Together with Chloe Johnston, I wrote this theatrical cooking show as a meditation on the role of recipes in religious Utopian communities, specifically the Clarion colony, a Jewish back-to-the-soil movement outpost in the desert of Utah where my grandmother was born.
Ben Brown’s idea was to take the Jewish people out of the clutches of the corrupt and decadent city, and restore them full citizenship by creating perfect cooperative farm colonies in the wild west.
Ben Brown must have been a gifted salesman – he convinced my great grandfather and 60 other families to invest $350.00 each in his dream. In Utah, Brown got what seemed like a great deal on 6000 acres of prime land and a promise from the governor to provide water by irrigation from a nearby river.
He rounded up 12 volunteers to start to break ground in Clarion for their houses and farms. My great grandfather went along. He left my great grandmother in Harlem with her father and her two sons and left to spend a long winter in the Utah desert.
I have this picture of him from the trip out – he’s in Buffalo NY, standing in front of a painted backdrop of Niagara falls. His chin is jutting out, his body is leaning back at an unnatural angle, like he’s rearing back and preparing to pounce.
The next spring they sent for reinforcements – my great grandmother arrived, with the boys. Other families trickled in. They tried to plant crops of alfalfa and wheat. The canal wasn’t operational yet so the settlers brought fresh-water in barrels from a nearby town and each barrel had to be hauled by horse-drawn wagon.
But there was barely enough to drink, let alone water the fields. The first year came and went without a crop. The settlers sued the state for its failure to run the water in the canal.
My grandmother was born. Her little brother dave was born. More colonists came. Some colonists left.. Salt water was rinsed from children’s hair, wells were dug and redug