On our way here from Portland yesterday for the weekend, we stopped at the Earle Family Farm on the main road just before the turnoff. We bought a pound or two each of their just-picked late-summer tomatoes and squashes and cucumbers and peppers, plus eggs from their chickens and sweet, rich mutton sausages made from their ewes.
It’s a 130-acre biodynamic farm. Their hand-built greenhouse is filled with flowers and herbs. Next to it is a garden; another, larger one is in the field just above, and their sheep are pastured higher still on the slope of Dundee. The little store in the barn has a cash box stuffed with change, and it runs on the honor system. Prices are on a chalkboard next to an old hanging scale. Packaged meat and eggs and perishable produce are kept in two old fridges and a freezer. There’s an enormous basket of yarn for sale, too, hand-dyed hand-spun skeins from their sheep.
We waved to Tom Earle, driving by on his tractor, as we walked back to say hello to Danny, the new ram. He was markedly obese, and his balls must have weighed twenty pounds, collectively. They hung between his hind legs like giant soft durian-sized bobbles, swaying and undulating and almost touching the ground.
“Damn, that boy is hung,” said Brendan.
The fat, fluffy ewe in the barn with him looked exhausted. Ruth, Tom’s wife, told us that she’d had to separate them with chicken wire.
The Earles have no frozen lamb this year; last spring, Ruth told us, many of their lambs died of something mysterious, a wasting disease. This year, all the sheep are obese, also mysteriously, something to do with the rain and grass and temperature, Ruth guessed, but she didn’t know for sure.
“So no lamb, not now,” she said. “We’re butchering chickens in mid-November, though. You want stewing chickens? Yeah, they said they’d do the older hens when they do the turkeys. Nice that it’s at the same time. I could do it myself, I know how to do the whole thing start to finish, but it’s better to have someone else do it if you’re the only one who can. You eat organ meat?”
“Sure, we do,” I said; I’d happily eat anything from their farm at all.
“Well, I’ll keep that in mind when we butcher the pigs. Oh, and I’m running a pickling workshop tonight. I think I’ll see what happens if I throw some lemon cucumbers in my pickling mix. Have you ever had one? Here, taste, just brush off those prickly things. Want to come to the workshop?”
I did, in fact, want very much to go, but I had a lot of work to do and wanted to get to it. I asked if I could come another time.
Ruth and Tom Earle seem to know how to do everything, in the 19th century style of farming. They are always working, all day, somewhere on their farm. When I was young, in high school and in the years following, I attended and then worked at four different Waldorf schools in various anthroposophical communities, so-called because they were formed around the teachings of the early 20th century Austrian mystic and clairvoyant, Rudolf Steiner. He gave his overarching philosophy the rather ambitious name of “anthroposophy,” which means “the knowledge of the nature of man.” His theories gave rise, in a practical sense, to revolutionary new forms of education, farming, and medicine.
There were biodynamic farms attached to the communities where I lived — in Spring Valley, New York, and then Chateau de La Mhotte in the Allier district of France, and finally Harlemville, in upstate New York — so I couldn’t help overhearing a thing or two about its basic concepts, along with discussions of the etheric and astral bodies, Ahriman and Lucifer, Findhorn, and homeopathic medicine. But all I know, really, about biodynamic farming is that things are done organically, according to the phases of the moon, and it’s deeply spiritual, arcane even — not the first adjectives I would use to describe the Earles.
Tom is slight, lanky, handsome in a rawboned way, taciturn, sweet-natured, and warmly practical. Ruth is talkative, energetic, bright eyed, small and round and strong, with long grey hair and a soft, round face. They look, in fact, like a quintessential 19th century New England farming couple. They do not exude one whiff of mysticism, but evidently intricate beliefs and practices are at least partially the reasons for the abundant, beautiful produce they grow in fields of granite-strewn, thin soil, the unbelievably delicious meats and chickens and eggs from the animals they raise and pasture.
We drove away from the farm discussing that mutton sausage, how good it was, last time we’d got some. In the house, we unloaded the bags of food and put things away. We drank tequila on ice with limes while I made a quick semi-succotash of the Earles’ patty pan squash and green-and-orange, knobby, lumpy, richly ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped and sautéed in olive oil with smoked paprika, Worcestershire sauce, and the tiny bit of old dried thyme left in the glass jar. While it bubbled, I fried four of the eggs we’d just got. They were so fresh, their yolks were orangey-gold and their whites puffed up a little in the hot oil. I slid them on top of the vegetable stew, two per plate, and we tucked in. The still-runny egg yolks melded into the savory gravy, the whites were crisply browned, and the whole thing was delicious.
Awesome Lamb Burgers
Because the Earles have none this year, we recently bought some ground lamb at Whole Foods, flown all the way from New Zealand. We also bought Canyon Bakehouse gluten-free hamburger buns, the best I’ve ever found.
Brendan picked a handful of mint from right outside the door; that, at least, was local.
To 1 lb ground lamb add:
1/2 large onion, minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
a small handful each of minced fresh mint and cilantro
1 T harissa spice mix
1 tsp. each of salt and black pepper
1 T olive oil,
and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
Form 4 patties. Fry in oil over medium heat, about 7 minutes a side. Serve on toasted buns with a sauce made of the following ingredients, mixed well:
2 T mayo
4 T ketchup
a dollop each of apple cider vinegar and Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp harissa spice mix
a small handful of minced cilantro
Eat with oven-roasted red potato wedges and a French lentil salad with grated carrots on a bed of red-leaf lettuce.