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roasted turkey

The West Fulton Turkey Supper

I thought it was a crazy wish that my dying rural community would someday be revived.  But even crazy wishes can come true.

 

I first wrote this essay back in 2001, and I re-run it today to show the power of a simple wish. At that time, West Fulton, my hometown, was a dying rural community. But it was once a bustling little community, and our annual turkey supper, made entirely from food grown within our town lines, was known far and wide. This Saturday night a group of us will gather at the church hall for the first time in about 20 years, to re-ignite the tradition. If you would like to join us, please click here. This is technically a private event, so it is by reservation only. Seating is limited, and we have only a few seats remaining. We do ask for a $25 donation. If you would like to stay to hear music afterward, by Uncommon Ground, tickets are $10. If you  want to come at 8:30 to hear music only, no reservations are required.

Food nourishes us in many ways. Beyond its obvious necessity for our sustenance, the scent, colors and flavors of food can also feed our spirit by evoking deeply rooted emotions and memories. So it is for me whenever I smell roasting turkey and mashed potatoes intermingling with the scent of old wood and autumn leaves.

Church and firehouse suppers are a common occurrence during the fall in Upstate New York. There are pancake suppers, spaghetti suppers, ham suppers. In my estimation, none has ever touched the glory of the West Fulton Turkey supper hosted by the Methodists in the church hall at the crossroad that is our hamlet. It took place the third weekend of October, and was an affair revered by all who lived here. All the farms on our road would be reminded of its coming when Joyce Clapper, driven by her husband or son, would appear in our driveways to determine who was going to prepare what part of the feast. Although the affair was hosted by the church, participation was not limited to its parishioners. Joyce excluded no one. Even those of us who never set foot near a Sunday service were approached about contributing homegrown potatoes, roasting turkeys, or baking pies. And because no one was excluded, that dinner was significant for the entire community.

The morning of the supper was always unbearable for my brother and me growing up. Using wild apples we had picked, my mother baked several pies, none of which we were allowed to slice into. We were shooed outside, sent on missions to distract our eager bellies. Hence, the day was filled with activities — raking leaves, stacking firewood, sweeping porches, helping to move sheep, feeding chickens, all which only piqued our hunger. Once the pies had cooled, we would listen for my father to call us when he was about to drive them down into the hamlet. We did not want to miss the opportunity to pile in the truck beside him. Balancing the desserts in our laps, we’d press our noses to the pastry crusts in feeble attempts to satisfy ourselves with just the scent. We would carry the pies into the back of the church hall, where someone would sweep them from our arms. We’d strain to catch quick glimpses of the activity in the kitchen, but we were never able to see much before my father pulled us away and took us to stand on line to buy the six dollar supper tickets.

Returning home from this excursion, our appetites were fully titillated by the wooden scent of the old church hall mixed with the lingering aromas of roasting turkeys and luscious rolls, and the scent of countless vegetables from the summer’s harvest – butternut squash, boiling potatoes, red cabbage, pickled beats and apple and pumpkin pies. Still, we were careful to snack lightly for lunch so as to only hold our hunger at bay without squelching the appetite that played such a critical role in the entire event.

When dinnertime finally rolled around, we drove back down to the church hall, and the transformation that took place was amazing. Normally a sleepy place, cars now lined the roads that converged at the hamlet center. Farmers and townspeople meandered along the streets, stopping to chat as they caught up with friends walking ahead of them. Children played in the tiny park, kicking paths through a carpet of fallen leaves or swaying on a swing set. Teenagers stood on the bridges and tossed pebbles into the stream, as a line of hungry neighbors filled the stairwell leading to the upper level of the church hall, which was decorated with fresh autumn leaves and branches. It was on this day each year when this hamlet, little more than a post office, a church, a few old houses and farmland, was no longer merely a place to pass through or a place to leave behind. West Fulton became a destination. Three hundred people — from this town, the next town, and often New York City and New England, would eat dinner that night, joined by countless local family members from afar who would return home to West Fulton for the weekend just to help cook, clean, serve the food and continue a tradition that was started by Joyce Clapper’s grandmother one hundred years earlier. The turkey supper was always crowded, and we all shared tables with long time neighbors and newcomers alike.

Writing this essay is painful. These suppers stopped about 20 years ago. Joyce Clapper,no longer pulls into everyone’s driveways each year to determine who will contribute what. The beautiful wooden church hall still stands, but there are no longer enough volunteers to roast the turkeys, to peel potatoes, to bake the pies, to serve the supper. The population of the town dropped nearly 50% in the time between when the tradition began at the turn of the century and when it ended in the early 1990s. It saddens me that my husband and children have never had the opportunity to climb up those creaky stairs, to smell those leaves from the park, to savor the magnificent spread of food while sitting at a long table with some neighbors, and some new folks, catching up on the news of people’s children and discussing how the growing season had gone.

I refuse to believe that these suppers are gone forever from our community. I want us to find a way to have them take place again. My hope is that some new people will make their homes here, that they will share in our reverence for this hamlet, and together, as we become each others neighbors and friends, we will find the means to resurrect this great tradition and to honor those people who began it long before us. In the meantime, I keep those memories and scents and flavors alive in my mind, so that my appetite will again be piqued when the West Fulton Turkey suppers make their magnificent comeback.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Coming this November from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

shannon hayes bolognese short ribs

Bolognese Short Ribs

Bolognese Short Ribs

This is a frequent go-to recipe in my house for it’s satisfying flavor, and for it’s meal-stretching economy.  Grassfed short ribs are an inexpensive cut that are high in fat (the source of those amazing Conjugated linoleic acids and Omega 3 fatty acids), which makes them a calorie-dense food that can keep tummies full for long stretches of time.  But better still, those satiating calories can be stretched over several meals.    First, the rich and meaty short ribs are braised in a tomato sauce in the slow cooker,  making a hearty meal unto themselves, especially when paired with mashed potatoes.  We can generate about 6 portions this way.  The leftovers make a splendid meat sauce, which we often serve over spaghetti squash at this time of year, topped with some Romano Pecorino.  If there are leftovers of spaghetti squash and the meat sauce, we put them together and add them to a pot with simmering vegetables to make a substantial soup for yet another meal  Here is the initial recipe from which so many good feasts come:

Serves six

3 pounds short ribs

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon pepper

1-2 tablespoons tallow or butter

1 whole onion, chopped

20 gloves garlic, peeled and left whole

2 cups seasoned tomato sauce (spaghetti sauce), or two cups diced canned tomatoes+ 1 teaspoon ea dried oregano, parsley and basil

Sprinkle short ribs with salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet on medium-high.  When smokes starts to rise off the skillet, coat lightly with tallow or butter then work in batches (making sure there is one inch of space around each piece of meat) to sear the ribs for 4 minutes per side.

Add the short ribs to the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours, until tender.

This was written by Shannon Hayes, The Radical Homemaker of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, cook, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

 

crazed mother

I Thought My Children Were Eating Me Alive

…until I realized I was consumed by guilt.

 

 

Ula is hiding beneath the covers.  She is embarrassed.  We’ve just come home from yet another eye appointment that stretched out for several hours.  It ended abruptly when she accidentally broke an eyeglass display on the doctor’s desk.  She didn’t mean to.  She was examining it.  She dropped it.  That kind of thing happens a lot for Ula.

I am trying to get her to come out from hiding.  “I’m not angry with you,” I speak assuringly,  “That appointment was going on too long anyhow.  Something had to break it up.” I pause and recognize the pun.  “Literally,” I add.

I hear a giggle.  The cover lifts slightly, and the lamp light bounces off one of the thick lenses on her glasses.  Before I can make out a smile, the cover snaps back down again.

I reach under and stroke her hair.  I sigh.  “Stop worrying about it, sweetie.  Just remember to try to keep your hands to yourself in those situations.  Maybe try sitting on them…”

The cover whips back.  Embarrassment has suddenly been replaced by the full force of a seven-year-old’s diatribe.

“Mom.”  She is on her knees, her hands on her little hips.  “This is what you need to understand.”  She points to her right eye.  “This is my color-see-er.”  She points to her left eye.  “This is my navigator.”  Then she removes her hands from her hips and wiggles all ten fingers in front of my face.  “But these are my eyes.”

My stomach un-knots and the tension of the morning unravels into a full belly laugh.  Ula has stated her truth.  The force of my spirited child has returned.  It is my job to keep her here, to keep the magic that is my Ula from melting away under the strain of shaking heads and shrugging grown ups that are beginning to surround her as we work through her amblyopia.

This past week, between driving to appointments, meeting with doctors and therapists, and doing our home therapy work, Ula’s eyes have consumed roughly 18 hours of our time.  That doesn’t count the time spent in normal homeschool lessons, where I try to figure out how to help a visually exhausted child learn her basic subjects while investing every last shred of my spirit into preventing her self-confidence from slowly transmogrifying into self-doubt.

In this moment, on the bed, we have a moment of victory.  Ula’s self-realization about the importance of her sense of touch to navigate her world has renewed her spirit.  It is just who she is.  We laugh, we hug.  But my mind is already someplace else.

It is worried about Saoirse, my eleven-year-old academic sponge.  Compared to Ula, school is a breeze for Saoirse.  She was reading before we thought to teach her to read.  She remembers every little fact that floats before her eyes in the form of the printed word.  I take a few minutes each day to review her math lessons, not because she needs the teacher, but because she enjoys the contact time.  For everything else, she is too often on her own.  I consider enrolling her in school.  Perhaps, if only for this year while we try to bring some resolution to Ula’s vision issues, she would be better served there.  But when I bring it up, she shakes her head in horror.  She is in no way behind, and she doesn’t want to be pushed any further away from my side.

She needs me right now as much as her sister does.  Her body is changing, her ideas are changing.  At the same time that her mind grows more independent, her soul craves my touch.  She wants constant contact.  She clings to my hand every chance she can get.  At bedtime, she still wants me to read to her, then fights with her sister over who gets to sit closer, until I am falling out of the bed.  When we take the dogs for their evening walk, she pushes to keep Ula away from me, clings to my arm, won’t let me go.

I allow it.  I feel guilty.  I know my time is consumed with Ula, and Saoirse is in need of just as much parenting as her little sister.  But I don’t feel good about it.   I feel like I can hardly breathe. I want to enact a forcefield around my body, to tell them not to cross it for the next several hours.  I resist the urge, and then, at a moment when none of us expects it, I lash out in anger.  “Let go of me!  Give me space!  I need air!”

On Wednesday morning, I slip out of the house before Bob has to head down to the farm.

The dogs and I head out to Rossman Pond, where I perch on my favorite rock and drink in the color of the red maples and the tawny ash leaves as they reflect off the water.

Now just remember one thing,” the voice of my dear friend Cornelia, a child development specialist, echoes in my mind.  It is a memory from  a conversation we had just after Saoirse’s birth, over a decade ago.  “The job of children is to eat you alive.”  She said it to me so plainly and sweetly, I laughed at her then.  I thought she was joking.

But as I cling to my solitary rock beside the water, I realize she was not joking at all.  They are eating me alive.  Suddenly, a macabre vision of my body appears in my vivid imagination, hacked apart with an axe, each child hoarding whatever pieces they can steal from the other, then hungrily devouring it.  My disembodied heart beats alone in the center of it all.  I begin to cry at the vision.  Part of me worries that there is simply not enough of me to satiate their appetites.  I wonder how I can possibly make more of myself, if there is a way that my heart can be split in half for each of them.  The other part of me wants to scream out in rage, to lay claim to the beating heart for myself.  I know my vision is overly dramatic.  But I watch this scene in my mind for a few moments as a purgative stream of frustrated tears glides down my cheeks.  A good self-pitying cry makes me feel better.

My time at the pond is short.  I must head home.  I need to get Saoirse started on lessons.  I need to begin Ula’s vision therapy.  As is my habit, I begin reviewing my calendar for the coming week: A meeting with the school psychologist and the committee on special education on Wednesday, a clinical functional vision exam in Boston on Thursday, a vision therapy session an  hour away on Friday, then packing for the farmers’ market Friday afternoon, then farmers’ market on Saturday.  My breathing grows shallow.

I stare up at blue sky, deckled with falling leaves, trying to drink in sips of inner peace.  At that moment, I don’t know where the voice of reason comes from, but suddenly it pulses mercifully through my brain.  This is your life right now, it tells me.  And you can go through this next year bouncing back and forth between guilt and resentment, or you can go through it with gratitude.  

I re-play the events of this week.  Ula has gone through 18 hours of exams, car seat confinement and therapy, and only shattered one object on a professional’s desk.  She has remained cheerful, bringing her sense of humor to every setting, making faces at me behind doctor’s turned heads, cracking jokes as bright lights flash in her face, rolling her eyes when doctors say stupid things.  She has begun to explain to me what she sees: “Mommy, you told me where to put a comma, but the spot you showed me keeps jumping around on the page.  I can’t find it.”  Meanwhile, she has followed me into the kitchen.  We’ve learned we can hone her concentration with knife work.  A tiny bit of danger helps her to calm down and focus, and eases my cooking work.  Meanwhile, Saoirse is so darn clever, she is able to juggle her work with little intervention for the time being.  She needs my conversation time and a few hugs, but she can handle her academics while I give Ula the attention she needs right now.  Saoirse, too, has picked up the kitchen work, choosing days to shoo me out of the kitchen so I may work with Ula while she prepares lunch.  This is our reality right now.   And these kids are handling their end well.  Now it is up to me.

I walk back into the house.  Saoirse has started her lessons on her own.  Ula is scrubbing potatoes for lunch, an audiobook plugged into her ears.  .

I won’t be a perfect mother to both my children this school year.  I will do my best.  But I will not allow my heart to be devoured, either.  I will find my solitude, and I will take care of myself.  And rather than feeling guilty for not giving each child every thing they deserve, I will feel gratitude for the grace with which they accept my limits.  I walk over to Saoirse, who is sitting at my desk and wrap my arms around her.  “I just want to thank you,” I whisper in her ear.   “I am aware of everything you are doing to make this year work for us.”  In response, I get a wide smile.  I do the same with Ula, and we begin another day.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Coming this November from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes

lamb riblets by shannon hayes

Lamb Riblets in a Garlic Mustard Herb Paste

While standing at my farmers’ market stall, I am often surprised by how many customers completely overlook the lamb riblets.  While riblets do, admittedly, make for some messy eating (a fact I find quite delightful), they happen to be one of the most flavorful cuts on the animal.  In my fat-loving estimation, they are the very best cut, since nearly every morsel of meat comes paired with a morsel of rich, filling, buttery fat.

The fat covering on lamb riblets is what makes them so easy to cook.  Like the spareribs on other animals, the meat contains connective tissue that requires breaking down in order to make it tender (hence the reason pork spareribs are so often smoked).  But the lambs generously lay down a layer of buttery fat over their collagen-rich spareribs.  This fat melts during the cooking process, and tenderizes the meat all on its own, without the need for additional moisture.

If you can’t eat all you prepared in one sitting, they also re-warm beautifully in a 200 degree oven for about 40 minutes.  They’ll taste equally delicious the second time ‘around.

Serves 4-5

4 lbs lamb riblets (also called lamb spareribs or breast of lamb)

2 cloves peeled garlic

2 tablespoons coarse unrefined (Celtic gray) sea salt

1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Combine the garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, rosemary and mustard in the small bowl of a food processor.  Purée to make a paste.  Pat the lamb riblets dry with a towel, then rub the paste all over the bone and flesh sides of the slabs.  Place them, bone-side down, in a large roasting pan.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and roast for 1 1/2- 2 hours, until the meat is tender and starting to pull away from the bone.

This was written by Shannon Hayes, The Radical Homemaker of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, cook, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayeshomespunmom

Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled: Reading & Signing Tomorrow @ Noon, Washington Park, Albany

Friends; I will be doing a reading from my newest book, a collection of essays titled Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled, tomorrow at noon in the teaching tent at the Local Harvest Festival in Washington Park in Albany, NY.  Officially, the book will not be released for sale until November 15.  However, we will have a limited number of pre-release copies available (for $12.95) for a small book signing afterward, where I will also be happy to answer any of your questions.  This is a free event.  Sap Bush Hollow will also have a tent at the festival, where Bob and I will be selling copies of my books, our grassfed meats, wool blankets, yarn, handmade baskets, soaps, salves, candles, and Ula’s and Saoirse’s hand-crafts.  We’d love to see you there!  Please share this with anyone you feel might be interested.

 

Minister or Missionary with Bible

Enterprising Missionaries, Introverted Farmers

When a couple of Mormon missionaries were going door to door, they didn’t expect to confront an angry famer with a shovel.  But when they met my mom, their lives changed. So did Mom’s.

My earliest recollections of community organizing here in West Fulton took place when the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons were going door to door.  Whoever was caught out in their barnyard took the fall for the neighborhood, while whomever managed to be in the house would initiate the first call that would then travel up and down the road, warning everyone to hide indoors or hunker down in the barns.  The culture of rural farm life was that we didn’t bother anyone.  In exchange, no one should bother us.

As kids, my brother and I would hide in the upper barn, watching through the cracks in the boards while the dogs ran and barked ferociously around their cars, until the proselytizers would turn around and leave, but not before one of them would work up the courage to roll down the window just enough to push a pamphlet out through a crack.  We’d watch it flutter to the driveway as they pulled away, then collect it for the fire bin.

When I was home one weekend from college, I was caught at the door.  With no escape, I gestured wildly with my hands and spoke in heavily accented broken English to fabricate a story that I was a foreign exchange student from Andorra, and that I didn’t speak their language.  Meanwhile, Mom and my sister crawled over to the phone to alert the neighbors.  Darned if those Witnesses didn’t come back a week later with a translator.

Another time, it was Mom who was caught out in the open.  We were working in the garden when the car pulled in the driveway.  I crouched down behind the broccoli as I watched her put down her tools.  Leaving her gloves on her hands, she stormed out of the garden and went to head off the visitors.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am,” a man began as he stepped out of the car.  “We came today to bring you the word of God.”

She stared at them, saying nothing, her powerful arms by her side, her head cocked, waiting for the man to continue.

“Ma’am, tell me,” he continued, mistaking her silence for encouragement, “when was the last time you felt close to our Lord?  When was the last time you spoke with Him?”

“As a matter of fact, I was just speaking to my god,” she met his gaze directly, “although he or she may not be your God.  We were having a conversation out there in my garden, when you came and interrupted us.”

The man began to speak, holding up the pamphlet.

“Now, don’t even get started with me,” she squared herself.  “God is here.  In these hills, in this ground, in that garden, and I was praying.  In my way.  Maybe it isn’t the way you pray.  But I’ll thank you to leave me to do it as I see fit.”  With that, she turned on her heel and stomped back to her garden without another word.  The message from our farm was clear.  We won’t preach to you.  You don’t preach to us.

Following that exchange, all was quiet on the proselytizing front for a while.  Until about 15 years ago.  I was still in grad school.  Bob had a day job, and the work of dragging chicken pens, washing eggs and moving fence was wearing thin on mom and dad both.  In a moment of despair, Mom sat down at her computer and typed up a sign.

Help wanted.  No pay.  Apply within.

She hung it up on the outside of the kitchen door, which she uses as her personal venue for self expression.  It was taped just below one of her other signs, which read something like, “Take your F-ing shoes off before stepping foot in this house!”

Satisfied with her creative efforts, she climbed into the truck with dad and they drove off to deliver a load of lambs.  When they came home, another piece of paper was wedged into the doorframe.

The note was simple:

We’d like to help.  — Chris and Tom, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  

They left a phone number.  Mom didn’t call.  She crumpled up the note  and threw it away.  She forgot about it.  Chris and Tom didn’t.  A car pulled in the next day.  Mom was caught out in the barnyard, shovel still in hand.  She didn’t have time to run and make the warning calls.  I made the calls, then crept upstairs to my brother’s old room to eavesdrop out the window.  Two young men in ties and crisp white shirts stepped out.  Mom squared herself.  Whether she intended to or not, she cut a menacing figure.  Once more, she was ready to send them packing with their ideology.

“We’re here about the sign on your door,” one of them spoke.  “We want to work for you.”

“That sign was a joke,” Mom answered gruffly.

“You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it,” he replied.  “I’m Chris.  This is Tom.”
“I’m not interested in your religion.”

“We’re not asking you to become Mormon,” Tom said.  “We want to work on the farm.”

“This farm doesn’t make enough to pay hired labor.”

“We’re not asking for money,” Chris answered.  “Please?”

When she didn’t answer, he continued.  “Look, we have to do two days of volunteer service.  And we’d like to volunteer here.”

“This is a for-profit farm.  Don’t you need to work for a not-for-profit?”

“We think we should volunteer where we’re needed.  Didn’t your sign say you needed help?”

Mom was cornered.  She thought for a moment before responding.  “No preaching,” she barked.

“No preaching,” Chris responded.

“No Bible talk.”

“No Bible talk,” Tom said.

“And lose the shirts and ties.”

“We have other clothes.”

“You can wash eggs.”

At first, Mom and Dad didn’t trust them to do anything more than wash eggs.  But with all that had to be done, those eggs were piling up.  And Chris and Tom showed up on time, every week, and washed eggs.  They broke a lot of them, too.

The Mormons began asking more about how Sap Bush Hollow worked.  As promised, there was no discussion of Bible verses or church attendance.  But my parents found themselves having to answer many questions about the ideology of sustainable farming, about the proper care and stewardship of the land and of the creatures who walked it.

Dad began making sure he put a big lunch on the table each day they came.  They ate heartily.   A friendship grew.

Soon, we came to value their work.  Mom and Dad wanted to send them home with meat and eggs in thanks.  They refused, insisting there was to be no payment.  “Take the meat, or you can’t come back,” Mom tried an alternative tactic.  They accepted the food.

Chris and Tom began coming around more.  They were technically young men, but in their hearts, they were still boys.  They showed up for chicken killing days, taking gruesome delight in the dismembered heads and feet.  They gathered as many as we would allow them, to bring back and play pranks on their church friends.  They got dirty, played with the dogs, and gave Sap Bush Hollow a bank of stories about their adventures.  They joined our family for Thanksgiving.

But soon after, our family learned of our biggest conflict with the Mormon church.  Missionaries have to move on.  They only stay in each location a few months.  We were heartbroken.  But Chris and Tom saw to it that the next generation who came through found out about Sap Bush Hollow.  And those missionaries made sure the next ones came.  And for years, our Thanksgiving table had two extra seats for the Mormons, and Mom and Dad grew quite skilled about sharing the hows and whys of what we do with people who had no experience with agriculture.

And then it ended.  No one ever told us why.  They just stopped coming.  Maybe the church elders disapproved.  Maybe the new crop of missionaries hated farm work.  Maybe they realized someone else needed them more.

No one has come to the door proselytizing in years.  Nevertheless, our family still talks about those Mormon Missionaries.  We laugh about their fascination with chicken heads.  We remember how many eggs got washed, how many eggs got broken, and how many times we had to explain the way things worked on a farm.  At the end of every reminiscence, the same two questions are asked:  “Who was in volunteer service to whom?  Who was the missionary?”

I’d have to say, in the case of Tom and Chris, it was the Mormons in service to us.  Their presence on our farm helped us to step up to our own spiritual calling.

We’ve learned that the wall that divides farmers from the world must crumble.  We can’t hide in the upper barn and peak out through the cracks in the boards.  We can’t crawl on the floor to find a telephone and warn the neighbors to run inside and lock their doors before someone knocks.  If we are going to take our place in creating a better world, farmers have to share what we do.  Unlike the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we don’t go door to door or stop people on the street.  We don’t generally recite scripture.  We don’t ask that people ascribe to any particular faith.  We stay put on our land, or at our market stalls.  But we, too, are missionaries.  We preach the gospel of living in place, of honoring roots, of serving the land and her creatures.  It has been a challenge for us, coming from an inherently introverted agrarian culture, to reach out and open up about how and why we do what we do.  But we are learning.  And thanks to a few egg washing missionaries, we are getting better all the time.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

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Coming this November from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

IMG_3918

Pork Shoulder in the Slow Cooker (how easy can it get?)

The last of the pigs were harvested this week. A few were held back for breeding next year (and have earned the names of Betty Boop and     ), but the rest will be processed in the coming days, giving us a bounty of fresh pork for this weekend at the farmers market.  With our on-farm open house, chicken pick-up and pig processing happening all in the same week (in addition to homeschooling), I’ll be the first to grab a shoulder roast for this super-easy and incredibly tasty slow-cooker recipe.  This takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, requires no searing (unlike most slow cooker meat recipes) and yields delicious, browned, caramelized, fall-apart meat, with a splash of rich juice to pour over the top.

The secret?  No liquid in the slow cooker!  I know, it seems strange, but there is enough moisture in the fat to break down the connective tissue in a pork shoulder without adding extra liquid.  This intensifies the flavor of the meat.  Enjoy!

 

Serves 4-6

 

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons coarse salt

2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper

1 clove garlic

1 sprig of fresh rosemary (or one teaspoon dried rosemary leaves)

1 (3-4 pound) pork shoulder roast (also called picnic or butt roast)

IMG_3636

Combine the olive oil, salt, black pepper and garlic in a food process and purée.  Rub the mixture over the surface of the pork roast, then set it fat-side-up in a slow cooker.  Set the rosemary on top of the roast, cover, and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, until fork-tender.  Meat will lift easily off the bone when ready to carve.  Pour juices on top to serve.

One  girl's bad choice could stay with her for life.  Maybe it should.

Regrets: When your past stays with you

One girl’s bad choice could follow her for life.  Maybe it should.

By Shannon Hayes

I was meeting with the school psychologist over Ula’s vision therapy program last week when a wail came from down the hallway.  It grew progressively louder and more despondent as it came closer.  Occasionally the words “I WANT MY MOMMY!”  could be separated out from the cries of despair.  My mother’s heart wanted me to jump up, run to the child, and throw my arms around her.  Her tears were contagious.  I felt my own eyes growing wet.

The psychologist paused in her conversation.  “That sounds like one of the older kids,” she said matter-of-factly, cocking her head to listen.  We did our best to resume our meeting while the lamenting outside the door ensued.

A moment later, the school principal popped her head in the room.  “I’m sorry to interrupt you,” she spoke softly to the psychologist, “But one of our students made a bad choice this morning, and I think she could use a little of your time.”

I like the way she worded it.  “Made a bad choice.”  In our family homeschool environment, I am often out of the loop on the professional language used to describe the actions and regrets of children.  Our expressions for bad choices are more colorful, in keeping with farm vernacular, and admittedly, nowhere near as gentle.  She made it sound like, whatever happened, it wasn’t really so bad. — Just a little slip up that would soon be forgotten.

But from the caterwauling I heard in the next room, I don’t think that child’s bad choice would soon be forgotten.  In a rural community like ours, a bad choice is often glue-sticked into the memory book, a page in the album of everyone’s recollections that will follow that child as long as she lives here.  At forty, I still meet my teachers, the parents of my friends, and my fellow school mates in the library, at the coffee shop, at the bank, on the sidewalks in town, at local concerts.  Many of them have managed to remember (and remind) me of my earlier choices long after I’ve forgotten them myself.

I am certain that child was crying over the horror of the moment she just experienced.  But I am certain that she, too, recognizes the permanence of it in the memories of her classmates and teachers.  And that, I am guessing, is where her deeper pain lies.

Someday, I think, after she graduates, she will make an important decision.  She will be free to elect to leave every bad choice behind her, find a new place to live, and grow into a new identity, liberated from the humiliations of her past.  While she has a few years to go, in adulthood, she can choose to make a fresh start.

Or, she will choose to stay, and let her bad choices become a thread in the fabric of her identity.

I think about my own decision to stay here, in the same community where I grew up.  Today, in this moment, I see myself as a strong woman, capable of making good decisions and taking care of myself and my family. But in spite of my positive self image, all around me are people who have watched me grow, who have known me during weaker moments,  when I failed to take care of myself, when my decisions were faulty.  And I know that it is easy, in a small community where everyone knows each other, to allow that past to define my identity.

Thus, how do we choose to stay in one place the entirety of our lives, knowing that the people around us have all borne witness to our follies and imperfections?  How do we develop into our true selves when we are surrounded by people who think they know us better? How do we become who we want to be in a place where there is no such thing as a fresh start?

I believe that it can happen.  I believe that, in most situations, we can grow into our true selves without having to flee our roots.  I would like to say that this is because my friends, neighbors and family members here in Schoharie County are more forgiving than average Americans.  I would like to wax poetic about our rural tolerance.  I wouldn’t be wrong.  But I wouldn’t be right, either. Truthfully, we are no better than the members of any community or neighborhood across the world.

The secret to growing into ourselves with no fresh start, I think, lies in two things.  First, our need for attachment supersedes our bruised egos.  Belonging to a place, to a group of people, is too important to allow our ties to be fractured by bad choices.  The second secret is the reciprocal knowledge.  It is true that my family, friends and neighbors have a clear picture of my colorful past.  But I, too, know many of their own secrets.  These are not scurrilous defenses against blackmail.  Rather, they are banks of knowledge that we carry by virtue of long-standing connections.  In many cases, we know each other for a lifetime.  And that helps us to recognize how ubiquitous bad choices are in everyone’s life path.  Often, holding that knowledge helps us to be more compassionate and forgiving.  More importantly, when we pair the drive for human attachment with the long standing experiential knowledge that nobody is perfect, it becomes easier to forgive ourselves.  And the ability to forgive ourselves is the key to moving forward in one place, with no need for a fresh start.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Coming this November from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

The fall beef harvest has begun.  Time to braise some short ribs.

Teriyaki Short Ribs

The fall grassfed beef harvest has begun.  Time to braise some short ribs…

 

We’ll be cutting beef this week, and with the temperatures turning cooler, my mind is going to the rich, creamy fat of short ribs.  They are an inexpensive cut, but so full of flavor and good fat cover, even the smallest portion will go a long way.  I love the crisp nuttiness of the final splash of the toasted sesame oil that goes on the outside of these ribs, accented by the garlic and ginger in the braising liquid.   Leftover teriyaki short ribs taste delicious re-warmed in the oven, or can be added to meat broth with some chopped leafy greens for a tasty soup with Asian-style flavor.  This recipe comes from my very first cookbook, The Grassfed Gourmet.  Hard copies are available on this page,  and e-copies can be found here (or through your preferred retailer).

Serves 4-5

 

3/4 cup tamari

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1/4 cup honey

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

3 cups water

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole

3 pounds beef short ribs

4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

 

In a large Dutch oven, whisk the tamari, ginger, honey, chives, water, and vinegar; add the whole cloves of garlic.

Add the short ribs.  Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, turn the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender.  If you start to run out of liquid, add 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup tamari.  (Alternatively, braise the short ribs in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours.  You shouldn’t run out of liquid using this method.)  Remove the ribs and keep them warm.  Allow the broth to simmer on the stove top, uncovered, until reduced by half.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the ribs on a roasting pan, meat side up, and brush with sesame oil.  Roast for 15 minutes, or until the edges become crispy.  Serve in warmed shallow bowls, with a few spoonfuls of broth.

This was written by Shannon Hayes, The Radical Homemaker of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, cook, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

 

This chicken knows she's a cat.  Find out what else can happen on an unconventional farm.

The Feathered Cat: Lessons in the Power of Believing

This chicken thinks she’s a cat.  Find out what other impossible things can happen on this unconventional farm.

 

On Thursday, Mom and Dad sit down on the back porch to listen to the chorus of afternoon crickets.  Mom’s cat, Tayla, hops into her lap.  Dad’s cat, Strawberry, hops into his.  Tayla has long calico fur.  Strawberry has feathers.

shannon hayes cat chicken

When Strawberry first came to us, we mistook her for a chicken.  Most people do.  Her beak, comb and scaly feet could fool anyone.  But Strawberry knew her true identity, and patiently corrected us over her years at Sap Bush Hollow.  Eventually, we came to understand that she had no place in the chicken coop, and no place out in the fenced-in pasture with the other birds.  Strawberry roams the farm freely, but like any typical cat, prefers to keep to the back porch.  Like a chicken, she ovulates almost daily, leaving eggs in unlikely places — in Dad’s feed buckets, in the kindling box, beneath the brake pedal of the truck.  She never acknowledges these eggs.  They  are forgotten symptoms of a former identity. Like a true cat, she denies any part of her reality with which she does not agree.  Mom has learned to look out for them, to gather them up without chastising Strawberry; just as she patiently cleans up the droppings Strawberry periodically leaves by the back door (she has not learned to use a litter box).  She is, however, our best mouser.

shannon hayes lap chicken

Strawberry is not the only creature on our farm who created a new reality for herself.  Confit looked like a mallard duck, but she mated with Foie Gras, a goose. Like geese, they were a pair for life, and Foie Gras never (that we know of)  questioned her identity.  She laid eggs every spring, and he guarded her while she sat on them, waiting for them to hatch.  They never did, but neither Confit nor Foie Gras allowed that little fact to come between them.

Isabelle was born to one of our breeding ewes one May, but after the death of her mother, recognized her true identity as a dog.   She does not run away when we try to herd her.  She follows us, just like the border collies, through gates and across fields.  She has never been much of a breeding ewe, but like a good dog, she has proven excellent at helping us to move the flock.

And let’s not get started on the dogs, who believe they are people…

As I watch Mom and Dad sit nonchalantly with Strawberry and Tayla, I observe how our family doesn’t challenge the behaviors of these extraordinary animals.  Many creatures pass in and out of our lives, and there are always a few who prove themselves noteworthy in some way.  We accept them for who they are, granting them permanent amnesty from the chopping block and processing room. These prodigious critters occupy my mind on Sunday when Saoirse and I drive over to visit Aunt Kimmie.

Aunt Kimmie and Uncle Tommy inherited my grandfather’s sheep farm.  It came with a three story stone house built in 1789 on one side of a state highway, and three hundred acres of stunning farmland on the other.  They came up from New Jersey and moved in with Grandpa at the end of his life.  Tommy ran the farm and saw to Grandpa’s needs during the day, trading off hours with my dad and my Aunt Katie.  Kimmie accepted night duty and took care of Grandpa through his long sleepless episodes. But a giant stone house and a three hundred acre farm are more work than they bargained for.

I know she is overwhelmed.  They love the land, but I know this giant house was nothing she wanted.  I know she feels like she can never get ahead of it.  Tougher still, Aunt Kimmie is a tropical fish in a trout stream.  The upstate bugs frighten her.  When she receives the smallest bite, her skin develops welts, her lymph nodes swell, her ears fill with fluid.  She tolerates my family’s pragmatic ways — our culture of meat, butchery, and animal husbandry.  But she is from a different world.

Kimmie couldn’t be more than five foot two, with full feminine curves.  She is a baritone with a Jersey accent.  “Dere’s ghosts in this house like you wouldn’t believe,” she confided to me in her deep  voice one afternoon, as Saoirse and I lead her to a sunny corner of the kitchen for tea.  She squints her eyes and leans across the table.  “They watch my programs with me.”

“They watch TV with you?” I clarify, my eyes wide.

“Yeah.  You know, like Dead Files, or Ghost Adventures.  They stand around the corner, there in the hallway,” she points.  “I tell ‘em, ‘Don’t get any ideas!’”  She pauses, her fingers twitching for a cigarette.  She refuses to smoke in the house, but she fears going out to the realm of the insects.  “They’re not so bad, though.  Sometimes they help me when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup.”

Saoirse’s eyes are bugging out of her head in excitement.  “Aunt Kimmie!”  She exclaims.  “You’ve actually seen ghosts?”

She shrugs.  “They don’t like ta show themselves ta people with freckles.  I don’t know why.….But I’ve caught ‘em staring at me before, standing over my bed.”  She gets up and goes to the doorway for a smoke.

“Mom!  Do you believe Aunt Kimmie?” Saoirse whispers.

“Of course I believe her,” I tell her.

“Have you ever seen a ghost?”

“No.  But that’s because I’ve never wanted to see a ghost.  The idea frightens me.  I think my mind is turned off to perceiving them.”

“But you still believe her?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”  We come from a family that believes chickens can turn themselves into cats, and sheep can become dogs.  There is no reason to doubt that Aunt Kimmie sees ghosts.

On the recent  afternoon when we visit, Aunt Kimmie has been trying to putty over the cracks in all the window sills of the house.  She has to focus on the little issues she can address with her own elbow grease.  She cannot cope with the buckles in the walls, the leaks in the roof.  I suggest she let Saoirse and me take her out for a drive around the farm.  The air is growing drier, the mosquitoes and black flies are abating.  She confesses that it has been a year since she has visited the back fields.  Enthusiasm for the land gets the better of her.

shannon hayes woods

“Sure, let’s go!” She suddenly exclaims and stubs out her cigarette.  “I wanna show you the best place ta summon the Witch of the Woods.”

And so, for the next hour or two (we lose track of time), we noodle about the fields.  She leads us into a place she calls The Enchanted Forest, and stands amidst the trees.  Her eyes have come to life.  “And if you stand here,” she explains.  “And make a little altar right there,” she points to the ground, “you should probably focus on that tree.” She points to a maple.  “The Witch of the Woods will walk right out of it.  You can ask her anything you like.  But,” she meets my eyes directly.  “When she says she wants ta go, ya gotta let her go.  That’s the deal.”  She walks on a few steps, pointing to places where the water runs in the spring, where Silver Birch branches have fallen to the ground.  Then she stops and stares at me.  “This is it,” she says, opening her arms in what I see as an uncharacteristic gesture of joy.  “This is what it’s all about, you know?”

I smile.  I know.

shannon hayes wolf tree

Uncle Tommy finishes evening chores and comes out to join us.  The four of us pile into an old Jeep, leaving my car behind.  He drives us to a corner field, where he dreams of putting up a small solar house.  He and Kimmie argue over whether they should be closer to the tree line, to avoid the winds, or farther away, to allow more sunlight.   For just a few minutes, I see their hearts grow lighter.  They are believing they can have their little house, that they can sell the big stone house, that they can make this life work.

We drive past a ravine.  “I don’t like that place,” Kimmie tells me.  “I’m pretty sure, when the Indians raided this town back in the 1700s, there was a guy who hid out down there.”  She points a little way down.  “He died under that rock.”

“How do you know?”  Saoirse seems skeptical.  “I had a vision,” she says, matter-of-factly.  She makes Tommie stop the Jeep so she can step out and pick an unfamiliar wildflower.  Saoirse leans in to me and whispers what has become a repeated question during our visits with Aunt Kimmie.

“Mommy, do you believe Aunt Kimmie?”

“Absolutely.”

On our drive home, Saoirse is full of excitement and talks non-stop.  I grow dizzy trying to follow her conversation.  She bubbles about how she wants to have a cafe and bakery someday, where people from town, who are used to McDonald’s food, can find out how delicious healthy food can be.  “I want them to learn that they don’t have to eat food made from GMOs,” she effuses, “so we can put McDonalds out of business.  Or, at least, maybe Wal Mart and McDonalds will learn that it is important to stop selling GMOs, and to stop selling all that nasty garbage.  They’ll see there’s a better way,” she explains,  “and they’ll change what they do.”  “And,” she adds, “I want to have a toy shop.  We’ll make all the toys by hand.  Because I think that, if people knew how wonderful a hand-made toy was, they wouldn’t want all that cheap plastic crap.  They’d see that kids can be happy with just one or two simple, well-made things.”  Soon her conversation moves to her next business idea.  “And I want to have a fashion shop. We’ll make all the clothes by hand, using all kinds of interesting things.  People can start thinking about fashion as art, rather than just buying stuff to look like everyone else.”

My brow furrows in the dark as we wind our way back up to our own mountain.  She doesn’t see my face.  I am considering explaining to her about Americans’ obsession with cheap food and cheap consumer goods.  I am considering delving into the details of corporate greed, which inhibits Wal Mart from become an ethical business venture.  But I stop myself.  Those things, I decide, are lessons in cynicism.  And cynicism is the easiest lesson to teach, the easiest to learn. Once it is mastered, we become paralyzed to take actions to change our world.   Right now, there is a greater lesson to learn: power of believing.

If there is one key to making it in the unlikely venture of a family farm, or of any business or lifestyle that thwarts the trend toward relentless greed and destruction of the planet, it is the ability to believe…To believe that, in spite of cold springs and dry summers and tumultuous rains, the seeds planted in spring will emerge as the fruits of fall.  It is to believe that, if you do things right, honoring the earth and her creatures, someone will step forward and honor what you have to sell.  And when it comes to a child dreaming about a future where her community is rich in healthy food, happy children and artistic expression, learning to believe is far more important than mastering the cleverness of cynicism.

“And mom?”  Saoirse interrupts my revelation.  “I think the cafe should have a special section for the ghosts,” she says. “Because they need a place, too.  They need to feel like they’re welcome here.  I think people need to stop being afraid of them.  They should feel like they’re part of a community.”

I am beginning to visualize the evolving future of Sap Bush Hollow Farm….Chickens who turn themselves into cats, ducks who turn themselves into geese, sheep who become dogs, a Witch of the Woods who offers counsel, and a special corner for all wayward spirits to gather for a homemade meal.  It is truly a vision worth believing in.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes