Cabbages are so patient. They sit placidly, watching you grab up the sensational summer veggies, the tomatoes and the summer squash…they are silent as you devour the last of the cantaloupe and the watermelon, juice dribbling down your chin.
Occasionally they are called upon to partake in an impromptu stir-fry…but resilient as they are to the elements and to the insects, they are often the last garden vegetable to be celebrated in the kitchen. When their time finally arrives, and they are plucked from their watching places beneath umbrellas of Winterbor Kale, the farm is a quieter place. The broilers have been harvested, thanks to one day of non-stop clucking and plucking. The horses have put the gardens to bed. The last tuber has been unearthed, and it’s cousins have already graced the soup pot for potato-leek soup suppers with hot biscuits and butter. It is the plump and humble cabbage we find ourselves most admiring before the wood stove fires of Fall and Winter…as we comfort ourselves with sausages and homemade sauerkraut. It takes 6 weeks for cabbage to ferment and become proper kraut…well worth the wait. Condiment becomes King then…when we find our farm-raised pork a good excuse to eat copious amounts of kraut.
Our wee dairy herd of goats are becoming cabbage –shaped themselves, as their bellies bulge with babies, thanks to the late, not-so-great, obnoxious French Alpine goat we were given last Fall. He had been found as an orphan in the woods, and like so many other literary orphans, was possessed of singular character and brash boldness.
I am continually amazed at genetics, on the farm, as I watch his daughter, Mandy Mae, sprint and spring about, the spitting image of her pops. Mandy Mae is 8 weeks old and she can leap up onto our round bales as if they are mere stepping stones… sprint the whole row of them, leaping over the little chasms between them and scampering downs their sides to skid to a halt at the gate. Her mother was a Nubian and being a cross-bred creature, her ears flop straight out like side pony-tails whenever she is careening about on one of her sprees. Her spunk has already served her well, as we had to put her mother down before Mandy Mae was properly weaned. Shooting a dairy goat in the head is like putting down your own dog. It’s the toughest of all farm culls to bring about. But it is your affection for the doe that pulls you through it. We found our Lupe with a broken leg on evening, as they were coming up from their bottom pastures. Her leg dangled from the hock, and you could bend it sideways. It was stomach lurching to see. Because the goats and cows graze at different lengths, and often different plants, we graze them together during the summer…I suspect that somehow, Honey may have injured her, as she plodded on oblivious to all except the routine of barn and comfort at day’s end. It is bittersweet to see her image on the cover of this month’s issue of the Voice of the River Valley.
During the summer the continuous work of planting, weeding, and harvesting in the heat tends to desensitize us to the miracle that is soil…and the unseen biological forces at work beneath our fingertips. Fall’s arrival, and the fruiting of many kinds of fungi as we take our leaf collecting walks along the Southern fence line of the farm, and down into our “hidden valley” reminds us of how very much we depend upon these organisms which we cannot see and do not begin to understand working within our dirt. I have read of a fungus that was discovered in Washington and covered 1,500 acres,
But numbers of mushrooms found in European forests are down, and their weights are decreasing. Some speculation is that this is due to pesticides and to air pollution. The average Joe of us, pulling on our shoes in the morning, and getting on with our coffee and bagels and commute to work may not feel prodded to pay attention to mushrooms, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. If the idea of terroir appeals to our sensibilities, as it does to many now, trending as it is, we should very much pay attention to our fungi, as they are responsible for the different regional varieties of cheeses and sourdoughs and wines that we enjoy.
My siblings valiantly swallowed theirs down with little difficulty, and in solidarity had suggested many helpful hints at accomplishing the task: “Don’t bite down, just take a small piece and swallow it like a pill.!” Or my favorite: “If you plug your nose as you eat it, its not half bad!”
My other early impression of mushrooms furnished me with something of a folklorian superstition about them, and occurred during an outing while attending college in Santa Paula, CA. My then boyfriend, now husband, and I had been invited to the tennis club in Ojai, and eager to shed the furrowed brow and mental overloading an afternoon of Euclidean Geometry has wrought in us, we suited up and jumped in the car, to navigate the switchbacks along the narrow road to Ojai. On the courts, we met Bill, “legal council to the stars” who peppered his conversation with so very much name dropping I found it very hard to stifle fits of giggling, so farcical was our discourse.
He spoke so casually of Brad and Jen (this was back when Brad and Jen were still Brad and Jen) and most enthusiastically of all of a Native American medicine man, who he had gone to see, and who had given him this very special mushroom, which gave him visions and flushed his whole being of emotional toxins which he had been laboring under for years. Soon we found ourselves in his backyard, gazing at the works of art that he had painted while under the kaleidoscopian influence of the magical mushroom. “Different shrooms do different things” he said to us, with a knowing, nodding glance. Just as I found myself wondering how on earth we had gotten there he offered us two pieces of apple pie, and we were off…pausing only once on our journey back to campus, to dump our desserts into a trash bin…lest they contain some kind of hallucinogenic shroom.When we began farming my acquaintance with mushrooms was not much furthered, and certainly not positive…as the observation of them in the garden or in the flower pots indicated too much moisture. Lately the field mushrooms, puff-balls, and psalliota have brought our “homeschooling” into full swing again. The girls have been snatching up the golden and fiery leaves that the oaks and aspens and maples are now shedding,as well as the last of the queen anne’s lace, and are pressing them between parchment paper in our heavy coffee table collection of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Invariably, during these rambling we find mushrooms…and not being versed enough to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous, and thus put them to use in the kitchen and Winter store cupboard, we are taking advantage of them for the purpose of study
Imagine our goose-pimpled delight, when after walking some distance along a woodland trail at the county park near our farm, and discovering various mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, I regaled them with the details about this extremely poisonous mushroom, one nibble of which will kill an adult. “It is called the Destroying Angel because it is all white,” I told them “White gills, white cap, white stalk…there are other all white mushrooms, but this one is particularly beautiful.”