I feel like my entire life right now is consumed with a sort of controlled panic to get stores put in for the winter. It's kind of funny, because I've never felt this way before, except with the horses and their hay. You can NEVER have too much hay to carry you through a winter. Never. Just when I think I can't possibly pickle anything else, I find myself staring at a peck of peppers or pickling cucumbers or that lovely watermelon, and looking around for spare jars and the giant jug of vinegar. I know. It's weird. The freezers are groaning, and I now live in fear of a power failure. My pantry looks completely different than it did last year at this time.
Gather, gather, gather, store store store! I can't imagine how people in the days before refrigeration must have scrambled as the summer days dwindled down. Canning and pickling and salting and curing and drying and digging...I feel guilty for buying that sushi rice at the Asian market. It came from Maryland. Arkansas is Rice Central, and I bought rice from Maryland. Don't complain to me, complain to Riceland. I needed some sushi rice. Sue me.
If you're quiet, you can hear and feel it from the growers at the farmer's markets. The ones that are still showing up "in town" with their produce are antsy, anxious to get back to work. You can see the distracted looks on their faces, as if they're thinking about how much daylight they're burning while you make up your mind whether to buy one eggplant or two. You definitely feel it if you visit the actual farm, and of course, there, you can see it.
Bella and I visited "our" little nearby farm recently, and it sort of looked like the plants had taken over. Squash were run amok, to the point that they were overripe and spoiling in the rows in places. Tomatoes were ripening so fast that we were hard-pressed to find a handful of green ones for relish. The sweet peppers we came for were exploding in vivid shades of red and orange, instead of confining themselves to the quiet yellow-green of the last batch we collected for pickling.
Far from being put out and having to collect two five-gallon buckets full of peppers for us, the grower was thrilled that we were taking them, telling us that he had just about been ready to till those rows under. This is how my first year of following the harvest has been--I've always seemed on the tail-end of whatever season it is. The good news is that I've gotten some incredible deals, from growers with a supply of fully-ripe, highly perishable produce to unload before it becomes very expensive compost. But I've also missed out on getting in good supplies of some things, like blueberries. I got a few pints, but not as many as I'd have liked. And I'm hoping for one more green bean harvest this year, but have no idea yet whether or not that's just a pipe dream. I'll know in a couple of days.
I'm pretty tickled with how much Bella has seemed to absorb during this process. She already knows more about nutrition and the origins of her food than I did as a young adult, and she definitely has a more experienced palate. The kid is even eating pickled peppers--probably because she was part of the process as they went from being living fruit on the vine to making a colorful confetti in our kitchen.
She even went with me to Scott to pick up hay last week, and hardly complained at all, despite the fact that it was a thousand degrees out. OK, maybe not a thousand, but it was darn hot. See?
This hay we got, it's some magical stuff. I haven't seen one bit of it go wasted since we got it home. The horses are desperate for quality forage, and very much appreciate the Good Stuff when they see it. My problem with putting in hay is the same as it ever was: I don't have the room to store as much as I'll need over the winter. So I bring home as much as I can carry (actually, judging from the pictures, possibly a bit more than I can carry, or at least more than I know how to load and tie correctly), and hope for the best. There has been a spell of rain and lower-than-normal temperatures recently, so I'm kind of hoping that means an extra cutting of hay this summer. It could happen. (This is where you stop what you're doing and pray for hay.)
I never feel quite so happily secure and optimistic as on the day I come home with enough hay to fill the barn. Conversely, nothing sets me on edge and gives me general anxiety quite as much as being out of hay in January. Ack, I don't even like thinking about it. This is how I get a little insight into the trials of my forebears. All right, so my forebears probably didn't have access to a Purina mill for complete livestock feed. Or a Kroger down the road, for that matter. But humor me, for I have soaked cucumbers in a solution of lime and water for 24 hours and created from that a delicious pickle. I see both the future and the past.