The harvest is finished for another year. Currants, like many berries, are harvested in the summer and it’s a bit of a frantic time because often the temperatures exceed 90° during harvest and while this is fine when the fruit is attached to the bush, the moment it’s picked it begins its march to becoming one with the universe so it’s crucial to harvest and freeze ASAP. Currants are only harvested once a year and since most Americans are still learning about what a currant is, it’s very risky to offer them to the fresh market. The folks who know currants snap them up while the majority of people pass them by for the more familiar raspberries, strawberries and blueberries and spoilage is inevitable. As the market grows and Americans become more savvy about our favorite little berry, the fresh market offerings will increase. In the meantime, it’s necessary to get the fruit frozen as soon after harvest as possible to ensure the highest possible quality.
This year was not a great year for currants mainly because of the extraordinarily warm winter. Currants need cold winters to set their fruit. I hope to have enough for all the currant aficionados out there but it wouldn’t be bad advice to suggest stocking up a bit. Just a thought.
When the harvest is done each year, there’s always the sense of completion that’s usually accompanied with a deep sigh. Last night, as I was sitting on the front porch of the old farm house thinking about all the other farmers over the last 180 years who sat in this very spot, looking out over the same field and feeling pretty much the same way as I was feeling right at that moment. The crops, livestock, farming methods and names have changed but the stewardship of the land and the sacred act of farming and producing food is the same. Soon after we moved to the farm, I noticed a series of deep scratches in the wood on the side of one of the barn door frames of the original cow barn. I thought about these ancient marks for a couple of years trying to figure out why they were made and why there. Then, one evening, as I closed the giant, old, red doors of the barn and laid the white washed wooden 2×4 into its cradle securing the doors as they have been for almost 200 years, I glanced over at the scratches and had an epiphany. I knew what they were. Some old farmer many, many decades ago would have closed the doors as I had just done and as was his ritual at the end of the day, took out a pipe, stuffed it with tobacco, and then scratched a match on the side of the door frame in pretty much the same spot every evening to light his pipe. A careful farmer never would have lit the pipe in the hay filled barn so this would have been the spot. Walking in the footsteps of those old hardy farmers, running my fingers over the scratches of a ten thousand matches and now, looking out over the field as I savored this post-harvest moment on the front porch creates the links; those tangible connections to the past that’s one of my great joys living the agrarian life on this old farm.
The field across the lane from the front porch is actually a hill and as the sun sets behind the house, the top of the hill is the last to let go of the day’s light. As I watched the bottom of the field succumb to darkness, the first fireflies began their evening luminescent chorography. Fireflies are crepuscular (from the Latin crepusculum meaning twilight), which means they are active only at dusk and dawn. They are one of many animals that produce bioluminescence. The larva has the same luminescent ability as the adult so this flashing is thought to be a warning to predators although since the on and off sequence is unique to each individual, some entomologists believe it plays a role in attracting mates as well. The light is caused when the beetle takes in oxygen and combines it with a substance called luciferin to produce the light with virtually no heat.
The name of the chemical compound, Luciferin comes from the word Lucifer. This is a great example of how meanings can evolve and change dramatically over time. The use of “Lucifer” is found in the Vulgate which is the 4th century Latin translation of the Bible. It is used to describe the morning star or Venus. The translations of the name hold similar meanings throughout many cultures. The Hebrew helel is translated to “shining one” and the Greek heosphoros, means “dawn-bearer.” The Christians later applied the name to Satan, ironically the Prince of Darkness and this definition was then popularized in Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost.
About 10 years ago some friends were visiting and one evening, after a dinner out, we climbed out of the car near the field and were greeted with one of the greatest shows of lightening bugs I have ever seen. They seemed to be moving in harmonious waves undulating like schools of fish. I don’t know what it was all about but I’ll never forget that dreamlike moment. There are about 2,000 species of fireflies around the world and there is concern that the numbers within certain species have been dwindling. While no one knows for sure why, one theory is that light pollution may play a role. I have certainly noticed what seems to be many fewer of these magical creatures over the last decade here on the farm. That is, until this year. There has been a greater show of these ethereal winged dancers than any time in recent memory. Nothing quite equals the sight of thousands of pirouetting blinks and while the abundance of fireflies doesn’t balance out the shortfall of currants, their fairylike twinkling on a warm summer’s eve touches my soul in the same way I imagine it touched the soul of a farmer a hundred years ago as he sat on this very porch smoking his pipe.
Cheers from the Farm,