I have never tasted fresher, more flavorful and nourishing food or had more of an appetite for a meal than I have in my Romanian mother-in-law’s kitchen, barely able to fit a small table (which also serves as her only counter) and two stools. You can ask for recipes, but you are likely to get a shrug and a vague description at best. The crevices and lines in her well-worn hands contain the recipes of the daily food she prepares from scratch. Rarely, if ever, does she allow you to help her. You are her guest. Her refrigerator is mostly empty, just some cheese, milk, butter and maybe a few pieces of fresh meat for the day’s meal. All other staples and vegetables, replenished daily at the piazza, are kept in a small pantry closet. The balcony contains an array of fermented foods including cabbages, cucumbers and peppers. This may be a typical kitchen in an ordinary apartment in the middle of Bucharest, Romania, but to me it contained a treasure.
The treasure of this kitchen and many others throughout the world, comes not just from the recipes, but in the practical wisdom of home cooks like my mother-in-law who have for generations cooked food that is both flavorful and nourishing, using methods both practical and sustainable. It seemed to me this wisdom was rooted in a deeper, more intuitive understanding of the relationship between food, health and cultural well-being, a relationship that I was eager to explore.