Left in Andover: A recipe for meatless living

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When I was growing up, my family kept barrels of whole wheat berries and soybeans for ourselves and kibble for our dog in the “honey room,” a sort of shed attached to the house at Popplewood Farm. The wheat and beans were sourced from a local feed store. I can only hope they were not treated with chemicals as would be the case nowadays.

One spring in the late 1950s, upon our return from a winter spent with relatives in Florida, our wheat and soybean stock appeared to be intact. But the level in the kibble barrel was gravely diminished. Apparently Earl, a pet-less hermit who lived in a primitive cabin on our property, had found it the most palatable option of the three. He may have needed some coaching as how to prepare the other two for consumption.

Mother used a meat grinder for creating soy bean ‘meat.’

My mother ground the whole wheat berries into flour using a hand-cranked stone mill set up in our breezeway. The soybeans she pressure cooked until squish-able on the wood cook stove. These were a major source of protein for my vegetarian family.

To this day, I always keep on hand a stash of organically grown dry soybeans. They keep for years. Along with a couple gallons of olive oil, this is my go-to pandemic/emergency food supply. With bark and seasonal greens, I figure we could survive a lot longer than the two weeks for which FEMA advises to prepare.

Old-fashioned hand meat grinders with their psychedelic spiral twist innards used to be a dime a dozen in most second-hand stores. My father amassed quite a collection of them. Lined up together on a shelf they made a pleasing display.

Why a vegetarian would be tempted into such a hobby is a bit of a mystery. But Dad lost his mother at a young age. Perhaps he harbored a dim memory of her grinding fresh hamburger in the family butcher shop in Bennington.

My own memory is of Mom cranking her cooked soybeans through one of Dad’s prized meat grinders. Set on a coarse grind, the brown ribbon of bean twisted and turned into a big wooden bowl. This was the makings of my ersatz school lunch meat.

Protein rich cooked soybeans ready for mashing or grinding.

Deep was my humiliation at having to eat this sandwich filling at the one room schoolhouse in Andover. Not that anyone ever commented on my funny looking lunches. Had they, I would never have been clever enough to respond, “Oh, my mock chicken salad you mean? It’s delish. Care to try some?”

Being a devout philosophically based child vegetarian, I would never have demeaned my soybeans by calling them “mock chicken.” Yet, this is precisely the direction the exploding “fake meat” industry has now taken.

Imitation, highly processed plant based meats are a $5 billion-a year rage in the United States right now. Touted as ethical replacements for real meat, which has gotten a bad name as contributing to climate change, I doubt they are a healthy choice.

But Mom’s soybean sandwich filling may be worth a try for those in search of a tasty, environmentally kind whole food. Organic soybeans are a bargain too, about the same per pound as industrial chicken.

Cooked soybeans have no bean-y taste whatsoever. As such, they can go undercover as a secret ingredient anywhere. Call this recipe Mock Chicken Salad, Soybean Squish or whatever you like:

‘Mock Chicken Salad’ ready for eating.

Soak soybeans until they are plump. If you have time, bring to a boil for awhile. Either way, pour off water. Using fresh water, cook on high in a crockpot until squish-able. This could easily be overnight. There is no such thing as overcooking them. I do not have one, but an Instapot or pressure cooker will abbreviate the cooking time drastically.

I then mash the beans with a fork or a small-holed potato masher. After this, just channel your favorite egg, chicken or tuna salad recipe, using mashed soybeans instead.

I like to use finely chopped onions, garlic, parsley and celery. You can also add mustard, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, raisins. Olive oil and mayonnaise will help to suit the consistency you prefer. Grated carrots can be added. A small amount of nutritional yeast never hurts. Sneak in some sunflower seeds! You can also add any seasonal finely chopped green. Red peppers are pretty.

It’s no guarantee you will save the planet, but it can be instructive to go back to basics and try the raw material from which so many modern day “plant-based meats” are being constructed.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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