Slow Food International was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986. Promoting local foods and preserving food traditions and production as an alternative to fast foods and industrial farming is at the very heart of the organization. The goal of producing sustainable food and promoting local small businesses is also a primary part of the movement. The organization now counts hundreds of thousands of members in branches throughout 150 countries.
I’ve been a supporter of the Slow Foods movement for many years. I was one of the delegates from the United States to the 2005 International Slow Foods Conference in Turin, Italy, where I presented a program, Heirloom Herbs of the World.
Local Slow Foods groups, called “Convivia,” began forming around the U.S. in the mid-2000s, including the Ozarks Slow Foods group in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Friends there asked me to participate in an awareness rising dinner for their group in 2007.
My part was to prepare an organic meal as a demonstration, which included several small courses, viewed and consumed by 30 people. I chose to make the meal as ecologically friendly as possible, ensuring there was nothing left from our meal that ended up in a landfill.
The entire meal, with the exception of the beverages, was served without plates, forks, spoons or serving dishes. The only clean-up afterward was a few mixing bowls and spoons and the beverage glasses. Everything I served was organic, either from my own garden or grown within 50 miles.
Since I grow an assortment of hardy bananas and edible water plants including taro (Elephant ears), cannas and many native plants, I used those as the serving platters for the foods. Edible flowers from my garden were used in several dishes, as well.
As part of the demonstration of local-to-table, Josh Young, my partner at Long Creek Herb Farm, churned butter in his grandmother’s 1880s butter churn then served it alongside a loaf of his freshly-baked sourdough bread. It was exciting to see people’s reaction as they watched the sweet cream magically turn into butter. After draining and washing away the buttermilk out of the newly made butter, he added freshly-chopped fragrant rose petals and mixed those into the butter. The sourdough bread and fresh rose butter was devoured in brief minutes by the crowd, many exclaiming they had never seen butter made before and could barely believe how delicious it was.
One course was cucumber-dill sandwiches, which I served on large canna leaves. The sandwiches were baby cucumbers sliced in half lengthwise, slightly hollowed out and stuffed with thick Greek yogurt with chopped, fresh dill. The two halves of the cucumbers were put back together like little sandwiches and served as finger foods.
I made miniature cracker bowls in advance, using one of the recipes from my book, Easy Homemade Crackers (available from Baker Creek Seeds). I rolled out the dough and instead of cutting it into cracker shapes before baking; I cut larger pieces to fit into muffin tins and baked them. The little bowls then were filled with individual salads.
The salad ingredients included fresh basil leaves, baby lettuce, begonia and rose petals, cherry tomatoes, and the salad was very lightly dressed with raspberry vinegar. Guests ate the salad with their fingers and ate the bowls, as well.
Next came a variation on Vietnamese fresh summer rolls. The rice paper wrappers were moistened and filled with a mixture of sunflower sprouts, cilantro, shredded carrots, cucumber slivers and a choice of either toasted tofu or local crawfish tails, from my farm. Rolled up tight, they were served on individual leaves from the red bud tree.
For another course I chose large cherry tomatoes for stuffing, and served those on canna leaves. The tomatoes were sliced in half and hollowed out. The stuffing was made with softened cream cheese (you can also use Greek yogurt), mixed with finely chopped basil leaves, chopped pecans and chopped petals of French marigolds (green parts removed, use only French marigolds, not the larger African marigolds which aren’t edible). The stuffed tomatoes were arranged on an elephant ear leaf and were a hit, disappearing quickly.
There were miniature quiches using eggs from my henhouse, baked in muffin pans without crusts. In the quiche I included local cheeses, rosemary and chopped baby zucchini. Those were served in hollyhock flowers, the center stamen removed. Since hollyhocks are edible, they made perfectly festive individual dishes. And for dessert we had popsicles, using one of my blackberry-basil sorbet recipes and followed by lemon balm cookies.
At the end of the evening the guests had learned how butter is made, learned about some new edible flowers and leaves, tasted a new assortment of herbs and hopefully looked at new ways of serving food and eliminating landfill waste. There were almost no leftovers, but everything that wasn’t eaten, including banana, canna, red bud and other serving leaves, went directly into the compost pit in the garden.
Jim Long owns Long Creek Herbs, at www.LongCreekHerbs.com. His books can be ordered from www.RareSeeds.com as well as being available in the seed store at Baker Creek Seed.