This week’s share: Carrots, Cucumber, Dill, Eggplant, Lettuce, Onions, Pears, Peppers, Poblano peppers, Squash, Tomatoes
When I was young we used to visit my grandparents in England every other summer. After my grandfather retired, they moved to a stone cottage in a little village perched atop a wold in Gloucestershire with a view out over the Vale of Evesham. We would go for long walks over the hills, crossing sheep pastures and grain fields on ancient rights of way, passing Iron Age burial mounds and badger setts known to the Romans. One of the sites we would always visit was the ruins of Hailes Abbey, a Cistercian house founded in 1246. Pilgrims visiting its relic, a vial of Christ’s blood, funded it, and appear to have funded it well because it was quite extensive.
And then Henry VIII, in a sour mood and looking for cash, dissolved the abbeys. I have no doubt if he had had the means to melt stone he would have done it literally. But he had to content himself simply with smashing the abbeys to pieces (unless he found someone willing to pay him a good price for the building) and destroying much of their contents, including their vast (by the standards of the time) libraries. In so doing he may have helped set England on a new course, one that it chooses to celebrate, but he also obliterated remarkable buildings that were a testament to a particular time and place and crucial repositories of art and learning.
This week ISIS chose to blow up the 2000 year old Temple of Bel. Just another petulant act in their continuing–and disturbingly successful–campaign to eradicate pre-Islamic sites and piss off the rest of the world. It seems almost incomprehensible, taking out your odd angry zeal in this way. The temple, a world heritage site, was supposed to belong to everyone, a piece of shared history carefully preserved, set apart from the mess of the present. Destroying it was an assault on the notion of collective humanity. Hardly a surprising one, though, given ISIS’s record of assaults on actual humans in an attempt to eradicate what they define as non-believers.
Hardly surprising, either, given collective humanity’s history. As egregious as ISIS is, it has hardly added something brand new to the record. Who thinks of Britain as a land of fervent Catholic devotion crisscrossed by well used pilgrim routes? And how much of its Celtic past did the Roman legions leave intact? And what of the native culture of the Americas? Or Stalin’s collective deportations? What legacy of the the Khwarazmian Empire did Genghis Kahn leave for us to admire?
It was perhaps a little foolish to think we could take a piece of our history–even one so notable for its antiquity, beauty and interest–and set it apart from other, less attractive, pieces of our history. In fact, placing this value, merited as it may be, on Palmyra may have enhanced its value as a target for any passing history rewriters. There’s not much point in blowing up old buildings that nobody cares about.
Foolish, but I think we have to try anyway. Not that I have a fully cogent reason. I suppose mostly because it is evocative, a way to travel into another life, and inhabiting another life not only passes the time, but also helps to keep us at least little a little better behaved. We would not be having this absurd Confederate battle flag fracas if people tried a little harder to see it from someone else’s point of view. Or a group like ISIS going around committing atrocities in the name of orthodoxy.
One of the charms of Easton is the sense of history people have here. It is easier to hang onto history when you stay in the same place with the same people, and farming tends to encourage that. Farming binds a family to a piece of land, and when you work that land you have to deal with the choices the people who worked it before you made, and the challenges they faced help inform your choices too. So you tend to hang onto stuff: knowledge, tractors, grudges.
I don’t know that living with this history always broadens the perspective of the locals (I have been here 20 years, and it will be another 3 generations before I am a local). Deeply rooted in their history, they often seem to view it as an element of current events. They talk about hard winters 60 years ago as though they had just passed and refer to farms by the names of people long dead.
But I don’t have to feel ancient slights. I can just try to picture how Elijah Brownell and his family managed to make a life for themselves (and survive the first winter) when they settled on this farm in 1788, and what it was like for the Pearsons, recent Swedish immigrants, when they took over the farm in 1910. And even, I suppose, how people lived here before the Europeans came, though almost every trace has been erased.
And I can do something to try to protect the history. UNESCO is not going to declare the farm a world heritage site, but the conservation easement we placed on it ensures that it will remain farmland in perpetuity. Well, perpetuity is a long time. There’s no guarantee what counts as a binding legal document now will always remain so. Who knows what will happen when the South rises again (I assume that is why they keep the battle flag around) or some other band of zealots comes through. But it is what we can do now to try to hang onto what we have. And that’s a lot better than doing nothing.
Vegetable notes: Most years, the peppers start ripening slowly in early August and then pick up the pace over the next 5 or 6 weeks. This year they started off very slowly and then all ripened this week. Well, not all of them. I exaggerate a tad. There are still a lot of peppers on the plants. Actually, there are still a lot of ripe peppers on some of the plants. We picked just over half of the pepper patch and filled 20 tubs. That is a lot of peppers, which is why you have a lot of peppers.
Fortunately, there are a lot of things to do with peppers. You could, for instance, just take a bite. I often eat one when we are picking them. But I don’t low that I would want to eat a lot of them raw. I prefer them sautéed very slowly in a good amount of olive oil with onion, a little rosemary and lemon juice until they are completely soft. You can eat them hot or cold. Or as soup. Roast and peel several peppers, sauté them with some onion and garlic, a little rosemary, thyme and smoked paprika, and when the vegetables are all soft add chicken stock, a little white wine or vermouth and a dash of sherry vinegar. Simmer for 20 minutes or so the let the flavors meld and then puree. You can finish it with a dash of heavy cream if you like. It is also good hot or cold, and you can garnish it with a few crouton and some diced tomato. And if you don’t feel like having peppers right now, you can freeze roasted, peeled pureed peppers and make yourself a bowl of nice hot pepper soup or chili this winter.