Iowa Writes

SUSAN FUTRELL
From Letters to a Young Iowan


Dear Young Iowan:

Here are the kinds of things I hope you have a chance to know, growing up in Iowa.

Ripe, sour cherries taste best sitting in an old cherry tree in the backyard, so high you can see the next street over, the limbs of the tree gnarled into a perfect, butt-shaped dip where you can pluck cherry after cherry for hours and hours without anyone knowing for sure you are there. A well-made pie from those same cherries can taste almost as good. Almost.

The best way to eat a Muscatine melon is when it is deep orange, mushy in the middle, and still warm from the back of the pick-up parked at the corner down the road, cut into a wedge and sprinkled with just a little salt. Forget the spoon and let it drip right down your chin.

To make grape jelly, pick the concord grapes in the backyard when they have turned a deep, dusty purple, and after they are cooked to mush, push them through a strainer so the juice runs out thick and clear. Top each jar with paraffin wax and slather on a sandwich in the middle of winter.

Fresh eggs feel warm and scratchy with straw and fit perfectly into the palm of your hand when you lift them like glowing moons in the dim light of the chicken coop. Hold gingerly, but almost tight, so you can get away fast from the cranky, bobble-headed, fluffy-yet-menacing hens.

Squirrel tastes like chicken. Thanks to Grandma Augustine, who made it and showed us that eating could be an act of bravery, a badge of honor as well as a good story.

Dear Young Iowan:

Here are the kinds of things I hope you have a chance to know, growing up in Iowa.

Ripe, sour cherries taste best sitting in an old cherry tree in the backyard, so high you can see the next street over, the limbs of the tree gnarled into a perfect, butt-shaped dip where you can pluck cherry after cherry for hours and hours without anyone knowing for sure you are there. A well-made pie from those same cherries can taste almost as good. Almost.

The best way to eat a Muscatine melon is when it is deep orange, mushy in the middle, and still warm from the back of the pick-up parked at the corner down the road, cut into a wedge and sprinkled with just a little salt. Forget the spoon and let it drip right down your chin.

To make grape jelly, pick the concord grapes in the backyard when they have turned a deep, dusty purple, and after they are cooked to mush, push them through a strainer so the juice runs out thick and clear. Top each jar with paraffin wax and slather on a sandwich in the middle of winter.

Fresh eggs feel warm and scratchy with straw and fit perfectly into the palm of your hand when you lift them like glowing moons in the dim light of the chicken coop. Hold gingerly, but almost tight, so you can get away fast from the cranky, bobble-headed, fluffy-yet-menacing hens.

Squirrel tastes like chicken. Thanks to Grandma Augustine, who made it and showed us that eating could be an act of bravery, a badge of honor as well as a good story.

For Sunday dinner of Aunt Laura's chicken and homemade noodles, the right amount of water to mix into the flour for the noodle dough is half an eggshell full.

Milk fresh from the cow is warm, not cold—and Uncle Donald really could squirt it right into the yellow barn cat's mouth. Whipped cream made from that milk thickens so fast, even with a hand beater, it turns into butter when you're not watching, which means fresh butter on crackers for lunch.

When the voice of the noon market report on the radio says "pork belly futures up," it is not a joke.

I know your mother loves to cook and that your garden is full of ripe tomatoes in summer. You know what good food tastes like. Here's one more thing I hope you know: to have food—real food, good food—you have to have farms.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


SUSAN FUTRELL

Susan Futrell is a freelance writer who was born in Iowa and lives in Iowa City with her husband, two cats, and a very small garden. She worked in food marketing and distribution for 25 years and now provides communications, marketing, and research on food and sustainable agriculture through her company, One Backyard.

Editor Zachary Michael Jack compiled Letters to a Young Iowan (Ice Cube Press, 2007) by inviting prominent Iowans to contribute their advice to the next generation.

Ice Cube Press

This page was first displayed
on February 02, 2008

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