Rendering lard at Volkening Farm, November 2015
The sun is climbing one fingerbreadth higher every day and the baking has started. The earth thawing out and smelling like a fresh baked bread, steaming over the prairies and bubbling on the brooks. This spring energy like some magical juice is flowing through our veins, and we are outside, again, sunrise to sunset, in the woods, and the grasslands. My little girl has planned out her wilderness classes and wildflower walks with a naturalist at the Arboretum, and my CSA friends are excited about the new orchard planting, farmer Ron will have baby buffalo roaming his hilly pastures of Wisconsin. Life is exploding in every visible and invisible dimension. We are brimming with this energy of transformation, waiting for our robins to come back to nest here by the window, and the baby owls to fluff their feathers, and those 50 nests at the great blue heron rookery to be filled with life. Kids will soon be donning mayaple umbrellas on their heads and licking their mulberry stained fingers. We will lounge on the Big Rock under the oaks soaking up the sun, intoxicated by the gentle spring breeze. Most of all, it is the dirt and the food I cannot wait to sink my hands into. I am starting to smell all this delicious goodness even while sleeping.
We went on a documentary watching spree these last few long days of winter. This week, we watched four 50 minute episodes of Michael Pollan’s new documentary “Cooked”, based on his newest book “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation”. If you are as much a real food lover as I am, I highly recommend the film. It’s a beautiful tribute to food, vegetation, beasts, the spirit of the air, even the fungi, the decay and death, and most of all, it is an inspiring visual feast calling to slow down and embrace our senses and our communities. To embrace doing. To cherish unitasking. To love life. “Cooked” is divided into four episodes: Fire (Meat/Barbecue), Water (Soup/Braising), Air (Bread/Baking), and Earth (Cheese/Fermentation). The series just came out on Netflix. In it, Pollan takes on both vegetarian and gluten free movements and of course the usual industrial food production and advertising culprits. But the film is not overly critical, nor will you learn many new facts if you already ferment and bake. It is, however, a most beautiful expose of what we lose, the soul and the touch of the magic, the alchemy of transformation, the connection to and appreciation of all around us, we lose, we outsource our senses and souls when we outsource the growing, the roasting, mashing and cooking.
At the cheese class I was taking, I mentioned that my grandma would make cheese without any cultures involved, allowing milk to ferment in the old clay pots which she never washed, just gently rinsed. The instructor exclaimed: That almost sounds like sister Noella’s method! This lead me to “The Cheese Nun” (2006), a PBS documentary, in which sister Noella Marcellino, a Benedictine nun from Connecticut, (with a doctorate in microbiology no less!) travels to France to study the secrets of cheese making and the caves filled with fungi. Pollan devotes a large part of “Cooked” to sister Noella and her cheeses.
Since we just could not get enough food for soul, we also watched Pollan’s “Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World”, another excellent work, after which you will never look at a potato the same way. Few other worthwhile mentions: “Know your Mushrooms”(2008), a quirky little documentary which follows two wild mushroom enthusiasts, Larry Evans and Gary Lincoff in their fungi explorations, which is indeed a nice tie in to sister Noella’s cheeses covered in that fungi wonderland. “The Seer” (2016), a new documentary on Barry Wendell is premiering in March. I also have on order “Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective” (2015), which is promising to be a rewarding watch.
And now, my friends, I am leaving you, for my morning scones are calling to be kneaded, patted and shaped into warm little hearts which we will carry today, over the creek and into the woods, listening to the maple sap dripping into the old metal buckets, and farmer Dennis will be boiling it down across the cow pasture, and we will watch the smoke rise as high as our spirits dipping our scones into the warm maple syrup and sharing them with people around the fire. A bit of air, fire, earth, and water, mixed up in indescribable magic.