A Long, Long Way From Home

I stood on the uneven cobblestones of a Prague sidewalk, looked at the shut face of an ornately carved wooden door and began to cry. The vegetable market was closed. The market where, on my way to a lecture two days prior, I’d spied the first heads of fresh green lettuce I’d seen in the weeks since I’d arrived in the city. I’d resolved to return, to find my way back to that lettuce at a time when refrigeration was nearer to hand. But now—closed. I hurried back to the tram stop, wiping at my face, hoping bystanders would think my eyes were watering from squinting into the sunlight. A middle-aged man stared kindly in my direction. I glanced away, wondering how I’d ever explain in my few words of Czech that I was crying because the lettuce market was closed.

I love lettuce, I do. I’m infatuated with the endless varieties, their different colors, flavors, textures. I eat a meal of fresh salad every day when it’s in season. But of course I wasn’t crying over my lack of lettuce. No, though I’m ashamed to admit it, in this vast city whose history and culture I have barely begun to understand, I’m homesick. I miss sunrise over the oak in the eastern fencerow, the trickle of the spring in the woods behind my house, the fireflies rising out of the evening fields, the cool dark earth in my hands. The word “ungrounded” has come to life for me in a new way. Away from the ground I live on, live from, the earth that has become a part of my body as I have eaten plants grown from its soil for so many years, I hardly feel like myself.

I’ve been surprised at how much of this journey has been about food, how I’ve both sought out “traditional” Czech foods as a way of connecting to the new culture in which I find myself and felt a deep craving for more familiar foods as a means of self-comfort and connection to home. Musing upon the many roles food plays in my life, I came across an unusual cookbook in an English-language bookstore: “In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin.” Terezin, a city not far from Prague, was transformed by Hitler in 1941 into the concentration camp Theresienstadt. According to the book’s foreword, 144,000 Jews were transported to Theresienstadt; 19,000 remained alive there at the war’s end. Many were moved to other camps like Auschwitz. Of those that remained in Theresienstadt, many died of malnutrition-related illnesses or starvation. The originator of this cookbook, Mina Pachter, was among them. Before her death, she carefully copied down her recipes and asked a friend to smuggle them out to her daughter, who had escaped to Palestine.

The image of Mina Pachter starving as she wrote down recipes she knew she would never again make in the vague hope that they would somehow reach her daughter haunts me. Of the many sights, sounds, and ideas I’ll bring home from this journey, this is one of the primary. I’ll return with a new appreciation for my food culture, a new awareness of the role food plays in my emotional life, and a resolution to think of Mina and savor each bite.

Mina with her grandson before the war

Mina with her grandson before the war

Mina's Healthcake

Mina's Healthcake

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About Harvest of Joy Farm LLC

At Harvest of Joy Farm LLC we seek to develop, practice, and share farming systems that mirror the resilience, diversity, and self-sufficiency of a healthy biotic community.
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6 Responses to A Long, Long Way From Home

  1. Dalee Camp says:

    Oh Amy, your writing is so beautiful. I was right there with you, heart aching because the lettuce stand was closed just when you needed that simple thing to make you feel connected to home. I’m sending my root energy to you straight through the earth so that you may feel a little more grounded and connected to home. Don’t be surprised though as you leave Prague if you leave a root of your own connecting you forever to the city of one hundred spires.

    • Thanks Dalee! I have made a few food-connections while I’m here. I will never think of Brie as something simply bland and creamy again, I have new respect for the brewery skills of the Belgian Trappists, and I fear that I may from now on forever find disappointment in American cappuchino. And spaetzle! Why on earth do we not eat spaetzle in the States?

      • Seth Knox says:

        Ah, Spätzle–that is Ulm’s second most famous export (the first would have to be Albert Einstein). You can have some Spätzle when you visit us in Adrian–we make a version with Quark (crème fraîche), mushrooms, and herbs … it’s one of our favorite dishes.

      • Mmmm, I’ll take you up on that. The dish I had was with spinach and blue cheese. So yummy! And surprisingly light.

  2. eKathy says:

    I thought I was making kale chips when I made lettuce chips a few weeks ago. They still tasted good even if they were not the consistency of a good kale chip. Sounds like quite a trip. Can’t wait to hear more.

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