Thursday, October 10, 2019
Inventoried the pantry today, with Evita’s help. Pretty good list! After Dolores and Zuza helped me with the canning, we have:
24 quart jars of tomatoes
15 quart jars of tomato sauce
18 quart jars of green beans
8 pints carrots
5 pints of yellow wax beans
3 pints of mixed pickled veggies
4 pints of jalapeños
There are four large bins of potatoes under the stairs (carefully screened to keep the cats from sleeping on them). Hanging from the rafters are 9 braids of onions, 5 ristras of chilies, and a basket of garlic (the hard stemmed kind, that you can’t braid.) I already put 12 tubs of pesto in the freezer earlier in the summer, before the heat turned the basil bitter. All of this makes only a minor dent in feeding us this winter—I know the satisfaction I take in the gleaming rows of jars is all out of proportion to their effect on our budget.
I can’t help but notice, as we work, what is not in the pantry. Sardines, which have become impossibly dear in the wake of ever more frequent El Niño events. Tuna fish (poor tunas! I have read they are so rare, now, they have trouble finding each other to mate.) Anchovies. I remember clearly being taught, when I was in grade school, that man would never run out of food because the sea was an inexhaustible resource! Hah. I do, however, have an abundance of dried seaweed, which is quiet good in steamed rice, and soups. And I still splurge on olive oil and on chocolate, despite the price.
Last night I butchered rabbits. Two dozen was entirely too many to take care of, so over Evita’s and Chevre’s protests (they became attached to them, just as I feared) I culled one dozen. I don’t mind dressing them, after the deed is done. I would far rather cut up warm, fresh meat than cold stiff flesh reeking of formaldehyde (memories of dissection in college and graduate school.) After a carcass is gutted, skinning is actually a rather interesting puzzle. I feel a great sense of accomplishment at getting the pelt off in one piece, with no nicks. I remember the swell of pride the first time I accomplished this, after a full year of generating tattered fragments. After skinning, each body slides into a dated zip-lock bag, and popped into the chest freezer. Cliff's friend Sheila, who keeps pet rabbits, is absolutely appalled. She refuses to come to dinner now, even if I assure her it is vegetarian. I think she views me as a monster for whacking bunnies. What can I say? In China they eat Chow Chows (or used to), and the idea of anyone eyeing Barsook as food makes me upset.
When the hens start getting old enough to stop laying, I will have to learn to whack them as well. Scalding and plucking does not sound fun. The Tilapia are the easy. Sprinkle some fish chow in the big tank to bring them to the surface, dip in a net and haul out a nice big guy (Evita begs to wield the net), reach in and grab him firmly (this is the tricky part!), slap him on the butcher block and whack off the head. I suppose there are less dramatic ways to kill a fish. After all, in the fish store they sell them with the head still on. (What do they do, pull them out of the water and let them suffocate? Decapitation seems kinder.) Fish guts smell gross but they come out quite easily. It would be very efficient if the waste (rabbit and fish) could become pet food, but the cats won’t touch the offal for love or money. Spoiled brats! They are quite happy to come crying for their share when the good parts get cooked.
Having to put all this work into our food stock makes me much more careful about how I cook. I’ll be damned if I put all this work into raising, preparing and preserving this food only to toss leftovers in the trash. Not that there is much chance of that with Cliff, Flaco and Cintio sitting down to the dinner table (I swear each of those guys eats enough for two). And Iphan and Tenciero have started joining us for dinner once or twice a week. They were doing ok cooking on their own until a small fire resulted from Iphan taking a stab at making fried donuts. (He put the paper towels for draining the donuts too close to the burner.) After that they were rather spooked, and sometimes prefer to come over to our place. They are more than happy to do the actual cooking, even for all twelve of us, but they like having me or Dolores looking over their shoulders and letting them know all is well.
Iphan has phenomenal knife skills. He is the only person I know (short of a professional chef) who can dice vegetables and actually have them come out as perfect tiny cubes, each exactly the same size. Yet another illustration of how “differently-abled” is a better descriptor for his condition than “disabled.” And what would Russ do without his autistic employees to watch over his bees? Everyone else is scrambling to find pollinators, with all the various bacterial and fungal diseases conspiring to knock them off.
Russ has found that his “Auty Boys” (as he calls them ever so sensitively) will sit absolutely patiently for four hours on a shift, scanning the bees as they arrive back at the hive, catching and killing any that show subtle signs of disease in their morphology or behavior. I sat with Dan for two hours one afternoon, as he tried to show me what he looked for. I couldn’t see for the life of me what clued him in—he became quite cross and impatient with my stupidity! This culling, while ruthless, has given Russ one of the few healthy colonies in the area. And my skill at recruiting suitable young people from the Independent Living program give me an inside track in trading for the resulting honey—a blessing in an economy that relies increasingly on barter.
Off to a well-earned rest. Biscuits in the morning, I think, which Dolores is slowly beginning to accept as real food. Then finish my report for the Museum of the New Orleans Diaspora, and over to the fencing club to set up for the competition on Saturday. Oh the pain of trying to run competitions for groups limited to twelve! More on that later…