The Farmer’s Cafe – Terra Ortus
by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
For the mass of us, the connection between food and farming is dry, distant, awkward, academic. We do not associate the squeaking sticky wet-sand dig with the flavor, smell and texture of clams because we buy them off the shelf. We do not associate the crystalline departing cold and invasive spring warmth and apiarian ballet amongst bouquets of apple blossoms with the resultant fruit in the supermarket bins. Most of us cannot, no CAN NOT, no WILL NOT, be bothered by the terrible tactile truths of where and how our meats come to us. And many of us haven’t a clue. We are separated, artificially, by contrived modern circumstance, from all that would define us. Ah, but if we only knew what meaning we deny ourselves, what music, what dance steps, what loveliness, what purpose. Eyes, mind, pores and hands open we may actually borrow from the waiting backside of tomorrow a vital warmth.
There is the potential, realized in many small cultures, that every meal spring from the living life of all its components, most certainly and definitively including the food preparer and the consumer. A handful of people know of a rare and superior variety of melting cheese which is produced from the milk of an obscure breed of cattle. And only from the milk of French August. And only from those cows which pastured a certain high elevation legume mix on certain mineral rich soil. The songs may even go so far as to suggest that the cattle were called by a brass and glass throaty singing female call and that those same young women were humming while they milked. The resulting cheese, they would tell you, can never be fully understood in any scientific way. But the people of this cheese see and taste in it not only the mountain pastures and the cattle but the pastures of the past and those possible in the future. They see in the cheese what must have been the look of their ancestral grandmother as she hummed to the lactating ancestral grandmother of today’s cow. And they see and feel and taste the specific historical miseries, terrors and losses of that same living landscape in that cheese. There should be a word for this, we need a word available to us which speaks to all these connections, all this history, all this value. The fact that we do not have, in common use, this word, tells us we have lost this connection.
The battlefield of our near future will be the countertops and academic journals of the life sciences. It will become, has in some respects already become, the moral and ethical equivalent of a dirty unwelcome war. Humanity does not belong in this war with nature, she cannot win control over genetic codes and the deeper mysteries of life. Many of us do not want a part of this war. As with that French cheese, the power and value of what we identify as a living piece of us, our place in a culture of absolute interdependence with all of biology, is tied to the implicit fact that we must honor what we don’t know while working to protect it. The war is set to make of us social heretics if not actual outlaws. Heretics because we dare not believe that science in service to business will deliver us from the evils of an untamed biological universe. Outlaws because we insist on keeping heirloom seeds and livestock breeds when told this is illegal. In spite of the posture we find ourselves in, one of fear and loathing, it is difficult but necessary to avoid being drawn into the battle.
We must understand that the only way we will keep a “living life” alive is to keep it to ourselves, actually and metaphorically. All of the vital connective tissues of our recipes and formulas and remembered procedures must be guarded and held in buried jars and secret coded texts. We can never succeed politically, legally or scientifically to end the war against the sanctity of life because we fight the larger arrogance of the dehumanized powerful few who believe they will improve biology. The only way we will win this war is to make our secret knowledge something mankind comes to realize it cannot live without. Until then we must keep the names we call our sheep, seeds, farming methods, compost recipes and each other secret. Otherwise these things may be stripped from us. We need to hide our true farming and smile while we accept the heapings of ridicule. We must speak only in fanciful fictionesque story-like recipes laced with unforgivable romance and…
Poached Chicken in a Pot – terra ortus – with apologies to LaVarenne Pratique.
This is a complete meal, the cooking broth may be served as soup, followed by the stuffed chicken with vegetables. Best served where all who partake may have a view of gardens, trees and fields. This recipe serves eight adult appetites magnificently IF they have worked in that garden, field and kitchen. However if those served are able-bodied yet indolent pleasure seekers, the layers, transparencies and textures of the meal’s ingredients, (along with their histories) will be diluted and somewhat wasted.
- 6 – 9 pound stewing chicken. (Preferrably the Patridge Cochin or Black Astralorp hen which never laid an egg and was always first at the feed trough. You or your mate have butchered and cleaned this bird.)
- 1 onion studded with two cloves. (The Borrettana Cipollini onion came from your kitchen garden. The cloves from a jar in the pantry where you keep superb goodies you have traded for from pen pal farmers in other climates.)
- Large bouquet garni: preferably fresh (but no older than one year, carefully dried to retain color and aroma) your daughter’s herb garden production of thyme, parsley, a bay leaf and a piece of leek green.
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns.
- 1 stalk of garden-grown Afina celery stalk, cut in pieces by the middle son.
- 1 cinnamon stick from that pantry of bartered treasures.
- 1 teaspoon of salt.
- 5 quarts (or more) of water.
For the Stuffing
- 4 slices of dry white homemade oven-crusted bread (which the children kneaded and Daddy added Rosemary to).
- 1 cup of sheep, goat or Ayshire cow’s milk preferably fresh squeezed and directly after the animal had pastured the easterly slope of a field rich in legumes growing tight in mineral rich soil where your grandparents are buried.
- 1 teaspoon of butter from a batch churned by a young woman in the blush of new love and humming with every stroke.
- 1/2 of a Bennie’s Red onion from the garden and chopped.
- The heart and liver of the departed hen.
- 1/2 pound of raw or cooked smoked ham, ground. This from the supply Uncle Joe provided from his own picturesque Hampshire hog farm just down the road.
- 1 glove of Spanish garlic, chopped and sung over with a Cuban lullaby.
- 4 tablespoons of chopped Gigante d’Italia parsely from the plant in the kitchen window box.
- 1 pinch of grated nutmeg from the jewels in the pantry.
- salt and pepper
- 1 hand-gathered egg from the chicken house, beaten to mix.
- 1 1/2 pounds of medium Thumbelina carrots, trimmed. These are the ones which didn’t “look” quite right to make it to the Saturday farmer’s market.
- 2 pounds of garden fresh Siegfried leeks, trimmed and split.
- 1 pound of small White Egg turnips from that small field planted to flush out the pregnant ewes.
- 1/4 pound of very fine handmade noodles using cousin Larry’s wheat.
To make the stuffing: soak mother’s wonderful dry bread in the magic milk for 10 minutes, then squeeze it dry and crumble it. Melt the romantic butter and fry the fragrant onion until soft. Add the stolen chicken liver and heart and saute for 1 to 2 minutes until brown but still pink in the center. Cool slightly while humming, then chop the mixture and guide your children in stirring this into the breadcrumbs with the ham, garlic, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the egg to bind the stuffing.
Stuff the bird’s cavities and tie them closed. Tie the onion, bouquet garni, peppercorns, celery, and cinnamon in cheesecloth. Think about those loved ones you will miss at today’s table and rehearse a poetic toast to them. Put the chicken in a pot with the cheesecloth bag, salt and water to cover, and bring slowly to a boil, skimming often. Send the children and guests to some far corner to do chores or games while you hold your loved one within the kitchen smells and whisper. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour, skimming occasionally. Taste frequently for your own good and with sipping wine or cream sherry. Pull out the plan book and work on ideas for next year’s kitchen garden making sure to add a new variety of garlic and a hinged trellis for the peas.
For the garnish: tie the carrots and leeks in bundles and add them with the turnips. Simmer for another hour or until both chicken and vegetables are very tender. Add more water if necessary so that the bird is always covered. While tending the pot, sketch designs for labels to go on preserve jars destined for the farmer’s market.
Take the chicken out of the stew pot and put it on the cutting board your father made for you. Throw away the trussing strings. Reduce the broth until it is well flavored. Carve the chicken and arrange the pieces artfully on the deep platter your daughter made and decorated. Pile the stuffing on top and the vegetables around the chicken, then cover the dish with foil and keep warm until ready to serve.
A short time before serving, spoon about 1 quart broth into a pan and simmer the noodles for 5 minutes or until tender. Throw away the cheesecloth bag and skim off as much fat as possible. Serve the tureen of noodle soup with the chicken and vegetables. At the dinner table take time to breathe and look, inconspicuously, at each person seated there while thinking of the soil from which all of this has sprung.
Sustenance survival fuel energy taste communion fellowship occasion
Though we must, as guerilla farmers, protect through concealment what we are about, for the time being there seems little harm in, and some value from, identifying and discussing the dragon’s breath.
We have heard and permitted ourselves to say time and again that sad cliche, “It’s a small world.” It is as if we are either sad to discover this, or that there are fewer surprises, or that this is all there is, or that we are worried to discover ourselves to seem bigger than what the world offers us, or that we should align ourselves to accept the small world…
It is not a small world. Our synthetic western societal cocoon is made to give us the illusion of limited. It is far from true. Rather, it is a wide vast unfathomable world. With reasons, and acids, and flavors and outcomes beyond any single or collective imagination. We accept our world as small, tasteless, colorless, antiseptic, grey, predictable, unfortunately safe, cornerless, dry, driveable, fat free, friendly, immediate, and convenient, because we are doped dopes. Our electronic cyberspace needs us to believe it contains ALL the information we would ever need, our electronically-dependent supermarkets need us to believe they contain all the food we would want to eat. Our clever ad agencies need us to believe that their mind-altering tactics are in our best consuming interests. Our videographers depend on the capsule view. Our corporate government needs us to believe that it holds principled concern for our well being. Our corporate boardrooms need us to believe that nothing is more important nor beneficial to all than profitability.
Not only is the world not small, it has a nearly infinite capacity for biological, cultural, and spiritual growth. Whether world means for us our biological universe, our cultural tapestry, or the distances between recognized points, outside of the synthetic western cocoon of limited-life menus, every adventure, every life breeds new biology, culture and distance.
It is a supreme irony which finds corporate commercial dictum molding the gluttony of our modern affluence towards a lifeless pedantic moronic tasteless homogenized consumption of inane shallow little sensations.
At a time when many people should be able to marry education, sophistication and the means to appreciate and SHARE an unqualified passion for the whole of life, that whole which under the lens would give us ownership of a consummate passion for our food – a passion which demands an ever vigilant protection of the sanctity and vitality and diversity of that same food – instead we come as confinement hogs to the offal and chemical-laced troughs of the corporate board rooms.
There are societies thriving today where the history of their crops and livestock, the history of their fields, the history of their farmers, the history of their harvests and storage, the history of their food preparation, and the history of their very meals are at the core of who each individual in that society is. All that is their farming from seed to supper is of their individual and collective essence, it is their soul.
Huevos Reales – Royal Eggs – with apologies to Mexico the Beautiful
As the story goes; the Domenican nuns of Mexico’s Santa Rosa convent used egg whites to paint the convent walls. This dessert recipe was invented to make good use of the remaining yolks.
- 10 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1/3 cup muscat raisins
- cinnamon shavings for garnish
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 7 one inch cinnamon sticks
- 2 tablespoons of dry sherry
Oven at 275. In large bowl beat yolks til thick and creamy. Stir in baking powder. Grease 13 x 9 in. baking dish with butter & pour in egg mix. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes clean. Remove and cool for 10 min. To make syrup, mix the sugar, water and cinnamon in a small heavy saucepan and boil, stirring, for 5 min. until the mix forms a light syrup. Remove from heat and add sherry.
Cut eggs in dish to 1 in. squares. Cover with syrup and garnish with raisins and cinnamon shavings. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
For some of us the connection between food and farming is moist, near, comfortable, and holy. We associate flavors, smells, textures and process, back and forth, between the fields and the kitchen, the table and the barn, the future and the past, the family and the community. It is through this example, even with our secrets intact, that we have profound effect on everyone around us. No one is completely immune from the romance of nuns valueing egg whites to paint the convent walls and appreciating the remaining yolks for the sweets they bring. Wave it away as so much silliness, but the imprint on the soul has made it through your defenses. It is in these ways we are true guerrilla farmers, in these ways we are the pirate chefs of the farmer’s cafe. Eat smile and wink. The strength is yours.