Reading This Weekend

Our little farm is humming along as we enter spring. From the green grass and ample rains, to the large flock of sheep and expanding poultry yard, the farm looks more prosperous this year than last; when the onset of what was an extreme drought began to color the land brown. That the orchards and all of the new plantings survived and are now thriving, we remark on daily as a miracle (thank you, Mr. Dionysus, for keeping the new wine grape plantings alive).  

Between tending the animals and the gardens, I still try to find time to maintain an active reading life, a balance that is important to my mental health. And Mr. Cobbett is always a good tonic to put things in perspective. Reading (again) portions of his Rural Rides, volumes 1 &2. This work is now close to its bicentennial and still full of timely information. Example: beware of visiting clergy, particularly the Methodist variety, they keep a keen ear for hog butchering days and consequently time their visits for the dinner hour.

Also, reading the new work by Jeffrey Roberts, Salted & Cured: savoring the culture, heritage, and flavor of America’s preserved meats. It is equal parts travelogue and history, and an interesting account of cured meats as they exist today in our land. A bit awkwardly written with a confusing narrative but it still has me interested in continuing our own curing experiments.

The 2015 title, Collards: A Southern tradition from seed to table, published by the University of Alabama, and written by Davis and Morgan, is well worth seeking out by any lover of greens. Personally, I’m more of a turnip or mustard greens man, having grown up outside of the core collard-belt. But this book is a well-written and enthusiastic account of the cultural importance of greens, a food group I always will celebrate.

What are you reading?

11 thoughts on “Reading This Weekend

  1. I’m reading Tom Seeley’s “Honeybee Democracy,” about all the decision-making that goes into swarming and how those decisions get made. Thank you for ordering and paying for it for me, Mr. Miller!

  2. From this quarter – reading snippets from “Masters of Mirth and Eloquence” – the 1906 edition found in an Antique Mall outside Springfield OH.

    Not an agrarian tome – at least by design. But there are so many sketches that by necessity build upon agrarian themes as that was the major lifestyle of the mid 19th century when the bards such as Sam Clemens, Charles Brown (Artemus Ward) Henry Shaw (Josh Billings) worked their magic – penning serial pieces for newspapers and journals, writhing great American novels, and strolling theater stages giving ‘lectures’ and setting up a business we now call Stand Up.

    I’m guessing you might be setting yourself up to combine ideas from the latter two volumes in this weeks reading… to smoke some bacon and when the collards are ready this summer make some bacon/collard dish, no? Having grown up outside the collard belt myself I’ve not developed a burning desire for them. But having tasted a bacon/collard dish made by one of my aunt’s in Southern Missouri, with a bit of lemon juice squeezed on to tempt a sour note… well, I imagine with practice I might become a bigger fan.

    • I imagine that work was one of those sold door to door in rural areas. Geared towards farming families interested in education and self-improvement. More popular in the Mid-west than in the South. Hmm….

      Collards are famous as a cut-and-come-again plant. A planting of 25 could sustain a family of four with two greens dinners a week for ten months. That is a pretty impressive plant.

      • On the title ‘Masters of Mirth…’ is there any way to track down your supposition this volume might have been sold door to door? It’s just that I did a bit of online digging to see if I spent the right amount in making this purchase… only to find VERY little (some intel on Melville Landon – who put the collection together and who apparently was no friend of Sam Clemens)… but I found no other offers for sale… so I’m curious.

        • It has been awhile since I was in that business. There was always a certain look to these titles: https://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/rbm/agents/case3.html.
          The Bible Companion on this link is typical of the late 19th century work. This would be the main way rural people could obtain books. The seller showed up with empty covers and sample chapters. The farmer would pick out the books wanted and the type of bindings they could afford. The order would be placed and the books mailed back.
          Email me a picture of the book binding and the title page.

          • Wow, that is so cool. Had no idea. May just start referring to you as Brian ‘the book man’ Miller (just so there’s no confusion with Tim ‘the tool man’ Taylor).

            Will forward the pics this evening.

  3. I started several books, the way you do when the days are getting longer again and you haven’t got enough patience to get through a book anymore.
    (It’s an excuse, an excuse I tell you.)
    One was ‘Rural Rides’. Will have to continue.
    ‘Factotum’.
    ‘The Edwardian Farm’. Intimidating. Will start with ‘The Wartime Kitchen And Garden’ instead. Perhaps.

    Just ordered new mustard green seeds.
    The last ones were mangled (!) by the cold, would you believe it.

    You plannin’ on making wine with those grapesies?

  4. Well, Cobbett typically is not the writer that I read straight through. And, he is writing on specific issues, in Rural Rides, that don’t seem at first germane to my life. But his language and opinionated approach to life endears him to me long after I’ve put him aside. Verlyn Klinkenborg introduced me to Cobbett years ago in his own writings. VK is a man worth seeking out for a more Mid-western sense of the agrarian. He was a longtime NYT’s writer who wrote an occasional piece on rural life. He is sadly missed from the newspaper of record.

    Is the EF based on the British series (which I never saw)?

    • They both are, yes. I like them very much, just like the original Thoday & Dodson series (except for their wartime series, which is rubbish, unlike the remake.)

      Cobbett was an early Robinia plantation enthusiast, it seems.
      He didn’t know about its bugs, of course.

Any thoughts or questions?