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Hi, I'm Pam Mehnert

As Outpost's general manager, Pam's work keeps her at the office, in meetings, or in front of her computer more than a simple 40 hours each week. However, her passion as a foodie has driven her to take on this challenge for the culinary experience of...
Pam Mehnert

Week 9 - Garden Squatting and the 1950's

A Year of Inconvenience
For one year, I'm making everything from scratch and forgoing convenience foods. Join me on my journey! By Pam Mehnert on June 22, 2010
The Victory Garden movement, which started during WWI really reached its peak during WWII. Home gardeners were told that anything they could do to leave more produce for the military (aka saving resources) would be part of their patriotic duty. The result of this effort was a multitude of backyard gardens, community gardens, and window box gardens across the country. (The modern-day Victory Garden Movement is alive today right here in Milwaukee. http://thevictorygardeninitiative.com

Prior to the Victory Garden movement in 1917, Woodrow Wilson's wife helped to develop guidelines for the women of America during the first war, with a goal of getting women to pledge to reduce their living to the most simple form, buying simple clothing and food and not demand any produce that was "out of season." The cookbooks of the day offered many suggestions of alternative eating so the military would not run out of meat, wheat, fats, sugar and milk. When the war ended many families continued this new pattern of eating (through WWII), and as a result the food companies responded by developing new canned goods/convenience products to help the American housewife cook her casseroles and vegetable dishes.

Okay, that little lesson in history was brought to you by my food experience in week nine, and the new victory-type strategy for those of us living an inconvenient year that I'd like to call "garden squatting." Since all I do is talk about tomatoes all the time, even with my friends, I've had a number of kind "volunteers" come forward and offer to grow some for me. My yard is about 80% shade, and I haven't been able to grow anything more than a few herbs and a container garden of tomatoes that I move around my driveway twice a day to make sure it gets some sun. Not so much fun. A Victory Garden is pretty much out of the question for me for that reason, and since I don't live close to any community garden plots, the thought of adding a bit of travel each day to tend garden to my already busy schedule of cooking made me want to cry.

That's where my friends Tyra and Angelina came to the rescue. They live just a few blocks from my home and have a nice little plot of sunshine in their yard that is pretty much perfect for a tomato garden of some sort. And since they are both following my blog efforts, they were more than willing participants in offering up this garden spot for my tomatoes. Yes it's a bit weird gardening in someone else's yard, especially when they're not home. Neighbors walk by and shoot you a strange look, perhaps thinking our friends hired gardeners? Whatever - I'm grateful - so thank you my friends, and thanks also to Diana and Eric who surprised us with a tomatillo plant in their garden just for us! I can already taste the salsa.

This past week I traveled to North Carolina with my sister to help her daughter (my niece) and her husband, pack up their home and move back here to Wisconsin. I have to be honest that cooking from scratch was going to be impossible when combined with packing up all the contents of one house in the short span of two days. It was important to my neice however, to make one more meal for her husband in their first house before, packing up the final dishes. That meal turned out to be his favorite - stuffed meatballs.

I'm tying in this example in with my Victory Garden story because her method of cooking (from her grandma's recipe) is the from-scratch cooking that likely came from the post-war recipe books using canned convenience ingredients. Take a pound of ground beef, Stovetop Stuffing mix, and a can of golden mushroom soup (perhaps some other herbs and spices) - and you have the basis for stuffed meatballs served with a side of spaetzle noodles. My inconvenient method would have been to first make the stuffing from scratch, from the bread I made from scratch... and then make gravy from scratch, using the beef stock I pre-made from scratch. Oh, and don't forget I'd have to make the noodles from scratch to go alongside the dish. Not quite the recipe for a time-pressured event such as packing up a house and moving.

This week just confirmed to me that while my efforts in cooking are a great experiment in food discovery and a different use of my time, it's not always possible to do everything from scratch. There is a place for convenience in my life and I took advantage of that this past week. A meal like my niece Meggan made is still a far cry from the frozen convenience meals or fast food diet of many Americans today. I guess it's all just a matter of perspective.

And in case you were wondering... among the first things I did when I got home from North Carolina (besides nap), was make a fresh batch of granola and a loaf of bread... and prep lettuce for salads....and water tomato plants.


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