Between the Rows: ‘Taste Memory’
David Buchanan and I met at the Conway School of Landscape Design reunion in September when he gave a six-minute talk about what he had been doing since he graduated in 2000. He talked as fast as he could, and I listened as fast as I could, but I was glad I could slow the journey when I received a copy of his new book “Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter.”
Buchanan’s book chronicles the last 20 years of his wanderings from Pullman, Wash., with its USDA Western Regional Plant Introduction Station and its gene bank, to Maine, where he met characters like John Bunker, who has an orchard with over 300 varieties of antique/heritage apples and an apple CSA. He even covers all those years ago in Washington when he was interested in “preserving disappearing agricultural traditions.” “Taste, Memory” relates the questions he asked himself about whether agricultural diversity is relevant in “our modern world of supermarkets, giant tractors and irrigated megafarms? What role can the individual play? ... How do we summon the energy and will to keep this bounty alive?” As his journey has led him across the country, he has found some answers.
As suggested by the title of his book, it is taste and flavor that have guided him since he became involved with the Slow Food Movement and helped found the Portland, Maine, chapter of Slow Food. He now serves on its national Ark of Taste Biodiversity Committee, which evaluates and helps preserve endangered heritage foods from around the country. Slow Food is about more than cooking from scratch, which is what I thought it was. Briefly, Slow Food is a formal organization whose aim begins with encouraging the enjoyment of locally and sustainably grown food, maintaining biodiversity and caring for the land that food grows on so it will be healthy for future generations. There is more to it, of course, and much more than simply roasting my own chicken and making my own blueberry muffins without a mix.
The book is filled with personal connections to other individuals and organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange. In fact, in the mid-’90s, he spent a year working with the Austrian counterpart to the Seed Savers Exchange, where he produced seeds to maintain the thousands of vegetables and grains in their collection.
“Taste, Memory” is the kind of book that I end up reading to my husband while he is trying to read the newspaper at breakfast, or in the evening when he is trying to read the paper he never got through in the morning. I can’t stop myself from reading sections like that about Turkey winter wheat, an old wheat that grows to 6-feet tall — just like the heritage wheats I have seen Eli Rogosa grow in Colrain. Both Rogosa and Buchanan see the importance of grains that require less irrigation and petroleum- based fertilizers.
This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.
Buchanan did put his experiences at the landscape school to good use, including landscape design with a focus on urban parks, native habitat restoration, agricultural sites, community gardens and multi-use trails. Past projects include lead designs for redevelopment of the 25 city parks in Lawrence and a master plan for multi-use trails on the 4000-acre former Fort Devens in Devens.
He has finally ended his wanderings and bought a small farm in Pownal, Maine, about 20 miles from Portland. “I’m planning expanded orchards there and a cider house, to produce small batches of hard cider. I’ll run it as a conservation center, a permanent place to collect and experiment with rare foods.
“I love Maine, and particularly the Portland area, for its vibrant and creative food scene. This is the best place to eat and work in a specialty food business, that I’ve ever found,” Buchanan said.
His book is beautiful and compelling, inspiring all of us to think about our meals and our gardening from a slightly different angle, in a way that can be fun and delicious while doing good work. He quotes his friend Polly Tooker who often says, “You’ve got to eat it to save it.”
Cider Day Nov. 4 & 5
Buchanan is coming our way to celebrate Cider Day, Nov. 4 to Nov. 5, with John Bunker, the heritage apple man who was featured in the October issue of Martha Stewart “Living Magazine.” Buchanan and Bunker will be talking about identifying and conserving heritage apples at the Deerfield Community Center on Saturday, Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to noon. On Sunday, they will have a heritage apple tasting and discussion, which requires a ticket.
There are lots of other events, most free. There is an amateur hard cider- making competition; The Bittersharps, the Heirlooms, and the Macs: Learning How to Taste the Apples in your Hard Cider e_SNbSwith author/educator Robert J. Heiss, given twice on Saturday (once before each session of the Cider Salon) at the PVMA Teachers’ Center, 10 Memorial St., Old Deerfield; tasting dried apple varieties at Apex Orchards; food and apples at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center, cooking and tasting apples at Clarkdale Fruit Farm and much more. For full information about all programs, go to
Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.