I'm sitting on the front porch at the Amish farm. This is my second visit of the day.
Earlier I'd stopped by to drop off two aluminum pie pans and an empty egg carton. I place the Wal-Mart bag on the pine bench and sit down. The patriarch is drawing up simple plans for a new set of cabinets he's building. His neighbor was summoned by the son who walked the quarter mile to their farm down the road. On her cell phone he's taking and making orders for Bing and Yellow sweet, cherries. I put in an order for "half a lug" of cherries. With the $12 I made on cabbages the Patriarch's wife sold for me, I turn it around on fruit. In the summer kitchen the wife is finishing up processing 96 chickens. I show her the canning lid in my pocket. "What's that," she says. "Got any extra," I ask? Another of the many daughters in and around the farm retrieves a dozen. I'm told to return later in the afternoon for my cherries.
It's sunny and humid in the valley. On the ridge top a soft breeze stirs the air. As I pull into the driveway, noting a sign and stick arrow for "night crawlers" and the signature leaning Shady Lane Cabinets sign which appears to be ready to topple into the brush next to the road, one of the daughters stands at the mailbox. I offer a ride. She accepts noting that the stones on the road are sometimes sharp. She's barefoot and I'm surprised. Not by the bare feet, but by the comment about the stones. "I thought you were used to the rocks, " I say. My imagination says their feet are as tough as treads on an automobile tire. Not so. She has a faint wood smoke smell and I remember I'd seen a cured ham placed in the smoker grill outside.
On the wooden bench at the back wall of the porch, cardboard flats of cherries are stacked five high. Buddy, the gimp dog is sprawled in the shade of the L-shaped extension of the porch. Five or six puppies squirm in laps and on the deck boards. The mother walks away when the puppies start to pester. One follows down the three steps to the ground, a precipitous journey for a nine pound puppy. The Patriarch is working on the same set of cabinet plans, commenting that this is a nice occupation on a hot day. He calls inside for a round of coffee. Another of the daughters places my half a lug on the table. The questions begin.
How do you pit cherries? Do you pit the cherries before canning? How do you can the fruit? I honestly, in all my years of gardening and home preserving, have never canned fruit. One of the daughters pulls a hairpin and pops out a pit. The Patriarch chides her for using the hairpin. "You gonna eat that now?" The conversation spins to a similar topic when another of the five kids on the porch places one of the puppies on the scale used to weigh fruit. There's a stainless steel cup on the scale. One puppy, weighing in at only six pounds, stays perfectly still, legs draped over the edge of the stainless steel bowl. "There's a good picture, " I say. The Patriarch says they'll weigh my cherries now that the dog has broken in the scale.
Rubber boots covered with chicken feathers next a post on the deck is another perfect Kodak moment. If it weren't so intrusive and obnoxious, I'd be a prize winning photographer with all these photo opportunities. Baby geese wander around the front lawn picking up bugs and snipping at grass shoots. One of the older daughters comes out with a slice of cheese and a glass of water. I'm suspicious because of the water. The cheese is a Colby/jack mix with red pepper flakes. It has a mild bite to it. Then, she returns with a slice of cooked ham on a fork. "If I stay long enough, I'll have eaten dinner," I say with a smart-Alec smile. People pull up with to pick up cherries and my car is blocked. I savor the opportunity to relax from food preservation. "I've got all my hay put up in the barn," says the Patriarch, a verbal nudge for me to get going on the kitchen remodel. I tell him about thirteen pounds of pickled cabbage, pickled beets, and now, a batch of ripe cherries to process. At night I wake up thinking about the cabbages in the garden ready to burst. I tell Dawn as we sit at the kitchen table reviewing the work to be done before supper that it's easier to throw out a young cabbage plant than to deal with 150 pounds of head cabbage.
I grab a gallon of vinegar which Dawn points out when I return isn't vinegar but acetic acid reduced to 5% acidity. I owe them money for the vinegar, but will return it because of Dawn's insistence on real vinegar.
If you have a chance go to newsweek.com . Look up columnist Sharon Begley. She's a science editor. A July 9 article, titled, "What's in a word?" Language may shape our thoughts covers some interesting concepts about gender nouns, the difference between English and Turkish usage:Turkish verbs indicate whether an action is observed or rumored and how the Aboriginal Kuuk Thaayorre use compass directions for every spatial clue rather than "left or right".
I may give up gardening and farming and raise hybrid verbs, nouns and adjectives. Perhaps then, I'll be able to adequately describe the scent of flowers wafting through the kitchen window, sandhill cranes flying overhead so low I can see their craw expand when they croak their flying song, the old cigar smell of the peat fire underneath the tree stump that's been smoldering for a week and a half and how you can feel a rainstorm approaching from the rise in humidity.