Harvesting marrows this week lead me to think on the importance of anticipation and deferred gratification. The ability of humans to think ahead and store foodstuffs, to enable them to cross through the lean months of winter, is one of the vital skills we developed in our evolution and possibly, in the opinion of Jordan Peterson, the basis for our understanding of time itself.
“The discovery that gratification could be delayed was simultaneously the discovery of time and, with it, causality (at least the causal force of voluntary human action). “ Jordan Peterson. 12 Rules for Life.
The temptation would always be just to eat what we had at hand but our development as a species depended on learning that it was wiser to store foodstuffs for eating (or planting) later. Our overall happiness is much greater than the temporary happiness that we might get through a bout of gluttony. Even today this is an important skill. The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment has shown that children who are able to wait and defer their gratification (one marshmallow now against two marshmallows if you wait 15 minutes) generally do better in life on a variety of fairly robust measures. Deferred gratification is the basis of most planning, it is why we save, it is perhaps why we don’t mate with the first attractive person we meet (That may be also be because they don’t want to mate with us). If we are as individuals, and as a species, to maximise our happiness it is important, in many things, to forgo the immediate short-term fun for the future prolonged pleasure which is often more satisfying.
However, in addition to this utilitarian advantage of delayed gratification there is another reason we should consider waiting and anticipating. This is really quite simple, anticipation itself can be part of the pleasure, Waiting with the knowledge of future reward can often give as much pleasure as the reward itself. People often wish to know how to get ‘happiness‘ as if it were a thing that could be found. It is much more likely that happiness is the process of creating a good life for ourselves rather than any single thing which brings us temporary pleasure. When we know our striving has been successful, and when we can imagine future success, then we are likely to consider ourselves happy. While I have no doubt want and poverty are the scourge of happiness, I also doubt that a farmer in Africa who tends his fields, sees his herd healthy, and knows his family is cared for feels one iota less happy than I do, despite the massive disparity of material wealth between us. As Peterson again notes, happiness is to be found in the journey rather than being a destination.
“Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.” Jordan Peterson, ibid
A great deal of pleasure is the anticipation, Through March and April I watched for the Elderflower to bloom knowing that once it arrived we would make Elderflower cordial and champagne. The following month I looked forward to the new potatoes. Last month I waited for the beans and courgettes and this month my wait for the marrows ended. I am now starting my wait for soft fruits and honey. On the small holding our dietary pleasures are seasonal and we have to watch and wait but this adds to the taste of the produce when it finally arrives. New potatoes just pulled out of the patch boiled and served with a knob of butter are a sensational, if plain, meal. The wait I had, the work I put in, the anticipation I experienced, all magnify the taste meaning I will not find anything better in a restaurant no matter how good the chef.
Our supermarkets and farming systems have largely taken this pleasure away from us. There are really very few seasonal foods today. You want strawberries in winter ? no problem. Fresh tomatoes out of season ? likewise no problem. Not only can we have foods from all over the globe we can have them at any time. There is no need to wait or plan and, because of this, nothing is special. Industrial farming keeps our foodstuffs cheap but the hidden costs to our environment are not minor and nor are the costs to our dietary habits inconsequential. We, in the developed world, eat more and have diets Kings and Queens in the past would have envied, However, we can’t enjoy simple foods, as we did before, and we need our foods spiced, coloured and made in exotic combinations to pique our appetites. We are no longer happy with the novelty that used to follow seasonal foods. These changes in our diets have lead to us being unhealthier. The strategy of boosting foods’ sugar and fat ingredients and increasing portion sizes, to titillate our jaded palates, has lead to worrisome statistics; for example, in Wales more people are overweight and obese than are of normal weight.
I have found that by trying to live in accord with the local seasons I do get more pleasure from my food. This is why, difficult as it may be to believe, I found myself looking forward to the marrow crop. However, there is a possible downside to this. When the seasons decide that the time has come there is no arguing with them. It all comes at once and dealing with gluts of fruit or vegetables is a skill that has be acquired. Next month chutney making will be to the fore in dealing with the excess number of tomatoes I hope we have. This month it is marrows. Not just a lot of marrows but very large marrows as well. Faced with these huge tubers I don’t think the local populace has enough appetite for chutneys and jams to cope, so we needed to be more creative. Thankfully marrows are versatile and can be used for both sweat and savoury recipes. Today’s way of dealing with half a marrow used both recipes, I hope you enjoy them.
Marrow & Bean Soup
- Cut 1kg of marrow into chunks and season with rosemary. Place in a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30 – 40 minutes until the marrow is soft.
- Boil runner, any other, bean in 2 pints of stock. Add a generous teaspoon of cumin,
- Add the roast marrow to bean and stock mixture and simmer for 10 minutes
- Blend with a mixer and thicken with cream
This recipe gives a very filling soup, it is easily a meal on its own with some crusty bread. It freezes well which is helpful, as it is a warm hearty soup better suited for autumn and winter.
- Beat 3 large eggs and add 400g sugar, 250ml vegetable oil, and two teaspoons of vanilla
- Gradually mix in 350g plain flour, 300g grated marrow, 3 teaspoons baking power, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of nutmeg. Stir fully
- Place the mixture in two greased loaf tins and bake in an oven at 170c for 45 minutes.
These are best buttered when still warm and are like a very moist banana loaf. If you slice these loaves they will also freeze, though to be honest they are so pleasant that they are unlikely to last long enough to see the inside of the freezer.