On winter potatoes and worship

I had to check back to see when I’d harvested potatoes. It was August 31st, I think. Even before that we’d been digging them here and there, eating the new potatoes for a couple of months.

I was thinking about it because I recently had to go through the whole stash, knocking the sprouts off of them to buy them more time in storage. I pulled out the best of each variety and separated out what I need for seed this spring. Then I sorted them based on quality- the wrinkled ones from the ones that were still firm. I have to use the wrinkled ones soon, so I’ve been thinking up all kinds of potato related meals lately. If I can’t get to it all fresh I’ll have to preserve them somehow.

The potato haul from back in the summer, somewhere around 130 pounds.

When some friends were over the other day we sat around a fire and they asked about how much of our food we were raising. I laughed, because I keep terrible records. I really have no idea. Calorically? In terms of vegetables?

Every year I have a fresh notebook. I lovingly sit down with it, I label the front of it with the year. I keep records of my initial seedling numbers and varieties. I’ll include little notes and reflections. But come June, I’ve usually dropped the practice altogether. I suppose I could do better, but I’m beginning to think I just keep track in other ways. I’m getting better at finding out how I work best, what I’ll actually do as opposed to what I wish I’d do, and then designing for that.

So, my best answer for my friends’ question was that each year we continue to see that more and more of our meals have the stamp of this place on them. It’s actually rare that a meal doesn’t have something we grew/harvested/preserved. Inch by inch, we are doing what we set out to, becoming more connected to it. It was so gratifying to realize that, to have someone interested in it, and to later that day go down to the basement to spend a couple hours knocking the sprouts off of many pounds of potatoes. I sometimes think about the fact that many things I do and spend time on probably don’t make a lot of sense economically. But I have had to decide to care less about that- life didn’t necessarily even agree to those terms, you know? I genuinely want to do it because I have a relationship to these potatoes, and it matters to me that I don’t waste them. My reality is that they’ve been an amazing food for us for over 6 months and counting. Very worthy of the investment.

Each winter I tend to need a little inspiration, and that’s especially true this year. There are some great homesteading related YouTubers, and the other day I watched a video made by a funny Canadian family that I really like. The whole video was of them making poutine- meticulously, lovingly, enthusiastically. They had connected to almost every element of the meal. They raised, harvested, and smoked the meat. They grew the potatoes. They made the cheese, the gravy. They joyfully worked at it for hours and then they ate it together and were bursting with blissed-out gratitude. They were worshipping together, it seemed to me.

I watched it with a big smile on my face. I thought… I know that feeling. I know how something you can buy for cheap, like potatoes (or poutine!), can be transformed into a sacred food worthy of our time and reverence. I thought about the fact that I grew my own dry beans this year, and every time I use them I feel so much. I think about how I can buy organic and local dry beans for less than $2 a pound, without all the planting, harvesting, shelling, drying… but for some reason I think I’ll grow more next year, because yes. Because every part of the process felt life-affirming. Because I now know the feeling of opening one of the last jars of homegrown strawberry rhubarb jam- a pure taste of summer- and putting a dollop of it on vanilla ice cream in the middle of winter. The whole family seems to instinctively understand that this deserves a kind of sacred attention. We all gather round, we smell it, we savor it, we reminisce and we look forward to June when the berries will ripen again. Pure gift. I often think about a woman who complained about the price of my jam at market, exclaiming “But I could make that for cheaper!”, to which I replied, “You absolutely could!” She seemed to think that should have convinced me to reduce the price, but I felt it should have convinced her to make it! Entitlement is a funny thing, and so often seems to be accompanied by a lack of relationship.

In the past year we started saying “Thank you, life” before each meal. I grew up saying a blessing before eating, but I abandoned the practice for years. I just wasn’t connected to it. Lately, though, it feels wrong not to say thank you, not to regularly ask ourselves to remember that it’s all worthy of our awe and gratitude. It’s not just food anymore, it’s my actual life. It’s the life of all the beings in this place. And so, we pray now. Short and sweet, no performance or pledges to things I cannot know. Just a small gesture of intention, something I can offer up every day. It’s been interesting to find a reclamation here, our own tiny ceremony. I’m reminded now of this beautiful essay that Charles Eisenstein wrote on the concept of Ceremony. Something to meditate on.

And so, the potatoes. I’m finding my head swirling with ideas for how to celebrate them here in their final days. Poutine, for sure. A smoky ham and potato soup. Learning how to roast them simply with herbs so that the exterior is perfectly brown and crispy and the inside is fluffy and soft (never have I cared so much about learning potato roasting techniques). Hash browns! Pierogi.

The other day I saw a post from a chef/farmer that makes the most beautiful simple food. He was making a potato leek pie- so gorgeous, I just had to make it. I took the last of our leeks and a pile of our old potatoes and put them together with herbs and chunks of aged cheddar and mustard and cream, all baked under flaky puff pastry. Ahhmazing. Again, I was surprised to find myself feeling like it was worship. It got me thinking… isn’t that all worship really is, anyway? A practice that connects you through gratitude to the divine, to our source? I want to always encourage that magic, the finding of the unique and authentic place where my heart sings devotion to the world and is met with a deep sense of wonder and belonging. Even if it’s silly. Even if it’s imbedded in a flaky potato pie.

 

“The beings we have excluded from our reality, the beings we have diminished in our perception into non-beings, they are still there waiting for us. Even with all my inherited disbelief (my inner cynic, educated in science, mathematics, and analytic philosophy, is at least as strident as yours), if I allow myself a few moments of attentive quiet, I can feel those beings gathering. Ever hopeful, they draw close to the attentiveness. Can you feel them too? Amid the doubt, maybe, and without wishful thinking, can you feel them? It is the same feeling as being in a forest and suddenly realizing as if for the first time: the forest is alive. The sun is watching me. And I am not alone.” (Charles Eisenstein)

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