Wednesday, February 23, 2005

How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?

Lancaster County’s in a state of alarm
How’re they gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?
How’re they gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?
They’re never gonna keep ‘em down on the farm…
Once they’ve been
Philadelphia chickens, swing, slide, and roll,
Philadelphia chickens, up, over, and stroll.

Every time we listen to Sandra Boynton’s marvelous Philadelphia Chickens CD and this song plays, I can’t help but think of my sister-in-law Rebecca, whose parents live in Lancaster, and whose grandparents run a dairy farm. We spent the past weekend there, and it is one of the most relaxing places on earth. Rebecca’s mom is the most gracious of hostesses - Mrs. Smith lets you "help" by doing things like filling water glasses for dinner. No real work allowed; she makes everything look so easy, even feeding 9 people delicious meals and snacks. All I did all weekend was lie or sit around, read magazines, chat, nap, and eat food prepared for me. The Smiths are just so easy to be with and we always feel so welcome; I’d try to get them to adopt me but I think with five kids of their own, they have enough in the way of children. I consider myself very fortunate that they don’t seem to mind running the Lancaster Home for Wayward Matuses.

Simon followed Mr Smith around all weekend, helping him make bird suet and filling all the feeders, building the fire, walking over to his parents' farm to look at the cows and play in the hayloft, throwing the Frisbee for Meg the dog, taking cart rides and tractor rides. Very down-home; I think Si may want to be a farmer now : ) I do know we are going out tomorrow to buy a bird feeder and make suet. Yum!

So the weekend made me start thinking about farm books I have known and loved. The list isn’t very long but the feelings are strong. See, I am just a peasant at heart

Understood Betsy- Delicate, sensitive Elizabeth is sent to her relatives’ farm in Vermont. Where of course she becomes hale and healthy and beloved, and eats tons of good food. I always wanted to pour warm maple syrup on snow and make the candy they describe in this book, but alas, the snow is purer in Vermont apparently than in suburban NJ (shocking, I know), and plus, my mother never bought real maple syrup, and Aunt Jemima doesn’t quite cut it.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – Yet another little girl sent away from the bosom of family into the cold arms of distant relatives who all turn out to be loving and kind in their repressed New England way, and of course, they all do farm work and make their own clothes and eat copious amounts of delicious food.

The Good Master – Kate is sent by her father in Budapest to live on her uncle’s ranch on the Hungarian plains. Having had the measles, Kate is of course – say it with me now – delicate and sensitive – but by book’s end is hale and hearty and able to out-eat any farmhand. I particularly loved the European feel of this book - you find out about all kinds of the old Eastern European traditions and folktales. The Easter chapter is especially wonderful.

Farmer Boy – The Laura Ingalls Wilder book detailing Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood on his father’s farm. The food in this book is simply incredible. I defy anyone to read any part of it and not be hungry; this passage immediately leaps to mind: Almanzo went to the County Fair and “he ate ham and chicken and turkey, and dressing and cranberry jelly; he ate potatoes and gravy, succotash, baked beans and boiled beans and onions, and white bread and rye’n’injun bread, and sweet pickles and jam and preserves. Then he drew along breath and he ate pie. When he began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a piece of vinegar pie. He tried apiece of mince pie but he could not finish it. He just couldn’t do it. There were berry pies and cream pies and vinegar pies and raisin pies, but he could not eat anymore.
Doesn’t that just make you want to go eat more pie than is really good for you? It does me. Of course, I don’t really need much to make me feel that way.

Big Red Barn – My favorite line is “the little black bats flew away, out of the barn at the end of the day.” The illustrations are subtle and lovely and so evocative.


There’s been much media hoo-ha over Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, and just like everyone else, I am full of opinions about the book and the trends it discusses. So tune in tomorrow for what I call my “Are you abusing your four-year-old by not making him take Suzuki violin and cross-country and underwater macrame?” talk. Check out Salon’s take on it in the meantime.


Gina said...

I am totally not down with the suet, but Ted and I were just talking this morning about how I know so very little about Western PA wildlife.

I grew up with a farm (pig corn, yes, but still . . . acres of rows to play and get lost in) literally bordering my back yard. I'm no city girl. But I can only identify the most obvious flowers and trees by name. I'm better with the animals, but that's not much of an accomplishment.

I think I'm going to make a point this summer of getting some books and spending some time in Frick Park becoming an amateur naturalist. Maybe THAT will somehow make me develop an interest in gardening?

Gina said...

And now that I think about it, how come no one writes books NOW where part of what the heroin needs to do is become active and busy and gain an appetite?

Can you IMAGINE? Maybe I'm off base, because I haven't read anything written recently for girls 8-12 or so, but . . . even if Brittany or Abby was sent to live with cousins who lifted her from her malaise by giving her a love for x-treme sporting, she'd HAVE to satiate her appetite with sensible salads. Wouldn't she? Chances are, though, that she'd never be hungry at all. She'd just develop a precocious taste for gourmet coffees.

Hmmm . . . maybe we're all so messed up because girls aren't allowed to read about food anymore. Maybe Ruth Reichl needs to write some YA books.

BabelBabe said...

another book like that is Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins. The heroine, who is named Rose I think, gets too "stout" to fit into the fashions of the day but her uncle thinks that's just what she needs. And she's all hale and hearty and can walk for miles without tuckering out.

Speaking of foodie books, check out this cool interview I found while Googling for something else entirely:

Gina said...

1.) Have you ever read any MFK Fisher? (If I REALLY wanted to, I could be GMC Boyd.)

2.) Everyone seems to have these snuggly coco memories about reading and food, but I don't, really.

I remember that I used to take everything off the floor of my closet, drag in my pillows and blankets and a night light, and read in there for hours.

I remember going out to the driveway on chilly summer mornings, where I would stretch across the back seat of the car to read and get warmed up from the greenhouse effect.

I remember slipping into the center of an innertube in our backyard pool, and spending hours floating and spinning and reading.

But I don't have any strong food associations with books. Am I weird?

BabelBabe said...

I adore MFK Fisher.

I also remember floating in the pool and reading. My books were always waterlogged.

jessmonster said...

Louisa May Alcott is forever sending children off to farms or the mountains to eat and exercise and get healthy. Rose, yes, and I know there were others, maybe in Jack and Jill. Now I must add finding the modern equivalent to my to-do list.