I miss having goats on the farm. As annoying as it was to wake up each morning to milk and to coordinate the same in the afternoon, it was a labor of love that resulted in excess to the point that our pigs were getting used to their grain looking like a bowl of cereal. We named our lactating goat Kale because she eventually refused to allow us to milk her unless she had a bowlful of freshly picked kale to snack on while we tugged on her teats. Her daughter was named Chard, but this was only to match her mother and had no real connection to her diet, it was simply cute.
Kale was a diligent mower (which is known as eating in her world) and possessed a great, playful personality; children loved her and she had many regular visitors, from Eloise to Lydia, who seemed to come to the farm just to see her. Children and animals obviously get along smashingly; I think there is a communication that goes on between the two before our real vocabularies develop and get in the way. Some adults keep this connection while most learn to separate themselves. Eloise would come by each morning with muffins for the farm workers, then would proceed to feed kale by the armful to Kale, rewarded by the occasional kiss on her cheek or lick across her forearm.
My grandfather loved giving the same gift to his children, as well as children in the community. He would bring kids around his farm to milk the cows with him, always playing the same joke on them: explaining that each udder had a different flavor of milk just like an ice cream dispenser. Also if they did as he told them and cocked their tail up and down like priming an old well the milk would come out faster. My dad and his siblings had every type of pet under the sun, plus a variety of farm animals and with the many daily chores it took to care for them, they learned early lessons that are harder to come by in today’s world. I ran into some friends from Chicago the other day and asked them if they had visited our chickens and was a bit saddened when I was told the kids had never interacted with a farm animal before and were scared to do so.
I have never met a well cared-for barnyard animal worth fearing, even if it happens to be a 350-pound sow or a full-grown cow. These friends, and eventual sources of sustenance, have been bred and cared for in captivity for so long that their temperament makes human relationships both necessary and easy. I guess the biggest thing to fear with animals such as pigs or cows or even sheep, is spooking them, since they often can’t judge their massive strength and don’t have any gauge of their enormous weight. It was heartbreaking to hear about Allen Healy’s cow which was spooked by a dog, busted through its fence and into oncoming traffic, only to be hit and killed in the center of Middle Road. That is the only road kill I have heard of that most people would be comfortable eating.
Caitlin Jones, Allen’s wife and the other half of the operating team at Mermaid Farm grows some crazy stuff in her greenhouse. She also uses one of her greenhouses for painting, which adds an odd smell since she only uses found leftover paint that often means acrylics are mixed with oils and cleaning your brushes I imagine must be impossible. Throughout the season she grows standard cherry tomatoes in the hoop houses all over her property, but she also propagates wild chicories, and this spring grew pea greens that looked like they had been fed steroids or were being held in front of a magnifying glass while the rest of the world was normal, small and muted. Caitlin speaks to her soil in the same way small children speak to animals; she never learned not to and uses an internal vocabulary nobody else will ever know. Earlier this spring she was selling the pea greens tightly packed into plastic bags just like salad greens. The peas were so large and impressive it looked as though they were trying to burst their way out like the hulk popping out of his T-shirt.
I have never grown peas as impressive as Caitlins, though I am impatient enough that I love their greens, blossoms and anything that comes before the actual pea itself. When I can wait for the pods to fatten themselves up with sunlight, water and nutrients from our carefully-tended and amended soil it is always worth the wait. Freshly-shucked peas have a sugar content so high, it’s simple to get even the most finicky eaters to devour them in huge quantities. My friend Russell brought me some peas he and his daughter Sarah had grown, picked and delivered together. He was supposed to bring me some the week before but Sarah had eaten too many while picking to make the trip worth it. I was grateful for such a perfect gift and cooked them dinner as they sat outside and watched the sunset together.
Peas and Burrata
Serves six as an appetizer
2 balls of high quality burrata
1 cup freshly shucked peas
2 tablespoons high quality olive oil
Place the burrata on an oval platter, tear it in half and spread out over as much of the platter as possible. Mix the peas with olive oil and drizzle all over the burrata, then sprinkle with rock salt generously and serve family style with ample amounts of toasted bread.