The taste of a place—terroir in the wine world, where as Zak discusses in his letter unadulterated grape juice can have an uncanny ability to refract the essence of a parcel of land—can be a tricky thing to pin down in food. I took my son to Italy at the end of the summer, for two weeks, and needless to say we did some eating. He had his first carciofo alla giudia at my old local in the Jewish ghetto, even though I told him on the plane that the season was over so he wouldn’t get to; but they had bought artichokes from Northern France so we ate them.
Were they as good as they would have been in March, grown nearby? I don’t think so (they were also huge, unlike the Roman ones). Vegetables that travel rarely improve. When I dig potatoes in my garden and cook them minutes later, they taste different from potatoes, even well-stored ones, from the market. It’s the same with salad cut just before eating versus lettuce that’s even an hour old, let alone a day or longer: the difference between DSLR and phone photography, or a great stereo versus a boom box. They contain more information. I remember tasting a pineapple on the beach in Hanalei Bay when I was about fourteen and I could not believe how much more vivid and three-dimensional the flavor was; the ones that made it to Boston were pale simulacra. The experience kind of ruined me on pineapple for a long time.
During our time in Italy, we visited Modena where, among other things, I took some pictures of old tractors. We’ve got more Italian treats for you as well, like a recipe for caponata, the transmutation of Sicilian summer into one of the world’s great condiments, from a British expat who divides her time between Rome and Sicily. I also interviewed the President of a Modena-based nonprofit that she runs with her chef husband which is tackling the two-headed problem of food waste and hunger in an ingenious and scalable way. Feeding hungry people with food that would otherwise be discarded is the logical conclusion of any effort to do justice to an ingredient. Wasting food should be a crime.
We have an artist explaining how his long-term research on the food ways and forced migrations of Africans into the Americas informs his visual work in abstract ways, a graphic novelist's trip through the digestive tract, and a recently transplanted chef drilling down into her new surroundings—both literally and through the culinary history of the region. We also have a piece about the recent fires in the Pacific Northwest, which story was dramatically and deservedly eclipsed by the horrific fires in California. After consulting with some friends in the area, Rebuild Wine Country seems to be one of the better choices for donating to the recovery effort. Heather’s piece compares the speed at which nature recovers against our own urgent timelines and finds a silver lining in the ashes; this is not to diminish the terrible hardship and suffering people in California have endured. And, on a similar subject, Steve weighs in on the lamentable situation in Puerto Rico. Here's a list of four-star charities helping with relief and rebuilding there.
To conclude, I would be remiss if I, like Zak, did not remind you all that our book, our labor of love that took three whole years to make, might be one of your very best shopping options for the impending gift-giving season. If you know anyone who a) eats food and b) can read, pick up a copy of Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish & Game for their edification, betterment, and general amusement. They will love you forever, and so will we.