Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stoked About My Crock (and about a lot of other things, too, though winter will not loose its icy grip, and there's a lot of crappy stuff going on...)

...still, there are encouraging signs, and this weekend past at Bide-A-Wee was full of all the things that make us love west central Wisconsin:

* A foraging outing to a sweet little spring near the cabin, which showed that the watercress is still winter-scorched but coming along, starting to green up, just needing a few days of warmth and sun to push into the air and thrive. About that time the snow will melt along sandy stream banks, and we'll see stinging nettles start to pop.

* Great food, including a delightful enchilada lunch at Darlene's Corner Cupboard, a gem of a little restaurant in Boyceville; and dinners of maple-glazed bacon on spaetzle with greens and Haggis-roasted sweet potatoes, and simmered supper of beef shanks and tasty local root vegetables.

* Appetite-building treks around the land on foot, skis, and snowshoes.

* Fun & invigorating activities with other humans: A full day at the Hay River Transition Initiative's Traditional and Green Skills event; a field trip to Downsville for pottery and tea; and lovely visits with neighbors, some of them new acquaintances as of last weekend.

The Hay River Transition Initiative event was extremely enjoyable, enlightening, inspiring. This was the inaugural Traditional and Green Skills Event, and I'd say that everyone involved can count it a singular success. When I looked at the roster of classes--everything from solar hot water systems to rag rug making to wind power, home cheese making, horse hoof maintenance, blues harmonica--around 25 different classes in three sessions, I sort of wondered if everyone involved with the group would be occupied teaching classes, and no one left to attend them. That turned out not to be the case--while there was preregistration for the event, the walk-in crowd was huge. There must have been 200-plus people packed into the cafeteria at Prairie Farm High School once everyone had arrived. All my classes--cheese making, backyard chicken and rabbit raising, solar food dehydrators--were full up, and Mary reported the same from hers--the solar hot water and wind power, and blues harmonica.

With only 50 minutes per class, there wasn't time for in-depth detail, but all my classes provided compelling introductions. Beyond that, it was just incredibly heartening to see such a large and diverse group of people gathered for an event like this--from recent back-to-the-landers, CSA farmers, long-established transplants, and true "locals" of all ages (those names we see over and over in Hay River Review articles, keeping the 4-H going, the pep squad, the Ridgeland Fair, the volunteer fire department).

From the group's website, the goal of a transition initiative is "to bring people together to plan for changes in our future, rather than waiting for a crisis. The challenges of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability can be better met by building a positive local response." Beyond those quite pragmatic goals, the spirit of this day seemed to be one of working in a really positive way to make connections that will strengthen the community, carry forward a sense of a vibrant and sustainable rural life along with the traditional skills that interest so many people these days.

And get this: the fee for the whole day, including three classes, coffee and snacks in the morning, and lunch, was a whopping $6 per person. We offered up a twenty and said keep the change. You can't even get into a half-assed movie in town for $6.

That was Saturday, and the buzz we caught from the event kept us going through the weekend. Sunday we made a little road trip south, looking for a honey pot. We knew of a potter in the town of Downsville, south of Menomonie on the Red Cedar River. John Thomas is the potter, and with Kathy Ruggles he presides over a charming collection of buildings--their house, the pottery workshop, kiln shed, a small retail shop, and a recently renovated octagonal schoolhouse, which is now the Oasis events center for Simply Dunn . (John referred to this little hamlet as "my edifice complex.") So we got a tour of the place, a cup of tea, and a slide show of photographs from the demonstrations in Madison--John and Kathy are friends of our friends and neighbors Don Roberts and Joni Cash (aka Otter Creek Growers). And we bought a teapot, a honey pot, and most exciting, with its prospect of wonderful fermented things not yet born, this awesome crock.

I am absolutely ready to get seeds started, till up the garden, plant, mulch, harvest, feast and preserve. Of course, we will first have to get rid of this deep snow pack that keeps hanging around. In the meantime, a weekend like that helps enormously in keeping one's spirits up. My crock is speaking to me, saying Soon, very soon, it's bound to come soon....

The crock holds about five quarts. I'm thinking a mixed-veg ferment would be a good way to break it in this summer.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


el said...

This summer? Why wait, can you get ahold of some turnips or cabbage up by you somewhere? I'm a bit of a fermentation nut though and always have something going (growing) in my crocks. It's a wonderful crock you've got there, Brett.

So happy to hear about your classroom adventures. It gives me hope.

And: I wish you a thaw.

Trout Caviar said...

Now that you mention it, El, I've got a half-a-tote of carrots down there which aren't getting any better. If I scrounged for a few companionable turnips, rutabagas, I could probably knock something together. Thanks for the thought.

Sadly, the cabbages at the co-op are now coming out of Florida. 'Kraut will have to wait (but I still have a pretty good supply to eat through).

Your good warm wishes are gratefully acknowledged. I see you have a bit of snow to melt off yet, too.


Jennifer said...

I got a similar crock for Christmas, and I am also anxiously awaiting a cabbage or two to put into it.

One question: what to use for a cover? Will a simple plate do the trick? Or should I convince my husband to make something out of wood?

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Jennifer: I'm thinking I'll make a round wood piece to fit just inside the crock, a weight on that to push the vegetables down, and I'll cover the top with a couple thicknesses of cheesecloth to keep the fruit flies out--maybe it's the cider and vinegar and sourdough starter we always have fermenting around here, we have fruit flies nearly year round.

Happy fermenting, and thanks for writing~ Brett

Sara said...

lovely. You've given me an idea about bartering with a friend potter too!

The Hay River initiative sounds very cool! I think I saw info on that at the fermentation fest in Reedsburg. It's funny and cool that smaller communities are getting organized.

Tom said...

I'm jealous of your crock! It is nice to have objects of such obvious craftsmanship

Trout Caviar said...

Sara, I think I tend to lean a bit toward the cynical side these days, but the Hay River event was so damn spirit-buoying, it was all I could do to keep from smiling (!). The transition initiative idea began in Britain, I believe, and I think there's a clearing house for info on starting local initiatives. That fermentation fest sounds interesting--I'm gonna Google it.

Tom, I can give you a route that will take you through Downsville some time to or fro Bide-A-Wee. You and Martha would enjoy meeting John and Kathy.

Cheers~ Brett

sylvie in Rappahannock said...

That IS a gorgeous crock!