break a seal, hold a blossom
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.