Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saturday, What a Day

Yesterday morning was an incredible exercise in luxury.

I woke up, made coffee, then went back to bed to finish a book.

During most of our busy season on the farm there is no opportunity to hang out in bed reading. Bakery hours are early hours. So are markets. Right now Mary is taking care of the early milking, so I did the unthinkable and stayed in my nightgown for hours, finishing up a Dan Brown book recommended to me by Thomas.

Most of the kids spent the night at a friends' house. Rose and Sophie had a sleepover here and fed themselves cereal for breakfast and painted fingernails, read books, played games and otherwise entertained themselves.

What a surprise when I was chatting with Rachel on the phone (myself still clad in sleep clothes) a car drove up to the house.


I hang up, quickly dressed and went down to greet our Nepalese acquaintances who were hoping we had a goat to sell. I wished I could sell them Angel, who is a real thorn in my flesh, but as she is Maggie's dear one, I told them we were all out. They would have to wait until next summer to get a butcher goat from us.

They saw chickens running around and asked if I would sell them one.


We chased and caught eight birds, they put them in their trunk to head home for a big feast. I felt happy to be able to offer them something they would truly appreciate. And didn't even have to pluck the birds or gut them myself.

All the exercise in the mild air gave me energy to go back inside and work on housecleaning. When the kids got back yesterday evening, they came bearing the gift of bear meat. A portion from the gift given them by a neighbor.

Patrick cut the fat off and I put it on the stove to render while we read a few chapters of At the Back of the North Wind. It smelled like bacon. By the time we said our prayers, the grease was rendered. Bits of cracklings were floating on top. I skimmed them, strained the fat into a mason jar, and salted the crispy leftover bits. The boys and I munched on them while watching Greeks and Spartans fight it out over the lovely Helen.

I have eaten bear stew once, but never prepared the meat. Of course, in my humble opinion, most anything fried in fat with a little salt tastes pretty good to me. Little bits of fat fried in fat are especially good (ever had chicharrones in Mexico?). The boys and I were surprised at how sweet the crispy meat was. Did this bear eat a lot of apples in an old orchard?

Part of me finds it kind of hard to eat bear meat. It is not a part of my culture. However it is a part of my culture to not be wasteful, and if someone hunts an animal, eating it makes for a better economy. I have eaten rattlesnake, alligator, squirrel, wild pig and who knows what else my dad brought in to supplement the pastured beef and venison we grew up on.

Bear meat and fat were very important parts of the culture in the early days of our country. Smelling the aroma of the rendering fat on our stove last night made me feel connected to an earlier time.

We have a nice amount of bear meat in our fridge waiting to be turned into some kind of stew. Should I go french, and make a burgundy, with mushrooms and red wine? Irish, with potatoes and parsnips and carrots? Mexican, with cumin and hominy and a jalapeno? Indian, curry style?

Our life, pre-farm, living in the northern NJ suburbs in a cute little neighborhood, or in a historical neighborhood in urban Fort Worth, a boulevard lined with big trees, edged sidewalks and dog walkers, seems so very distant when I think about the rarity of reading in bed, chasing chickens for someone's supper, and rendering bear grease.

All in a day's work.

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