Farm work is terrifically hard and dangerous; having grown up with it I am bemused when I hear folks complain about an 8 hour day crunching numbers or those boring meetings. They come home and consume a prefab meal they pull out of the freezer never giving much thought about where it came from. It’s important to remember, another human being, out of love, toiled some of their life away so you could be nourished. However, we feel, just throwing food into you body to stop your tummy from growling is not enough; it should also enrich your soul.
My Aunt Jo looks on with quiet satisfaction; she knows the men are enjoying their meal. She did not produce this meal alone. It took a bevy of women working since sun up to put this together. My Mom, my Grandmother (the boss) and several other farm wives all pitched in. The mid-westerners of that era rarely voiced there approval of much of anything. When they spoke it was pretty matter of fact and directly to the point. “Good food, thanks” was high praise from the men as they wandered into the parlor to digest and nap. Perhaps herbs and spices weren’t predominant in their minds.
Aunt Jo was the flavor of the meal. She was very different from the other farm women yet she was totally accepted by them. She was an immigrant. In fact, she was a war bride from Germany. Before WWII she lived with her family near the Black Forest. She was sent to Paris to attend the Cordon Blu cooking school. In that era it was rare to have a women enrolled, but she trained and learned and then went home to Germany. A Germany now firmly controlled by the Nazis. It occurs to me now, what an adventure it must have been for her. Pre-war Paris was filled with romance and fine wine and was the center of the universe for the most flavorful food in the world. She would not talk about the war years. But she did tell me of escaping thru the wire of occupied Germany to the west in the early 50’s. She was a woman of great courage and intellect and I loved her dearly.
After the noon meal the men would rest for about half an hour and then start back to the fields. Since I was still a bit young to keep up with the men all day, Grandma would hold me back to help the ladies in the kitchen. What a contrast in work. I went from pitching bales to kneading bread for dinner. Always the teachers, my female family members would spend the afternoon showing me all sorts of cooking techniques. Aunt Jo, with her quiet voice and German accent taught me little tricks and let me measure and mix. Her accent always was a source of fascination to me. The flavors she created were a direct link to continental cuisine from long ago. I still remember the noble sauces she could create. This is where my life long love of cooking and creating meals to nourish my family’s bodies and souls began. It took me many years to understand the reason those times were so special. The rhythms of the seasons which dictated the work to be done, a natural division of labor which fit our bodies and minds made for a deeply fulfilling spiritual life. Unquestioned creative freedom allowed me to grow and blossom. Stoic devotion to creating the stuff of life; children, love, and food grown with our own hands. And time to reflect on the meaning of this rich tapestry of life.
Like many children of my generation I was pulled away from the farm. Perhaps, I should say I allowed myself to be lured away by the false prophet of secular humanism. It is one of my regrets in life that I did not know then, what I know now.. that at my core, I will always will be a farmer. And now late in my life, returning to my roots, here I am growing herbs and spices for others to enjoy. I have a knack. You have the appetite.
However, if I had not slipped away I would not have met the most amazing friend I have ever had. My best friend is my lovely wife Donna. She has been keeping up (putting up) with me for over thirty years. She is a very stubborn woman. She keeps thinking I will grow up…
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