Visiting various homesteads around the Valley, tracking my kids around and what not, I'm seeing baskets of lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, even buckets of fresh eggs. Friends are trading hams, sausage, bacon. In the kitchens my friends are starting to can tomatoes, though they're unbelievably late.
I still have a good supply of cabbages, onions, and potatoes to deal with, and am sort of having a blast traveling to different homes to have dinner, see their gardens. Since my commercial farming days are at least temporarily numbered, I've opted to drop all marketing in favor of socializing. At dinner conversations I'm starting to feel like I really know what the hell I'm talking about when it comes to vegetables and farming in general. “It's like I can't make mistakes, these days,” I say. “I'm basically right about everything now that I've quit trying to farm.”
A local woman invited me over, Sunday night, over cabbages. We were going to pack a five gallon crock with sauerkraut.
I'm a little religious about kraut, which is why I planted the insane cabbage crop. You can't make money growing cabbage unless you have acres of irrigated land and tractor trailers to haul it off to the Walmart Distribution center. But I figured if you had hundreds of cabbage heads you could call all your friends and say, “Hey, I got as much cabbage as you could ever want if you want to make kraut. I'll trade.”
There's no way I'm making kraut by myself. The idea is too daunting. I'm not optimistic enough, anymore, to think that I'd actually keep an eye on the stuff without letting it take on the essence of the inside of my boots The truth is I hate to do that kind of work alone. I don't mind operating a tractor by myself, but food processing seems to me to be a group activity. So I was legitimately excited Sunday night. We weren't really just making kraut. You could call it kimche if you knew how to spell it, which I don't. People made versions of kraut or kimche all over most of Europe and Asia for thousands of years, and swore by it. The woman I was working with had dried cayenne peppers, garlic, sea palm, ginger, and then we shredded a bunch of onions.
We took turns chopping the vegetables and running them through the food processor while her favorite tunes played from her modern musical playback system. It was all this great African beat stuff like Babba Mal who played here at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, and some chick rock, and then Johnny Cash made it in there.
“You gotta admit Johnny Cash was the shits to make it into a playlist like that,” I said. “Straight outta Arkansas in the 50s. Then World music?”
She smiled and looked over at me. “I'm having a really good time, Spec.”
“I don't want you to get the wrong idea…”
“That's cool,” I said.
We dumped the shreddings into a food-grade five-gallon bucket, and she added a few pinches of salt here and there while she showed me how to mix and knead the stuff.
I kneaded it for a while, then I thought, What the hell? I started punching it down with my fists along with the African drum beat.
“I never did it like that,” she said.
“Just like tamping in dirt around a fence post. Anyway, it feels good on my knuckles.”
In the morning, at the Mosswood Market, I sipped a cup of Joe and glanced nervously around for about 20 minutes while a bunch of irritating wine tourists went on and on about various varieties and labels of Pinot Noir. It was all they f---ing talked about, and I was relieved when a local finally showed up asking what I was up to.
I didn't know, I said, and told him about making kraut the night before.
“How much salt did you use?”
“Hell, I don't know.”
“What do you mean, you don't know?”
“I wasn't the one who put the salt in. I was kneading the stuff.”
“You must have some idea. Five gallons. Was it a tablespoon?”
Christ, I had no idea. Don't ask me for a recipe. ¥¥