Sunday, June 26, 2011

break a seal, hold a blossom

I spent most of yesterday in the kitchen. It was a warm, sticky day. Outside was overcast and calling for storms but inside the house was thumping with good smells and work. I was canning strawberry jam and dill pickles with Cathy Daughton and her three boys, who had driven up from their stead in White Creek to help out with the effort and stay for dinner.

I had made plenty of jam in my day—and have a killer fridge pickle system that produces crisp, sweet pickles overnight—but this was my first time making dill pickles and canning them in the water bath canner. I'd like to thank the people at Ball, who made a pre-mixed dill pickle packet which I picked up at the IGA for two dollars. I poured it into a saucepan with 6 cups of water and 2 1/2 cups of white vinegar and brought it to a boil. Then we simply poured it over the just-cut cucumber spears, sealed the tops with the metal rings, and let them boil for fifteen minutes. That was it. Mix, boil, cover, seal, and can. It made jam making sean like advanced chemistry.

While we chatted and the canner bubbled in the hot kitchen (nearly 80 degrees compared to the rest of the farm house's 68) I slid some bread in the oven to go with the meal I had started preparing at 7AM. After morning farm chores I had set a pork loin in the slow cooker with apple juice, bbq sauce, and honey and let it go all day. For ten hours it simmered and the meat went from red to white and then red again from the sauces and juices bathing with its own fats. It is almost July and I am still enjoying that winter pig who lived a happy life in a warm barn while the worst winter in years slammed the north country. We butchered her here at the farm on a mild January day under the big maple tree. The white snow was stained with blood and gore, but now it is a green, lush place where I sit with Gibson and read. You might think you slipped into another dimension, seeing those two scenes side-by-side. On this small farm it was nothing more than a sharp, cold gasp followed by a sigh. Life and death are what keep a farm's heart going.

So Pig cooked while my homemade bread rose in the oven. The kitchen smelled like heaven. Butter-topped loaves, simmering pots of sweet strawberries and tart dills, and a porker bubbling under a glass lid. When the work of putting jars up for winter was done, we cleaned up the kitchen and then handed out plates. Now it was time to dig in. Cathy had brought lettuce from her garden and made a salad of her Buttercrunch that was good enough to be a meal alone. We sided our plates with the so-tender pork it fell apart under our forks. We buttered bread out of the oven, slapped some jam on it for good measure, and drank down cold well water or iced tea. It was an amazing combination. Slow cooking a tender piece of pork at low heat had made it taste so amazing right then and there I decided for certain I would be getting another Yorkshire come fall. I went back for seconds.

It was worth skipping lunch, and without realizing it the meal spanned three seasons of work on a small holding of land. It included all the people who were part of the life and death of one Pig I scratched on the head every day. It included Cathy's garden, which she raised from seeds on her own land. It included hand-picked strawberries and cucumbers from the farm stand just down the road. There was King Arthur bread, Cabot butter, and honey in that pork from local bees. I am savoring and adoring this local food month. It has stopped me from ordering Chinese or Pizza in town, even at my most-weak moments. It has included more meals with friends, more time refining skills, and trips to farms and dairies all over my adopted county.

We talked and laughed, then when all were breathing a little deeper and hunger gone, the boys helped clean up and then we all went out for evening farm chores to the sound of distance thunder. We fed the sheep and Jasper, took care of all the souls in the rabbitry (now 7 adult rabbits and 7 kits), fed and watered the chickens, and came inside just as sky started seriously considering a storm. We ate warm strawberry pie (collateral damage from having extra defrosted berries and some pie crust from last weekend's quiche in the freezer). As wind picked up and the hour hit 6 (late for a family with a flock of chickens— garden, a hive and a beef steer to tend too—we said goodbye and I thanked them for their help and company. The Daughton's left with ruby and green jars and some young sunflowers I planted from seed.

Put up food and the start for a big yellow flower... talk about optimistic gifts. Those of us who grow food expect to be around a little longer. Every canning afternoon or seed in the ground is a prayer for time, silent in voice but screaming in action, a happy, little desperate plea to stick around this place long enough to break a seal and hold a blossom.


Blogger Asia said...

Every word you write makes me long for land, to grow, rise, feed.
You bring all of people who read your words just that bit closer to having a farm, homestead.
We are there with you, as you walk trough the pasture to see Jasper, we share your joy at finding new life under brooding hen, we look at your life and smile, hoping one day we could do fraction of what you do with same grace and passion.
Thank you for what letting us into your life, teaching how to live like true woman of the land: dirt stained hands, rain wet hair, bread in the oven smile on the face beautiful women.

June 26, 2011 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Tora Consolo said...

I agree with Asia. Your writing makes me long for a little freehold of my own with sheep and maybe a herd of alpaca. I'm honored to read your words Jenna and bless you for them daily. Thank you!

June 26, 2011 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger daisy said...

Sounds like a splendiferous day!

June 26, 2011 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger dk said...

Jenna - you make every girl dream of a little place in the country and a community of like minded souls to share it with.

June 26, 2011 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger rabbit said...

i made my very own REAL jam on saturday, i had dabbled in freezer jam previously but last week i bought the equipment and saturday morning picked around 25 lbs of strawberries from a local farm down the road from me.... then i jammed! it was lovely. i can't wait to get into the remaining strawberries - i have big plans for them. and of course i concur with your first commentor, every sentence you write brings my resolve that much tighter to living simply and more sustainably

June 26, 2011 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger judy said...

Well that's makes 3 of us that love the way words fall off your tongue like the syrupy sauce on your strawberry jam.---- */*

June 26, 2011 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Dreaming of Jeanie said...

You're such a good writer! You make me want to run away to a farm. Kudos.

June 26, 2011 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger CallieK said...

Yet another post hat made me feel like I was right there with you!

If you ever want to make dill pickles from scratch check out my dad's recipe here:

I've been making these since I was 8 years old and it's the recipe I teach novice canners so I'm sure it's as easy as that premixed packet to make.

June 26, 2011 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

Another afternoon made very special just having read how your day went with friends and good food. I appreciate so much you sharing the details of life at CAF so very much.

June 26, 2011 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger bree said...

Another juicy post. I am not a farmer (I live in the country & I have a small vegetable garden) but I love reading about you and your farm. I love reading about food, animals and everyday life.

June 26, 2011 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger Drummond Farms Alpacas and Woolens said...

All I can think to say is...Amen.

June 26, 2011 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I CANNOT WAIT to raise a pig.

I adore your writing!

I too love the feeling that comes from eating a plate of food that you nurtured.

I want more people to have this experience.

Everyone needs to say the phrase "pickle packet" out loud right now. :D

June 26, 2011 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Taryn Kae Wilson said...

I can so relate to your appreciation of local food! It just tastes So darn good! And it makes for the most satisfying meals!
We continue to have a more local diet all the time. I wrote about my gratitude for some local eats in today's post:

Also, I started a tradition called Gratitude Sunday and would be delighted to have you join.

Love to you,

June 26, 2011 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Casie said...

I really wish you were one of our neighbors. Sounds like a wonderful day to share with friends.

June 26, 2011 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

A lovely post, as usual. We're just finishing up the last of the beef in our freezer from last years local half-cow and the last of the fruits from last years local fruits. Since it's still cool here in NW Washington, we're still enjoying crisp, fresh salads from our garden.

June 26, 2011 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Local food has a flavor that can't be beat. I can't wait to have my homestead. Until then it's planter boxes and trips to the Farmers Market the next town over. Hit it Saturday and came home rich in many ways.

June 27, 2011 at 1:07 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

Sounds like a fantastic end to a day. The only improvement I can think of is for you to make your own butter. I too use Cabot when I don't have my own but homemade is super easy and sooooo much better. I use raw Jersey cream skimmed off the gallon I buy down the road but it is also possible to buy just the cream.

June 27, 2011 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

Your last words resonate to instensely this year for me. We have been waiting for three years to move from our urban space to a rural farm so I never invested in the garden the way I wanted. Last year I finally said, "screw it" and did it anyway. I turned our front yard into a full garden, got chickens and we are now finally moving. Its hard to watch and tend a garden that I will not fully harvest but I am so glad I put my energy into my intentions. My soul needs to nurture growing things.

June 27, 2011 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Harpy 101 said...

Thanks for voicing that thought! I've lived close to death many times, so that knell, that toll-to-be, is always waiting in my head like the morning alarm that will sound off any minute to wake me. I think of myself as extremely optimistic and kind of brash to be planting, to be putting up food. Remembering that aspect of it just makes these acts all the more invigorating, and adds a hushed chuckle to my chores.
Thanks, also, for yet another sample of Jenna prose to quote on Facebook. I post quotes from your prose about once a month or so (and, of course, post the link to your blog). My friends always love them.

June 27, 2011 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Jenna, you are a poet. :)

June 27, 2011 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger damnyankee said...

That last paragraph is an ass kicker....

June 27, 2011 at 5:10 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

sunflowers are my favorite part of my garden. they're currently taller than i am but not yet blooming..come on!!!

i'm surprised you didn't go with ruby and emerald jars and make a wizard of oz those heels, there's no place like home!

June 27, 2011 at 11:29 PM  

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