This past Sunday my church’s confirmation class helped lead the worship service. The kids reported on their research project this semester. They have been studying a depressing but worthy topic—the proliferation of non-biodegradable plastic in our world and our lives.
To fit in with this theme, our minister Cara asked church members to participate in a pot-luck luncheon for which we were to prepare foods that had never touched plastic. I am always up for a challenge—but I have to admit that this invitation was a bit more of a challenge than I expected!
I decided to make a quiche since I had leeks from my farm share in Virginia. They had arrived in a cardboard box, and I had by chance chosen to carry them north to Massachusetts in a paper bag! I had garlic in the house from last year’s Massachusetts farm share; fortunately, the house had been cool enough in my absence to keep it fresh.
I used eggs from neighbors’ chickens. And I asked Paula at the meat counter of our general store, Avery’s, to cut me some cheddar from the big wheel in the back of the store and wrap it in paper instead of the customary plastic. If this tactic failed, I was prepared to go to B.J.’s Wholesale Club, which sells Cabot Cheddar in wax-covered bricks. Luckily, Paula came through for me.
I ran into a couple of snags in my ingredients. When I realized that my salt poured through a plastic spout, I scrounged around until I found a half-dead (i.e., very wet) salt container that poured through cardboard.
And I was dismayed when I realized that my Crisco tub had a plastic lid that could have touched the stuff on the inside. Fortunately, a search through the cupboards uncovered a lone, foil-wrapped Crisco stick for my pie crust.
(I realized later that I could have made the pie crust with butter, but at the time I was fixated on Crisco for some reason.)
Pepper was out. My grinder is wooden, but the peppercorns inside came originally in plastic. Most of my spices are in plastic containers. Happily, I found a glass jar that held a whole nutmeg, some of which I could grate into the custard using my handy (stainless steel, thank goodness!) Microplane.
The real plastic revelation came not with the ingredients but with my cooking utensils. I hadn’t realized how much plastic I use on a daily basis.
I reached for my nonstick sauté pan, only to realize that its coating was probably some form of plastic. Out came the cast-iron skillet.
My usual silicone spatula needed to be replaced by a wooden spoon. I had to eschew my plastic dry measuring cups. It took me a long time to find the metal ones hiding on the bottom of a shelf.
I forced myself to remember to use a wooden cutting board, not a plastic one. And just in time I realized that I couldn’t roll the piecrust out on my usual plastic mat.
The quiche was a hit. I am out of leeks but will make it again very soon substituting our regions’s famous local asparagus, which is starting to come into season.
The whole exercise did educate me about the pervasiveness of plastic in my life. I will try hard to minimize the number of plastic bags and bottles I use. I won’t give up my plastic utensils, however. After all, they are already IN this world; it serves the environment to use them!
Other contributions to the feast included a lamb stew made with meat from the farm of my friends Erwin and Linda Reynolds, applesauce cake, homemade bread, and something yummy with rhubarb. (I’m on the trail of that recipe, never fear!)
I hope the kids felt proud of their Sunday in the spotlight. They certainly taught me a lot.
2 large (or three medium or four small) farm-fresh leeks
3 large (or four medium or six small) cloves of garlic that have never touched plastic
a splash of extra-virgin olive oil in a bottle that has no plastic, plus a bit more if needed
four eggs that went from chickens to cardboard to you
1/2 cup cream (from a container with no plastic)
a pinch of salt (watch for plastic spouts!)
a little freshly grated nutmeg that has not touched plastic
6 ounces (more or less) sharp cheddar cheese that was not wrapped in plastic, grated
1 8-inch pie shell prepared with ingredients that have not touched plastic
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Clean the leeks, and remove the root ends and most of the green stalks. Cut the leeks into quarters lengthwise, and clean them again; then chop the quarters into 1/2-inch pieces.
Cut the garlic cloves into thin strips.
Heat a stainless-steel or cast-iron pan and add a splash of oil. Heat the oil until it shimmers; then sauté the leek and garlic pieces until the leeks start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a little more oil if necessary as the vegetables cook. Remove from heat.
In a non-plastic bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and nutmeg.
Place the pie shell in a pie pan. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pie crust. Top the cheese with the sautéed vegetables; then pour on the cream/egg custard, and top with the remaining cheese.
Place the tart (or quiche or whatever you want to call it!) on a rimmed cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake it for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden—but the leeks peeking out are not burning!
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