By Jeff Tome

Nature is one of my favorite things to eat. I fully realize that that sounds a little bit like I want to sit on the sidewalk and eat mud pies with a side of grass and worms, but I don’t. We sometimes forget that all of our food comes from the earth. Even the creepy weirdly colored foods that are mixed from chemicals ultimately come from the earth. Many people are weirdly divorced from the fact that the planet provides the raw materials for everything they eat and use.

That’s worth repeating. The planet provides the raw materials for everything we use in day to day life. That is easy to see with a carrot that you can grow in the backyard or firewood from the neighbor’s yard, but it is harder to see when looking at a cell phone or carpet made of plastic or rare earth elements that have traveled halfway around the world for you to poke at. It is so much easier to divide things into natural or unnatural, homemade or factory-made, manmade or from the earth. Sometimes the divisions we make about things makes us forget that the earth provides everything we use, regardless of where humans intervene in the process.

I grew up using, growing and finding food. We canned and froze food from a garden that I was required to work in daily over the summer. Like most gardeners, I learned at an early age that you cannot take from the earth without giving back to the earth. Planting, picking and weeding all deplete nutrients from the soil that need to be replaced. As a child, my family raked and composted the leaves from the yard into the garden, adding some lime to restore the acid balance of the soil. As an adult, I compost food waste and use leaves from my neighbors’ yards to add to the soil to replace the nutrients used to create tomatoes, squash and peas.

Audubon’s kitchen garden provides a place for visitors to try produce fresh from the garden.

Gardening is magic. Seeds transform soil, water, air and sunlight into food. This food is then turned into salsa, salads, breads and so much more. All food comes from the earth, whether from grains, vegetables, animals or trees.

This brings me to the topic that inspired today’s article: prunes. Most folks think of prunes as dried plums that help push things along in the digestive track, but they are so much more. Prunes are a type of plum that is more oval than round. They can be found fresh at this time of year and provide the heart of a family dish that has been around for generations: prune kucha.

This presumably German recipe comes from my dad’s side of the family. It consists of fresh prunes cut in half lengthwise and pressed into a mostly unsweetened bread crust before being coated with cinnamon sugar. It is a recipe with history, being passed down from my grandma to my dad’s generation and then onto mine. It could easily go back 100 years or more.  

I was remarkably excited to find prunes at the Farmer’s Market last weekend and immediately bought some to make a prune kucha. I haven’t had one in years, though they were always a part of late summer family picnics. They were baked by my grandmother and, when she was gone, by my Aunt Olga. My daughter says that the prune kucha tastes sweet and tangy, but for me it tastes like nostalgia, of times and people that are past and linger in odd corners of memory, like the flavor of a family recipe.

The flavors of nature are intrinsically tied to the seasons for me. Strawberry shortcake is the flavor of my grandmother’s birthday in mid-June. Raspberries are the flavor of the Fourth of July. Blueberries and sweet corn on the cob is the flavor of late summer. Apples and chestnuts are the taste of fall. Pumpkin pie comes into the mix at the end of fall. In our modern world, those things are often available far outside of their original season, but I am usually reluctant to pay the environmental cost of transporting raspberries from South America or eat apples that have been stored in hibernation chambers for months to stay fresh.

Fresh, local food has to be eaten in season or stored to use later.

One of the things I love about loving in a rural area is the ability to find fresh fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. Even better, purchasing locally grown food supports the people of my area instead of some corporation.

Audubon has, for years, grown herbs and vegetables in a kitchen garden. Volunteers plant and maintain this garden to show visitors how much food can be grown in a small space, but also to give people who have never eaten out of a garden a chance to eat food fresh out of the garden. Audubon’s Summer Day Camp children snack in the garden daily over the summer, but visitors to the Nature Center love it too. It’s the end of the season, but there are still tomatoes, herbs, Malabar spinach and other tasty treats in the garden. Come down to Audubon and have a taste of nature.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.