Cheesemaker Vicky Brown, Riff on ‘soul food’

Posted in Blogs, Culinary

VICKY BROWN, Oct. 26, 2012

I am an eater. I like food a lot.

I’ve had nearly every kind of food. I enjoy sushi and oysters and pasta and pizza. I like steaks and hamburgers and fries and salads. I like healthy food and I like comfort food and I like food that shouldn’t be classified as food. Really, I like food.

But I have a favorite, and surprisingly, although I’m a cheesemaker, it isn’t cheese. It’s soul food.

I know a few people might get upset with my definition of soul food. I apologize in advance if my interpretation offends anyone. No disrespect is intended for those that find the collard greens at the BBQ Joint to be the epitome of soul food. And they are. (Incidentally, that food also fits my definition because actually those collard greens come from my friend, farmer Georgie at Willowood Farm).

Brown buys bread from Tree Top Baking at the Bayview Farmers Market. (Photos courtesy of Vicky Brown)

When I speak of soul food, I don’t mean the usual definition of the phrase, which describes southern cooking or even the nostalgic idea of the home-cooked meals of a simpler time. Soul food to me is something more. Soul food nourishes the soul and is art for your mouth.

When you enjoy a sculpture, a painting, a print or a photograph, what is it that makes you respond? Maybe at university you were trained in Art Appreciation 101 and learned what made good art. Maybe it reminds you of the work of a famous artist and that’s what gives it substance for you.
Or perhaps it stirs something inside you, flooding you with feelings, emotions, endorphins, grief, joy, peace or pain.

Good food prepared well does all those things for me. Good food stirs my soul. Good food, to me, is art.

When I buy bread at the local Farmers Market, I know the person whose hands kneaded the dough, scored the loaf, wrapped the bread and applied the label. This is the bread I want to grace my table. It suits my palate and, more importantly, it feeds my soul.

When I buy jam to spread on the bread and I notice razor thin nicks on the surface of the skin from the hands that take my money, I am aware that these hands washed, peeled, sliced and diced the fruity sweetness that will tantalize my taste buds and feed my soul.

Brown buys Heavenly Fig Jam from 3 Generations jam makers at the farmers market.

When I buy ground beef, I see the hands that tended the cattle, oversaw their diet with the precision of top rated nutritionist, cared for them if they fell ill or were injured and ultimately made the hard decision of slaughter day. These are the hardworking hands that nourish my soul.

When I buy cheese (Yes, even though I make cheese I still buy it too!), I meet the person who nourished the mammals everyday regardless of weather, provided shelter and comfort, stayed up through the night taking temperatures and drenching electrolytes, was doula for dozens of deliveries, handled the milk and, ultimately, conducted the exquisite tango of science and art to turn the fluid to curd and mold the curd into cheese. These tired eyes and sore hands are the ones that nourish my soul.

When I buy my veggies, I shake the dirt-stained hands that nourished the soil, planted the seeds, stood guard over the growing crops, stooped over and over and over again, massacred intruders (often pulling one by one), and harvested, bundled and hauled the produce to market. The creases and nails are stained a fertile black on these hands that nourish my soul.

Soul food.

The things all these foods have in common is that my money feeds their businesses and, in turn, their businesses feeds my body. It is more than just food that nourishes my body and provides fuel, it’s food that nourishes a community, fuels a business and feeds employees and neighbors. It’s a cycle of nourishment for all souls.

Vicky Brown cuts curd for the “Pheta” cheese made at Little Brown Farm in Freeland. Brown sells her cheeses at local farmers markets.

A local chef wrote a book about soul food, but from a different angle. Her perspective follows the money specifically through the community. “Bucky the Dollar Bill” by Lisa Nakamura  is an adorable book that hit my heart. (Look for it and support it and get some soul food for your brain.)

Don’t think too hard, listen to your heart. Embrace the food of your community; seek out your local farmers and let them nourish your soul.

To read more posts from Little Brown Farm, visit Brown’s regular blog here.

Upcoming events:

The Bayview Farmers Market at Bayview corner will be offering the last farmers market of the regular season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, rain or shine.

The Holiday Bayview Market will host many of  the island’s favorite vendors inside Bayview Hall on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22.  The holiday market offers everything from baked goods and cheese to fresh produce and toffee  and handmade gifts  ranging from lotions and soaps to fine jewelry and art.

Vicky Brown, Chief Milkmaid at the Little Brown Farm, puts her passions on the page writing about food, agriculture and the tender web of community.

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