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,Β  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.Β  “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.




About BeeHappee

Where have all the bees gone? Where have all the flowers gone?
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18 Responses to Cooked

  1. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    I do love Michael Pollan. I love the way you live with your children. I know I have said that a lot, but so many of your posts make me want to come hike with you and your children, carrying home made heart shaped scones in our packs and looking at each others blackberry stained faces, and laughing. I admire you, Kristina.
    Peace and Love,

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you, Mary, you are welcome to join us. Kids chased chickens all day with their friend on this nice day, ran through the creek, fed the horses, and the little one drank cupfuls of sugar maple sap, could not get his fingers out of those buckets.
      I’ve heard critics pick apart Pollan’s work for this or that, for preaching to the choir or rehashing, or what not (food and diet politics seem to be even more cut throat than republicans vs democrats! πŸ™‚ ). But I so totally get him. Eat the food. Eat the good food. Like he said in the documentary, eat all you want – just make it first. That is the best “diet”. Respect the food. Respect animals. The documentary is really packed with good stuff, but the main thread that stood out for me is this: what we had thrown out as ‘chores’, as hard work (harvesting, cooking, prepping) so that we can ‘live’ (lounge on the couch watching games or watching other people cook? :)) – those ‘chores’ are the life that sustains us. And when we lose that, we lose our souls. I was glad to see that thread in this relatively big production film.
      I am glad his work gets some mainstream traction. Every little bit helps.
      Blessings and happy springtime,

  2. Joanna says:

    What more could you want? You’ve painted a glorious picture of Spring in words and I will look forward to ours appearing from underneath the snow

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thanks, Joanna. Ours is about 2 weeks ahead of time this year, what appears like perhaps the last snow, melted today. Days are nice and about 10-15C now, nights still get a freeze. No flowers or buds yet, but the smell of the earth is definitely so springy. πŸ™‚ I recall, by the Woman’s day, March 8th there used to be first wild flowers in the woods in Lithuania. Which part of Latvia are you at? (I probably asked and forgot..)

      • Joanna says:

        We are in Ergli, about 100km East of Riga and up in the “mountains” (well the nearest you will get to mountains in a usually flat landscape, we have rolling hills :D) so we still have snow and about a foot of it at that. No signs of a rapid thaw yet either.

  3. Hariod Brawn says:

    How lovely Kristina, your grandmother being a cheese-maker. I live in a farmhouse here in Somerset, England, and the kitchen has a huge hatch in the ceiling with a great iron pulley hook beside it. The hatch leads up to ‘the cheese room’ where in days of old the farmer’s wife would make truckles of cheddar from milk produced in the fields behind the house, and which liquid was hoisted up by her only to return, lowered by the pulley, in great rounds of cheese months later.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you, Hariod. That sounds interesting, the hatch. Am I reading your description correctly – cheese would age in the attic?
      England’s climate is probably better suited for aged cheeses. You need a very climate-controlled cheese cave here. I will be learning about cheddar and other aged cheeses next.
      My poem “Grandma Lessons” talks briefly about the milk/cheese:
      My grandma would only make very simple, farmers cheese. Often it was eaten as soft farmers cheese, but often she would also press it into something like paneer, then add caraway seeds, and we would eat with fresh honey. We had a handmade cheese press. You could also dry that cheese, and it would taste really good dried, with beer.
      What is really neat with those foods like cheeses and even breads and other fermented foods is that you cannot reproduce them. The way you make them in England, you cannot make in the USA or France. They have little creatures from the environment in them, and are totally unique.

      • Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

        That is really interesting and special!

      • Hariod Brawn says:

        The ‘cheese room’ is not the attic, but the 1st. (U.S. = 2nd.) floor, and occupies the space of roughly three bedrooms. Unpasteurised milk would be hoisted up in metal urns through the hatch by the farmer’s wife, and the cheeses would be produced up there by her, to be sold locally in later months. I imagine it would have been quite physically demanding work, with the constant cutting, milling and stacking of the curds, along with the compaction – like your grandmother, using a handmade press – and the final wrapping in cloth. Then she would lower cheeses down through the hatch in order to transport them to local grocers as whole truckles, and deliver to individual households as smaller ones via her horse and cart. Your grandmother’s recipe with caraway seeds being served with fresh honey (and sourdough?) sounds mouth-watering Kristina!

        • BeeHappee says:

          Thank you, very interesting! Yes, cheese making is quite labor intensive if made old fashioned way. Many simple cheese of course now can be made in less than one hour, but to make aged artisan cheeses is quite an art.
          We like cheddar here from Wisconsin and Vermont, New Zealand as well, but my favorite, and we just had some today – yes, the cheddar from England πŸ™‚

  4. Zambian Lady says:

    That is a beautiful photo. I Googled the farm and read that they show how generations long ago used to farm. It must be interesting to visit there.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you, yes, we love that farm. It is a historical and operating farm of the area, German style, 1880s era. This photo was from a pig roast they do every November. A pig that is raised humanely on the farm is slaughtered and open to the public are demos of the sausage making, meat curing and smoking (oh, best smells in their smokehouse that is filled with best hams!), schnitzel making, lard rendering, etc. etc. We were on a different farm today, 1890s style and they did maple sap collection and syrup boiling as it was done in 1890s, as well as taffy pulling, trimming horses ‘nails’ , blacksmithing, and of course all the farm chores. I do like the old techniques. And as Michael Pollan points out in that above mentioned film, by finding modern day shortcuts to do things faster, cleverer, easier, we sometimes actually end up taking the long way to nowhere.

  5. We need to somehow find a way to transfer you’re enthusiasm for the things that matter (food, kids, joy, craft) to the masses living “lives of quiet desperation.”

    • BeeHappee says:

      Thank you, sir. Sounds like you and your helpers there are quite enthusiastic about the garden too. πŸ™‚ I am pretty selfish that way, loving kids and food. I do not think I could be St. Francis of Assisi and put ashes on my food to cultivate humility. . .
      But yes, I think we are lucky, there are really many people, and I know there are, because I meet them on daily basis, who really enjoy food (and not just nutritionalism, like Pollan would say), and who cherish children (not just education), and craft (not just accumulation). And the series “Cooked” does pretty good job in building that inspiration.

  6. I, too, like your word picture of incipient spring.
    As for the indoors, it’s good to have been ensconced in scones.

    • BeeHappee says:

      Oh, thank you for that word. Well, actually two, the incipient and ensconced. πŸ™‚
      Witch hazel is blooming here with strong aromas, the first blooms. Skunk cabbage just poked out the ground with its own strong aroma. But we still have ways to go to the wildflowers, with snow and 20F coming tomorrow, will be good to stay ensconced again. Kind of like snoozing the alarm clock few more times. πŸ™‚

      • You’re welcome. The Latin word on which incipient is based meant literally ‘to grab onto.’ The root is the same one found in captivating, which is what scones are. As for ensconced, it’s related to abscond. The way I see it, etymology is a subject for all seasons.

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