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From the Woodlot
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From the Woodlot

From the Woodlot

I cook when I’m angry, I cook when I’m sad; I cook when I feel the whole world’s gone mad. I cook when I’m troubled and disgusted by lies. I cook when I’m baffled and can’t pinpoint why. I cook when I’m happy and family is near. I cook with butter and garlic and beer. I cook with onions and celery and thyme. I cook with no recipe, reason or rhyme.

I cook with plants that spring from the ground. I cook with creatures carefully grown. I cook with those whom I’ve found common ground. I cook on my grandfather’s old stomping grounds. I cook over fire on a rack made of wire. I cook when the world’s gone amuck in the mire. I cook with a spoon and a fork and a ladle. I’ll cook till I die or as long as I’m able.

On the farm there were calories of energy to be expended through work every day of the week. The Crock Pot was my best friend on those busy days. Now hold on for one minute. I can hear the masses now extolling the virtue of the Instant Pot. It’s as though a cook just waves the image of a chuck roast over one and suddenly a perfect Irish stew is ready, complete with fresh biscuits and rice pudding for dessert along with a bottle of Guinness Stout and folded linen napkin – in 10 minutes no less.

But allow me just this once to be a Crock Pot traditionalist and an Instant Pot denier. My apologies to my daughter along with legions of likely justified converts to Instant Pots.

My crock pot is an old Hamilton Beach. Its liner is seasoned with marrow from the grass-fed cattle I raised for 30 years. It’s seasoned with the onions I weeded in the loamy black composted garden soil that grew on top of the very ground where I buried my wind-ravaged dairy barn in 1997. It’s seasoned with worry about feed and veterinary bills. It’s seasoned with drought and mud and blizzards. It’s seasoned with births of children and calves alike, and somber deaths of loved ones along the way. It’s seasoned with celery, carrots and herbs that grew along the ramshackle summer kitchen next to our former home.

My crock pot is seasoned with the sweat and toil of those who broke the first soil on my former farm long before me. And that’s why I’ll keep using it. On the farm my cooking style was a calories-in-calories-out affair. If we had a big day of strenuous work planned I’d add a few potatoes and make sure it was rich with marrow, whatever protein source I was loading into it. Bones were essential and still are. It was fuel for the laborers – myself, my wife, our part-time help and in the last five years my son. We were fortunate to never be hungry.

Here’s a tour of the leftovers in my refrigerator as I write this Jan. 20, 2021.

  • Organic potatoes grown in Antigo, Wisconsin mixed with sweet peas and butter ready for frying into potato pancakes
  • Grass-fed sausage with cabbage and onions in beef broth
  • A pesto made with Swiss chard, walnuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan
  • Homemade refried beans with freshly rendered lard
  • A kettle of brown rice flavored with chicken stock
  • Acorn squash stuffed with oyster mushrooms and grass-fed ground beef, topped with shredded Cheddar cheese

And in the corner is a jar of home-made refrigerator pickles consisting of this past summer’s bounty – cucumbers, onion, carrots, radishes and Brussels sprouts. Not only does my cup runneth over but so do the racks within my refrigerator. The grass-fed chicken currently in my crock pot will need to find some elbow room in about two hours.

Simply stated when things aren’t good within or beyond me, I cook.

The breech on our nation’s capital Jan. 6, 2021, is considered by many one of the darkest days in the history of our country. I wholly agree. I’m thankful the inauguration was not marked by violence. Yet it’s hard not to sense that something isn’t right in our country. The images of Jan. 6 are a reminder of that.

And so I’ll cook. I’ll cook when I’m angry, I’ll cook when I’m sad, I’ll cook when I feel the whole world’s gone mad. I’ll cook over fire on a rack made of wire. I’ll cook when the world’s gone amuck in the mire.

I’ll cook when I ain’t and I’ll cook when I am. And I’ll never try to sell you green eggs and ham. I’ll cook when I shouldn’t, I’ll cook when I ought.

Here, have some if you will; it’s just food for thought.

Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.

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