Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD - Lunch and Purslane at Coleman Family Farms
I’m vacationing in Carpinteria this week, a second home for most of my life. My family started visiting Carpinteria when I was a baby and by my 16th birthday we were lucky enough to visit often, staying at one of the units my dad built just two blocks from the beach.
Over the past 20 years, the extended Modugno family has enjoyed a family reunion at the Carpinteria State Beach every August. I blathered my family history to Bill Coleman one Wednesday at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market in June, and he invited me to come visit the farm. I did, just this last Monday.
Bill’s wife, Delia, busily prepared lunch in the kitchen of a wide open framed home while I sat with Bill and his son, Romeo, on the covered porch. It was lovely, even as I squirmed feeling a bit out of place. I’m usually in the kitchen.
We covered a lot of territory, comparing family food traditions and my work as a dietitian in Santa Monica. I have come a long way from the conventional training of my college days. I appreciate all the science, but realized a few years back that I really didn’t connect with food anymore–at least not the growing part. I spent the last few years reading extensively, especially taken by Joel Salatin’s story in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I was intrigued enough to read his own story in “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.” I have been fascinated ever since.
EATING CLOSE TO THE EARTH
I have always been drawn to food–even as an anorectic. I was classic, cooking for everyone else but not eating myself. Thank goodness that is over. Food has evolved far beyond the uneasy truce I negotiated as I healed from the eating disorder. Today my relationship to food could best be described as joyful.
I would have never guessed I could become so respectful of the growing part. I am not quite enamored, as I don’t trust that I have a green cell in my thumb. I tend to kill most everything I put in the ground, but Bill tells me it is probably a lack of time. Farming takes plenty of it. As a matter of fact, I do remember that part.
My father was a part time farmer–basically growing every thing he could in 3/4 acre of land that surrounded our house in Sylmar, California. My dad was one of ten kids, the first generation offspring of Italian immigrants from a poor agricultural region in Puglia. He actively gardened from early spring through the middle of fall with seemingly little effort. It seemed like anything he pushed into the ground grew and produced. By the end of summer, my sisters and I would proudly pull our wagon through the neighborhood offering tomatoes, chard, peppers and zucchini to all takers.
But it wasn’t all fun. I often sense my stunted relationship with food started as a child. My dad demanded a bucket of weeds for permission to go anywhere or do anything. He was relentless. He would reel in anyone who wanted to join me for any excursion or privilege. There was always a price to pay no matter who wanted to do something with me, whether it be one of my five sisters, my cousins or some hapless and unsuspecting friend. I even witnessed my older sister’s boyfriends get hoodwinked into picking a few buckets every time they came over to the house. It’s a wonder they ever came back.
BACK TO LUNCH ON THE COLEMAN FARM
After a pleasant hour of sharing stories, we moved inside to the farm table as it was filled with the day’s meal. The next hours passed seemlessly, with the convoluted conversation of three generations sitting at the table with a most willing guest. I hadn’t passed so many dishes since I was living at home, eating at our own family table.
Delia prepared traditional Filipino foods that embraced the harvest of the day. I tasted bitter melon for the first time, definitely preferring it when eaten with the chicken curry than the stronger taste all by itself. My favorite new food was the freshly picked and cut bamboo shoot salad. This tasted nothing like the dead and lifeless canned variety, my only previous experience. I didn’t hesitate to take thirds.
Later as Bill guided me around the farm, he showed me the precious young shoots in the stand of bamboo just off the house porch. We walked past the bathtub used to wash produce before it is taken to market, and paced alongside rows of herbs and greens, as he named each variety. I noted the drip irrigation, a direct benefit of Romeo’s degree in agriculture, and the carefully measured rows of new growth, timed to meet demand over the growing season. I loved being this close to the source.
As we passed the purslane, I started laughing. I had told Bill about the evening I was sent to my room for refusing to eat the “weeds” my dad picked that day. It’s been over thirty years, but I wondered if it could be just the stuff I passed on years ago. Bill deftly pulled out his knife and cut me a bunch. I took in the simple cooking instructions and wondered if I would really eat them. How could I not?
Today the purslane was cleaned and added to a salad for lunch. Crisp, a bit sweet and sour. The young leaves blended beautifully in my salad accompanying a grilled pork chop and baked beans. Tonight for dinner, I cleaned the rest, sauteing the ends first in a bit of oil and garlic and adding the tops later. They were amazingly tender, bright in flavor. Delicious.
The subtle sweet and tangy flavors of the cooked purslane were delightful, especially given that the store bought romaine lettuce I used in a salad was a bit wilted and bitter, belying an age much older than I would have thought. I just went shopping two days ago. I am definitely going to miss Wednesday’s farmer’s market in Santa Monica this week. But you will see me at the Thursday market here in Carpinteria.