Raw Materials

June  5, 2012

This is the tenth installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.

Today: Tom muses on the raw materials of the kitchen and why he cooks over a plate of Ham-Cured Goose Legs with Butter-Poached Peas and Carrots.

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Just the other day, my dad was leaning against the fence watching the chickens do what chickens do while I knelt nearby, weeding some rogue arugula out from around the grapes. All the while, we engaged in a round of small talk.

Soon enough, the conversation turned to the chickens.

My dad, an accountant by trade but a farm boy by birth, is fascinated by them. When he gets out of his car he always walks over to the fence and watches them. He loves the eggs and likes the meat birds, but being an accountant he surmises that I don't save any money by raising my own birds.

He's right.

Funny thing is, it never occurred to me to care. If they didn't taste better, I wouldn't raise them -- or I'd find a better way to raise them so the eggs and meat did. In other words, it has always been about quality and never about the cost.

So here I am on a Sunday afternoon, standing at the stove. The place where I not only cook but also do my best thinking about food. (Well, except that now we are rolling into the thick of garden season and sometimes I do some damn good thinking in the garden. In fact, I realized last week that being in the garden on a Sunday morning is more productive for me than church has ever been.)

But as I stand in the kitchen in the afternoon, feet hurting and back aching, I have this epiphany: I have a living pantry.

You see, of late I have been hung up on the Italian idea of materie prime -- translated, it means "raw materials." It's really a term intended for industry, but lately I have begun to see it applied to foodways.

Laying on the counter before me is the pride and joy that I get from what I do, the rewards of my labor. Perfect peas picked an hour ago, carrots pulled at the same time, and goose legs from a bird I raised, killed, and cured: all the prime ingredients of this dinner I am getting ready to make and eat.

I'm not here to pat myself on the back. No, it is not about that, but rather about how living at the farm has changed my view of food, ingredients, and how I cook.

It's like paying for your own college education: somehow, you always get better grades and care more when you are paying for it yourself. Maybe I respect the ingredients more, and feel differently about them because I am producing them here, on my land and with my own hands.

When I started cooking, it was about showmanship for me, about out-cooking everyone else. It was never really about nurturing, and thus in the end cooking felt meaningless to me. The funny thing is that I love to cook for the sheer joy of cooking -- I always have.

Maybe the further away I get from the restaurant industry, food TV, and the so-you-want-to-be-a-rock-star mentality of foodieland, the less it is about me. Maybe it is the girls, Amy, and the farm. Or maybe, the idea of really great ingredients used simply, with care and good technique, is nourishing on more levels then I realize.

Ham Cured Goose Legs with Butter Poached Peas and Carrots

Serves 4

4 goose or duck legs, thighs attached
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 heaping teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon basic dry cure, or 1 /12 teaspoons salt
1 cup fresh peas
1 cup carrot, small dice
1/3 cup yellow onion, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
a bouquet of fresh marjoram, thyme, rosemary and sage

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • bugbitten
  • jsatinsky
  • Shalini
  • Kitchen Butterfly
    Kitchen Butterfly
  • fiveandspice
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


bugbitten June 13, 2012
Tom, I am almost out of original-sounding compliments for these Sunday dinners, but I have a question. What's that under the recipe on the plate? Cornmeal crepe? Best to you and all.
thirschfeld June 13, 2012
bugbitten you have a keen eye. Yes they are cornmeal crepes. I have been playing around with all different types of flours and using a standard crepe ratio to see if the ratio holds true.
bugbitten June 13, 2012
May all your ratios get truer and truer. And may all your troubles reduce. Ted
jsatinsky June 6, 2012
I look forward to your column appearing in the Feed52 window. I might see it at work - but I always wait until I'm home (dinner enjoyed with my family and the little one tucked in) and I really savor it and reflect on your poignant thoughts about food and family. Thanks!
meganvt01 June 6, 2012
Oops - my husband was logged into my iPad. That post was from me.
thirschfeld June 13, 2012
meganvt101 it makes me happy to here that, thank you.
Shalini June 6, 2012
I really liked these reflections, Tom. It's amazing you made all these things at once, on your farm, and you can see from the dish that you love doing it.
thirschfeld June 6, 2012
thanks so much Shalini!
Kitchen B. June 6, 2012
Tom - spot on as always. Why we cook, for the sheer love and joy of it (she says, nodding)
thirschfeld June 6, 2012
thanks KB!
fiveandspice June 5, 2012
Thanks for these reflections Tom. I couldn't agree more with your sense of how so much of good cooking and what gives cooking meaning is about care - care for the ingredients, the preparation, and the people you're serving. Beautiful post.
thirschfeld June 6, 2012
you are welcome fiveandspice and thank you
Amanda H. June 5, 2012
Why we cook -- great topic, Tom.
thirschfeld June 6, 2012
Thanks Amanda!
arielleclementine June 5, 2012
what a wonderful post, Tom, and a beautiful meal. i grew peas for the first time this spring, and was only able to harvest about 1/3 of a cup total, but i felt so happy to serve my husband and baby their tiny servings of something i had cared for and cooked myself.
thirschfeld June 6, 2012
Thanks so much arielleclementine and I bet those were the best peas you ever had!