Founder & History
I am extraordinarily lucky; I grew up and have lived my life immersed in good food and wine, political activism, environmental campaigns, strong traditions, and nutrition awareness. The lessons of this life are central both to Oldways and to The Oldways Table.
My mother was raised in a Rhode Island family that cared very much about its food, and she brought forward to her own children the steady determination that every day we eat oatmeal, fresh vegetables, whole wheat bread, chicken, fruit, and drink three glasses of milk. Although this did make her something of a retrograde, my mom wore a coat of many colors—we were the first family in our neighborhood to have a pressure cooker and a Waring blender, so she was certainly no Luddite.
My father grew up on a farm in Kentucky, and brought this experience with him to his marriage, career, and child-rearing in Providence. He was deeply into foraging in the wholesale food markets of Providence, which were vibrant in part because of the city’s large Italian immigrant population. He regularly brought home for us crates of beautiful food—meat, lobsters, strawberries, mangoes, avocados, peas, parsnips, and some things we didn’t like very much, like rutabagas (but believe me, we ate them). He was also a wine collector, and built a notable cellar. His bon vivant approach was much more about enjoying wine than it was about labels, although he took care to have a decent inventory of spectacular wines, too.
As we grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, after Dad was back from the war, he taught me and my two brothers and my sister to catch small harbor fish like scup and tautog and large ocean fish like bluefish and striped bass, and to clean and filet them. We dug quahogs and soft-shelled clams, caught blue crabs and Nantucket bay scallops, and we learned how to open them for the kitchen and cook them, too.
We were manic berry-pickers and jam-and-jelly makers. On perfect summer afternoons we went off to the moors and woodlands to pick blueberries and blackberries and beach plums, returning home to make intense, deep-dish blueberry pies and all kinds of lush jams and jellies.
But the real point is that the intense berrying and fishing experiences of my childhood are very much part of my life today, 55 years later. I can vouch for the pleasure and power of food memories, and their pleasures. They are part of the backbone of Oldways’ emphasis on traditional foods.
I am also drawn to gardening, and during the spells in my life when I had time for it, my gardens were lush with vegetables and fruits. Like all gardeners, I fought with torturing bastards like horned tomato caterpillars; swore at the damn deer who just flew over my tall fences as if they were escapees from Santa; cursed at clouds of white flies marauding my melons and squashes; and hauled tons of horse manure for fertilizer every fall and spring. But we grew corn eight feet tall; so many tomatoes we threw overripe ones at each other; and so much sorrel we sold it to my brother’s restaurant.
Cooking has fascinated me for as long as I can remember—something miraculous happens when smelly googly fish become delicious; gooey eggs change into luscious scrambled eggs; hard beach plums become silky sweet jelly; scary-looking quahogs settle into comforting chowders; and leftover vegetables and meats are transformed into warming stews. It’s sort of e pluribus unum: right before your eyes, a bunch of individuals are transformed into a unity.
I bless the gods of parents, jobs, friends, farms, foods and flavors for these experiences, because they are the sensory and pleasure nerves of the Oldways idea.
Turn the page for The Influence of Washington: Making a Difference