I have been hoping, or perhaps I mean fantasizing, that some reader to this page will be wondering what has stimulated two people, who have had careers in other professions, to put their hands and their hearts deep into the soil late in their lives.
Should anyone care to know, this writing is my effort to respond. Katherine can certainly speak for herself, and perhaps at some point in the future she will do so. What follows comes from my musings on the topic and is as much an effort to answer the question for myself as it is for anyone else.
Farming for me has its roots in my passion for food. I love everything about food: growing, harvesting, preparing, cooking and eating. Especially I love eating, especially when all the preceding leads up to a plate or bowl full of goodness. The satisfaction builds every step of the way.
Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say that food is deeply embedded in my DNA. Just a single generation separates me from my immigrant grandparents, who arrived in America from the eastern edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire early in the 20th century. The stories of their childhoods where they lived close to the soil, literally, in homes with earthen floors, always intrigued me.
Although my parents were not farmers, our family lived in a rural community, where I have early memories of neighbors operating horse-drawn machinery. There were apple orchards on three sides of our country home, and dairy farms a short walk up or down the hill on a winding dirt road. We drank golden Guernsey milk in glass bottles that we obtained from a dairy plant on the other side of the small town, and farm stands supplied us with vegetables in season as well as commodities like eggs and luxuries like honey.
Most of all, my childhood memories involve the food I experienced at the tables of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. That food nourished both my child body and my developing soul. Savory broths and stews, roasted fowls and meats, mingled flavors of mixed vegetables both cooked and raw in salads and finally, delightfully fragrant fruit soups and home-made pastries, were the highlights of visits with the much-loved elders of our once large tribe, now much depleted by time.
Alas, there are no recipes. After tasting the endless creations that emanated from the tiny kitchens of those days, primitive by 21st century standards, I would pester for details, only to be told that the only way I could be taught how to cook was by watching. There were no actual guidelines. Cooking the European way was by instinct and tradition, and those were the only methods by which it could be passed on to another generation. An impatient child was too easily distracted and before I knew it, the elder generation had passed and wit them opportunity departed as well.
Now that I am an adult, and in fact am now older than many of that generation were when I attended their funerals, I have had no choice but to develop my own repertoire of favorites for our daily fare. These don’t even come close to replicating ancestral creations, but both Katherine and I find them enjoyable and satisfying. The most important ingredient, besides the superb organic meats and vegetables that we grow at Burelli Farm or obtain from other organic farms in the neighborhood, is the pleasure of growing and cooking food that is both tasty and nourishing.
Today, and in the future, I will share some ideas for meals that we often fix for ourselves here at the farm. Feel free to use them as foundations for your own creativity. Improvise and improve; innovate and imagine. Be bold. If you start with good ingredients, it is very difficult to go wrong.
Peter’s Pasta Sauce:
One pound each Burelli Farm certified organic ground beef and ground pork.
(You could substitute two pounds of either beef or pork and the result will be just as good. We sometimes do that, but we like the combination of flavors best.)
One quart certified organic tomato puree
(We like to make our own puree when tomatoes are in season. We freeze it in Mason jars and enjoy it all winter long.)
Seven ounces certified organic tomato paste.
(The tomato paste thickens the sauce. It isn’t essential, but I like the texture of the finished product. We don’t make our own tomato paste, perhaps some day we will. Right now we use the canned variety.)
Two medium certified organic green, red or yellow bell peppers.
One large certified organic yellow or red onion.
One teaspoon ground red chili pepper flakes.
Two tablespoons Italian seasoning (we like to use dried oregano and basil from our garden whenever we can.)
Mix the beef and pork in a large bowl using clean hands or a large sturdy wooden spoon.
When mixed, place in a large heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. Brown the meat thoroughly over medium high heat, stirring often with the wooden spoon.
Chop the onion and peppers (not too finely) and sauté in two tablespoons of rendered certified organic leaf lard (we make lard at the farm from our pigs) or vegetable oil. (Be aware that most commercial non-organic oils are made from GMO corn, canola, or other similar sources.)
Add sautéed vegetables to the browned meats, stir in tomato puree and paste with the wooden spoon. Be sure all ingredients are well mixed.
Simmer on top of stove for at least two hours or cook in slow cooker on low for 8 – 10 hours or more.
Boil one pound of your favorite organic pasta till al dente (or make your own using certified organic local flours; there are many wonderful organic flours grown and milled in Vermont and nearby Quebec.)
Drain pasta. Ladle sauce on top and sprinkle with your favorite grated cheese. Italian parmesan or Romano (or a combination of both) are traditional, but local Vermont cheeses such as cheddar work well too. Just be sure to grate your own cheese – pre-grated cheese often contains objectionable contaminants like wood fiber.
Eat and enjoy!