Better Have Another

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The the first of the blueberries are coming in now, and most mornings one of us stops by the patch on our way in from chores to snag a handful or three. We planted the 90-something bushes 16 years ago, before we’d even broken ground on the house. This struck me as nothing short of insane at the time – after all, we were living in a musty and dilapidated rental shack with no running water other than what leaked through the roof during thunderstorms – but as is so often the case, Penny knew better than I. She is one of those people graced with the ability to envision a future I can only blindly lurch toward; likewise, she knew that bare root blueberry whips take at least five years to produce and she knew of the Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” In her wisdom, Penny understood that this proverb also applies to fruit-bearing bushes and that in five years, the days we spent digging and ammending and planting would have been long forgotten, while the annual flush of berries would feel like a gift that won’t stop giving.

This is the first year in the decade since the bushes became prolific that we didn’t run out of last season’s frozen berries before the current flush began. In fact, just last week we emptied the last quart down our insatiable gullets. We generally freeze 100 or more quarts of blueberries, plus maybe 20 quarts of strawberries, plus another 20 or so quarts of wild blackberries. Yeah, we eat a lot of berries, in no small part because they’re essentially free: The original bare root blueberry whips we planted all those years ago cost us less than $500, and have required maybe another $100 or so in fertility upkeep. Since then, we’ve picked and eaten at least a couple thousand quarts, and sold that much again. Hell, there ain’t a hedge fund manager alive who wouldn’t kill for that kind of return.

Berries are one of the few food items we produce that we don’t generally run out of at some point during the year. I was thinking about this the other day, when we dined on a bowl of liberally buttered new potatoes we’d snuck from the tater patch. They were the first potatoes we’d eaten in quite some time; our stash ran dry back in March or so, and not long after, the 20-pounds or so a friend gifted to us also disappeared. Since then, we’ve been taterless.

The same goes for most everything around here. When we dry off the cows, we don’t drink milk (we do, however, continue to eat the butter we’ve made and frozen) until they’re fresh again. When we’ve picked clean the last of the claytonia from the winter greenhouse, we don’t eat salad until the first early shoots of lettuce in late April or early May. When the carrots are gone, they’re gone. If we run out of beef, we eat chicken. If we run out of chicken, we eat sausage. If we run out of sausage, we eat… no, actually, that’s totally unacceptable. We never allow ourselves to run out of sausage.

We don’t do this out of pride, or even frugality. We could afford to buy potatoes in summer, or salad in winter, or milk whenever. We raise a goodly portion of our food – I’d guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% – but we’re not dogmatic about it. If we want to buy something to eat, we damn well buy something to eat.

Here’s the thing: We don’t want to buy these things, if only because by going without them for a time, our anticipation of them and appreciation for them grows. If you eat potatoes every day, they’re just potatoes: Kinda bland and boring, truth be told, although a few tablespoons of home-churned butter does bring a certain magic to them. If you have salad every day, it’s just salad. I mean, really, when’s the last time you started drooling over a bowl of mixed greens?

Here’s the other thing. If you go four or five months without eating a potato, a funny thing happens: You covet the potato, you read poems to it, you build an altar for it, you think it’s as beautiful as the smiling faces of your children or your spouse. You are grateful for it in a way you’d almost forgotten you could be grateful for something so small, so humble, so graceful in its simplicity and proportions.

You almost don’t even dare eat the thing, but of course you do. Of course. Is it the best potato you’ve ever had? It’s hard to say. Could be. Might be. Better have another just to be sure.

17 thoughts on “Better Have Another”

  1. Gosh you sure seem to have it all together. i like how you have adopted a philosophy of life and stick with it. It is refreshing to read your stories. I am also reading Saved. So far so good. I like your writing style.

    1. Believe me, there is plentiful evidence that I do not, in fact, have it all together. But thanks for your kind words and support!

  2. Absence makes the stomach grow fonder! (I can taste those Fat O’ The Land blueberries and ‘taters!)

  3. For me, in the suburbs, it’s tomatoes. The first ones (in June this year, a bit early) are very much looked forward to and eaten with much appreciation. Some years i can stretch our fresh ones into December by picking them green before the frost and ripening them in the garage. Then we do without fresh ones (but still have frozen for cooking).

  4. Nice lookin’ hay bales. Please don’t clue the hedge-fund managers in on the berries. Homesteading is hard enough already! Get those lads in and we’ll have $50 hay and $100 oats.

    Your experience runs counter to the “gotta have it now” modern culture…and I love it.

      1. Was going to mention it, but it’s kind of a sore spot here – my boys were sippin lemonade all last Saturday while watching me bale. At least it seemed that way.

  5. You may not know it but the way you are living is pretty much the way life was when I grew up in the 50s. We ate in season and froze a lot. Oranges were a treat my Grandfather shipped up from FL. My Mom would never consider buying a “hot house” tomato. Tomatoes were something you ate “in season”. We didn’t have Kiwis or Avocadoes. Our grocery store was not a lot bigger than a lot of the convenience stores of today. Essentially there were two brands and one size of things not 4 brands each having multiple sizes. I will say that the addition of a greenhouse in which to extend the growing season is certainly a nice improvement to life of the 50s so there is one use for plastic that is a positive.

  6. we live in the middle of the city on a city-sized lot where we buck the trend and grow lots of food with very little “backyard lawn.” For us this year the radishes never tasted so good! It’s so true!

  7. How true! I drool all winter just thinking about standing in the garden with tomato juice running down my arm as I eat my “al fresco” lunch. It’s amazing to me how much of our produce never even makes it into the house (wild blackberries, especially.) Nothing better!

  8. Our children appreciate fruit so much more because we rarely buy out of season.
    This year we are so grateful for our three-year old blueberry bushes that are finally producing enough for pick-and-eat, blueberry pancakes and muffins – but we have lots more planting to do to meet the demand at our house.

  9. Hi Ben,

    Great tip about putting in berry bushes! Do use have tricks to key away the bugs and birds or do you share the bounty with them?

  10. This wonderful post reminds me of a favorite quote:
    “Live each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each”–Henry David Thoreau

  11. Long story short, I’ve found your blog and been reading it start to finish the last few days. Haven’t read your books . . . yet. I know you are not a “food” blog or a “décor” blog, but I’m so curious. You often mention that you and Penny have “so much stuff” though not compared to some, but I’d love to see a couple pics of your living space. Once you posted one of the boys playing guitar in the living room and I was like, “ah ha, those chairs are upholstered!” And why shouldn’t they be, of course, but sometimes reading I picture everything totally primitive and that makes me wonder if I could ever go “all in” the way you have.

    Another curiosity, what is a typical or favorite meal for your family? Do you do a lot of “one pot” dinners in a cast iron skillet or have a favorite homemade bread recipe? I assume you do a lot of meals with the mushrooms you talk about, and bacon for breakfast every morning! And then there’s the berries – crumbles, tarts, in your yogurt in the morning. I realize it’s really weird me asking about these things. That’s what the voyeurism of blog reading does for you, I guess, so please forgive me!

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