The next surprise was we weren’t going to have chicken-fried this or chicken-fried that. (Sorry Pioneer Woman) Helen and Scott were vegetarians. They didn’t eat meat. I must have stood, slack-jawed, in the middle of the carrot patch when she told me that. It never occurred to me you didn’t have to eat meat. Vegetarian—another new word beside cove.
(A quick aside for all you folks wondering how on earth I could have lived ten years and not have made a pie.) I grew up in the south before Rosa Parks ever said she would not give up her seat on the bus. The kitchen was the domain of the help. In fact, everything that seemed to require any work at all was the domain of the help. And while my parents were enlightened, and I was expected to clean my own room and make my bed, we still had the help. I never had to do anything. Thank God those days are over.
Wait I’m wrong. My 8th grade gym teacher said there were three things a girl had to learn to do: play a mediocre game of bridge, a mediocre game of golf, and a mediocre game of tennis. That way you’d be fun to be with, but you wouldn’t intimidate men. Okay, so I had to be mediocre. Clearly, no one had ever told Helen she had to be mediocre, that she had to cover up who she was. I didn’t know the word frank then, but being around her, I felt it—that here was a woman who said what she wanted to say and was who she wanted to be. And the freedom to do that, for me, would forever be all mixed up with being on a farm picking berries and vegetables.
Helen and I finished filling our baskets with beans and tomatoes, carrots and tiny new potatoes and took them back to the kitchen where we made a quick soup. After that, Helen pulled a big wooden bowl from the oven, yanked off the cloth covering a mound of dough and said, punch this down. When it was clear I had no idea what she was talking about, she said, like this, shoving her fist into the dough and making it collapse.
Later that evening with twilight coming through the long kitchen windows, we ate our soup—delicious, simple— and slathered our bread with homemade jam. The pies came to the table amid oohs and aahs. Eventually, someone lit some candles. I had never been happier. I hadn’t learned the expression “Living the Good Life”, but I felt it. And later, when Helen and Scott Nearing, our hosts that week, wrote their book with that title, I took it with me to Colorado where Dave got his first University job. It sat on the kitchen shelf next to The Tassajara Bread Book and an organic gardening book titled “Grow Your Own”.
As the years have gone by, I’ve eaten in fine restaurants, in Paris, in Italy, in San Francisco, but that meal in Maine with my family and the Nearings on a long summer night, that meal I can still taste.
It was that good, and I had worked for it. If you want to see Helen and Scott’s farm and get inspired yourself, here’s the link.
What got any of you started down your path? I’ve told you my story. I’m curious about yours.