Writer Ed Tettemer is a cultural and gastronomic explorer. He has crisscrossed Pennsylvania to map fun places and local eateries outside of the Turnpike corridor, and the restaurant chains. It's all in his book and blog The Shunpiker's Guide. Tettemer is also an advertising and marketing strategist, but today he tells the story of his unending love for food.
I believe in feeding people. I love to cook for friends, family, heck – anyone with taste buds and a happy hunger.
I learned the joy of cooking by motherly osmosis. Ours was a resourceful household, always with a large garden fertilized by the horses from the Kentop’s farm up the street. Big-boy tomatoes, pole beans and Swiss chard, red beets and in the spring, rhubarb.
My dad believed if we were gonna have trees, they might as well be fruit trees. Apple dumplings and peach dumplings with fresh cream made dinner more like dessert. We’d go fishing couple nights a week and fill the freezer with Neshaminy Creek sunnies and catfish. Every Friday a fish fry. And mom knew exactly how long after a good rain it took for the mushrooms to pop up. She’d hand us cotton sacks and lead us out to harvest while the meadow grass was still wet. A coffee can of bacon drippings stood ready by the stove, and nothing beats those wild mushrooms sauteed in bacon drippings, with garlic and onion and a mother’s love.
I had to start cooking when I left home in full ‘70s dropout mode. It was campfire cooking and then tiny-apartment cooking and lots of weird casseroles. I kept the drippings by the stove and a jar for table scraps in the fridge, so I could make my “garbage soup” every Sunday. It was my ritual of self-reliance for a few years until I learned to make soup with fresher ingredients: butternut squash with baked apples pureed with coconut milk, homemade chicken stock and Thai curry. Ask my wife; now that’s soup.
Sometimes I think my daughter visits just for the egg sandwich I can’t wait to make her in the same iron skillet my mother used to cook those mushrooms.
35 years along and I’d rather cook for a crowd than do anything else. I cook for our volunteer fire company and I’m proud to report attendance at drill night has doubled since I started in with the sweet potato gratin with bay leaf cream, steamed clam chowder and spicy Vietnamese noodle soups. Ben Franklin insisted his fire companies bond over good food. Men who eat together know who they can trust when the fire hits the fan.
Some paint, others work with clay. I create by scrounging the fridge and pantry and poking around Chinatown. Hmm, chicken backs, 69¢ a pound. And look at all this fennel. Oddball food is my palette. The stockpot is my medium. I love knowing that someone may do something great in life with the caloric inspiration my art has provided.
Yeah, I believe in feeding people. So me a favor, won’t you? Next time you’ve got 12 or 15 people coming over, ask me to put something on the table for ‘em. I’ll have a blast watching it disappear.