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Homestead Happenings: wrapping up

September 29, 2010

For all my melancholy musings on autumn, it’s turning out to be a gorgeous spree of perfection and I don’t want to miss one second of it. The kids and I are like the last party-goers on the Titanic, swilling sunshine till the seasonal lights go out.

It’s such a mind tease, September. This month that is so heartbreakingly beautiful mostly because it is slipping away while you’re standing right in the middle of it. The goldfinches pluck seeds from that sunflower that was just in full, satiny bloom last week. It’s like that picture of WW2 wives blowing kisses to their men pushing off in ships aimed for distant shores. What you love is right here and floating away in the same moment. Hello and goodbye.

The kids see none of this. They live in the moment, that precise gift of childhood. They’re hungry for each day. Right now we eat plums in the alleyway and marvel at the migrating geese skimming the sky overhead. In a few months they’ll be awed by the quiet fury of an evening snowstorm, while summer is a distant dream.


We finished butchering the elk this weekend. All that was left was the grinding and packaging, which–after separating meat from sinew, fat and bone–is a very tidy and straightforward process. Dan works the grinder (a 1970’s harvest gold model borrowed from our friend Melanie, after ours pooped out), with occasional help from little people.

I measure out spices for sausage, without actually measuring anything.

it's different every year, but always delicious

Then we mix, mix, mix and smile, smile, smile.
Next, the hand-slapping music of pat-pat-patting the meat into balls.
Then, the tidy and straightforward work of packaging. This year–with an animal we estimated to be 1/3 bigger than Dan’s average kills–I felt like I was at the gift-wrapping station during a NYC holiday season.
It’s all so pleasingly , seasonally familiar: the yellow jackets that appear from nowhere, magnetized to the raw meat; the comfort of all-day steady work with my beloved, passing seamlessly from the the coffee hour to the beer hour; the parade of tape lined up and ready for service.
Writing “sausage” so many times, it begins to look like a foreign word.

Luckily I had some help.

I gathered from some of your comments on my last post about this elk, that seeing meat in it’s pre-packaged form is foreign and perhaps unsettling. I certainly don’t intend to post pictures that are offensive. For us, whittling meat from bone, scraping flesh from hide (to be home-tanned), and everything that transforms a living animal to our meat for the year are acts of respect and celebration. As Dan says, “it’s a community event,” and there are many hands that assist in this process of food to table, cinching us tighter as a community. I am grateful that our kids have an opportunity to partake in the cycle of life, in all its messy, bloody and raw nature. And I am grateful for this nutritious and delicious meat, which feels like nothing less than medicine for out bodies.

We woke up Sunday morning, completely done processing this elk, and headed to the mountains. I scrambled around the kitchen looking for food to pack for lunches. I could have made an elk roast with porcini mushrooms and green chiles. Or perhaps corn-zucchini pancakes with local applesauce to dollop on top, but in the busyness surrounding getting an 800 pound animal in the freezer, there wasn’t a single slice of bread or hunk of cheese or anything resembling “snack” for the 3-5 year old set.

these particular aspen--in our usual stomping grounds--hadn't heard about fall yet, which was strangely comforting.

I have a sheet of paper on the fridge where I’ve recorded the foods I’ve put up and the amounts. It looks like this: 6 pints chokecherry jelly, 8 quart-bags frozen green beans, 9 quarts stewed tomatoes…When we returned from the mountains, Dan added to the list: One bull elk. Amen and hallelujah.
30 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2010 10:52 am

    I hope you keep those food preserved lists. They’re so fun to look at from year to year. You’ll have such amazing meals this winter.

  2. September 29, 2010 1:00 pm

    I found this lovely little corner of the interwebs thanks to Kathie from Two Frog Home (she’s right above me in the comments section, look at that!) and my oh my! How happy I am to have found you. Such a lovely blog! That Kathie has good taste. :)

    I just gotta throw this out there in reference to folks feeling a bit queasy about the reality of eating meat–um, shouldn’t we know what it takes to put that meat on our tables? It doesn’t magically appear thanks to the meat fairy!

  3. Diane Petersen permalink
    September 29, 2010 1:06 pm

    I yearn for your kind of “community event”!! I love reading about it and all the gory details! It wasn’t that long ago that most people did this sort of thing to some degree. I grew up in rural northern Michigan and every Fall we brought a deer home from the woods for the annual slaughter. I remember well our freezer packed to the brim with venison. So comforting to have a full freezer at the end of a long summer!

  4. September 29, 2010 2:47 pm

    I love your comparison of September to the WWII wives farewelling their men. Just perfect.

    As for the elk butchering description and pictures: I am a vegetarian so don’t celebrate this kind of community event myself, but I admire the ritual that you share with your husband and kids, one that seems to me to be about celebration and respect for nature.

  5. September 29, 2010 3:52 pm

    Love your list. One bull elk. yes. I bet Dan will be beaming for many months (years?) about that prize.

    I, of course, love and believe in what you say about butchering animals. I love that you let us in on it! It’s inspiring and heartening.


  6. September 29, 2010 3:52 pm

    Love your list. One bull elk. yes. I bet Dan will be beaming for many months (years?) about that amazing feat.

    I, of course, love and believe in what you say about butchering animals. I love that you let us in on it! It’s inspiring and heartening.


  7. September 29, 2010 4:45 pm

    I love your sausage smile!! And I am itching, ITCHING I tell you, to have that tape lined up on the table and be wrapping just like you and yours. Mmmm, sausage. My mouth is watering. Must go make some dinner. : )

  8. Ami permalink
    September 29, 2010 6:00 pm

    Rachel, I’ve been exploring the world of blogs lately… new to me, honestly… and I have to tell you, that while most are at least interesting, and pretty, none compare to your wit and wildness. Thank you for sharing your take on life! I just love it! I realized as I was scrolling through the archives of yet another blog with thousands of followers, that I wasn’t really inspired to actually “read” it. The pictures were interesting, but the words were, well, like stale saltine crackers from the back of the pantry… fine to munch on, okay for soup, but definitely not “medicine” like yours!

  9. September 29, 2010 11:58 pm

    Oh my God, is that you’re house? That wood! That meat! You’re building in me a positive yen to discover Durango. We’ll show up at your door one day. We have two little aspen trees, and they are always the last to change, applauding in wind while all the others show their colors and drop their leaves.

    In all seriousness, I personally am not grossed our or offended, but thrilled and privileged to share these images of real, good food. Someday, someday. Always, thanks for sharing.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 30, 2010 2:31 pm

      Ellen, That room is our sunroom/greenhouse/mancave. Dan built it with ponderosa pine that he logged and timber framed himself. It’s a great space, and especially given that our house is 800 square feet, that extra space helps a lot!

  10. September 30, 2010 1:11 am

    I wondered how you were doing with all that meat to put up. It is a bit different to see the raw creature there in full color (most of the blogs I follow have smiling children and knitting or crafts or gardens). But I eat meat, and I’ve always wondered if I would have the courage to live like the pioneers did or even my grandmother – butchering our own animals and putting up all of our food for the winter. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but it is amazing to me to see what other moms are able to accomplish!

    I am thrilled for you to see that you were able to take a day to get out to the mountains afterward. I imagine it was a breath of fresh air!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 30, 2010 2:31 pm

      Thanks Jennifer. I don’t think I would be able to kill an animal, so I appreciate that Dan takes care of that part and am glad to participate in the ways that I can.

  11. September 30, 2010 7:05 am

    You guys are like local-foods rock stars…amazing!

  12. September 30, 2010 9:25 am

    I still think about the elk heart. ;)
    I have so much respect and admiration for how your family lives. Seeing all those packages of elk sausage that will sustain your family for many moons makes the sting of seeing a butchered animal go away. It’s how it should be. And you guys are rocking it up there. :)

  13. September 30, 2010 10:48 am

    Guess what? I finally sent the jam your way! As a meat loving mama I quite agree on your kids knowing where their meat comes from. Conscious eaters, you know?? Good Stuff!

  14. Molly permalink
    September 30, 2010 3:00 pm

    I grew up helping to process our homegrown chickens, pigs and cows with neighbors. Very good experience, and very right to talk about it. Butchering elk is better of course (no fields were plowed and chemically fertilized for the grainfood for this animal). Thanks for writing, as usual.

  15. September 30, 2010 6:29 pm

    Even as a vegan, I am so respectful of your family’s connection to your food. Eating mindfully, knowing precisely the where and how of what you eat. It’s wonderful!

  16. September 30, 2010 7:39 pm

    oh, that’s just so lovely. your families connection to the land, to sustenance, is endlessly inspiring.
    also – san juan table is the very very best.
    hope yer well.

  17. Melissa permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:20 pm

    First of all, that photo of you is so cute. And I also love your family’s process of sustainable eating–even my inscrutable, newly vegetarian (well, he’s been veg before) husband supports your elk eating (:

    Your writing is so inspiring, as always.

    xo from the road in NYC

  18. September 30, 2010 9:51 pm

    What a thrilling and busy life you lead! And teaching the children the real facts of life at the same time..that to me is terrific. Nice going!
    This is my first visit to your blog, I’ve enjoyed it and will return again and again.Ginny

  19. Jen permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:58 pm

    Funny you should mention that some found your “Elk, Interrupted” post unsettling. I confess I was a bit rattled by it myself, and have been reflecting on why . Maybe because it was so big (the elk, not the blog). And so, well, “meaty”. The photo of Dan with the enormous antlers was spectacular, but somehow sad. I suppose I’m really just sorry that such a magnificent creature is gone.
    Anyway, I completely agree with the above comments about the value of knowing where one’s meat comes from, and having the respect and commitment to prepare it properly. It is indeed inspiring and heartening. And damn, that sausage looks good. Thanks and congrats…

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      October 1, 2010 10:20 am


      Thank you for your honesty.

      It is sad that such a magnificent creature is gone; Dan and I feel that intensely. Sometimes in life there isn’t a way for everything to come out even, or wrapped up into a neat and palatable package that you can put on a shelf and forget about. Eating is fraught with sadness and regret, from the magnificent creatures (and the homelier ones) that lose lives due to our carnivorous ways to the many, many deer shot while grazing soybean fields (also the animals who’ve died under the plow blades in fields of potatoes, broccoli, etc…) . No one who eats is completely free from perpetrating suffering, be they vegans or carnivores.

      It helps to forego eating factory farmed animals, and to give thanks for the lives that feed us.

      Jen, I really do appreciate your comment.

      May we all reflect on our relationship to eating meat. Blessings, Rachel

  20. September 30, 2010 10:15 pm

    love your words and that awesome picture of your kiddos in the water – with your daughter all naked and sweet.

  21. October 1, 2010 1:47 am

    the spice arrangement is beautiful! do you ever do a few different flavors? one bull elk sort of doesn’t equate to 6 pints chokecherry. can we have that in pounds? or amount of times ‘sausage’ was written? : )

  22. October 1, 2010 11:24 am

    I love the spice shot as well.

    [No one who eats is completely free from perpetrating suffering, be they vegans or carnivores. ]

    I have reflected on this so much in the last year. I can no longer eat even domesticated meat without first visiting the farm and either killing the animal myself or witness at least one farm kill so I know how it happens there. Otherwise I feel I have no business eating meat or feeding it to my family.

    I love your celebration – and it should be a celebration in order to respect the life of that magnificent creature.

    How I envy all your sausage! It will taste wonderful this winter.

  23. October 1, 2010 6:36 pm

    I loved your elk entry!

    Do you guys have a special room for processing meat? We have a very small house, I can’t imagine taking over our kitchen/dining room area. We have processed chickens, but always outside, except for packing them. I would like to slaughter our own sheep next year, I just don’t know where we’d DO it.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      October 4, 2010 4:58 pm


      We have a 400 square foot unheated sunroom where we process meat. It is spacious enough for many people to work around an ad-hoc table (boards a top a table) and rough enough so a little blood splattered on the ground is okay. I have occasionally brought a hind leg into our house to work on after the kids go to bed, and that works out pretty well. Before we built the sunroom we would work outside, which was okay as long as the weather wasn’t too warm, and it did invite every yellow jacket and fly into our workspace.

      Take care, Rachel

  24. October 2, 2010 11:35 am

    I came here from Two Frog home, great post and thanks for telling it like it is!


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