The Bounty

Mendocino County

We had a most marvelous time this past Thanksgiving. Our daughter, three grandchildren and their spouses, and five great grandchildren, three under a year old, visited, some for two nights. We had a Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, followed by another on Saturday, because we hadn’t agreed on a schedule, and another shorter farewell inning on Sunday.

The center of the meal was, naturally, a turkey, but what a turkey. Adam and Paula had raised it. When they asked what size we wanted, we said the largest they had. We were thinking of maybe 12 pounds or so, not the more than 28 pounder we received! No problem. We had a deep restaurant pan that held it while nearly filling the oven and a remote thermometer for monitoring the roasting; the result was basted and cooked perfectly. One thigh and leg, one wing, and part of one breast was enough to feed the gang for the almost three days at least some were here. Marlene and I nibbled on it after they left and enjoyed two further meals of giblets with gravy over spaghetti squash. We then froze seven about two pound packages of meat from what remained and maybe a dozen quarts of stock that resulted from boiling down the carcass – dream of cold nights around the fire with bowls of turkey soup filled with leafy greens, maybe with a few green lentils, a spoonful of fresh cheese, a sprinkle of Meyer lemon juice, …. Only the bare bones escaped. What flavor! I never tired of it. Believe me, we were very grateful for this bird’s life.

There was much, much more. The meals began with curried pumpkin soup prepared from pumpkin that had been roasted in the oven and beef stock (made with John Ford Ranch beef bones)– turkey stock was still in the future. Marlene had made fresh cheese that she intended to add, but we forgot until everyone had left. The two of us later had servings with the cheese and broccoli spears. Wow. I never tire of fresh soup.

There were too many dishes to be able to get them all on the table, so the women mostly filled our plates for us. I can’t pick out a star attraction; all were superb in my unprejudiced opinion and everyone else seemed to agree. The cornbread stuffing was made from our own Indian corn. We had mashed potatoes, waxy ones, made with the skins included the way we like them, served with Marlene’s turkey sauce – it was really too fine to be called gravy. Other dishes included fresh broccoli and roasted Hubbard squash mashed with butter, which we thought the younger ones might ignore, but they ate as much of each as anyone. There was the usual cranberry sauce that Marlene made from scratch as well as a surprisingly delicious uncooked one made with horseradish. This all was topped of with homemade buns and lots of butter.

Everyone was apparently too filled to require dessert, but we had purchased two locally made pies from the Scott and Holly’s Renaissance Market that we snacked on between meals. And, there were piles of local apples, tangerines, and persimmons for those needing a sweet fix.

With the exception of the cranberries and the grains used in the bread, all the ingredients originated locally, much from the Ukiah Farmers’ Market. The production was almost entirely Marlene’s. I aided with the shopping, shelled walnuts and corn, manhandled the turkey and pumpkins, and baked the bread. Since it was my bread, I must brag: it was made with mostly wholegrain bread flour with added buckwheat, sesame seeds, oatmeal, olive oil, and lots of eggs. Marlene ground the wheat and buckwheat flours shortly before I used them, which makes all the difference – these flour readily go rancid if ground too early and left unrefrigerated, as is done on supermarket shelves. Rather than commercial yeast, I employ a powerful sourdough that we captured several years ago from organic Alexander Valley grapes. I had thought this combination might be too exotic, but they all appeared to approve. I saw none skimping on anything.

Marlene began preparing the meal earlier in the week and, remarkably, regarded it as a breeze. It left her plenty of time to get her baby fix.

We’ve both been scratch cooks since before we met, so nothing here was mystery, though Marlene is an artist. I’m mostly now left to tending the garden and animals. What much eased the task were the tools. The stainless steel pans were vital ingredients, not least of which were the restaurant pan mentioned above, a three gallon stock pan, and several one to two gallon pans. For a short time, we had owned a restaurant and the residue line our shelves together with other equipment purchased before and since. We both very much respect tools, which are our prized possessions, not only for cooking but for gardening and so on. Our emphasis is on those that don’t require electricity whenever possible; still, we’ve had an electric flour grinder for many years, which much simplifies life; we find we can’t grind dry Indian corn by hand even with a state-of-the-art handmill. We are well enough equipped that we have butchered and cut up a Mendocino Organics pig from scratch each of the last two years and will do so again this coming one – entirely deboned, except for the ribs, the meat cost us only a bit more than three dollars a pound and a weekend’s labor and the result can’t be compared with that supermarket factory stuff. And, we got the lard and the stock with all the scraps that are usually discarded. Marlene masterfully cured and smoked the bacon.

So, I’m bragging. We eat very well, thanks to Marlene.

Much as I dislike doing so, I must end this on some sour notes.

We rescued a pile of pumpkins from a display that was to be trashed. If we don’t eat them all, the chickens will turn them into eggs. How many pumpkins were discarded in the garbage and buried in landfills this past couple of months? How many pies were baked using canned pumpkin produced by some giant conglomerate and shipped from somewhere far? How many of us were satisfied with supermarket feasts? Our younger ones are all tied to the city, to supermarkets, and this is reflected in much too much obesity – the two are inseparable. As I was to learn to my sorrow, this as surely includes those touting “natural” and “organic”, whatever these words may mean – synthetic vitamins and supplements, perhaps? It isn’t necessary to go to major urban areas to spot the spore of this syndrome X beast; simply visit local groceries, all, I repeat all, of which are built on foundations of waste and manipulation.

I’ve bragged that our meals were mostly of local origins. But, there is local and there is local. Our broccoli came from Elk. Is Elk local? Our tangerines came from the Sacramento Valley. Is that local? The breads was produced from grains, organic and bulk-purchased all, except for the corn, and grown how far away? The cheese was made from milk originating in the Anderson Valley. Can we consider that local? How about pies from Willits? Even our turkey came from 25 miles north. What, then, can we call local?

We took a family group picture. I told them I was reminded of a photo I had once seen of my great, great grandfather George Reed in his Civil War uniform surrounded by a brigade of his grandchildren, of which there were many because families were large. The Reeds lived on a farm near a small isolated village while their family was scattered many miles around, in the case of my great grandparents perhaps 20 miles or more. There were no autos and the roads were mostly rough dirt. In order for families to visit, a wagon was loaded and hitched up, and a plodding trip was undertaken an 2 or 3 miles per hour. One didn’t undertake such a visit for only a few hours. No house would have began to accommodate the Reed herd; camping out was surely expected. While the wagons were probably loaded with food, more than sufficient could likely have been found within a few miles if enough weren’t already produced on the farm. Refrigeration hadn’t been invented and electricity was in the far future. There were then no markets one would recognize as groceries of any variety. Do you think they didn’t eat well? Of our bounty, what could they not have had? O.K., cranberries.

As this “greed” economy fails, as it surely must, and gasoline becomes a past memory for most, how will we then define local? Can we adapt in time? I trail the dogs through those grapevines, mostly owned by a giant corporation headquartered far way, that are now planted across this incredibly rich valley in which we live. As I do so, I imagine them replaced by a self-reliant, nearly self-sufficient (there is no local salt), and self-governing rural village of no more than a few dozen residents, a village remindful of that Pomo one of less than a couple hundred years ago. I dream of such villages scattered across Mendocino County and the entire country. Surely, only foolishness.

Marlene and I would much like to have a real farm, but I’m older and presently have as much as I can do. Anyhow, the prices of the best land, now mostly planted in vineyards, are far beyond our means. As the economy crumbles, we must confront the ethics of land ownership for personal profit vis-à-vis the welfare of the community at large. The Italian Damanhur eco-cooperative in Italy, which was founded in 1975 and to which the United Nations awarded the designation model sustainable society, is illustrative of where these ideas can be carried. It is portrayed in “Damanhur: the Story of the Extraordinary Italian Artistic and Spiritual Community” written by Jeff Merrifiee. Damanhur consists of an integrated collection of self-governing villages, no one of which has more than about 20 residents, which they insist be of all ages in emulation of the extended families of old.

For most of us, thoughts are so filled with work, shopping, paying the bills, driving here and there, arguing over political tempests about which we have no say, and playing with our electronic toys to notice how we are being manipulated while our world is fading away. Will there be anything left with which to build a village? If so, will anyone have the skills, the tools?

Thankful as I am for all our family treasures, our friends, the beauty of this valley, the health and food abundance with which we are so blessed, and most especially ever wondrous Marlene, my companion of more than thirty years, I cry.