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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In the incessant rains

March wet, April wetter. The Lacinato kale is in bloom. Potatoes coming up, some of which have been knocked back by frost damage. Greens actually are doing well in the middle far bed, beyond the held-over leeks. Raspberry canes look pretty good. The orchard is blooming on schedule but sees few bees in this weather. Buckwheat has sprouted in the fallow bed but is languishing, while weeds grow apace. I've tried to mow the pasture, but as it never dries, it stays ahead of me.

I've spent a lot of time indoors. The year's supply of fats needed to be thawed and moved into a more usable form. For the ham drippings, I've come up with a system based on the ice cube storage of herbs I've seen around the Web.

The cubes freeze in a couple of hours and can be dumped into a double plastic bag or tub for retrieval by ones and twos for cooking projects. As the plastic trays become more or less permanently greasy, I simply bag them up as well and store them in the freezer until the next batch of fats comes along. The cubes are terrifically handy; just drop one in every pot of split peas, lentils, beans, or what have you, and you're good to go.

The chicken broth left over from Christmas dinner had been saved for me by someone who simply set a large bowl, with lid, full of the stuff in the freezer. I turned the bowl upside down in our biggest stock pot and set it on the wood stove, and after the audible "plop" a little while later, I retrieved the bowl.

Once the iceberg had thawed, I discovered it held the entire skeleton (less head) of the bird, with substantial meat still on it, so the broth project became a "chicken soup" project. I ladled out the contents, less bones, of the stock pot into eight-ounce recycled yogurt containers, labeled and lidded them, and set them all in the freezer. One of these, partially thawed a day ahead in the refrigerator, goes well with rice or homegrown potatoes at lunch. I add a little kale or other greens every time, at the last minute so as not to turn them into green slime.

I'm cooking potatoes daily now; not for us so much as for the chickens, who love a split, steaming spud tossed over the fence -- or ten, or twenty. The seed potatoes I have room for -- Yukons, Reds, and German Butterballs -- are in the ground, my friends got all they wanted from me last year, and there are four tubs of them left over from the winter. So I make up a stock pot full, have a lunch on the better looking ones, drain the pot, let it cool a bit, and carry out to the clamoring flock. This cuts down wonderfully on bought-in feed, along with the pumpkins and squash that got the same treatment over the winter.

Other than such activities, it's been reading, writing a little, keeping up with old friends, and finding and posting doomy stuff to Facebook and Google Plus. As a last resort, not being a television family but willing to stream things on a laptop on otherwise slow evenings, we've become enamored of old BBC garden shows and historic lifestyle studies. Example: Tales from the Green Valley -- Archaeologists and historians running a sixteenth century farm for a year. Another is Victorian Kitchen Garden -- how the walled gardens of the rich kept their tables supplied throughout the entire year without modern refrigeration (it helps to have a lot of skilled but virtually enslaved labor).

What these programs make abundantly clear is that food production without either a well-established food forest or a gigantic tractor is not for sissies. We wondered, while watching the sixteenth century, how we would have fared in such a setting, as we are now in our sixties. We concluded that we would have starved to death without younger families members shouldering the bulk of the load. The modern nuclear family is an inelastic social form. In any really serious energy/economic descent, folks who can successfully move back in together will have a decided edge.

When Beloved and I were younger, we spent a lot of time in the evenings playing Scrabble. That's been on hold awhile as our energy has ebbed and workloads increased through the nineties and oughts and into the teens -- and will stay so until she joins me in retirement, in another year -- "God willin' an' the' crick don't rise."

We taught the kids the classic board games in the Eighties and we still have those, along with many good books and some decent acoustic instruments. I feel these may actually become necessary social lubricant at some point.

My advice? If you expect to try to survive for an extended period on what can be done at home and/or locally, rediscover the ways in which you can stand to be cheek by jowl with other generations -- even when cooped up together in the incessant rains.


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