There were twenty seven of us tucked into the small living room in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In the center sat Angelica Flores, a curandera, a folk healer in the Latin American tradition. She wore a handmade embroidered blouse and her thick black and white hair was piled high on her head. Her ankle was propped up on a footstool in front of her, apparently sprained, but this did nothing to diminish the power exuding from her dark, smiling eyes.
We were gathered in Angelica’s living room on a college study abroad trip. Our group had been in Mexico for ten days already. We had spent a day learning traditional Mayan abdominal massage, we had walked the ridges and hillsides looking at the local medicinal plants, we had traveled to 10,000 feet to do a cleansing ceremony at an ancient spring, and now, we sat rapt at the feet of Angelica Flores. I was trying to write everything down, but my hand kept spasming with the effort and so finally, I had to just lay down my pen and listen.
She spoke of many things: women, men, sex, the cycles of life, magic, God, and karma. As her talk began to move towards completion, someone asked, “but, Angelica, what should we do to make the world better?” She paused for a moment and then said, “You must reclaim the power of fire. The fire is where people come to be nourished. The fire is where people come to eat, to be healed, to share stories, to strengthen the bonds of connection, and to celebrate. Take back the hearth. This will make the world better.”
About 18 months ago, I found my journal from this college study abroad trip to Mexico. I was working at an awesome farm-to-table cooking school on the coast of Maine at the time. It was a great place to work, but I had always wanted to start something of my own and so I began dreaming of the “Hearth Project.” Originally, I thought that it would make a good graduate school thesis.
I would go to one of the thousands of villages where people still cook over fire (1/2 the world still cooks over fire according to the World Health Organization) and I would document everything that happened around the fire: the food cooked, the fuel used, the community activities, the healing, the fighting, the ceremonies, etc. Then, I would look at modern society and find the places where these “hearth traditions” were happening. Since I’ve been working as a farmer and cook, I thought that foodie farm scene would be a good place to start looking for the renaissance of these traditions.
But then, I applied to graduate school and I didn’t get in.
So instead of spending lots of money ( and lots of years!) in graduate school, I get to start here. Today. On this great medium that my grandfather likes to call the wavelength.
To begin, this blog will highlight people and organizations that are keeping hearth traditions alive in the modern world. Also, I’ll post lots of great recipes. If you’d like to share a tradition, please let me know!
One last thing.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a few days with a 92-year-old Austrian doctor named Heinz. (Heinz was a student of Victor Frankl!)
He said to me and his wife as we sat at the dinner table eating pork chops, “All the achievements in a man’s life aren’t worth one hour sitting at the table with the people he loves smiling across at him.”
This is really why I’m beginning this project. Food and these “hearth traditions” give us the opportunity for this kind of connection.
Thanks for joining me on this adventure.