November, the in-betwixt and between month, not quite winter yet, but no longer autumn either. A threshold month. Dark in the morning. Dark at night. In previous years, it has been dark for most of the day too, with grey skies that seem to envelop sea and sky and land. Mist that reaches all the way down to the ground, so that when you step outside in the morning, it is as though you are walking around inside a cloud. But not this year, no this year November has come to us shimmering, light and bright and blue-sky clad. Our nights are freezing and our mornings are well below zero. These days we wake to frosted flowers and fallen leaves that sparkle underfoot. There is no mist or cloud, only sky. It is as though the roof of sky has gotten higher, and the blue of sky bluer, and the sun has somehow become brighter.
And it happened over night, just like that, 12 days ago. The day before the frost came the bees and I were out in the garden, where I was digging dahlia tubers to store for winter, and the bees were gathering nasturtium nectar.
On that day, before the frost came, there were still salad greens in the garden.
And turnip tops that had not yet fallen limp from freezing.
And the bees were zipping through the air, as though it was summer.
Flying high up-above the Tibetan prayer flags that surround their homes.
Their homes, which have been carefully wrapped and sheltered to keep the weather out.
And then, just like that, it got cold. Really cold. Minus 6 cold.
And the very day it got cold, Cohen’s pigs arrived ready to be processed. Pigs you say? Yes, my brother Cohen who has just spent the past 4 years in Italy teaching Sustainable Food Studies and Animal Welfare at a University in Siena, was also learning the age-old-craft of salumi making (Italian for cured meats). His pigs were raised just down the road from Honey Grove, by our farming Uncle Ken, in Duncan BC. They lived their lives out on pasture, were fed slop from the house and garden, and bucket-fulls of hazelnuts and apples during the fall. They lived a life in which they were extremely well treated, respected and seasoned on the farm, and if we choose to eat meat, than surely, to eat an animal thus raised is the most conscious choice we can make.
For 5 long days Cohen worked to process those pigs. He did this with great skill and attention to every detail. He did it with the help of Mark and two good friends whom he met in Italy, friends who also studied the art of salumi making. For three frozen days, Cohen, Mark, Drew and Kathleen turned every part of those pigs into food. They made several kinds of salumi including prosciutto, salame, Tuscan Soppressata as well as North American and Irish bacons.
The cured meats are now hanging in a curing chamber that Cohen and his friend Bryan built, by hand, some weeks ago, these will not be ready for a good number of months yet, and some not even until next Christmas. It is, I am learning, a slow and committed process.
They rendered the fat and the boiled the bones for stock, and in the end there were 26 pounds of waste left over from 450 pounds of animal ( not including bones). I am told (from those who know these things) that this is a staggering ratio.
I must admit the whole process was something to behold. Witnessing Cohen’s deep commitment to the treatment and care of these animals both during their lives and after their death, was deeply moving. I am someone who typically chooses not to eat pork (for reasons that are my own) and yet, despite my own personal choices, I found myself feeling profoundly respectful of this process, for it involved something that I can only describe as considerable awareness and reverence. I may even eat those soups made from Cohen’s stock. And while sausages were being made, I was in the garden, harvesting frosted cabbage, which according to my Dear Oma, is the thing that sweetens the cabbage and makes the best sauerkraut in all the land.
I am quite sure I have never had colder hands in all my life, than while I crushed frozen cabbage with my bare hands to release the juices for the kraut brine. Even Oma remarked on my stamina when we talked on the phone later that day, about “foods from the old country.” And she told me, in her thick European accent and no uncertain terms, that Cohen’s sausage was the ONLY thing to eat with my sauerkraut. “Der is nutting better, nutting” she said, and then she smacked her lips together over the phone and said something about being proud of her kinder, for we are still that to her, little kinder. Bless her and her sauerkraut, for it is undoubtably this best in all of the land.
But, the frost has not touched everything here on Honey Grove, for it cannot cast it’s icy sparkle inside the poly tunnel, where there are salad greens growing, green and tender and ready for our winter table. There is something luxurious about picking baby greens in November, I cannot explain it, it is like traveling to an exotic country and bringing something rare and precious back with you.
And then, when our work is done, and the afternoon light is shining low and lemony, Gus encourages us to take long walks with our shadows.
Which we do, all the while admiring the luminescence of sunlight filtering through his feathery fan of tail.
And now, I must be going, for a new day has begun and before this afternoon’s walk in the sun, there is, how shall we say, work to be done.
Blessings from the fireside. May these crisp days find you warm and well and doing something you love.
Nao, Mark, Gus and All at Honey Grove.