Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Delicious Convergence of Time

I suppose it is premature to start imagining the scent of fresh bread in the oven, baking the flour we have ground from our own wheat from the garden; but one can always hope.  This week, with the help of friends, sections 1 and 4 of the garden were cleared, forked, and replanted with winter wheat.  “Hard Red” winter wheat to be exact.  If the cultivation goes as planned, the broadcasted seeds will germinate in the next few weeks, get established through the fall, go dormant through the winter while serving as a beneficial cover crop, revive and flourish through the spring until ready to harvest in early June.  And then find its way into a few loaves of homemade bread. 

We hope. 
As I say, that's the working premise. 

So, we ordered the organic regional seeds, waited around until the season moved past the garlic, then the corn and finally the potatoes, making available those planting areas for next use, then turned the trenches around.   Focusing the wheat in sections 1 and 4 will leave 2 and 3 free for vegetable planting in mid-May.  Once the wheat is out in early summer we can follow up in those areas with more vegetables.  You know, “staging.” 

We hope.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, that's the idea.

There still remains some tidying up and final sowing in this grand and grainy experiment.  Section 1 continues to cradle two partial rows of sweet potatoes, and section 4 has unfinished business with two rows of okra and one divided between peppers and sorghum; all of which should have finished their runs by the middle of October – barely inside the closing window of wheat planting opportunity, but hopefully time enough to recycle those emptied rows into grain.  And then we cross our fingers and wait.

Meanwhile, a half-inch of rain fell this morning which should jump-start the seeds into germination, and the greenhouse surprised me this morning with sprouting in the containers from the cold-weather lettuce seeds planted earlier this week with winter salads in mind.  

And so it is that we find ourselves looking ahead -- to fresh greens in early winter and fresh bread in early summer, with seed catalogs, soil blocking, and transplanting in between.  

I confess to some awkwardness regarding this business of living so much in the future.  Every religious tradition, after all, places an encouraging premium on mindfulness -- paying full attention to life in the present moment.  And I understand that one can expend so much consciousness on yesterday and tomorrow that today simply implodes for lack of air.  There are, to be sure, tomatoes still on the vine that I refuse to squander; peppers to pick before they turn to squish and okra to pull before they turn to wood.  The present, indeed, makes demands of its own.

But the schoolhouse of this gardening business has taught me that if I have any hope of picking something today I better have thought about it long enough some weeks or months ago to have sown the seeds and pulled the weeds.  Which is to say that the garden seems to be that mystical place where the past and the present and the future join hands in wondrous celebration.  

And we are ones who get to sing along as we pull up a chair to the table, lift a fork and, with a satisfied, anticipatory smile...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shredding Our Way Into the Deeper Recesses of Preservation

Yesterday was sauerkraut day -- our very first attempt.  Last year we had bought a crock at the local farm store, but the cabbage harvest was...well, let's just say "inadequate."  The one small head we actually redeemed from the garden was more than adequately utilized via other culinary techniques.  But this year!  Wow!  Who knows, maybe global warming finally nudged our latitude/longitude into the good cabbage zone.  Or perhaps this year's harvest represents nature's pity before global warming ratchets us completely out of cabbage cultivation.  Or maybe it was simply dumb luck.  Regardless, this year we have the heads.  Dozens of them -- light green, dark green, and purple.

And so we dusted off the crock.

It's too early to comment about our particular efforts.  One has to wait a month or so before the microbial machinations have worked their magic.  But the process seems ridiculously easy.  Cut up the cabbage, massage it with salt, stuff it into a container, cover and wait.  Given the more common precursors to preservation we have been undertaking related to freezing and canning, this seems like a snap.

I will say that the history of the stuff fascinates me.  It turns out that the name doesn't refer to a mad German like I always supposed.  The literal translation is simply "sour cabbage."  Nothing original there.   And Germans don't own the copyright.  The same stuff is found in various cultures -- like in the Netherlands, where it is known as zuurkool, a much hipper sounding word even if it does probably translate the same.  But who was the first to try it -- and why? 

Beginnings like this have always fascinated me.  Who, for example, was the first guy who thought it would be a good idea to crush up a bunch of leaves, wrap them in paper, set it on fire and suck on it - as in a cigarette?  Or what possessed someone to break some eggs into flour, add a bunch of other things, pour it in a pan and stick in the fire, thereby baking the first cake?  I just can't fathom the initiating impulses.  With sauerkraut I can only think it an accident.  In the depths of some long ago frozen northern European winter someone found a bucket in the back of the root cellar that contained the last of the cabbages now gone terribly bad.  Desperate with hunger, starvation knocking at the door, they decided they had nothing left to lose and ate the smelly stuff and, "Voila", a condiment was born.

Now, mind you, I find no such account recorded in any history of the stuff -- although Ghengis Khan seems to play a leading role in the introduction of the stuff which certainly lends credibility to the idea of torturous hardship.  That, and as Chef Dan Barber notes, every true cuisine is born out of the hardship of necessity -- as in "what are we going to do with this stuff?" or "I wonder how we might make this stuff last longer?"  Regardless, the bubbling, gurgling transformation proved a success; the process of fermentation seems to elevate the lowly cabbage into the realm of the especially healthy and nutritious -- chocked full of vitamins B, C and K, rich in enzymes and teeming with good bacteria and probiotics, all with a poverty of calories.  Certain folk cultures have prized sauerkraut as a remedy for canker sores, but I'd rather not explore that application intellectually or pragmatically.  Most of us just put it on sausages, pork chops or Reuben sandwiches -- which pretty well aligns with my plan of consumption.

But not for awhile.  For the next several weeks we will be relegated to waiting, wondering what's going on with all that hidden bubbling, and occasionally skimming off the frothy scum.  And then, on that magical day in early October, looking at each other to see who dares to try it first.

Ghengis Khan, here we come.