8. August, 2014. The amount of contrast this life affords is astonishing to me. Just a week ago I was drinking champagne, trying to figure out which fork to use in the cafe after the opera. And now I have dirt permanently stuck under my fingernails and have just spent the last eight hours cutting up cucumbers and stuffing them in jars. Wahnsinn.
I’m currently in the tiny town of Kulmbach in Bavaria, working on a farm as a part of WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It’s an exchange program of sorts, where people travel all over the world and work for their keep on farms, gaining skills and networking and learning languages. We’ve had WWOOFers on and off at our place for years, and when it works it is an absolutely fantastic experience.
The couple I am staying with now spent the last five years WWOOFing themselves, in Japan and Serbia and Africa and Switzerland, and have just begun their own farm. They have a little of everything, and of course too much work to do–huge sprawling garden, orchard with plums and apples and pears, four pigs, fifty chickens, two donkeys, geese, dogs. When they moved in, the barn was falling in from decades of neglect, the garden hadn’t been tended in years, there were no fences or watering systems or cleared trails. They, along with a seemingly constant stream of WWOOFers from around the world, are just starting to take things back.
I’m thrilled to be here. I loved my month with the Wuerzburg program–dress up every evening, go to concerts and modern art museums, talk about Musil and Nietzsche while drinking wine on some gorgeous terrace somewhere, be refined and intellectual and decadent. But I love this too–dirt and animals everywhere, the electric fencer half taken apart on the kitchen table, neighbors dropping in with a basket of dill to talk in broad dialect about the excess of cucumbers.
And honestly, it’s what I know best. I’ve spent my Augusts in a farm kitchen since before I could walk. I can snap beans in my sleep.
Differences in atmosphere aside, though, here there is still this internationality that I find so staggering. Right now, we are four or five countries all together, all with drastically different worldviews and upbringings. That’s the wonderful thing about good people, though–that somehow it all works out in the end and the household runs smoothly and we have fun. I love the dynamism of it all, the fluid approach to language, where the conversation at dinner flows back and forth between English and High German and Finnish and Bavarian depending on who is trying to make themselves understood. Last night we sat around the fire and sang–I taught them all Irish drinking songs, and learned German folk tunes and a bunch of mournful dirges from Finnland. I explained to my hosts that a cruise and a crusade are not the same thing, and learned the difference between Teig and Teich and Lärche and Lerche. Tricky stuff, that.
At this time of year on a farm, everything revolves around food. Breakfast is after chores at 8:30, with two loaves of fresh bread (wheat ground on the farm), one with raisins and one with pumpkin seeds–also cheese and pickles and blackberries and juniper syrup in tea. Then everyone leaves and I make 25 pounds of pesto while the bread-and-butter pickles started last night heat up to be canned. At 1pm it’s time for lunch, and the girl from Finnland fries carrots and beets while I make a cucumber salad–yoghurt, fresh mint, salt and pepper. There’s also chocolate zucchini cake and an apple pie with the first of the apples from the orchard. After lunch, someone brings an entire laundry basket of beans in from the garden, and we wash and snap and boil and freeze until 6pm, when it is time to get ready for dinner. I make two platters of tomato, mozzarella, and basil leaves, with calendula blossoms on top for a garnish. My host’s little brother shows me how to make Zwetschgenknödel for dessert, which are a sort of Austrian plum dumplings and absolutely delicious. We spread a feast in front of the fireplace, and eat the tomatoes with chicken roasted over the flames.
Apple orchard. There’s almost too much fruit for the branches to support.
The sheer abundance and richness of it all is staggering. Inside, baskets and barrels and cans upon cans of food, and outside a jungle of greenery and vines and fruit. The Garden of Eden.
….And the infamous Zwetschgenknödel. Suuuuper lecker!!!