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March 2007

I slurped my soup the other day. Actually today. A few minutes ago, as a matter of fact. For the very first time. It was an indeterminate kind of soup. The ingredients had, except for the occasional olive, assumed the identity of their nearest neighbor and the neighbor after that until it became a thick somewhat lumpy mass of hot, not quite liquid, not quite solid, something. It tasted so good. I had just come up from a prolonged but successful few hours of barn chores. It was colder outside than I had remembered. The house seemed farther away. And the kitchen was colder than when I left it. I switched on the baby monitor and the roar of the flock in the barn invaded the kitchen. I had just let them in to eat, relax for the evening, and, oh yes, reunite with their babies. A noisy adventure at best. The little eweling who is, for a few days, in the kitchen, saw me, heard the ewes, decided I was her ma ma ma and raced over, demanding her tea. Supper would come later. The pot on the woodstove was still bubbling. I tilted it. Poured out a cup of soup and slurped as I prepared the baby bottle of lamb milk replacer. It felt so good. I suddenly understood the whys of slurping soup. Four cupfuls, very small cups, went down my throat. It tasted so good. And now, all I want to do is sleep, as does the lamb, curled up in a corner. But the firewood is wet and the house is on the borderline between chilly and cold and I am exhausted. Wood must be brought in before I go out again. I'll never be able to do it when I come in from the last feeding of the night. And I am getting colder as the moments pass. The wood, this week is, and shall be wet. All week. It has been outside in the rain and snow all winter and has managed to freeze so often that the water is locked into it. It isn't throwing off much heat. Even the pieces that had been put to dry out in front of the fire, upon being burned, aren't throwing out much of anything that could be described as warmth.

      I hesitate to move. Peabody the cat sits on my foot, between me and the fire. I don't want to disturb her. Oh would it only blaze up and sing. It rumbles instead and smolders. But I must get more wood for both fires. The one in the kitchen and the one in the living room. I'll never do it tonight if I put it off.


      I got the wood in to the house. Sat down in front of the smoldering fire once again and fell into a deep sleep. When I woke up I took the last spoonful of soup from the pot on the woodstove and threw back into it the makings of another soup. I like to breakfast like a French peasant. Soup. It is the best, actually. This one is French green lentils, shallots, garlic, chestnuts and some dried mushrooms. Oh, and powdered chicken stock. If I have the energy I'll slice some Savoy cabbage very thinly, cut up some bacon into two inch long pieces and put that in as well. Today's soup had started out as green split peas, shallots, onion, garlic, cabbage, bacon, crushed tomatoes, olives, salt capers, rice, potatoes and stock. You can see why I didn't add crusts of dried bread. It ended up looking like none of the above ingredients was in it. But it really fit this day.

      My daughter, Justine gave me a book of Italian recipes called The Silver Spoon. It was written in Italy right after the Second World War. In it are many recipes for soups. Minestrone's. Cream soups. Thick soups. Thin ones. I read them all. The most interesting thing about them is the variety of ingredients, the small quantities of each, and, eventually, the names given each soup. (Should I name mine? The one with the green lentils could be Potage Boulevard Saint Michel, as an example.) I realized that in Italy, in the years immediately following the Second World War food must have been very scarce. These soups were all reasonable attempts to make nice dishes out of not very much. What I also realized was that each homemaker, upon understanding the principle of the recipe, must have substituted ingredients all of the time. Each recipe must have been altered according to availability. And so was born yesterday's split pea soup. Which may never be made again quite the same way. And today's soup is simply that, the soup of the day. It may never, unless it proves to be really delicious, ever be made again.

      What was equally interesting about The Silver Spoon was that these soups had names, and yet, clearly they were most probably made in the same way I had made my soup. Water plus what was in the larder. Shall I name today's soup? Food was not wasted as we waste food today. Stale crusts of bread were used to thicken a soup or grated to put on top of macaroni and cheese. Bread crumbs didn't come in cardboard and metal containers but came from the sweepings off of the bread cutting board.

      I've usually eaten and cooked this way myself. Sometimes in fantasy. Meaning there can sometimes be found things I've hung onto to use that ultimately needs be tossed out to the chickens. I'd forgotten to do anything with them.

      My daughter gave me another book, which I wish I had had when I first learned to cook. It is called La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, and was the basic cookbook many people used in France since 1927 when it first came out. It tells exactly how to do everything. Correctly. Including starting the fire in the coal stove. The principle can be applied to my increasingly miserable Vermont Casting Defiant woodstove. (No longer made in Vermont). It includes the method of splitting kindling over one's knee but not breaking it to form a little teepee under which the kindling can more easily ignite. I've bundled the long stems from the golden glow that has raced around my long garden to the corner of the house, its long roots traveling for yards under the lawn, to use for kindling. Were I perfect, I'd organize life so I could spend an hour or two to bundle the stems, tie them neatly with baling twine and be prepared in October for February mornings. But I'm not perfect and life on the farm calls incessantly.

      Last night, after the evening's bottling I stood for awhile in the pretty pretty yard between the carriage house and the barn. Snow fell. Snow fell. Flakes almost too small to see. The moon was wreathed in haze, gentle, sweet. The willow beside the stone stairs leading to the house was silhouetted against the warm glow of the lights from the kitchen window. The massive pine trees stood black in front of me. Everyone in the barn was fed. I had captured my wild and bagging doe in the upper level of the barn. She needs be penned so she can freshen in security. And this goatherd/shepherd can rest easily. I held the smallest lamb in my flock in my arms, a little spinneri lamb. She will be safest in the kitchen until she is bigger. The loveliness seemed as if it could never end. For a few moments, at least, all was well.

      Sylvia Jorrín

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