"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Swine Squared (Women's Work?)

KWe have acquired two new pigs. To get a pig or not to get a pig, in any given year, is one of the larger farm-related decisions we make. Pigs can be profitable, and of course they are delicious, but pigs are also expensive and destructive. 

The price of weaned pigs has risen precipitously in the last several years - from about $75 to about $140. And with pig food running at $15 per 50# sack, that means that pigs are only profitable if we can generously supplement thier diet with free food - AKA the Gleaner's Pantry. (http://newtofarmlife.blogspot.com/2013/10/scavenge-city-gleaners-pantry.html?m=1)

The problem is, that in order to seriously supplement the diet of not one, but two pigs, we would have to go to the gleaner's twice a week. And that's a hell of a lot of work. Frankly, more work than I am prepared to do. Accordingly, I told my husband that we could get pigs if and only if he would sometimes take my place at gleaner's.

He reacted with poorly concealed horror. He squirmed and he hemmed and hawed. He looked at the floor. 

"What's the problem?" I asked. "I've been doing it alone for three or four years now, and you know how much work it is. I'm tired." 

"Well," he said, practically digging a hole In the floor with his toe, "there's only women there." 

"What?" I was a little taken aback. "That's not true! There's always a guy
or two.... Usually..."

I'm surprised at myself that my first impulse was to deny the truth - yes, gleaner's is a women's organization and
fully 90% of the people there are of the female persuasion. Why was my instinctual response an attempt to soothe my husband's discomfort, rather than a challenge to the implicit assumption that he couldn't possibly be expected to be the only man in a room full of women, even for one hour? 

Could it possibly be because I've been conditioned to believe that a man's psychological comfort is more important than my time, my effort, or my feelings? That part of my job as a woman and especially as a wife is to protect him from the need to ever confront his unconscious sexism? 

Nah. Couldn't be.

So, without insisting on a discussion of the underlying gender dynamics, I simply said "well, I don't think I can commit to going to gleaner's that often. I guess we won't get any pigs. Even though - look!- these beautiful well-grown piglets are available at an extremely good price." 

As I suspected, Homero's anticipatory hunger won out over his conditioned reluctance to do what had been branded in his mind as "women's work." He said he'd help me get food from gleaner's to feed the pigs. And so we went and bought these incredibly adorable and healthy, larger-than-usual pigs. 

We've had the pigs for two weeks, however, which means six opportunities to go to gleaner's, and Homero has yet to go in my stead. So maybe the joke's on me. 

It was hilarious to watch Haku interacting with the pigs. He clearly had no idea what they were - maybe puppies? He tried to play with them like puppies. He made a play bow, and the pigs looked at him and snuffled. Next he tried pawing them, which they didn't like. 

Even a baby pig is fully capable of defending itself against your average dog. When Haku got too rough, the pigs charged him and bit. Haku snarled in retaliation, and then I stepped in to scold him.

"Gentle!" I said.

"Gentle" is probably the word Haku knows best, after "no." As soon as he heard me say "gentle," he stopped roughhousing and started quietly licking the pigs along the ribs.

The pigs, under this treatment, went into a trance and slowly toppled over on thier sides.  I love this about pigs. Scratch them gently, and they just roll over and lay there with silly smiles on their snouts, legs stiffly akimbo. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Merry Mabon (Be Prepared)

Mabon is one of the eight high festivals of the ancient Celtic calendar, and one of my favorites. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the autumnal equinox can be counted on to be one of the loveliest times of the year. The sky will almost always be electric blue, the temperature a comfortable 70 degrees, and the golden afternoon will nearly always fade to a crisp evening full of stars. This year is no exception.  I've been enjoying many beautiful afternoons lately out with the goats and a good book.

Mabon is the middle harvest, out of three. Lammas, or midsummer, is the festival of the early harvest. Here, we celebrate flowers, snap peas, spinach and other tender greens, eggs and milk. The late harvest is celebrated at Samhain, or Halloween. Pumpkins and gourds, nuts, and those crops which are improved by frost such as parsnips and kale. Mushrooms.

But here, the richest harvest is the middle harvest. I have been writing about nothing but the harvest lately, so I don't want to repeat myself, but I can't resist a little bit of harvest poetry.

Blue plums, on the branch and on the ground
wonton in abundance and in sweetness
a feast for wasps
hazelnuts, walnuts and chestnuts
glossy shells peering through their spiny husks
green beans and shelly beans and dry beans
rattling in the pod
still clinging to the yellow vines
thistle down and burdock root
blown dandelion and amaranth
pasture grass seed headed and heavy 
nearly horizontal
apples and apples and apples and apples
pears upon pears upon pears
fall raspberries, few and golden
blackberries, insouciantly out of reach
late potatoes, asleep in the loam
sweet corn and field corn and popcorn 
tall and tasseled, dressing up the landscape
staunch chard and sturdy kale
cabbages, round and ready
opening their outer leaves
proud to embody
the crisp green heart of fall. 

Today I dressed the altar for Mabon. I removed my Demeter icon and replaced her with a painting of autumn leaves. I laid down pears from our trees and chestnuts that I found on a walk, along with the last two blooms on my rosebush. It looks like there are several bottles of beer on the altar, but actually those are several bottles of home-brew apple cider, which I bottled today. I was a bit short on bottles, so I am enjoying the excess cider as I write this. 

Mabon is a time of preparation. In the most literal sense of course, a time of preparation for winter. Have I preserved the harvest? Is the freezer full? The bank account? Can we pay the second half property taxes? Do the children have winter coats? Are there home repairs that need to be completed before the rains start, or before it freezes? It is good to be reminded, via the calendar, to pay attention to the mundane work of the season. But for those who are so inclined, Mabon is an appropriate time to address other kinds of readiness. 

For those who choose to do so, this is a good time to ask not just what is the state of my larder,  but what is the state of my soul? What is the state of my marriage? How about my health? Have I done what I need to do to prepare for the next phase of my life? How about my children, have I laid a path for them to follow? Maybe I should write a will. Do my loved ones know what my wishes are?

These are hard, deep questions, and I don't know about you, but when I decide to think about them in a serious way, I want divine guidance. Far be it from me to suggest who anyone ought to pray to, but there are some gods and goddesses associated with this time of year, the time of perfect balance between light and dark. These are the threshold crossers; those numinous beings who are equally at home in the underworld and the world of light. My personal guide at this season is Persephone, bride of the God of the underworld. She joyfully sinks into the earth to meet her husband every fall and she joyfully rises again every spring to blossom in the sun. She is both the queen of the dead and the resurrected daughter of the dawn. She is the wisdom that comes at life's end and the hope that is manifest in the first signs of every spring. 

painting of Persephone I did many years ago

When I appeal to her, I ask her to grant me the ability to sit quietly in the midst of doubt and fear, in darkness and uncertainty. To stay balanced in the muddled middle until answers make themselves known.  I ask her to show me what are those aspects of my being that need to be brought up out of the depths and into the light of day? How can I make manifest and concrete those inklings and urges that want to remain hidden? Which of them should be lifted up and which of them should be remanded to outer darkness? Help me decide what belongs in the light and what belongs in the dark. Where, O Persephone, are the roots and where are the shoots? Help me give the right gifts to each, that each may be nurtured and come to full fruition. Help me, in this season of balance, to find the right balance in my life.

Help me to see the beauty in the bones, in the deepness, in the decay and the quiet work of winter. Help me to honor necessary rest, to partake in necessary rest, help me to gather and to guard my strength through the long dark, that I might rise renewed as you do, ready and refreshed. Blessed be the sacred season of repose, and thank you for the hospitality of the velvet earth.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Preserving a Peck of Peppers

The harvest season is winding to a close. Of course it's only September, and a good deal of produce is yet to come
- winter squash, more apples, more
pears, mushrooms. The harvest won't be over for quite some time. What I mean is that MY preserving season is winding down. 

I had a wonderful season this year; better, I think, than any in recent memory. I've been canning salsa in small batches all year - from Gleaner's produce - so I won't even count that. Real summer preserving this year involved making a ton of fermented pickles (the fridge is still full of jars); drying what felt like
hundreds of plums and pears; canning bread and butter pickles, dilly beans, pear sauce and applesauce; and even making wine and cider! 

Yesterday I did what I think will probably be my last canning of the year (not counting gleaner's salsa). I had a couple pounds of beautiful small green hot peppers. I'm not sure of the variety because I bought them from a farm stand, but they looked like green cayennes. Since I still have plenty of home canned jalapeños in vinegar, I decided to use these ones for pepper jelly. 

Not everybody likes pepper jelly - my husband for one thinks it is a bizarre substance, but I love it. Alas, I am just 
not very good at making jelly. There are still six - count em six - pints of straw berry syrup in the cabinet that was supposed to be strawberry jam. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but my jelly often, well, fails to gel. 

This time it was sort of a half-success. It did gel, not very firmly but firm enough. It isn't syrup. And it tastes good. But I don't care for how it turned out aesthetically. It's kind of an ugly algae green color and most of the pepper bits sank to the bottom before it really gelled. It is still delicious on a cracker with chèvre, and I know we are capable of going through it, but I had hoped to send off little jars of pepper jelly as Christmas presents this year, and I don't think these are pretty enough. 

Oh well - another harvest that is still going on is the Salmon harvest. I haven't smoked any salmon yet this year. Last year I sent everybody smoked salmon for Christmas, and I didn't hear any complaints. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Is There Anything as Good as Apple Cider?

Oops, that's a picture of bowls full of cherries. When I selected the thumbprint, I thought it was buckets of apples. Oh well - doesn't matter. I didn't take any pictures of the first - and probably only - cider pressing of the year, because I was too busy pressing cider!

We didn't make any cider at all last year, and I missed it. Cidering is very hard work - even if you can convince other people to bring you apples so you don't have to pick them all yourself. But it is so, so worth it. There's almost nothing as good as that first drink of fresh apple cider after the sweat and the aching back of cidering.

Things that are not as good as fresh apple cider:

- finding a twenty dollar bill in the laundry

- coming home to an unexpectedly clean house

- seeing a movie you thought was going to be dumb but it turned out to be really good after all

- losing five pounds somehow without even really trying

- (average) sex

- a phone call from an old friend

- when you thought you were wrong in an argument but later you read something and find out you were right all along

Things that are almost as good as fresh apple cider:

- getting a handwritten letter in the mail from an old friend

- finding a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk

- surprise bouquet of your favorite flowers from the husband AND an unexpectedly clean house

- discovering a really, really great new author

- that dream, that one dream, swimming effortlessly underwater like a mermaid in a coral garden

- the hot bath you take after a hard day's work on the farm

- baby goats

Things that are better than fresh apple cider: 

- only you know the answer to this one. We each have a different answer and I'm not telling mine.