Saturday, May 30, 2009

Photos from The Little Land

The Little Land

An Early Bean Springing in The Little Land

My neighbor and I are sharing the crops of The Little Land. The owners of the land, Jeannie and Doug, have a triple and a half lot urban parcel that is rich in history and botanically diverse. The house was built in 1890 which is old for this area. It has a well in the basement. There is an english walnut tree and a black walnut tree that are as old as the house. Jeannie is a potter and tends two bee hives and one third of their property for their food. The lawn, which takes up another third of the property, was bigger before we dug it up. Now the lawn is about 1000 square feet less than it was.

Originally, sharecropping was an agricultural system for non-landowners, especially former slaves, to have land to till. At the end of the season, the sharecropper paid the land owner a portion of the crop profits. The system evolved across the southern United States after the reconstruction of the post Civil War south with the intent to provide a means of livelihood for the highly skilled and newly freed agricultural laborers, in most cases former slaves. Certainly, a variety of arrangements between land owner and sharecropper evolved. Some were mutually beneficial for laborer and owner while other arrangements were weighted heavily towards the owner. In fact, this old system still wields a strong hand in shaping our modern migrant and farm laborer rights.

But The Little Land's arrangement is an arrangement born out of community. This modern sharecropping came about through conversations and relationships that have evolved out of living in a neighborhood for a number of years. My farming partner Robin taught the landowners children acrobatics. I first met the landowners when our lives intersected in non-profit food education. Robin and I know each other because we are neighbors and we have something in common; we love to grow food, cook and eat together. This year we were looking for a way to grow more.

The three and a half lot place had a lot of food growing on it when we arrived. In addition to the owners vegetable garden, walnut trees and bee hives, there are numerous fruit trees. I watch and photograph everything on The Little Land as it changes. There is a plum tree, two different cherry trees, an apple and a pear tree. Also there are raspberries, rhubarb, grapes, currants and a very crazy hairy kiwi. Thank you bees.

The Little Land will have artichokes, summer and winter squash, tomatoes galore, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, garlic and a host of peppers. Coming up are beets, carrots, corn, beans, cucumbers and mustards. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, basil, cilantro and frisee. On these heels will come collards, onions, kales, turnips and potatoes. We are growing what we like to eat.

So far the sharing of crops is a verbal agreement and remains open to design much like the way the kiwi grows. In my mind I am canning jams, jellies, pickles, making walnut liquor and tomato sauce and putting jars on the shelves and in the freezers of three houses. There will be dried cherries for winter manhattens and scones and corn for grinding I hope. I like to believe that this bounty of diverse foods will promote a movement of edible goodness to and through the households without a lot of accounting. And the benefits will far outweigh the need to provide an rigid economic accounting system and instead will include value added for time, relationships and gifting. Though I am wary of assumptions about who's is what and in what amount, I am also reluctant to keep a close tally of expenses though I am- partly for our records and partly to keep the scales balanced.

And yet so far as I can hear, the owners are simply happy that the soil is being productive and the water that previously nourished the lawn will soon be nourishing bodies. I feel that this experiment of good intentions will have no problems other than too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Traditional pig killing and butchering in the Transylvanian villages of Romania.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Recipe for Transylvania Rose Hip Jam

Daily over five weeks, I see rose hips in the wild, in cars passing by, on the backs of Romas and in the heavy bags sitting in the sun up against Emeneni’s house. She has two full bags of hand picked wild rose hips, about forty pounds in all. These wild rose hips are small and seedy and not at all like the big beach plum rose hips of the North American Atlantic coast. The Transylvanian rose hips are more like the wild rose hips of the Nootka or Dog roses in the Pacific Northwest, maybe smaller. Good for bears and birds, a lot of work for people.

It is Friday morning and Emeneni is already working. Large red and brown enamel pots simmer on the wood stove and hips are sorted into three qualities- perfect, rotten and use immediately. Her friend, a widow dressed for years in black, comes, goes and sets the pace for the day. She brings more equipment- grinders and screens- but little labor; “the arthritis is too bad”. The cat, splayed in the warm sun on the concrete threshold, measures the morning in naps, forages, and chases. Emeneni’s husband Imre brings tools and solutions. Clouds gather in the distant sky, calling down the high cool air of late October.

During my stay, I eat rose hip jam with bread. I eat the jam mixed into polenta for dessert after a course of polenta with milk and a course of polenta with cheese. Yes, three courses of polenta for dinner. Rose hip jam is a silky good balance of sweet and tart and bridges the distance between the two. It can play with cured meat, onion, cheese, corn, nuts, butter and cream.

Sitting next to Emeneni on the old chipped chair and with our backs into the morning sun, she instructs me with hand signs and smiles and shows me what she wants- the right hips to perfect her standards. Though there is no way to tell what the process will be, the vast amounts of rose hips, the simple equipment, time of day and number of hands involved in the work all say “ long and slow”. I settle into this work meditation and remember gossamered thoughts about staying in a monastery.

Rose hip jam is a welcome gift. Not many people make it at home anymore because it is a tedious process. Mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, aunts and friends politely disagree about the general process, about how much cooking and sugar is needed and whether or not to use pectin. This is the women’s world and the men ante their assistance without crossing the threshold. There is constant reassessment and adjusting to do.

The longest day is ten hours and we eat, at 3:30, in a tired silence. We eat Emeneni’s old school pork sausage stored in the pantry in pork fat. She cooks them in sour cabbage and serves them with mashed potatoes. We drink local bottled water. We eat in the not-for-working kitchen and then go back to the for-working one. Emeneni’s grandson comes for money to get an ice cream at the corner ABC store. The neighbor checks on our progress and shakes her head. The cat is kicked out from under the stove. There is a constant flow of work, silence, laughter and people passing through the day, the door, and the production. We leave at 8’o clock at night in a downpour and with two large pots to finish at home over the next two days. The potholed drive home sloshes the jam into the seat beds and I smile as I think of child size fingers and sticky seat belts during the next drive to school.

The Recipe
Get the rose hips after the first frost. They are sweeter. Hand-sort the rose hips. Toss the ones with black spots to the chickens and split the remaining between two buckets: softest ones for “immediate use” jam and firmer ones for stored jam. Boil the hips long enough to soften. Cool ever so slightly. Pass through a meat grinder. Loosen with boiling water. Remove the seeds by passing through a sheet metal screen with holes and mounted in a wooden frame. Bury the seeds. Loosen with boiling water. Pass through a fine mesh screen in a wooden frame to remove the hairs. Boil to reduce water content. Add sugar. Reduce more to thicken. Put in jars. Store. Use to stave off winter colds.

Yield: Enough for a winter of family and friends.
Labor: Set aside plenty of time.