While editing our official “Eat Drink Local issue”—yes, we always favor place-based taste, but in these pages we go all out—I marveled at how many creative minds are bringing modern sensibilities to some of the oldest ideas on Earth.
From a distance, one might think that Brooklyn’s leading locavores are either Luddites living in the past or dreamers conjuring up new culinary culture out of thin rooftop air. But the best of the bunch do a little of both.
Take entrepreneurs. Brooklynites are busy launching startups and setting up shop. But from the two guys in Bococa making artisan vinegar (don’t get them started on the stuff you find in supermarkets) to the spirits dealer crafting Damson plum liqueur (first steeped in his closet), very old recipes are getting post-modern makeovers.
Speaking of recipes, new books teach tattooed 20-somethings decidedly modern riffs on the prehistoric arts of brewing and fermentation. When you’re ready to pickle professionally, our story on Slow Money may inspire a cunning capitalist to invest in you. (Wall Street is so 20th century!)
Similarly, our roundup of urban ag innovations reminded me that there is nothing new under the solar panels. Creative minds are growing gardens in tricked-out tubs, box trucks, even water bottles retrofitted with trickling tubes. Such systems look like science fair projects, or perhaps science fiction, but the basic techniques are nothing new. (Don’t believe me? Read our piece on 77-year-old Bay Ridge horticulture expert Bob Hyland; he’s exasperated that American gardeners are using pots that were modern in the King Tut administration.)
Even Brooklyn Muslims observing Ramadan—this year it falls in August—have developed New World customs for these ancient holy days. An ocean away from extended family, they gather in rented banquet halls or prepare for the daylong fast with a predawn egg-and-beef-bacon breakfast sandwich.
But perhaps my favorite examples of the new food movement’s deep roots are our stories on the Children’s Garden—which the Brooklyn Botanic Garden founded in 1904 (within three years it had a waitlist)—and our back page piece on Weeksville, one of America’s first free black communities, and the prolific plots its residents tended a century ago. Somehow it feels inspiring to learn that the latest hot trends are very old news. We might not always know our history, but here in Brooklyn we’re lucky enough to relive it.
Writer Marie Viljoen forages for juneberries in DUMBO.
Photo credit: Vincent Mounier.