The more you study the a place that has had a long history of poverty, the more likely you are to become amazed at the sheer amount of creativity that flows from the severe need of providing both sustenance and pleasure.
As the world tries to cope with the unimaginably daft notion that we’d all be better off if we’d just contribute more of our hard-earned wealth to the already wealthy, I wonder when the time comes that we suddenly realize someone should be curating these old-fashioned but creative survival tactics?
When we’re all parched and ill-mannered from not having enough to eat and the fat-cat rich are on their own little planet or space station or some such, far away from the planet they’d ravaged for filthy lucre, we’ll wish we had a catalog. Ideas you can eat. Bet on it.
What got me to thinking about all this is Faith Willinger’s piece in La Cucina Italiana called “Adventures in Puglia”. It mentions burnt wheat.
Burnt wheat. What do you think of that notion?
…It was our first encounter with hand-made orecchiette, little ear-shapes, the region’s most important pasta. They were made with burnt wheat flour, an ingredient born of poverty that’s made a big comeback. (Note: After wheat was harvested, fields were burnt, but before being plowed under, people of little means would glean the burnt wheat, combine it with more costly hard wheat for their flour. It became an acquired taste and is now produced on purpose, toasting instead of burning the wheat.)
Puglia as well as with Basilicata and Calabria are hotbeds of these types of ideas as modern politicians found every excuse to ignore the folks of the hardscrabble south. Poverty will get you more poverty in the modern world unless you’re clever.
Of course, things come full circle, and now the rich want their share of this tasty treat, so the cucina povera gets mass produced, driving the poor out of the market so that prices can rise…
The idea of burning grains—or at least roasting them until they’re quite unmistakably dead—isn’t a new technique. You find burned barley in your Guinness or any stout beer of your choosing. It broadens the flavor profile of the beer while not adding alcohol as lightly toasted barley malt would.
Yes, I thought, someone should start curating the creative cleverness of poverty soon. From burnt wheat to filtering water with papyrus, another clever Puglian re-invention, starting with the ancient Egyptians.
So I started a Facebook page called Traditional Italian Food. The creative cleverness of poverty in Italy will be documented.
Americans, of course, would want there to be meat. Lots of meat.
We could just eat the rich. I suspect they’re too fatty though.