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Alice Waters thinks David Mas Masumoto’s peaches could change the world. Today, Masumoto shares his search for the perfect peach and the shocking family secret that changed the history of his farm. Plus, we chat with Nichole Accettola about Scandinavian baking, from cinnamon knots to rye bread, and we learn the language of strawberries.
Questions in this episode:
"I’m currently living in a camper with a three burner stove and no oven. Is there a way to make a meatloaf on the stove top?"
"Every time I bake my grandmother's oatmeal bread it splits down the center. How can I avoid that?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street radio from PRX. I'm your host is Christopher Kimball, Mas Masumoto grows peaches, some of the best peaches in the country. Growing up his daughter Noriko didn't understand just how great they were.
Mas Masumoto: So, we took her up to Chez Panisse and she was done defined that what they served for dessert of when our peaches were in season was simply a peach on a plate.
CK: Today Mas shares the story of how he came to grow these perfect peaches, and the unexpected discoveries he made about his family farm along the way.
MM: because all families have secrets. my conversation
CK: My conversation with Mas is coming up later in the show. But first, I'm joined by Baker, Nicole Accettola. She's the owner of Canteen, a cafe in San Francisco, also author of Scandinavian from Scratch. Nicole, welcome to Milk Street.
Nicole Accettola: Thank you so much, Chris.
CK: Let's do a geography lesson because you move all over the world here. So, Ohio, you start there okay. You end up in Boston and you opened up No. 9 Park with Barbara Lynch. (I did. Yes). That's impressive. Then you went to Copenhagen and then you you ended up in San Francisco. Right? (Right) So what was it like Copenhagen? The language is not easy. What was that first year like?
NA: Oh, a lot of ups and downs. You know, I had a long-term friendship with a woman in Denmark and during one of my many visits, I fell in love with the country for sure. And then I fell in love with a young man there. And so, the idea of leaving Boston, and this chaotic life that I was leading, being a chef de cuisine at a newly opened restaurant that was very successful. I, I don't know, thinking back on it now, if that was a burnout, and I was trying to escape or what that was, but I just knew that I my life was off kilter. And I needed to find some kind of balance again. And it was the best thing that I could have done for myself at that time. So, I took a step back and invested my time in learning the language and getting to just, you know, work at this small Italian restaurant at that time, there was nothing really called Nordic cuisine. There was Danish food, and there was Swedish food and was very kind of old fashioned. It was meat and potatoes and gravy. And you know that kind of thing. And then, you know, that first year was tough, especially with the most of the times that I'd been there it was summertime. And it was, you know, endless daylight and biking everywhere until the wee hours of the morning. And then the winter came. And it was dark and gray.
CK: Yeah, it's very, it's like 10 in the morning before the sun came up. I was in Stockholm in in February.
NA: Oh, my. I mean, I remember dropping off my children in darkness and picking them up in darkness like, right? It's just you can't even imagine.
CK: So, let's just talk about, you know, when if I traveled different country, what I love is starting to understand food from a different perspective, right? Because people think about cooking differently, their techniques are different. The flavor combinations are different. So, what did you start to learn in Denmark about how Danish cooking how a Danish cook would think about food?
NA: Well, I moved to Copenhagen in 1999. And at that time, like I said, there was no Nordic cuisine or anything like that but there was this small bubbling and merging modern way of eating in Copenhagen that was coming out. So, for my family, I was learning the traditional, you know, meat balls, and roast pork, and fish cakes, and so forth, like that to make home cooked meals for them. But then there was this competing, emergence that was all about seasonality and produce, which I loved, but produce is something else over there that you know, the seasons are cold. So, things grow slowly, and they're packed full of flavor. So, like, especially root vegetables that I I just I've never tasted anything like that. It's incredible.
CK: Let's actually talk about your book about Scandinavian from Scratch, first of all Scandinavia. Let's define terms here. What does Scandinavia mean? And what is Nordic mean?
NA: Yeah, so Scandinavia is Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and Nordics that includes Finland and Greenland, Iceland in addition to those first three countries, the Faroe Islands, there are small, smaller islands as well that are included. Those are the Nordics, but it's all in the same general Northern European region.
CK: And do you find major distinctions from a cooking point of view from each of these countries? Are there commonalities that blend through all of them or, or in the last 10 or 15 years, maybe they've sort of come together more and more because everyone's sort of rediscovered farm to table for example.
NA: Yeah, there's definitely some commonalities, I think just based on things that thrive in the cold climates. So, you'll find things like rye, which grow really well in cold climates as opposed to wheat. That's a prominence there making do with what you have. So very bread heavy, I would say.
CK: Flat breads. I was surprised to see flat breads. I didn't know that there was a tradition of flat breads there.
NA: Yeah, very much so. So, this is where there are some differences between the countries. So, I would say in Denmark every day in and out, most people are eating rye bread. That's the staple. In Sweden, you're going to have a what's like a large cracker with a hole in the middle. That's a Swedish crispbread. It's usually based on a rye flour. And then in Norway, a lot of times they'll do like a thin flatbread that has spices in it, that you roll out and you use a doker or riveted rolling pin to make a small little dimples in the dough. And they can do wraps with it, they put their hotdogs in it. I remember one time a friend of made me some like air dried deer meat with butter and lettuce on one of those and it was just a meal like, we'll never forget.
CK: So royal party cake reminds me of sort of an English summer dessert with vanilla cake and meringue and then whipped cream. It sounds better actually. Because you get crunchy walnuts on it. But there seems to be a tradition of you know, layers of cake and lots of whipped cream and fruit. (Right) That's that's part of the Danish baking history, is it?
NA: Yeah, I would say that's their approach to cakes. I mean, when the berry season is as short as it is it's all about celebrating and highlighting them in every possible way. I mean, Danish strawberries or Swedish strawberries even for that matter yeah, unbelievable.
CK: Another one. In your book, I loved the sort of cinnamon knots and cardamom. The Swedes have the cardamom, you know, rolls could you talk about those because those are really extraordinary. And they looked so much better. I'm going to get lots of hate mail now then American cinnamon buns, which are I think for me, too much icing and too much sugar too much.
NA: I agree with you. You know, it's funny because the pearl sugar on top kind of makes you think that it's going to be quite sweet. But it's not all that sweet at all. So often at the restaurant, people will ask me what's your favorite pastry and I'll name this Swedish cinnamon knot because it is really so delicious. And we have incorporated a different technique into that soft bun dough that I think really takes it to another level.
CK: Is this the Hokkaido method from the Japanese milk bread?
NA: Yeah, exactly. Right.
CK: Do you want to just explain that method, so people know what it is
NA: Yeah, so you know typically for a soft bun brioche style dough, we would just be mixing all the dry ingredients together. But with this application, we take some of the milk and some of the flour from the dough and we cook it in a little pan with a whisk until it gets thick and almost like wallpaper paste and then we let it cool down a bit and that it gets incorporated into the final dough. And it just creates a higher hydration. So, the dough is so soft, and it has a long shelf life and it performs great.
CK: What are two or three recipes that really define for you Scandinavian baking,
NA: So, I would say my first choice would definitely be a rye bread. In this particular case in the book, we have a sprouted rye bread which is kind of a modern take on something traditional. Rye bread used to be 100% rye flour, so it was quite tight and compact and had to be sliced thinly. This is made in a in a different way where we incorporate some sprouted ripe berries into it. So, I would say that's my number one. Number two, I'd probably go for something like a Semla which is a cardamom scented bun. Again, we're using the soft bun dough recipe, but there's a little bit of ground cardamom in the dough. It's shaped like a dinner roll. And then once they've been baked off, we cut the top off and scoop out some of the insides and put almond paste and some of the insides back together in a little bit of milk and then put it back in the hole that we dug. And then we put whipped cream on top and I think that one is there's a version of it in each country. But I think that focus on like light, airy, for sure dairy, good butter. Yeah, it's very fairy tale like in enchanting, and the way that it is it's just dreamy.
CK: So, you're going to ruin your kids, right I mean, or they're going to grow up never wanting to eat anything out of the supermarket again, that's baked right?
NA: I'm not so sure. You know, the funny thing is I came down to my kitchen a couple of days ago. And on the table were four Trader Joe's double chocolate croissants. They were, quote, unquote, proofing. They had been proofing for nine hours. That's what it says to do on the package. I thought, oh, my gosh, but I asked them later that day. So how was your double chocolate croissant? And they said, it was phenomenal. It was so good. Okay, no, so yeah, no problem there.
CK: What's the one thing you want to tell me about your time in Denmark and the baking there? Because we've talked about a lot of recipes. And the flour is different than this than the other thing. But in terms of how you perceive food and cooking and baking, is there one thing that you've taken with you to San Francisco? That's really core to your experience in Denmark.
NA: I like the approach to food that there's nothing that's taboo when it's done moderately, and I think that that's why there's room to live a good and balanced life and have fika every afternoon. (That's the coffee) that's the coffee break. Yeah, and afternoon that it's it doesn't have to have this overindulgence. And that's also you know, just in general about life in general is like taking a step back and finding that balance. I was. I did find that balance when I was living there. I just think it's such a healthy thing.
CK: Nichole, it’s really been a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you all the best.
NA: Yeah, I loved it Chris thank you. Thank you so much.
CK: Take care. That was Nichole Accettola, author of Scandinavian from Scratch. You can find her recipe for cinnamon knots at Milk Street Radio.com. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sarah is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television and author of Home Cooking 101. So, Sara, before we take a call people do you know snack foods appetizers for the Superbowl or for whatever it is. And that's not a category of things I've actually specialized in. So, if you had people coming over and you wanted snack food or put it nicely appetizers, something to go with drinks, is there something you do that maybe we should know about?
Sara Moulton: Well, yeah, I've been in a position where I had to come up with this and two of my go twos for you know, hearty football food. What do I know, is chicken wings. Chicken wings are so great. There's so many recipes. And the other one is chorizo stuffed mushrooms, which are very hardy and sort of nice. My go to h’ordeuve oddly enough, is beer batter zucchini, with some kind of aioli. Either a spicy, you know, like, maybe I'll add Chipotle’s to it or whatever. But I do a batter that includes cornstarch, and you know, so it's lightened up in beer, cold beer, and it's really crispy and it's a big hit. But I can't leave the kitchen because you can't leave hot fat. Maybe I do it on purpose. You know, some of those times when I didn't really want to talk to everybody. But that's my go to
CK: There are two kinds of cooks, people who cook because they want to be left alone to the kitchen. And people who want to entertain in the kitchen, (right) And I'm definitely in the former.
SM: So, tell me what are your go to’s.
CK: My attitude is if you're going to have people over for dinner is starve them before they get to the table so there.
SM: but then they get drunk if you give them a cocktail.
CK: That's the point of a dinner party. They loosen up, you get the good stories.
CK: There's one thing I did recently though the sort of a puff pastry hors d'oeuvre. And this is all over the internet, where you take puff pastry, you roll it out a little bit. You have a sheet pan where you have tomato or onion or whatever. You put the puff pastry on top, bake it 20 - 25 minutes, take it off, flip it over, cut it into pieces, and then you can top it with cheese or nothing, whatever you want. And so that using frozen puff pastry for hors d'oeuvres or that kind of thing I wouldn't normally use it. But those are really easy to do and they're really good. So that that's probably about my only go to
SM: or we could tell everybody what Julia Child did. Pepperidge Farm goldfish.
CK: I know she loves Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (she did). Yeah, yeah. And she also liked little meatballs and grape jelly from Sweden.
SM: I think she made those though. I don’t think she bought them
CK: I had I had those at her house once
SM: Really how were they?
CK: Like little meatballs and grape jelly. You Yeah, it was a very 50s thing. You must have some historic memory
SM: It must, I mean really, I mean come on
CK: They were good. Yeah. All right. Okay, take a call.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street Who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Rosemary Somers, and I'm calling from Worcester, New York.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: My question is that my husband and I are building a cabin up here in the woods. And we've been living in our camper for the last 11 months. And during the summer, it was great. We did a lot of cooking outside on the woodfire. But during the winter, I've really been confined to cooking here in the camper, which means just I have a three-burner stove and no oven. And I found that I'm really missing certain things, especially meatloaf. I really would love to know if there's a way to make a meatloaf on the stovetop. My go to recipe comes from a cookbook that belonged to my mother it’s the Bucks County cookbook. And it's one of those recipes that calls for a lot of milk and bread crumb. So, it makes a very soft, mild tasting meatloaf. I generally reduce the amount of milk, I don't make my meatloaf in a loaf pan, I like to make it on a baking tray. So, the fat drinks off. You know, it's the usual sorts of ingredients, you know, ground beef, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, but it also calls for poultry seasoning, which gives it a really interesting, different kind of taste. And the topping is ketchup, brown sugar, dried mustard, and nutmeg. And because my husband and I have been raising our own pigs, I use half ground beef, half ground pork. And so that poultry seasoning really goes with the ground pork very well. And the nutmeg gives it a really neat kind of dimension. So, I'm very happy with my recipe. But I'm wondering about making it on a stovetop and I had a few ideas that I thought I would bounce off you guys. My first idea was that I would use the Dutch oven, I have this wonderful Le Creuset a Dutch oven that I got at a yard sale for $5. I count this (wow,) my best yard ever. And then because the burners in the camper are pretty small, I thought for sure I would want to use a diffuser. Right. And then my third idea was that rather than making it in a low shape, that I would try to do it in a ring shape in the Dutch oven, so that it wasn't quite so thick in the middle, you know, I’d be sure that it would cook all the way through.
CK: So are you using any liquid in the Dutch oven.
Caller: My husband, as I said, we do have been raising our own pigs thought that it would be a good idea to line the bottom of it with bacon.
CK: Well can I really stupid question, which is, do you have a barbecue? You could easily do meatloaf in a Weber Grill.
Caller: Oh, yeah sure.
CK: That would be the easy answer but going back to doing it indoors, I think you'd have to have a little liquid in it probably. I just wonder if you heat it up a Dutch oven, you'd have the bacon fat, I guess, maybe I don't know might work, you'd have to adjust the heat very carefully. So, everything didn't burn, it might work. You're turning the Dutch oven into an oven. So fine.
SM: You know, I think you ditch the way you cook a meatloaf. And turn these into burgers with all the same ingredients. That is what I would do. Because you liked the flavor. You can do everything you just said, shape them into large burgers, cook them on both sides, cook them as far as you want to. Meanwhile, before you even started, cook up some bacon, maybe cook them in the bacon fat. And then you know, top them off with the ketchup mix and maybe put the lid on just to let it get a little hotter and then top them off with bacon. And there you got it.
Caller: That definitely sounds like an option. Now my son wanted to know he said, well, why don't you do it in the crock pot?
CK: Yeah, I think that the problem with both of those is you're not going to get the crust you want, you're not going to get the exterior. At very low temperatures like a 220 or 230 in a crock pot, you're going to end up with just a mushy, (mushy, yeah) pile of flavor, ground meat. I mean, you what you really want is you want to build the outside crust. And that's part of what makes me love so great. You can make meatballs, et cetera. But I would go get a secondhand Weber. you can do so much on that indirect heat. You can do everything. So that's my take.
Caller: and might be the way to go. Thank you and I'll be sure to let you know how this comes out.
SM: Yeah, okay.
Caller: Thanks a bunch.
CK: Take care.
Caller: You too, bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a culinary mystery, please give us a ring anytime. The number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is Bruce, I'm calling from Santa Clarita, California.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: So, I have an heirloom recipe for oatmeal bread passed down from my grandmother. And I'm having problems with it because when I bake it, it just splits every time it comes out of the oven. It tastes great, but it's got a big crack down the center of it. And I don't know if it's because it was basically printed on one of those old recipe cards. And so I've kind of had to assume a lot of things about the recipe. And maybe something I've done has screwed it up. Because her’s used to be beautiful.
CK: Let's start at the beginning. Is this a yeast bread or a quick bread?
Caller: It’s a yeasted bread
CK: Okay, and what kind of yeast you're using?
Caller: Active dry
CK: Okay, what kind of flour are you using?
Caller: it just called for flour. So, I was using all purpose and then switched over to bread flour and that doesn't seem to fix it either.
CK: You're soaking the oats like you would like with cornmeal, for example, in the mixer, 10 minutes, take it out, finish it by hand, let it rise, shape it let it rise again and bake it?
Caller: Well, I've only been letting it rise once, it only called for one rise. Should there be a second?
CK: So are you separating into loaves’ right after you knead it, and letting it rise in a pan at that time.
Caller: After mixing it, I let it rise once and then put it into loaves and bake it.
CK: That seems a bit odd. It seems to me you should let it rise once. Cut it into however many portions, shape it and put it into the pans. These are baked in loaf pans?
CK: And how many do you get two or 4 or 2 per recipe or something?
Caller: Yeah, I get two in a 8 ½ pan
CK: Yeah, you would then let it rise a second time. (Okay) then you would put in the oven. It sounds like what could be happening is you're getting a massive amount of oven spring when you shove that in the oven because it hasn't risen a second time. And then it's just blowing out in the oven. So (okay) you want some of that yeast to sort of run out on the second rise. So, when you put it into the oven, there is some oven spring, but I think what's happening is the yeast is so active at that time you put it into the heat, and it just blows up on you, Sara?
SM: I agree 100% You needed the second rise. Because once you need it and let it rise, and then you go shape it you're knocking out all the air out and sort of essentially starting over. So yeah, the yeast is just just springing up and everything's exploding out.
CK: You have to be very tender and patient with yeast.
SM: I think that's it. I think it's a very simple solution. I think that's what it is. Yeah, okay.
CK: What? It’s that easy?
CK: Tell me about the recipe. You like it?
Caller: It's awesome. I really have fond memories of eating and you know back porch dinners at my grandma's house. So, it tastes exactly the same. It just didn't look as pretty as hers.
SM: Well, two things Bruce, first of all, like everything else with our grandmother's it's a shame that we didn't ask them questions back then. And for any young people listening to this, please ask your grandmother now while she's still around or your mother get the answers now. Please let us know when you do it. And with the second rise if it works out better.
CK: That should solve it yeah, Bruce
Caller: We’ll do thank you so much.
CK: Thanks for calling.
CK: Take care. This is Milk Street Radio coming up Mas Masumoto uncovers the secret history of his family farm. That's up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Alice Waters once told me that she thought she could change Bill Clinton's life with just a peach.
Alice Waters: I had always imagined because he's from the south and if I could find Masumoto peach for him at just the perfect moment that he would go away thinking about life differently.
CK: The peach she had in mind was a Suncrest grown by Mas Masumoto one of the last remaining truly juicy peaches. I first heard about them in Mas’s breakout book Epitaph for a Peach, which chronicles the year he spent trying to save the Suncrest. If he couldn't find a market for them, he bulldozed the entire orchard. Mas succeeded since then he sold them to restaurants like Chez Panisse, the French Laundry and Per Se. Mas has also written 10 other books about life on his family farm in Del Rey, California. His latest Secret Harvest unearths surprising discoveries about his family's history. Mas, welcome to Milk Street.
Mas Masumoto: Well, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be able to share some time with you.
CK: Epitaph for a Peach, your first book is absolutely at the top of my list of great food writing.
MM: I'm so honored by that really, I am.
CK: Well, it was just you know, it was a poetic and quiet and thoughtful book, and the descriptions of the orchards etc. were tremendous. So let me start with a quote from your latest book, Secret Harvest, you write “I accepted the power of nature. Later, I realized nature included human nature, inconsistency of behavior became part of our mantra on their farm. This sort of acceptance made our work fulfilling to be part of a perfectly imperfect life”. Talk to me about that?
MM: Well, I have to say, one thing that I've learned more than anything is when you work with nature, you cannot control things, and clearly being part of a family farm and understanding that human dynamic of food and farming. It involves inconsistencies and imperfection too. But my daughter when she was like young, a young teenager couldn't figure out why we were chasing this idea of perfection, and knowing we would never achieve it. But that didn't prevent us from trying to find the perfect peach. So, we took her up to Chez Panisse, and she was stunned to find that what they served for dessert of when our peaches were in season was simply a peach on a plate. And she goes, oh I begin to understand what we are trying to do this search for perfection in an imperfect world. And that's the great challenge that gives us life and energy.
CK: When you came back to the farm and decided to make this your life. Was that a hard decision? You had nothing else to do at the time. You were desperate to get back onto the farm. How did that work?
MM: To tell you the truth, I was lost. I went to Berkeley because I thought oh, this would be a great place to go because my parents will never come visit me. And they'll never bring me back to farming. And I the turning point actually came because I spent two years in Japan as an exchange student ended up working on those small little village family farm that my grandparents had emigrated from, and I felt some calling, but I didn't know what it was. So that sense of being lost was probably the best thing because it brought me back home to start asking questions, questions of myself questions of my family questions of the farming that were doing. And within two or three years, I realized, I want to stay on the farm. I'm going to start farming organically, and I'm going to start exploring this whole new world of food. We weren't just farmers, we were actually growers of food, which connected us to this food world that was just starting to explode in the 80s and 90s.
CK: So, you obviously know something about producing fruit that has flavor. And yet so much of the fruit in the supermarket has very little flavor. Is this ever going to get solved?
MM: I do think we're in an era of a two-tier system, where you have the commodification of a lot of our foods, especially stone fruit, where it's grown based on productivity and efficiency. I mean, I remember reading articles about when the tractors were first introduced to agriculture, and Henry Ford, asked what do the farmers want. And they all said we wanted faster horses, because technology was so to be adapted to agriculture, because it was such a human endeavor. At that point. Gradually, of course, industrialization came the whole food system shifted, and with it came certain levels of prosperity but also changes in agriculture too. I chose a different path, and this is the second tier of farming I think where it involves, it involves nature, natural things that we work with and human nature at the same time because qualities of taste and flavor, the physical sense of eating. That's all on this emotional level of food that doesn't fit the economic level. And I just hope with that the economic system doesn't consume and drive the emotional system of food out from the, from the world.
CK: Let's talk about the emotional system of farming you talk about on our farm, I have my own moon viewing traditions while working at night, which you know, paints this lovely picture, right? Could you just give us a few examples of sort of the other worldliness of farming and how it's so different than an office job?
MM: Well, so you know, early morning, I walked out into the fields, and you could feel that glow of early morning sunrise, you know, you could smell the dew that's left behind. It's the senses. You know, we have 10s of 1000s, of blossoms opening in the spring. And it struck me because I was talking with a composer once who came visiting our farm, what's the sound of a peach blossom opening? And I always thought of it as a pop. And she said, no, it's more like a gentle crackle as it opens. And then we began to talk well, what musical instrument would that be? Is that a violin or is it some percussion? And it really got me thinking, there's the symphony out there. And I love that idea. You're
CK: You're obviously a philosopher of sorts, I guess most writers are. And yet you spend most of your time in physical labor farming. Could you find happiness? Doing nothing but farming? Do you also need writing to balance your life? Or do you think you could just be a farmer?
MM: You know, Chris, I think I'm at another stage in my life now, because I'm in my 60s, and beginning to realize that it's not the productivity that I'm chasing, it's really the narrative or the story. And that's what fulfills me. So, when I work out hours and hours in the field, I do think of stories all the time.
CK: So, let's dial back the clock to the earlier part of the last century, your grandparents come to California to farm, you know, a whole new continent. Different language, maybe dangerous, but certainly unsettling. So how bad were things in Japan to get them to get on a boat and go 1000s of miles to California?
MM: Well, I think you have to realize you probably don't change unless you're compelled to change. So, both my grandfathers were second sons, meaning they came from family farms in Japan. But the first then because of the old patriarchal order, we're going to inherit the farm, not the second sons, so they had nothing to look forward to. So, they said, we're going to try to see if there's a better life. And the same thing with both my grandmother's they were what they called picture brides. They were matched with my grandfather, by a matchmaker who matched photographs. So, they both came here to California, ended up farming here. And one of the first challenges they met were what they called alien land laws, which prevented Orientals from owning property in California at that time of history. But yet they persevered and stayed and planted roots.
CK: There's an expression shikata ga nai and maybe you could explain that a little bit. I think it really says something about that time.
MM: When I was growing up, I had my grandmother that lived with us and my parents and you know, they were bilingual. And one of the common terms they used was shikata ga nai which means it can't be helped. If you have a weather disaster that comes hail on stone fruit or rain on raisins. What do you do? Do you get angry? Yeah, you show emotions. But what can you do other than falling back on that term, shikata ga nai it can't be helped. This is nature. When my grandparents arrived in America were they welcomed and treated as these, you know, new wonderful citizens? No, they were put the work out in the fields. And it was a struggle. So, what did my parents and grandparents say often? This is life, it can't be helped. Shikata ga nai.
CK: Well, there was one moment after Pearl Harbor when your family was going to have to move to a camp and your father you said he then proceeded to toss out all of their possessions from a rented house they could not take with them. He piled tables, chairs, furniture, clothes, etc into a heap and set fire to them in a final act of defiance his personal protest, so I guess it can't be helped works up to a point.
MM: We forget that it can't be helped, doesn't just mean this kind of quiet meditation. My dad was a very hardworking, stoic farmer. But when I first came back to the farm, we were out in the fields and he began to tell me the story about when they got the notice that they had to leave within a week. It was in early August and grape harvest for raisins happens in September. So, the landlord said, well, who's going to pick our grapes if you're gone? And my dad said, wait a bit, we raised these grapes for the whole year. And what are we going to get out of this? And so, she said that no, well, I tell you what, we'll find someone to live in your house, and they'll harvest. So, you need to get out of your house before the trains are going to take you to an Arizona prison. And my dad was furious so what he did is he came back, and he took everything else one by one, broke dishes, piled them up. And this is this quiet farmer who said, it can't be helped. And he set fire to everything. So, this was my dad being a radical protester. And I said, Ha, this is actually how he farmed too. He said, I'm just going to set fire to things and go at it even harder.
CK: You went back to this internment camp or the place where it had been in the 70s. I guess all the the buildings were gone. What what was left there?
MM: Oh, there they are all the cement pillars and some of the remnants of the foundations of the barracks because there are 10,000 people who lived in this one canal camp, part of healer river relocation center. And I remember I actually spent a night out on there in the evening winds were blowing and it was, I felt, I could hear the ghosts of all of them still being part of that land. And it was such an eerie feeling. But at the same time realizing this was home, this was home to them.
CK: So, you end up discovering a pretty big secret about your family. You had an aunt you had never met. Shizuko. So, who was she and what is her story?
MM: Shizuko was is this aunt I call it a lost aunt she was born in 1919 and when she was five years old, she contracted meningitis. And it stopped her mental development at that age, that family took care of her as best they could, again, our family were poor, rural Buddhist farmworkers. So, it was a tough life, especially in the Great Depression. Then when World War Two came and the internment, the family was faced with this decision of what do we do with someone with a disability? Were these camps prisons that we're going to have ways to accommodate her. So, the family made this radical choice of getting her to become a what they call the ward of the state. And it was supposedly the last time the family saw Shizuko.
CK: So after internment ended, was there an effort to find her after that or was she essentially lost to the family after that 1942
MM: They did look up, she's a call with my grandmother. And the story was, they did find her at Porterville mental hospital about maybe 50 miles from our farm. And when they saw her, they looked at their own lives and realize they had just come back from this four-year confinement prison. So, they thought the best thing would be for her to stay there because they couldn't guarantee we could take care of her. And that was the last time the family had any kind of contact. 70 years later, in 2012, I get a phone call and finding out this mysterious lost aunt Shizuko l is alive in Fresno, because at that point, she had suffered a stroke and she was comatose, she was unconscious. So, this funeral home, got the contract. And this woman said, I don't want this poor lady to die alone. Let me see if I can find her family. And she found my father's obituary that I wrote. And because of that, the funeral home was able to cross reference and find my family and that began to saga. So Shizuko was comatose and the caregivers were so good. She woke up and I got to ask more questions of both the family and her care givers, and I learned all this other information that to me, became part of the his literally the history of our farm.
CK: So, does that tie back to the original start of this interview about a perfectly imperfect life. Here was a family history that re-emerges Everyone thought she had died. You discovered she was still alive. There was a reunion and now you you had a family story that was, you know, even more imperfect, I think, than you thought originally. But but but as you say, that's the whole point of life, right?
MM: It's what makes it real. And that's why the idea is we search for perfection but in many ways, I don't expect, you know, want to find perfection, because it wouldn't be real anymore. So, the story of, for example of this loss, and wasn't this happy, glorious story, it was part of those family secrets, that create this dynamic narrative that I find really fascinating because it's so easy to make judgments, to say, why couldn't the family look her up? I wasn't there at that time, I didn't know what it was like to be incarcerated for four years and be called the enemy. So, who might have judged that they should have looked her up? At that time, it was more trying to understand and probe into those family secrets. So
CK: So does the farm go on to the next generation?
MM: Wonderfully, both our children, our daughter and our son, especially our daughter are partnering with me on the farm. And I love it because there was an essay I wrote probably about 15 years ago, how many harvests do I have left? And literally, I was debating should I plant another orchard? Because an orchard to me, a commercial orchard, you plant and in three years, you're starting to get a crop off, and probably about 15 years, you pull it out, because a new variety came on. I plant orchards that are these heirlooms that I plan to keep for decades and and the Suncrest peach, it's now sixty years old. And truthfully, I actually think a peach orchard changes its flavor about 20 years of being rooted in the soil. And the flavor dynamic comes in a very different way. It's sort of like it went through its teen years. And now when it's 20, it has to grow up. I think it has almost like this umami dynamic, right, it has matured so much. And there's a depth to the flavor. So, it's not like sparkling sharp, sweet. There's this balance to it. And I swear it takes 20 years for the peach tree to get accustomed to growing in our dirt. And for me to start understanding how this peach tree likes to be pruned, likes to be harvested. So, keeping something for that length of time, how many harvest you have left was a really, really important dynamic for me. So, when our daughter said she's going to come back to the farm, it changed the timeline of what we do, because suddenly I can plant a new orchard experiment with it, knowing that I might not be around when it reaches its peak performance, but she will. And I also know and respect when I came back to the farm, I told my dad we're going to start farming organically. And I remember he was very uneasy about all the weeds that were growing on our farm. And I remember telling him, no dad, you need to not call them weeds. They're natural grasses. So, I know my daughter will bring her own definitions and leave her mark on the farm. And I want her to do that too and is wonderful. And for example, she just had a child that we have a new grandchild our first one. And it's wonderful to think she's going to grow up in these fields walking through these orchards through with her grandfather and understanding the imperfection of our farm.
CK: Mas, it's been just a great pleasure spending some time with you. Thank you so much.
MM: Oh, I am humbled by this and it's wonderful to get into conversations about food and farming. Thank you.
CK: That was Mas Matsumoto whose latest book is Secret Harvest, a Hidden Story of Separation and the Resilience of a Family Farm. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb predicted worldwide famine due to overpopulation. This never came to pass because for the most part, Big Ag solve the problem of feeding the world. The bad news is that the family farm is for the most part a thing of the past. That's why Matsumoto is such a compelling voice, reminding us that economics and happiness don't always go hand in hand. We learn to feed the world, but as Matsumoto might point out, we've forgotten to feed our souls This is Milk Street Radio after the break the surprising language of strawberries. That's coming up.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for a language lesson with Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette. hosts of A Way with Words. Grant and Martha what's going on?
Martha Barnette: Well, Chris, with Valentine's Day just around the corner. Grant and I've been thinking about an edible Valentine. And by that, I mean the strawberry because if you think about it, it's a heart shaped fruit. It's red. And for millennia, it's been a symbol of love.
CK: Wait, wait wait strawberries are a symbol of love really?
Grant Barret: Yeah absolutely. So, all those times someone gave you a Punnett of strawberries they were expressing their love for you, Chris.
CK: It's never happened Grant.
GB: it's never happened.
CK: I'm waiting. I'm waiting for my first pint.
GB: I'll get your address. We'll see if we can solve that.
CK: So so how far back does this go this strawberry and love?
GB: The Romans and the Norse is the Roman goddess of love Venus and Freya, the Norse goddess of love, fertility, beauty and sex. Both were associated with strawberries, (really) because of not only the shape and the color, but they're supposed aphrodisiac qualities, which show up even now in the French tradition of serving newlyweds a breakfast of strawberry soup?
MB: I think that'd be the last time you need an aphrodisiac though wouldn’t you think when you’re a newly wed. I think they should serve that to older people.
GB: Yeah. right right.
CK: How about a big bowl of cafe Au lait and a baguette? That would be my preference.
GB: Of course, you can just go with the traditional pairing of aphrodisiacs. And that is strawberries plus chocolate.
CK: But what about the word strawberry? I mean, Berry I get, what's what's a straw part of the strawberry?
MB: Yeah, that's a that's a puzzle, isn't it? There have been different theories about why we call Strawberries strawberries. And one of them is that the straw in strawberry has to do with the way that the plants grow, you know, they're spread out and they're low to the ground. And they give the impression of being strewn across the ground. And so maybe strawberry is related to strew and strewn. But another idea is that it may have to do with the fact that these fruits seeds are not on the inside, they're on the outside, they're those little bit of yellow things. And some people have thought, well, maybe they are named strawberries because those look like little, tiny bits of straw.
CK: That is totally lame. You have to be pretty drunk to go like, hey, the outside of a strawberry looks like straw.
GB: Drunk with love, drunk with romance
MB: It's also a puzzle because for centuries, in Old English, it was simply known as eorðberge which means earth berry
CK: or Erdbeere in German.
MB: Yes, exactly. They're cognates in other languages, like in German, as you said,
GB: But they're not really berries at all right? They're what's called the false fruit or a pseudo carp. And that's not a suspicious fish.
CK: You know, the funny thing about this is that you go through life and things are sort of okay. And then someone comes up to you and says something like, you know what, strawberries are not a berry. And you go like, did I need to know this? I mean, I was doing fine till two minutes ago.
GB: If you go to trivia nights, you would know this already. Here's another one for you. A strawberry isn't a berry but a banana is
MB: it's true.
CK: So, what what is a berry any fruit that hangs from a plant or tree? What's the definition?
GB: It's a fruit that is formed from something other than the ovary of the plant. And there are others that you might have heard of rose hips and figs and mulberries and pineapples and apples. They're all pseudo carp.
CK: So, you're telling me that the fruit most identified with Valentine's Day is a false fruit? Right? Yeah, seems very dark to me.
GB: Oh, it's just love is complicated. It’s a complex situation.
MB: And if you want to continue down the botanical path, Chris, strawberries belong to the rose family, which makes a lot of sense because the good ones have this sweet fragrance. And in fact, there's a related word in Italian fragola which is a term of endearment you use fragola to refer to women and girls usually and it means little strawberry.
GB: Oh, that's very cute.
CK: So, I have to ask, from a word perspective, what do you guys do on Valentine's Day?
MB: I think Valentine's Day is beyond words for me. Words are not involved.
GB: We don't really celebrate it in my house. My wife knows I love her every day of the week,
CK: Grant Grant, Grant, come on.
GB: Either one of us giving gifts would be like giving strawberries to donkeys to be pearls before swine, they just really no value there because we just won't appreciate it. She and I are both kind of like, oh, that's that's nice, but make me dinner.
CK: Well, that's actually true. I have to say, the longer you're married, the less you want gifts and the more you want someone to cook you dinner. I mean, that is the true act of love. I agree.
GB: Yeah, good acts of service as they say those are the best kind of love.
CK: I totally agree with that. Buy flowers make dinner seems to be a fairly good rule in our household.
MB: That's a lovely love language.
CK: It works pretty well.
MB: Well, Chris, we'll leave you with the thought from the 17th century writer William Butler, who said of the strawberry, “doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God ever did”
CK: Ooh, I like that.
MB: Yeah, that's not strawberries to donkeys, is it?
CK: Grant and Martha have a lovely Valentine's Day. And thank you so much.
GB: Take care of yourself.
MB: Always a pleasure.
CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. That's it for today don't forget, you can find more than 250 episodes of our show. Wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about everything we have to offer at Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member and get all of our recipes, access to our live stream cooking classes, and learn about our latest cookbook, Milk Street Simple. Check us out on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions, and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, senior editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.