“My college education may or may not land me a good job down the road, but my farm education will serve me. The choices I make now about my food will influence the rest of my life.” —Camille Kingsolver, “Taking Local on the Road”
In her essay “Taking Local on the Road,” Camille Kingsolver describes her experience transitioning from her family’s farm to her first year of college. For Kingsolver, moving from her home, where fresh, local food was the norm to a campus dormitory, where such products were much rarer, was an eye-opening experience. “Not having fresh produce at my disposal made me realize how good it is,” (37) she comments early in the piece.
She discusses her realization of the importance of fresh, local food in her life, praising the “eggs with deep golden yolks” and “greens that still had their flavor and crunch” (38) that she enjoys in her family’s household. She also recalls her surprise at realizing that her college peers were relatively unaware of the origin of their meals, often relying “on foods that come out of shiny wrappers instead of peels or skins” (37).
But for Kingsolver, her close relationship with local food is about far more than just knowledge. As she explains, active awareness of her food’s origin gives her “a sense of security” (38) that she feels lucky to have, encouraging her as she comes of age in a world filled with “odious threats” (38) such as global warming and chemical warfare. Though, like many young people, she is apprehensive about her future, the sense of appreciation and stability she draws from her close connection to the food that sustains her gives her strength to face these challenges.
While Kingsolver comes from the lush southern Appalachian countryside, I grew up in the New Mexican high desert, an alternately blazing and freezing mountain climate where two—and only two—vegetables are known to grow with any reliability: Swiss chard and zucchini.
Though I have never experienced the ability to harvest all my fruits and vegetables fresh from the land, the scarcity of edible plants in my town has also given me a great appreciation of the few that we can acquire. During the short growing season, we always enjoy feasting on the two courageous plants that, for some mysterious reason of nature, do manage to flourish here.
I agree with Kingsolver—knowing exactly where your meal comes from makes the eating experience incredibly meaningful. Preparing and dining upon a fresh vegetable that you have planted, tended, and watched over the course of its growth offers a sense of achievement, appreciation, and stability to which supermarket produce simply cannot compare. And the sight of a small, brightly-colored vegetable garden standing out against the rocky, dusty surroundings is a strikingly beautiful image that fills me with renewed gratitude and hope every summer.
After the stormy snows and bitter winds of winter, the following abundance of zucchini and chard in my town sometimes catches us off-guard, so, over the years, my family has become very creative with these vegetables. Steamed slices of zucchini drenched in rich, salty butter; savory zucchini fritters with tangy feta cheese; hearty zucchini bread; and moist zucchini cake are just a few of the dishes that this vegetable has inspired in my household.
Though when I was young, I was puzzled by the idea of putting a bright green vegetable into a dessert, one taste of sweet, luscious zucchini cake with tart, creamy lemon frosting was enough to change my mind. During the brief growing season in my town (June and July, and part of August if we’re lucky), this meal functions as a breakfast, a dessert, or a sweet snack at any time in between…
Zucchini Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup (lightly-packed) brown sugar
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup canola oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ pound zucchini (peeled and grated)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grease an 8×8-inch cake pan with oil or butter and preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a second, larger bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and when completely blended, stir in the zucchini. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 38-42 minutes.
Cool for 30 minutes, then run a table knife around the edge of the pan, top with an upside-down plate, and invert the pan so that the cake falls onto the plate. Let cool completely and then frost. (For an easier version, leave the cake in the pan, allow to cool completely, and then frost the top.)
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the butter and cream cheese until they begin to get fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients and whip until smooth. Frost the cake and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Recipe adapted from Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell.
Kingsolver, Camille. “Taking Local on the Road.” Food Matters: A Bedford Spotlight Reader. Ed. Holly Bauer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. 37-39. Print.