Top | First Person

Baby love

(article, Jennifer Savage)

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Our refrigerator is a wee thing that dates back to the Eisenhower administration. When a friend bought herself a sparkling new model in which no one had ever spilled grape juice, I begged for her cute little castoff, which totally fits our farmhouse kitchen and is totally impractical otherwise. She was only too happy to hand over her ancient appliance. 

Our fridge has one door, rounded corners, and stands barely five feet high. It opens with a quick pull of the large silver handle centered on the door, and it slams shut no matter how quietly you try to close it. I love this fridge; inside it, I crowd bottles, cartons, and tortillas together, trying to convince myself that it isn’t too small. I cut the stalks off of leeks to make them fit and strategically place lettuce as far away from the freezer compartment as possible, so it doesn’t turn black with frost.

[%image babyfood float=left width=250 credit="Photo: iStockphoto/mnieves" caption="Homemade baby food is tastier and less expensive than store-bought."]

Lately our already-pushing-it-to-capacity fridge has become even more crowded, because I’ve been making room in the smallest spots for tiny glass jars of baby food. I cram them behind the three squat containers of yogurt, beside last fall’s apple butter, on top of the canisters of homemade relish. They clink together as I stack them into a wall three high and four wide, making the half-and-half totally inaccessible. 

In fact, our entire kitchen is filled with these tiny jars. They crowd the dish drainer and cover the countertops. They are always involved in some sort of process: washing, drying, heating, cooling. We fill them with puréed, squished, and chopped fruit and vegetables. Then we open them and encourage our eight-month-old daughter, Eliza, to eat one small spoonful at a time, repeating “Mmm, mmm” with every bite. 

I never thought I’d be one of those people who made my baby’s food. I always figured some company had perfected recipes and processes and that I as a consumer would benefit from their years of research and trial-and-error. So when Eliza started eating solid foods, we bought jars off the shelf of our local grocery store. 

My husband and I eat organic food, but not exclusively. We live in Montana, where the growing season is only 100 days; this means that fresh fruits and vegetables are often brought to us from somewhere else. And this makes them expensive. So we buy organic only when we can. 

But that first day, standing in the baby-food aisle, I chose organic without question. The tiny jars of bananas and squash in my cart were going to introduce a world of food to my daughter, and somehow it mattered more than it ever had that that food be as free of chemicals as possible. 

It went on like this for a month or so, grocery bags with jangling jars inside. There is a sign in one of our local grocery stores that reads, "Organic doesn't mean clean," and in the case of organic baby food, I would argue that organic doesn't mean tasty, either. Most of the baby food we were buying was pretty bland, even for baby food. Carrots weren’t sweet to the tongue; bananas had the tanginess that comes from being overripe; apples tasted a little metallic. 

So one day last winter we steamed some carrots, put them in the blender, and whizzed them into a creamy, sweet, electric-orange meal. Eliza ate a whole bowlful without the coaxing I’d been used to employing at mealtime.

Next we emptied our freezer of the carrots and zucchini we had grown and frozen the previous summer. We thawed the peaches and nectarines Eliza’s grandparents picked in Oregon on their way to see her the week she was born. We ground, we liquefied, we puréed everything into small helpings. Then we fed them to our baby. Somehow it was reassuring knowing whose hands had pulled them from the ground, the stalk, the tree. 

Last night I came home and my husband, Seth, had steamed the last acorn squash we could find at any grocery store in town. He’d steamed zucchini and carrots. Fruit that we had bought fresh at our local market he’d peeled, then whipped into various combinations: bananas, mango, pears; bananas, apples; apples, pears, mango; bananas, pears. He’d filled several ice-cube trays with these concoctions and filled the fridge with as many full glass jars as it could hold. 

“Okay, so the yellow stuff with red flecks is apples, mangoes, and pears,” he explained. “There are some jars of it and a whole tray of it in the freezer. The green stuff with the dark green flecks, that’s zucchini. The chunky green stuff is peas. Jars and trays.” 

This is part of our communication these days. We go straight from “How was your day?” to “Yellow stuff with red flecks.” It may sound perfunctory and rote, but to me it’s intimate and loving. 

Seth was wrist-deep in acorn squash as he was telling me all of this. With his hands he scooped the deep yellow meat from the skin of the squash and added it to the growing heap in the blender. I wonder if Eliza will taste his capable hands when she eats this batch the same way she tastes me when she curls up next to me to nurse in the early mornings. I wonder if she will taste a little bit of her back yard when we eat our peas in a few weeks or potatoes this fall. 

We don’t make Eliza’s food because we feel as though we’re better parents for doing it. We don’t even do it so much because we think it’s healthier. We do it because by being closer to her food, we feel closer to her and, in turn, closer to each other. 

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Talking with Seth about yellow stuff with red flecks, I feel equal parts gratefulness and desire. His love for our daughter shows as he stands over a blender, puréeing squash. Nothing could be more attractive. 

I think about this every time I open our refrigerator and the wall of tiny glass jars we’ve built nearly falls onto the kitchen floor with the jerk of the door. I think of our baby and hope she is growing healthy and strong, and hope that maybe we are having a little something to do with it. 

p(bio). Jennifer Savage writes at the base of the Mission Mountains in Arlee, Montana, where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and a handful of wayward farm animals.


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