Last week, we abandoned the perpendicular world of suburban American — where even grass and pavement form right angles — for a place of tangled vines and twisted reeds. In Vermont, we found homes full of healthy, boisterous children and fields full of weeds.
I love this part of the world. Some delicacy or delight hides behind the most mundane objects. Here, one discovers berry bushes among the brambles and wild apple trees in the cow pasture. During our trip, we blended these wild apples with those from a friend’s orchard into a tart clear, crisp, rapidly fermenting apple cider.
The food! Vermont is a culinary paradise. We drank raw milk with a topping of yellow-vitamin rich cream on top. We ate egg yolks orange enough to the shame the citrus that bears that color’s name. We ate a rib roast, which once had a name (Little Guy), and over dinner evaluated the beef based on its flavor and texture, as well as the personality of the cow.
My son was more interested in other personality. During the course of the week, he met 12 of his 14 cousins. Fortunately, he learned to walk a month ago, so he could toddle after the running children and consider himself one of the crew. From his cousins, he learned to crawl across a muddy creek, fight over toys, dance to music, and share lots of germs. (I battled a stomach bug the evening of my anniversary. My son is seeping snot.)
Our baby also learned that there are more animals than dogs and cats. The cows, sheep and turkeys, which according to his limited vocabulary, all barked, “arf, arf.”
Two of these “barking” turkey narrowly escaped being featured in our harvest meal Saturday. Friday morning, my son’s grandmother, who is affectionately called Beama, opened her guide to raising poultry. She scanned the page describing how to slaughter a turkey and then donned an old pair of pants and a baseball hat. She hastily boiled several large pots of water and left the house with an armful of sharpened knives. The children gathered around the turkey’s pen, watching her and her oldest daughter capture two of the biggest gobblers. I understand that many feathers were scattered during the chase.
Once secured, they weighted the birds. The biggest was only 14 pounds, including feathers, feet and undesirable meat. Hearing the slight frame of the birds, Pepe, my son’s grandfather, pardoned the birds. They’re too slender for supper, he declared. Luckily, the freezer contained two plump chickens who could be featured alongside stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Whenever I visit my in-laws, I am amazed to discover how much ordinary people can do to raise their own food and how much work food is! They inspire me by their willingness to tackle various culinary adventures. Since I have known them, they have kept a milking cow, several beef cows, a herd of sheep, pigs, chickens, goats, and a large garden. Some of them bake bread, make sausage and even butcher water buffalo with babies on their backs.
To produce delicious foods, they perform morning chores, working outdoors in all weathers. They battle angry, head-butting rams, and dirty their hands digging in the dirt. Their kitchens are never pristine (neither is mine!), because they are always in use. I realize that they have traded bland “normalcy” – in their life and diet – for flavor and adventure.
While I am not ready to fully commit to their daring lifestyle, I’m intrigued and long to adapt more of their ways. I love their attachment to land. They understand that nourishing food must be nurtured and grown with care. They have a rich family life. While their lives could be considered chaotic, it is no more busy than the average family rushing to ballet practice, soccer games, and work. However, the activity is concentrated in the home, not outside of it. Their children exercise by playing outside and gain independence through exploration. Considering it now, from the distance of several states, their lifestyle seems almost ideal.