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Artist Mollie Douthit--On Food, Paint, Memory And Connection

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(Earth Eats theme music, composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey)

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT: This is my opportunity to only talk about those colors, and then somehow the lusciousness of the frosting, the cakiness of the cake, the smoothness of the plastic in that refrigerator, all like somehow mingle themselves into that, and that’s exciting to me. 

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] On our show this week we revisit a conversation with artist Mollie Douthit about her painting practice involving food, kitchen spaces, and food's power to connect us with the past and with the people we love. And nutrition educator Kendra Brewer walks us through the steps of making and preserving apple pie filling. That's all just ahead so stay with us. 

(Background Music)

We are in full-on pie season. Let me rephrase that, every season is pie season. In the summer you have all that fruit to bake into pies, but many of us associate winter holidays with pie baking - pumpkins, sweet potato, pecan, apple. Today we have instructions for how to make your own pie filling during apple season and then preserve it to use throughout the year. Our guide is Kendra Brewer who is the education coordinator at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard when I visited during their food day celebration in 2017. 

KENDRA BREWER: We're prepping the apples to go into the blanching bath, and then we're going to let the apples sit while we prepare the rest of the apples. 

KAYTE YOUNG: What part are you doing? 

COURTNEY ZOONICA: I am slicing the apples 

KAYTE YOUNG: And what's going on over here? I see a fancy contraption, what are you doing again?

(Squeeky spinning sound)

COURTNEY ZOONICA:  I'm peeling the apples with a peel, with a peeler. 

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Volunteer Courtney ZoonIca is using what some call an apple master, it’s a hand crank gadget that spins an apple on a central spike, while a blade follows the surface of the apple, peeling the skin in one long strip. 

KENDRA BREWER: [talking to a class, in a kitchen] And the minute is almost up, so we'll be taking our apples out of the blanching water.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, the process is peeling the apples, slicing the apples, and coring them. And then putting them in a blanche bath for just a minute or so?  

KENDRA BREWER: Yeah once the water comes to a boil, for about a minute. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And then what else is gonna be added to them before they get canned? 

KENDRA BREWER: And then we're gonna mix them with our sugar syrup here that has the apple pie seasoning in it, and then we'll put them into the canning jars. 

COURTNEY ZOONICA: There's one more step that we didn't mention which is that we're putting the slices into lemon juice, lemon water, so that they don't brown before we blanch them. 

(Soft background music)

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] We'll come back to the kitchen for the rest of the process later in the show. 

Molly Douhit is a professional artist; she's a painter. She currently lives in Grand Forks North Dakota, with her parents. She teaches art at a local middle school. Mollie says, it wouldn't be Christmas without the kiss cookie - her mom makes it every year. But Mollie admits it isn't her favorite. We agree that the cookie to chocolate ratio is a bit off. 

So, she painted it. One tiny dab of peanut butter dough, with a Hershey’s kiss on top, nestled neatly in the divet of the crackled cookie, and then she sent that little quarter inch image of the cookie, to me - mounted on a card with a holiday greeting. It might possibly be the best Christmas card ever created. And it reminded me of our conversation in November, about paint, and food, and memory, and connection with the people we love. I started by asking Mollie how she got started painting food in kitchen spaces. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  So, I had an exhibition in 2017 at the museum in my hometown, and like I was really struggling with how to build work for this show. And I think I was trying to find my voice as a painter, figure out things. And I think it’s... you're searching for your artistic voice, you're not looking in the right places. 

I got frustrated, in my studio that was not close to my house, and I brought my easel home, I set it up, and I started painting my kitchen - just whatever was happening. You know it would be like milk jugs, or whatever. And I've always gravitated towards food as a subject matter, but it really exploded with that work. 

My grandparents owned a restaurant when I was growing up. And it was a steakhouse, and they actually lived at the restaurant, so it was like me sort of like talking to my family through this medium that means so much to me. And I think that's really... it defined why I'd been painting food so much in the past, and it liberated me into like continuing that as like a subject matter that's quite central. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So, you weren't living near your family at that time? 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  No, I actually did my master's in Ireland, and then I was able to stay in Ireland, and I was a painter there for many years. And then in 2017 I just decided it coincided with the show, and just for a few reasons, I thought it was about time that I come home. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So, can you talk a little bit about your current living situation, and where you paint, and what that looks like? 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  So, right now I live with my family. Which is... it’s really nice. And I've embraced the mobile studio. I have an afternoon job which is really convenient so when my parents go to work, I typically like make myself a really nice breakfast and then I have an easel that I bring upstairs. And... you know, the kitchen is one of those spaces that always... it typically doesn't have carpet. And in our house, it's the only place that doesn't have carpet so its where I feel safest to put that easel. 

And next thing I know I'm looking around and... I'm learning that your life is always in sort of a transition, like things can always change. My hometown went through a flood, so that... losing your objects, but still knowing why they're important to you, is a way for me to connect through painting. 

So, knowing that I might be leaving this space... you know, probably moving out at some point, it really has helped me surface a lot of subject matter. Like a recipe book that my mom has had for years, and being really able to spend time with that, and through painting. Painting just gives me patience to just sit, and look, and find those colors and sort of... you know, I really love the cream against the like a red. And actually, getting to create that. So, that's my setup right now, is just setting up in the kitchen mainly, and finding. 

KAYTE YOUNG: So, when you're talking about exploring your mom's recipe book, you're not talking about cooking from it, you're talking about painting it. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  Absolutely. My family and I have slightly different eating habits, and this was... it's kinda like my bridge into their still-talking about... about the things, about how much I love them, and about how much these objects mean to me and how much, even though I don’t eat her apple pork chops anymore, the book that contains that recipe still means something to me.  

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  I've been really interested in the way that food is related to memory and the way that food connects people. I just wondered if you could say anything about what you think about food, and its power to connect, or its power to kind of jar memory. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT: Yeah, absolutely. Even before the paintings really took off as like "this is my thing!" I think it grabs people. I had made this painting of Ritter Sport, which is a chocolate from Germany. And I... it brings back a lot of memories of a very good friend that I have in Germany and our love for Ritter Sport. 

But I painted this painting and then the title is... not the greatest, I suppose that's the point. And the title is referencing the fact that this is like... Ritter Sport is very good chocolate, but its regular chocolate. But I'd rather eat that chocolate than a new chocolate that's more swanky. Because Ritter Sport brings me back to a better place than swanky chocolate, and I think that's the power that food has over us. And... it can be a very good power, especially when you're in times of needing a piece of Ritter Sport. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And... and you had talked about when you first discovered your interest in painting kitchens, and places where food is prepared, and food itself, that it was a way for you to connect across distance, and time to your grandparents, and their restaurant, and your families' relationship with food. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT: Yeah, definitely. I'm just thinking of all of the things over the years that maybe I’ve painted that even... though I remember a clove of garlic and... The other thing is too that the beauty of cooking your own food is that you're involved in the process. And there's such joy in making something that you're going to eat. 

You know, I’m not painting from photos. I'm sitting with these pieces of food. I'm smelling them, and food is... it’s such a connector. And I do think that maybe when my eating habits changed as far as... leading more of a plant-based, vegetarian lifestyle, it still remained a way that I could express something to people. 

This summer I was able to... or I guess this fall, paint my dad's birthday cake, which was German chocolate. Which my grandma... that was your birthday cake very year, no matter who you were, she made german chocolate cake. And I still eat that. And so yeah, the taste of that brings me back to her.  

I remember in high school coming home and like watching Mario Batali. Aside from everything we know now... and sort of just watching him walk through Italy... you know, discovering. And just being so connected to simplicity in food. And I think that's the beauty of connecting with a raw material and that's also what painting is. You know, you're just dealing with oil and stone that's been ground into a paste. Well, that's pesto, you know? That's just taking one thing and touching it in a way that can all of the sudden transform it. 

(Soft background music)

A look around your kitchen and there's weird stuff that happens, and at least maybe in my family or just... but someone decided to clean our kit-... well not someone obviously, one of the three people who live there, decided to clean the kitchen. The kitchen gets cleaned and you know when you're cleaning and you kind of like put some things somewhere because you're gonna take care of it in a minute cause you're just wiping something down? I'm assuming that's what happened. But like three tablespoons of butter still in the package, got put in the water dispenser for like... in a fridge where you would put your glass to like get water automatically. Put it in the tray.

And... it sat there. And it was kinda at first... I was like "Oh, I should put that way." And then it was a moment of... "I think I'm just gonna wait, and see who's gonna take care of it first?" And it sort of became this mind game and then I was like... sort of like leaving just a little bit of milk in a jug. And then you know, and that's what I call a paintable moment. I don't know... had I not painted that I don't know if I would have remembered it. And it’s funny. It's so funny. 

But then... for me, like it’s so exciting to build the yellow... like butter yellow can be a very challenging color to make but accomplishing that was a lot of fun. Cakes are like something that I really like to paint, and my mom is really big on kind of... birthday cakes. That's always sort of been an event with us. And so, I wanted to make her birthday cake really nice for her, and coconut is one of those flavors that people are either like... passionate or not passionate about. She likes it, so I was like "I'm gonna put coconut on her cake this year." And so, I painted it and then I tried to do this really nice pink frosting, but it didn’t' look very good. Anyhow, I put the cake in the - oh sorry, 

KAYTE YOUNG: Wait you painted it, or you made it? 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  Oh sorry, I made it. I made it. And then we ate some of it and then went into a fridge. And then... I opened up the fridge door and we actually... we have a couple fridges in our house, and this was the basement fridge, so it's quite empty. And I opened it up and it was like this white empty fridge with a white cake - because she likes white cake. And I used a seven-minute frosting, and then this like bright pink. And it was like these kind of like... there's three different whites happening there, plus then like this... pop of pink, and I think... painting is this... this is my opportunity to only talk about those colors. 

And then somehow the lusciousness of the frosting, the cakiness of the cake, the smoothness of the plastic in that refrigerator, all like somehow mingle themselves into that. And that's exciting to me. Yeah... yeah. 

KAYTE YOUNG: What about the time that you were painting watermelon, in your kitchen? 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  Oh, yeah. There were like baby watermelons for sale. (I) brought one home and then I cut it up and I put it in a bowl, and the bowl happened to be like bright green. And then all the watermelons these days are seedless, so it didn't have seeds. And then I had just put it on the stovetop and the stove was black.

And I kinda looked down and I was like "Oh my god!" 

The bowl is green that's its rind, and then stovetop was black, and it was really exciting because I thought "Wow, I've completed the watermelon." 

And then again that's where I get that opportunity to talk about... when you can make like bright pink, opaque bring pink, and then find slightly darker maroonish red that adds depth... it’s like, I don't know. I kind of freak out, especially when you're putting it on, and then once you... you know, put it on the surface of the canvas, and you're like "Well, that moment's over, moving on... onto the green."

Yeah. I just get this like nudge in me and I’m like okay... I have to paint. And there's actually one Sunday when my niece was over who was teething, my brother-in-law, sister were there. Mom's making spaghetti, and it's Sunday, and the house is full, and it's hot.

And I was inspired, and I think... bless their souls, they didn’t' mind. And I set up in the kitchen and I kind of... I was painting it. And my parents... most everyone knows not to talk to me when I'm painting, you know (I'm) super concentrated.

And then like kind of like afterwards, my mom comes up to me and she's like "That was brilliant, you know... like five minutes ago, I thought 'I don't know what she's doing'" 

Cause she saw it sort of like mid-way through, she's like "You really kind of pulled that one off, didn't cha?" I was like... "And this is why no one's allowed to talk to me when I'm painting!" I don't need peanut galleries.  

KAYTE YOUNG: That's great that even though they couldn't talk to you... you were sort of integrated into the moment of the family. And they got to watch your process, even if they couldn't interact directly. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  Yeah, absolutely. 

(Soft background music)

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] After a quick break, I'll return to my conversation with Mollie Douhit. She has a story about a TV tray, a placemat, and the power of paint to invoke the emotions of gratitude and shared history. I'm Kayte Young, and you're listening to Earth Eats

(Earth Eats production support music composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey)

KAYTE YOUNG: Production support comes from Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net.

Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at griffy creek dot studio.

And Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838.

(Soft background music)

KAYTE YOUNG: [narrating] In the midst of the holidays, some of us may be spending time with family - returning to the family home perhaps. And among the many things that families can disagree about, it seems food tends to rub some deep divisions. After all, food is tied to culture and identity. Many of us leave home and strike out on new culinary paths, develop new food preferences, restrictions, or even principals about what we will and will not eat. A place where we once may have come together - the family table, can become fragmented and tense. 

Our guest Mollie Douhit, a painter, returned to her family home after living abroad for years. Many things had changed, including Mollie’s diet. But she's found ways to continue to connect with her family over food, even if they aren't always eating the same thing. 

KAYTE YOUNG: [Interviewing] You mentioned that you had gone through a rough patch recently. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  Mhm, yeah. Moving home, I had a lot of probably culture shock, and just like shift in like... what was happening in my life, and where I was going, and a lot of questions. And I think, luckily, I was living with my family. 

There was a point where I was eating dinner like in front of my mom every night, like just really upset about life and about things. You know, and I'd sit in the living room actually, I'd bring my dinner out there, and I'd sit there, and I’d just be like... a pile. And that went on for months. 

And then when I sort of started to come out of that, I made this painting of my... and it’s a terrible painting, it’s pretty crappy. It’s of this couch and then we have those like those little tv trays, and it has a tv tray on it with a placemat. 

And now I look at it... and this how painting, like this is why I paint. I look at that painting, and the entire thing is like a weird shade of grey, except for the placemat. And what I'm thinking of, is the fact that like this woman sat across from me... and like, knew that I was gonna come out of whatever I’d been in, and was patient enough, because I didn't think that was gonna happen. So, it has nothing even to do with... like I was making my food. But it was about sharing a moment with someone, and I'm so, so, so grateful to be home, to have come out of that, and that's why I wanna celebrate the things that we do share, even if it’s just the outside of a recipe book. 

KAYTE YOUNG: You mean the things you share with your parents. 

MOLLIE DOUTHIT:  Yeah, yeah, and those things that I grew up with, and those things that have really grounded me since coming home. Just, "Oh, this is still here."

You know, and you're okay with things... kind of like finding sameness is sometimes is like a really way to help cope. Mhm, yeah. 

(Soft background music)

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Mollie Douhit is a painter living in Grand Forks North Dakota. Find images of her work and links to more information about her on the Earth Eats website. That's EarthEats.org. 

(Banjo twangy background music)

Next, we head back into the kitchen for that canning demonstration with Kendra Brewer. You'll recall the fun hand crank apple peeling gadget. After the apples are peeled, they get cored, sliced and dropped directly into lemon water. 

KENDRA BREWER: [talking to a class, in a kitchen] And that'll stop the oxidation and keep your apples looking beautiful. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Next the apples slices hit the boiling water blanching bath. 

KENDRA BREWER:: Now they need to boil for about a minute. So now I'm gonna drain my apples.And then the next step is gonna be to put these hot apples to this hot syrup that we've prepared. And the syrup has... it’s basically sugar, and water, and you know apple juice, and some seasonings like cinnamon and nutmeg. 

I'm not adding a thickening agent. I'm not gonna add cornstarch or arrowroot or tapioca because those things will denature, they will not stand up to the canning process. What I’m gonna do instead, is after these jars have been canned and we actually go to them for a pie filling, we'll just add cornstarch or a thickener then after the canning process. 

So, I'm gonna put my apples into my syrup here and then we're gonna fill a jar. 

There's some things while I'm doing this that I'd like to talk about, in terms of canning with you. This method that I’m doing right here is called a hot water bath canning method, and this is something that you can do with anything fruits or vegetables that are high acid. You can can tomatoes, you could hot water bath things like pickles. 

Anything that doesn’t have that acidity... say you wanted to preserve a tomato sauce that wasn't quite high enough acidity, you would need to pressure cook that. And that cans things at a much higher temperature, and pressure, and makes those foods safe. 

For any foods that you're canning though, you're gonna need to make sure that you're using a recipe that either comes from the USDA or a cooperative extension service. You don't just want to take a recipe off of your favorite... you know, food blog online, and then decide to can that, because you're not sure then that you've got the proper acidity, and you could risk getting something like botulism. Botulism happens when you don't have an acidic enough environment, that's what we're so concerned about the acidity and the hot water bath canner. Are there any questions about that? 

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Did you catch all that? The hot water bath method of canning is perfect for high acid foods like fruit and plain tomatoes, or foods with a lot of vinegar like pickles. Low-acid foods like vegetables, soups, or sauces, those need to be pressure canned. Once you add garlic or onions or anything else to your tomatoes or tomato sauce, you need to pressure can. And always follow a canning recipe from the USDA or from a cooperative extension. We'll have links at EathEats.org. 

KENDRA BREWER: And your recipe there, you'll notice that it recommends leaving about an inch of headspace. You might not get a proper seal if you don’t' leave the recommended amount of headspace, and its different for each recipe. 

And I've wiped the rim of my jar, and now I’m just going to kind of... they call it finger tightening. So that it holds the lid in place while it's in the hot water bath canner. 

And then I'm gonna go and put this into canner, and I'm gonna fill all jars, and then I'm going to process... you know, let these things boil for the amount of time listed on recipe, which is 25 minutes for a quart of apple pie filling. 

After they're done, you'll take them out, and put them onto your towel again, and you'll know that your canning has been successful when you hear this little pop that'll happen.  As they cool down, they'll suck the top of that lid in, and then you'll be able to turn this thing upside down without a screw top and it will stay in place. And then you know you've got a proper seal, and you can store that jar for about a year.  

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] I like that idea. It's a way to eat local year-round. During apple season in the fall, prep some fresh apples for pie filling and can it in quart jars. When you're ready to make a pie, whether it’s the dead of winter or early summer, all you gotta do is make the pie crust. Brings you one step closer to pie. I'm always in favor of that. 

We've got recipes for all of it, flakey pie crust, spiced pie filling, and how to safely preserve it, all on our website - EarthEats.org. 

(Earth Eats theme music, composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey)

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week Mollie Douhit, Kendra Brewer, and everyone at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. 

Production support comes from Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive auto, business and home coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at 812-336-6838. Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent with Personal Financial Services.  Assisting businesses and individuals with tax preparation and planning for over fifteen years.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net. And Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at griffy creek dot studio. 

Young woman in winter hat and scarf standing in front of small paintings on a white wall.

Artist Mollie Douthit, pictured with small paintings on display for Open Studios at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT, November, 2018. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“This my opportunity to only talk about those colors, and then somehow, the lusciousness of the frosting, the cakiness of the cake the smoothness of the plastic in that refrigerator--all somehow mingle themselves into that, and that’s exciting to me.”

On our show this week, we revist a conversation with artist Mollie Douthit, about her painting practice involving food, kitchen spaces and food’s power to connect us--with the past, and with the people we love. I spoke with her after her artist's talk at Vermont Studios Center in Johnson, Vermont.

During the holiday season, some of us may be spending time with family, returning to the family home perhaps-- and among the many things that families can disagree about, it seems food can stir up some deep divisions.

After all, food is tied to culture and identity. Some of us leave home and strike out on new culinary paths, and develop new food preferences, restrictions or even principles about what we will and will not eat.

A place where we may have once come together--the family table--can become fragmented and tense.

Our guest Mollie Douthitt, a painter, returned to her family home after living abroad for years. Many things had changed, including Mollie’s diet. But she’s found ways to continue to connect with her family over food, even if they aren’t always eating the same thing.

And nutrition educator Kendra Brewer walks us through the steps of making and preserving apple pie filling. 

Music on this week's show:

Vanishing Haze by Emmanuel David Lipszyc, Frank Lapscombes and Sebastien Lipszyc (Killer Tracks)

The Earth Eats’ theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

And nutrition educator Kendra Brewer walks us through the steps of making and preserving apple pie filling. 

Stories On This Episode

Apple Pie Filling for Canning

images/eartheats-images/1px.jpg

Boiling water bath canning is perfect for fruit, and not too much trouble. Here's a recipe for canning your own pie filling.

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