Our ancestors understood this time of year as the “time of plenty.”
Their granaries overflowed with wheat or corn or millet, their smokehouses contained a year’s worth of salmon, or their pens held a robust number of sheep or goats or pigs. No matter which ancestors we identify with, no matter where they lived, they all knew a hungry time and a harvest time. It’s November. Our very bones are telling us that it’s time to celebrate.
If you are a mushroom gatherer and a particular fan of Boletus edulis, I bet you’re already in party mode. Del Norte County had an incredible year for the bolete. I wish I knew what made the conditions just right this year — a long, hard rain a week before Halloween, a burst of warm, sunny weather? I also checked more often than I usually do for the first buttons to come up, haunting my hunting grounds like some kind of fungal vampire.
I discretely harvested a few — just a few — of the new crop when they first came up. But in two or three days, I found myself surrounded. Boletes were everywhere, and they were legion! I had so many to choose from, I high-graded: I took nothing that looked remotely wormy or soggy. And, in an unparalleled spurt of generosity that I can only attribute to mushroom madness, I told a few people where they could find their own, leading them to my otherwise well-guarded spots.
That’s the spirit of the original Thanksgiving for you. Unfortunately, I blocked out the fact that in that original story, the newcomers ended up with a lot more than their share.
My sautéed and frozen boletes now share prime freezer real estate with my homemade pesto. My husband is contributing to freezer-overload by processing the last of our apples into apple sauce. This, in turn, will sit on layers of bagged, frozen blueberries from Blueberry Hill. And those berries go along side blackberries we gathered from around the neighborhood.
But the real reason there’s no room left in the freezer anymore is the chickens. Last month, I stopped by Ocean Air Farms to collect four organic, free-range chickens, which I had ordered from them in advance. Coming directly from work in my Mary Jane shoes and my cashmere sweater, I felt infinitely foolish walking up to the killing table. Half a dozen workers in rain boots and flannel were in the process of gutting and plucking, and I thought for a moment that I might be getting live chickens, some assembly required.
Not the case. My chickens were ready for freezer bags, but they barely fit, they were so big. At the grocery store, if you want organic, free-range chickens, you end up with a tiny thing about the size of a Cornish game hen. Actually, any chicken at the grocery store would be pint-sized compared to these birds. And the taste! To say that they tasted like chicken sounds silly, so instead I’ll say that they tasted like chicken is supposed to taste. Rich and meaty and tender — with a lot less fat than a more “industrial” bird. Bravo, Paul and Julie Jo!
But with the chickens that remain, my freezer is practically unusable. Taking something out is like working a Rubik’s Cube. And to make matters worse, my husband and I just saw an ad in The Triplicate for whole and half lambs, and we’re going in on one with another couple.
Luckily, they’re willing to share space in their 21st century version of the smokehouse: a chest freezer.