As a cooking teacher, I urge my students to read the recipe at least twice, start to finish. Read it as if it were a road map to a place you’ve never been, taking note of sudden right turns, merging lanes and when you might arrive at your destination. I thought of this advice when Russ and I moved to Lancaster city in the summer of 2019.
Unlike him, I didn’t have a job to go to or people to see. No one knew my name, unless you count the honeybees visiting the wildflower patch in the backyard. Was there a beginner’s recipe, I wondered, for cooking up a life in this place called Lancaster?
Wherever there is food, I remembered saying to myself, there are people growing and making it. Where there is farmland, there are farmers, and that, with any luck, will be my way in. (I talked to myself a lot in those days.)
My first stop: Brook Lawn Farm Market in Neffsville.
Romaine Erb and her daughter Diana Stoltzfus became the first names I would remember.
Meeting them and getting schooled in sweet corn and cardinal basil (to name just a few) inspired me to raise my hand and say “Hello Lancaster. I’m new here.” (Some of you may remember the essay that appeared in the Opinion section of LNP | LancasterOnline in September of 2019.)
That essay led to a full-time job as food writer in these pages, a job from which I’m stepping down next week.
If you’ve been following for the past 2 1/2 years, you know that I hit the ground running.
I would be just weeks on the job learning my beat when the pandemic forced a shutdown, upending our lives in every way never thought possible. But I reminded myself – and you, in turn – that we could keep hope alive by the multisensory act known as cooking.
Every time we boil water or heat a skillet, we marry the practical with the magical. While we feed our bodies, there’s a good chance we’re also feeding our minds – and maybe even our communities. With practice, we get stronger, our muscles developing an encyclopedic memory, preparing us for a moment when a recipe or a road map may not exist. Times like a global pandemic.
For the next 10 months, it seemed like all I did was cook; after all, what else was there to do? The Stay-Put Cooking series culminated with a 32-page cookbook at the end of 2020, an uplifting way to end a most sorrowful year.
Light at the end of the pandemic tunnel came – or so it seemed – when I could get vaccinated last April. At long last, I could get out in the field – both metaphorically and literally – and tell the stories of the people making Lancaster a delicious place to live. We launched a series on small independent farms and creative use of farmland. Then I got hungry and I went berry picking until my hands were stained. I found myself braking for heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and peaches and was so overwhelmed by the bounty I decided to document it, resulting in a massive seasonal farm stand guide that covers all corners of the county.
Together, we pickled and pesto-ed and expanded our pumpkin horizons (pie dough, too). You regaled me with stories about your own families and their food traditions, and didn’t complain when I shared mine. This is the moment in the essay when I remind you that I knew nary a soul in Lancaster 30 months ago.
Thank you for reading, and more importantly, thank you for keeping the spirit of cooking alive. It has been an honor.
My final piece runs Feb. 2. This is not goodbye, but see you at the farm stand.
To learn more about what I’m up to next, write me at [email protected].