Sunday, May 29, 2022

Jar of Goodness 5.29.22: Missouri Wines

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Missouri wines.

This afternoon we went to Stone Hill for a screening of a new documentary about the history of wine in Missouri, including a big dose of Stone Hill history in Hermann. It’s called Winemaking in Missouri: A Well-Cultivated History, and apparently it will be coming to a PBS station near you soon (starting in St. Louis, eventually being distributed nationally by American Public television).

Seriously, keep an eye out for it. It's well made, well-researched, and well worth watching.

Directed by Cat Neville as part of her tasteMAKERS series, it covers a long, interesting history: How German immigrants brought wine culture with them, how it was a challenge to try to grow European grapes in Missouri, how an invasive root pest introduced to Europe nearly destroyed the wine industry there, but Missourians figured out that North American grape rootstocks were naturally resistant and European grapes could be grafted onto them, saving them from utter destruction. And then, when Missouri wineries were producing the most wine in the country, then came Prohibition. So Missouri wines themselves had to come back from utter destruction.

One of my favorite points made in the movie is that here in Missouri, we don’t grow Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Our climate and soils aren’t right for those. BUT! We have the Norton, and we have a number of interesting hybrids of those European grapes with native varieties. So yeah, Missouri wines are not the same as the others. If you drink them expecting them to taste just like the wines made in California or Europe, you’ll be disappointed. . . . But why would you hold such an expectation? And why would you want them to be the same? . . . Variety is the spice of life! Travel broadens the mind! And wine is never about having that same exact delicious flavor again and again and again. That’s for fast-food connoisseurs. No! Wine is about trying and sampling new things. It’s about the journey; making discoveries.

We were a little late, so we missed most of the hors d’oeuvres before the showing, but we got to see the film. Afterward, as people milled about and sifted away, we sat at one of the outdoor picnic tables to enjoy a bottle of Norton.

Even though there had been a formal Q&A session before the film, the Held family and other Stone Hill people were still busy afterward speaking with tons of guests. (You could have figured that people would want to stand around and talk more after viewing the film!) The servers were removing the demolished trays of food, the leftover napkins, the plates. As the place emptied, we waved and did the hip-hip-hooray sign at Betty Held, the honored matriarch of Stone Hill, as she rode away with friends in a van. A little later, Jon and Nathan Held walked by and chatted with us for a while, so we had a really nice conservation with them after all. Truly the highlight of the evening.

John Thorne, my favorite food writer, said that good wines are always worth trying, because you can usually see why some people really like them. They’re interesting. Even if it’s not to your personal taste, you can at least appreciate them for what they are: different. Somebody’s beloved local flavor. “Malbec, for instance,” he says, “is a varietal that tastes rather like ink; a highly rated one tastes like delicious ink.”

Variety is the spice of life. . . . Variety is the spice of life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Black Walnut Tree

There’s a big old black walnut tree in my parents’ backyard. It’s right in the center, in the back, where the lawn meets the edge of the woods above the drainage ravine.

It was already a giant when they bought the house when I was on the way in sixty-five. All the branches are high out of reach.

Dad hung swings for us from its huge lower limbs when I was a kid.

The night of Saturday, July 26, 1969, a severe storm blew the top out of the tree. A hard day’s work with saws cleared the debris from the lawn. Mom and Dad had plenty of help.

My brother and I didn't particularly help, but we sure had fun that day.

From that windfall and more, my folks used some of the fallen branches and some old blankets and pieces of canvas to build a tepee for us kids in the backyard. So that summer and following years, our yard was popular among the neighborhood kids.

Some of the large sections of walnut became woodworking projects. Mom squirreled away several nice thick pieces. To this day, I use one of the smaller chunks—which I carefully sanded and polished, as a preteen—as an incense burner. There's a public side and a private side.

Then in the late 1970s, Mom learned about juglenone when she tried to grow a tomato back near the tree. The tomato plant grew tall and spindly, and it begrudged us flowers and fruit. At the time, I didn’t care much, since I never cared much for raw tomatoes. (They’re still not a favorite.)

The nutmeats from the tree didn’t amount to much, as too many of them were dried and shriveled to make it worthwhile to crack them open. The squirrels found plenty of them to eat, however, and nested in its branches and ran around, like rollercoaster cars, on its wide, undulating, spreading limbs. Recently, my parents had a clan of gray squirrels with a lot of white patches in their fur, which was fun to see.

There has always been a vertical split in the trunk facing the house. It’s morphed over time into a more rounded hole. But the split was always a curious thing for me. Over the years, it became an entry way for the carpenter ants, bees, snakes, and other animals that have inhabited its hollow interior.

Paul and I used to pick up fallen walnuts and chuck them into the woods, practicing our pitches by aiming for random tree trunks. My fingers turned black from the juices, but I didn't care, since I wasn’t such a girly-girl. Chucking the nuts into the woods served a useful purpose, too, since it made mowing easier, and walking, too, for that matter.

I have so many memories of enjoying the backyard with that big tree providing us shade. It’s still standing, doing fine, its hollow space quite recently a home for a family of barred owls.

It’s truly a grandmother tree, and I thought I’d sing you this little song of praise.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Jar of Goodness 5.15.22: The Black Walnut Tree

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for the black walnut tree that grows in my parents’ backyard.

I’ll tell you more about it in a bit—I’m still cobbling together some pictures to share about it. But today let it suffice to say that it’s the day’s submission into the Jar of Goodness. I’m truly grateful to have grown up in the shadow of such a tree.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Jar of Goodness 5.8.22: Mom

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for my Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Jar of Goodness 5.1.22: Clovers Natural Market

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Clovers Natural Market in Columbia.

Today, Clovers celebrated 16 years of having their store at 2012 E. Broadway! They had a beautiful, sunshiny day for vendors indoors and inside to offer samples of their goodies and other products. Annie’s Breads, River Hills Harvest, Logboat Brewing Company, Raw Roots Turmeric, and more. We sampled candy-like turmeric and beet gummy supplements, chatted with the rep from Logboat while he poured us generous samples of their locally made beer, and made new friends with Ranjana Hans, of Raw Roots Turmeric, who sells her fresh Ayurvedic herbs and products at the Columbia Farmer’s Market as well as at Clovers.

Oldtimers (like me) will remember Clovers when it was at 802 Business Loop 70 East. The original business, called Columbia Specialty Foods, was run by Richard Catlett and had opened in 1965. I remember the elderly Mr. Catlett as an owl-like presence in his store and in the community, an unwavering liberal, an outspoken pacifist, and like Thoreau, a war-tax resister who was sent to jail for refusing to give his money to a government that was waging war. He was a Quaker, and he lived according to his principles. I honestly didn’t know the half of who he was; but knowing his legacy now, I think Columbia should have a monument to him. Or at least a big mural.

In college in the eighties, I used to stop by Columbia Specialty Foods often. Since I was on the run so much, balancing classes on campus and my job at Parkade Plaza (on the Business Loop), plus hiking a lot and visiting friends, I loved their grab-and-go sandwiches. I could always count on picking up a tasty, righteous, tofu-eggless-salad-and-sprouts pita sandwich, an organic yellow apple, and a Hansen’s sody to carry me through the afternoon. (The recipe for that vintage tofu salad sandwich is here.)

Often, I’d throw my lunch in my daypack and carry it out to that overlook at Gans Creek, and eat it there. You know the place—it’s what they now call Shooting Star Bluff. (This is back when shooting stars used to cover that gladelike area, which is now just trampled mud. But I remember when it was bird’s-foot violets and shooting stars there, all April. But I digress.)

In 1991 (after I’d moved out of state), the current owners, Patty Clover and Scott Nirmaier, purchased the store and renamed it “Clover’s.” Before buying it, Clover and Nirmaier had been employees at Columbia Specialty Foods.

Clover’s opened their fancy new second location on Chapel Plaza Court (at Forum and Chapel Hill) in 1999. That allowed them to reach a lot of people whose lives are centered in that section of town. I’d say the two stores have different characters; the one on Broadway is a former laundromat nearer the center of town and has a more soulful feeling. A little more crowded and worn, a little more loved.

A lot of the transition happened during times when I didn’t live in Missouri, but I visited Clover’s often when back for the holidays, and after we returned in the late 1990s we visited the Chapel Hill store a lot, since we lived in that part of town. Both stores have a unique vibe; they’re still at heart mom-and-pop stores; stepping in the door, you can tell you’re not at a chain. You’re in a place where someone cares.

Now that we live in Jeff City, our visits to Columbia for groceries are fewer, but I’m making a point of shopping more often at Clovers Natural Market.