Monday, September 21, 2020

How my family finds deep meaning in Thanksgiving


I grew up on a little hobby farm. My parents raised chickens and meat rabbits, and made quite a good go of a vegetable garden on each of the properties they rented and owned over the years. My parents believed, as I do now, that the most ethical food is food they could grow themselves; that meat-eaters should not only know where our meat comes from, but that we should be an integral part of the process it comes from; that we shouldn't takes any lives (plant or animal) wantonly. So they toughened up and learned to farm. By the time we were teens, my brother and I had deep knowledge of local ecology due to our work (and mostly play) on our small piece of land, and deep understanding of mammal and bird husbandry and anatomy due to our involvement with rabbit and chicken farming. One year we even raised pigs to eat, but that was too heartbreaking, and now none of us likes to eat pork very much. We grew up thinking that rabbit was the usual Thanksgiving feast meat, and were eventually perplexed to realize that other people ate turkey.

As a Canadian, I wasn't taught the reasons behind the Thanksgiving turkey dinner in school, and didn't understand the inherent racism of the holiday (and inaccuracy of that famed Plymouth meal-sharing) until sometime in my twenties. In Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving very close to the autumn equinox, and there is no mention in our cultural tradition of Plymouth, pilgrims, or any other such thing. Our grocery stores and primary school curricula are filled with images of cornucopias, turkeys, scarecrows and farmers. Thanksgiving is generally the day we are thankful for our food and the people who provided it.

My kids harvesting peas that will make pea soups all winter!

My parents have always been mavericks, choosing, creating and inventing life on their own terms. So early in their relationship, they developed our family's own Thanksgiving tradition: We eat foods we grew, ourselves. We celebrate our garden, the food that feeds us, our love for one another and the land we live on, and our own hard work in growing and harvesting food. In the eighties we grew rabbits and chickens, potatoes, carrots and kale, usually a couple of Atlantic Giant pumpkins, and some other squashes, and zucchini, apples, figs, cabbage, lettuce, onions, beans... The list was long then, and now that my brother and I have grown up to have our own gardens, and we've all learned a little more about the land and our own abilities, the list is even longer. (I mean, who knew what quinoa was in 1982, never mind that we could grow it in our own back yards!) So at Thanksgiving we contribute just those things we're really excited about, as well as some loved staples like recently-dug potatoes, Dutch apple varieties, and some sweet, delicious squash.

This year is the first year in many that we've had homegrown chickens to eat, and we've had Big Monster on the menu ever since we realized he was bizarrely huge, even for a rooster, and way too mean to keep with our flock. But he's only one small part of the fabulousness we look forward to this year. Look what we're planning:

  • My son braiding this year's garlic.
    pea and sorrel soup
  • lentil crackers with chicken pate
  • oven-roasted chicken with herbs and garlic
  • oven-roasted potatoes
  • stuffed scallopini squash
  • tomato salad
  • fennel with herbs
  • apple-raspberry dessert
  • plum-quince crumble
  • pumpkin pie

Yes - three desserts. Between three households we couldn't not all showcase our star fruits! And every single thing on that menu is grown on the soil we live and work with every day. It's a part of our ecosystem. We're a part of our ecosystem! We celebrate living life as a part of a bigger whole.

Happy Thanksgiving to us and to you, and to the whole community of plants, animals, mushrooms and microorganisms that we exist together with!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Chicken Introductions Then and Now!

It's time to update you on our chicken flock. 

We bought thirty chicks last spring, and sadly, five of them had to be put down due to various ailments. One beloved rooster, Little Mister AKA Gonzo went to live with a whole flock of lovely chocolate Orpington hens where he discovered his masculinity and now basks in glory. All the other roosters we couldn't keep have made their way to various forms of packaging in our pantry and freezer (dried, canned, and frozen). And the remaining fourteen birds are living happily in the main coop, now. 

So I thought I'd introduce those who have made their way so far into our hearts as to have received names. I'll provide baby photos as well, when possible.

Lester Clark. He's that guy. That Australorp rooster guy. The guy who always hops on the chair when the lady stands up just to show his dominance. He crows with a big proud musical voice long before the sun wakes everybody else. He's a good guy, and he's generous with food, usually allowing the hens to eat before he does, and protecting them, always. Beware if you do anything that looks threatening, because he'll stomp his feet at you! And beware if you threaten his masculinity by petting him as if he was a hen or (heaven forbid) picking him up... he'll sit patiently in your arms but as soon as you put him down he'll have to regain that masculinity by quickly mating with whichever hens are nearby.

Meet the Splash. Like every good superhero, he stands tall, protects the weaker among his flock (really just the smallest ladies, since the bigger ones are a little frightening), stands up against tyranny (as long as it's not too too scary), and has an alter ego where he hides between my ankles to get treats and snuggles into my lap for a little nap when he's tired of being a superhero. His voice is rather hoarse but after Lester starts crowing, he does his best to join in with his very rusty, uncertain little crow. He's a Splash Ameraucana and generally hangs out with the smaller hens, where he bravely defends them from unwanted advances of that way-too-big guy. Then he runs away.

Bonus photo: The Splash is not only a superhero -- he's also a parchment scroll mail delivery guy. Like Hedwig, only cooler. And gawkier.


Kalamata is an olive-egger. Or at least we think so, since we didn't order any chicks with feathery feet, and yet seemed to get four of them. The other three had some kind of health problems and we lost them. But Kalamata lives on in her delightfully reserved but curious way. She likes to hop on my lap for a snuggle that lasts about ten seconds, or preferably she likes to nestle on the back of the chair I sit in (you can see her up behind Lester in the photo above). She's always very interested in what's going on, but generally sits back and observes from afar.

Those two lovelies facing each other at the roost are Audrey (left) and Big Bird (right). That's Audrey's baby photo, too. They're crested legbars and will lay blue eggs for us one day. Audrey is very very timid, but likes to stand around my feet and get attention. Big Bird is Rhiannon's special friend and likes to wait in the coop each morning so that she'll be lifted onto Rhiannon's shoulder and can be carried around for the morning chores.

That's Blue. We don't know yet if they're a pullet or a cockerel because they're a Jersey Giant, and growing more slowly than the rest. Blue is a little aloof, as you can see even in their baby photo. They go around minding their own business, munching some tasty grubs, checking out the passing cats and dog, and just generally being independent. I really hope they're a hen because they're so beautiful and I'd like more eggs, but we'll have to wait and see.

Fluffy Face! Isn't she just adorable? She's our funny little white Ameraucana hen, and is even more independent than Blue. She really doesn't like to hang out with anybody and just waits until they're gone to come for treats or even doesn't come at all because actually she probably knows where something tastier is. If you asked her something she would answer 'hmph' if she could, but she can't because the only sound she can make is that of a squeaky barn door...

Meet Francey. She's very stalwart. We're not sure what breed she is since we didn't order any barred chicks, but possibly an Orpington or Orpington cross. She doesn't care what she is because she's just so self-assured. She often just stands and stares right at me, thinking her chicken thoughts and not posturing at all.

Lastly, the Grey Lady. She has a sister named Peeves, who is plain too peevish to photograph. The Grey Lady isn't quite as mean as her sister. Just does her best to get what she wants, usually by slipping in quietly and simply snatching whatever morsel from somebody else and then running away quickly with it, often loudly. They're not very nice ladies, but they do well for themselves, and nobody bothers them (who would dare). Like every good poltergeist, they're just there. Nothing you can do about it but learn to cope.