From the kitchen window, as I wash dishes, I watch my daughters turn toward the warm house at last. They trudge toward the door through the drifts of snow. Suddenly Fern pirouettes in her boots. Behind her, Blossom twirls too. Then they trudge on.

Somehow those little twirls signify everything. We are doing the work of our lives here, and it is cold and hard sometimes, but there are moments when we forget we are working, when suddenly we are dancing.


Aunt Ella's Hand-rolled Noodles

one egg per person
2/3 cup flour per egg
1/2 teaspoon salt per egg

Sprinkle the salt into the flour. Make a bowl of flour on the counter. Beat the eggs together then tip them into the center of the "bowl." Swirl a fork through the flour and into the egg, back into the flour, back into the egg. Do this until a soft dough forms. Start rolling it out on floured surface. Use more flour if it is too sticky, but try not to let the dough get heavy. You want it to be soft yet elastic. Roll it out until it's a thickness that appeals to you, really thin or really thick.

Either flour the rectangle of dough and roll it up, jelly-roll style, then slice. Or run a crimped cutter along it (or a pasta bike if you have it) until you have long strips. We let them rest on the counter until we scoop them into a pot of boiling water (or boiling broth). Time in the pot will depend on thickness. Taste frequently to determine how you like it best (but do leave some for those who everyone who helped make the noodles).

They are good with chicken from a pot. Or they are good with melted butter and a good zesting of pepper and salt. They are best served with good memories.

37 comments:

Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

June you never cease to amaze me with the eloquence of your words. Your girls are so very lucky to have you and Birch to raise them up. I admire you so.

The noodles are almost just like the ones my mother in law makes, and they are always served up with good memories as well. Thanks for such a beautiful post.

... said...

lovely post...and aunt ella is beautiful. you are one blessed soul to have that kind of influence and what is even better is that you recognize it so well and embrace it as the gift it is.
blessings~

Laurie said...

What a lovely post. The images so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing your life, your words on this blog.

JGH said...

Beautiful post - I love the way you are honoring your Aunt Ella. The noodles look great- I bet they're pretty versatile, too. Thanks for the recipe!

Shari said...

This post made my life richer. Thank you.

renee ~ heirloom seasons said...

It is so wonderful to see that some of us just seem to have this in us, the great desire for a made from scratch life.
Our girls are so excited to do "farm chores". Just need a little more land, then the chickens, then the goats...
Thanks for the inspiring words!

Earth Mama said...

What a wonderful recolection of your aunt. I know that feeling of putting off the start of dinner prep for a bit too long. We cook dinner from scratch every night too. There is not really too much "quick" food. We were talking about this the other night, my daughter joiking about fast food...we said no, we eat slow food, which she thought was funny.

:)Lisa

Sharon said...

You got it. EXACTLY.

Sarah { bee house hives } said...

June,
O Ella sounds wonderful. What a beautiful woman she is!
I was up last night waiting for the bread to come out of the oven before I went to bed. I want Mae and Otto to remember "made from scratch" bread and hope they make it for their own children someday.. the mixing and kneading and rising by the woodstove and then baking.

I will be thinking of Ella today as I go about my ways here, and thinking of you as you are enjoying your homemade noodles :)
With love,
Sarah

Wendy said...

What a great post!

I make noodles like this, and usually add them to chicken stock. We call it "chicken noodles" and it's my girls' favorite dinner.

A few years ago, I was making noodles when a friend called. She asked what I was doing, and I told her, to which she inquired, "Why?" And the only answer I had was, because I can.

tom | tall clover farm said...

My friends joke that I was born in the wrong century, and now after meeting Aunt Ella, I may just agree. What treasures those souls are who bridge several generations and weave their magic into our lives no matter what our age or theirs. Her photograph is hauntingly beautiful as are your words. Homemade noodles this weekend, indeed! Thank you June, thank you Aunt Ella.

Conny said...

I love, love, love this post - it was so worth waiting for. Aunt Ella must have thought an awful lot of you too. My heart feels warm.

I also love that your family cooks together (at the same time). I often cook solo but always from scratch - which why dinner often doesn't begin until 7PM. It is worth it though.

Have a beautiful weekend.

Catherine said...

Oh June, I am moved to tears by your post. It is so heart-warming, so beautiful. We had a tough day here on the farm and like it always happens once in a while, I was wondering why we chose to do things this way. It's hard with 3 little ones to homeschool. Going out in the cold, to milk our cow twice a day, carry loads of water in the wind and snow when it's pitch black outside... and my grandma that lives with us (she's 89) that really wonders why we are living such a harsh life... Your post touches me very deeply. Thank you!

nicola@which name? said...

i am so glad you found my blog. you have a beautiful blog and what you say here...fabulous and so encouraging to me. so much of what you do, we have done too (proudly and happily!) but some of our ways have slipped as "other stuff" slips into life and wears me down. thank you for this lovely reminder of what homemade and from scratch is so wonderful. (with a few modern conveniences, we can experience the advantages of a melded modern and traditional life!)
nicola
http://whichname.blogspot.com

Beegirl said...

Hi June! I am so behind and just catching up on your posts. This is lovely. I've recently changed jobs and finding a balance has been tough. I find my self hanging on to the "scratch" tighter than ever, even though I have less time at home now. 40 degrees yesterday .. all the bed linens washed and out on the line. Homemade blueberry muffins for breakfast. Changed out the coop. Such simple pleasures. I think it stems from my long ago North Dakota roots... Wish I had someone as wonderful as your Aunt Ella to pin it too. What an inspiration! Your noodles look wonderful... YUMMY!!

Anonymous said...

I remember fondly my grandmother drying her egg noodles all over the living room. She'd put them on the back of chairs and the sofa! Such wonderful, warm memories you are creating for your own children.

sara farmama said...

What a beautiful post June! And thank you for sharing Aunt Ellas noodle recipe. I've had homemade noodles on my mind lately....perfect timing!
Sending love,
Sara

heather said...

mmm, those noodles look good! they're making me hungry as i look at them. i love what you wrote here about your way of life, and how you understand yourself in it. catherine pointed me your way! and i'm glad she did. thank you~heather

Country Girl said...

June I just love your writing! Seems as though you say so much of what I think. If I could only express myself as you. I wished I could say our lifestyle was carried on from previous generations but it is not. It was kind of an unintentional endevor that turns out to be the BEST life ever for raising children. The pride my kids take in this life is so rewarding. On to the noodles you have got my itching for a noodle maker. If you ever are searching around amazon.com tell me what one you'd buy cause I have a wish list I just started there. Once again WONDERFUL post. P.S. Your blog has become one of my FAVORITES!!

leaningapplemama said...

i love the image of your girls bundled, twirling in the snow and cold...such beauty and peace and simplicity! how glad i am to have found your blog!! xo, pennie

Theresa said...

I had an Aunt Ella too. She was very special, and my grandmother's sister...

Camie | Red Gate Gardens said...

June...

How I love reading your posts! You write so beautifully and you've honoured Ella in such a lovely way.

Celebrating the beauty of simplicity - it's so easy to forget to do, yet when done, rewards time and time again. Moments in our lives that will carry on, long after we're gone.

I'm going to go about my day today, purposefully searching out these simple moments, thinking of you gratefully.

~~Camie~~

PS: I like my noodles thick, with a little bit of a "toothiness" to them, floating in a golden chicken broth. Just like my mom used to make them...

sarah in the woods said...

This is such a beautiful post. My mama used to make homemade noodles, and I loved them.

Kyce at Old Recipe for a New World said...

oh hurrah for the aunties and old ways that inspire and uplift us as we find our way "home." This gives new meaning to the concept of "comfort food."

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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