Natalie Baszile and Melony Edwards: Champions of Black Farming

A conversation with two awe-inspiring women

“The term ‘reparations’ is often thought of as ‘forty acres and a mule.’ But I feel like what we should be asking for is forty acres and a tractor. And a tractor should just be a resource that we get when acquiring land in the form of reparations, because if we were to stay up with the times, and technology, and modernization, in order to steward forty acres, you need a tractor. And I think we need to be a little more realistic in our ask of what a reparation, or what land reform looks for.” — Melony Edwards

“There’s a lot of land out there that’s not being farmed. It’s in the hands of families, but it’s not being put to good use, and I think that there are opportunities for those people to come to the table and offer that land in partnership with young farmers or nonprofits and give people an opportunity to put into practice all of the things that they’ve learned.” — Natalie Baszile

My guests on this week’s episode of Food with Mark Bittman are a pair that left me feeling really inspired: Natalie Baszile and Melony Edwards. You have likely heard of Natalie — she’s an accomplished writer and filmmaker, and her novel, Queen Sugar, about siblings in Louisiana who come together to run the family’s sugar cane farm, was made into a TV series by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. Her new book, We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy, is a beautiful anthology that examines Black people’s connection to the American land, from emancipation to today.

One of the stories in We Are Each Other’s Harvest is that of Melony Edwards, a first-generation farmer whose journey of reclaiming farming landed her on a twenty-acre mixed vegetable farm on rural Whidbey Island in Washington State, where she immersed herself in small scale agricultural practices. Edwards recently launched Ebony By Nature, a fiber farm, and is extending her knowledge in seed growing and saving. I’m really happy to welcome Natalie and Melony to the show.

The recipes featured in the episode are below. Please listen, subscribe, and review! And remember to call us on 833-FOODPOD (833-366-3763) OR email us at bittmanpod@gmail.com with all your food-related questions.

Thank you, as always. — Mark

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Pumpkin (or Winter Squash) Soup

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 1 hour, mostly unattended

All of the other members of the hard-skinned squash family, from the most common (butternut squash and pumpkin) to the most esoteric (look around: they’re everywhere), are great. All of them (except maybe the oversized pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns, which are not bred for eating, really) deliver incredibly smooth texture when puréed, with or without cream. And since winter squashes are easy to grow and the vines are prolific, this is a soup that’s popular almost everywhere.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 3 pounds sugar pumpkin or any winter squash like butternut or kabocha, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch cubes

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or rosemary

  • Salt and pepper

  • 5 cups vegetable stock or water

  • 1 cup cream or nondairy milk

Instructions

1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and sage, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until fragrant, another minute or so.

2. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the soup bubbles gently but steadily. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin starts to fall apart, 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot. Or let the soup cool a little, carefully purée it in a blender (working in batches if necessary), and return it to the pot. (You can prepare the soup in advance up to this point. Cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Add the cream and serve cold or proceed with the recipe.)

4. Add the cream and gently heat the soup without letting it boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with an extra grinding of pepper if you’d like, and serve.

— Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

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Bitter Greens Gratin

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 25 minutes

Au gratin describes a specific cooking method in France—essentially anything browned in a shallow dish with a crisp topping of crumbs and grated cheese. Remember that when making this delicious recipe, an undeniably rich dinner that’s also packed full of virtuous vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds bitter greens (like kale, escarole, collards, or a mix)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 4 eggs

  • 1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)

  • 1⁄2 cup breadcrumbs, preferably fresh

Instructions

1. Turn on the broiler and position the rack 4 inches below the heat source. Separate the greens from their stems, if applicable, and chop the stems; tear the leaves into large pieces.

2. Put the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When it melts, add the onion, garlic, and chopped stems and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Add the greens a handful at a time, stirring as they wilt, and make room in the pan for more; continue until all the greens have been added, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the cream and adjust the heat so it bubbles steadily. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and the cream coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

4. Carefully crack the eggs onto the greens. Transfer the skillet to the broiler. Cook, watching like a hawk, until the whites have just set, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle the parmesan and breadcrumbs over the gratin and return to the broiler. Cook, still watching, until the cheese has melted and the topping is golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

— Recipe from Dinner for Everyone

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