From Scratch: Adventures in Harvesting, Hunting, Fishing, and Foraging on a Fragile Planet, by David and Jon Moscow (New York: Permuted Press, 2022)
Review by Alan Singer
Jon Moscow is the co-executive director of the Ethics in Education Network located in New York City and a podcaster. David Moscow is an actor and producer. Jon and David are father and son. In the preface to From Scratch they wrote “There are also many meals in here. Some are unique. Some are gut-turning. Most are great.” They are clearly more adventurous than me. I recommend staying with the less gut-turning suggestions.
The first gastronomical adventure is in New York City and it is about harvesting and eating oysters from Long Island Sound. David claims he dreamed about oysters since his boyhood in the Bronx with trips to Orchard Beach. I also grew up in the Bronx, back in the 1950s, frequented Orchard Beach, and I warn readers, nothing good comes out of those waters that I would eat, then and now. Today the water is considered clean, but when I was a boy we frequently saw raw sewage and condoms on the waves.
The best part of this chapter, and every chapter, are the gastronomical history lessons. The original inhabitants of the New York metropolitan region were the Lenni-Lanape who harvested oysters before the water was polluted and cooked them by wrapping them in seaweed and tossing them into a fire. We also learn that Pearl Street in Manhattan was “paved” by burning oyster shells to create lime that was mixed with broken oyster shells, sand, ash, and water. New York continued to be the oyster capital of the world until the early 20th century when New York City oyster beds were closed because of toxicity. David does admit that New York City oysters are still considered unfit to eat so that he and friends actually harvested oysters further east on Long Island.
Other adventures in harvesting and eating include trips to South Africa for avocados and “dune spinach,” to Mediterranean Malta and Sardinia for octopus and snails, Peru with its thousands of potato varieties, Kenya for barley and honey, and back to New York after a stop on the Amalfi Coast and Naples to savor pizza. David discusses some of his favorite New York pizza parlors including his childhood haunt, Three Brothers, on Kingsbridge Road. Brother’s Pizza is still located at 27 E. Kingsbridge Rd. Another noteworthy Bronx pizza destination is Catania’s Pizzeria & Café at 2307 Arthur Avenue. However my favorite is Pizza Plus on 359 7th Avenue in Brooklyn because their pizza has the best red sauce. The best part of this chapter is the authors’ discussion of the history of the tomato, which traveled from the Americas to Europe as part of the Columbian Exchange. Who knew there were over 15,000 varieties of tomatoes?
Fred Ende, Director of Curriculum and Instructional Services at Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES, who also reviewed the book, points out that in the first and second chapters the authors show that the history of both Long Island and South Africa was influenced, in some cases deeply, by food, and that food was influenced by history. Ende appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of the story the Moscows are telling because too often secondary schools disciplines are taught in isolation. Elde likes that the book melds science, art, culture and history pretty seamlessly.
The book ends with recipes including a Philippine dish, Kilawin made with mackerel, tuna and coconut, a Native American trout and potato dish from Utah, and D Michele’s famous pizza dough. I make my own pizza from scratch and I do all my foraging at a local supermarket.
Alan’s Homemade Pizza
Ingredients for the dough
- 2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tbs. dry yeast
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cups warm water (body temperature)
- 2 tbs. olive oil to mix into the dough and 2 tsp. to oil the bowl
1. Combine and stir the dry ingredients and then add the water and oil. Stir and knead the dough until it is smooth with a slight gleam. If the dough is too sticky add a little more flour. If it is too dry, add a very small amount of water. I rub a little flour on my hands as I knead the dough. After about ten minutes I roll the dough into a ball and place it in a covered oiled bowl for about an hour and keep the bowl in a warm place; sometimes in the oven with the temperature set at the lowest level.
2. While the dough rises I prepare my toppings. I use sliced olives, mushrooms, and green peppers After an hour, preheat the oven to 475°F. I usually use a commercial sauce; my preferred one is Barilla. I roll out the dough as flat as I can with a rolling pin (without tossing it up and down) and put it on a large oiled baking sheet. I brush a light oil coat on the dough, cover the pie with sauce leaving a thin 1/2 crust on the edges, sprinkle with lots of thinly sliced mozzarella, feta bits, oregano, and parmesan, and add the toppings.
3. Now its time to bake the pizza in the 475°F oven for about 15 minutes until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted. Magnifico!