Sunday, October 29, 2006

Lessons from whole milk.

When I was a kid, I had a neighbor lady who did some farming, of sorts. She milked two cows, a Golden Guernsey and a Brown Swiss. She had chickens, collected and sold the eggs. She had Guinea Fowl, she collected and hatched the eggs and enjoyed showing off the unique feathers to anyone who would look. There was a hog house, and sometimes there were swine to inhabit it. She had white face Hereford for beef and the processional turkey holding court in the chicken lot.
She attended a small white framed country church and would take me with her each week. For the opening of Sunday School she would play the piano and everyone would sing before we went to our classes where we learned about the life and times of Jesus and about the great love of God and how he poured it out on us. Grace was taught there and they didn't let you leave until your could say with conviction what grace is. Most of what I know about the Bible I learned in that church basement. Fond memories were made and friendships were forged just outside the church kitchen, pies came from the church kitchen.
Each Monday I would carry two plastic jugs to her house where they were rinsed in the sink and filled with whole milk. By whole I mean all of it. If I got the milk from the evening milking the cream would usually have separated by the time I got it home, only a half mile walk.
Because there was whole milk at Inez's house there was butter to churn and cottage cheese to make. I often went to get the milk when I knew that she would have just churned. She taught me to paddle butter in a heavy crock bowl. It meant working the butter against the side of the bowls so that the water was pressed out of it. The water was poured off at the end of the porch because the chore was always done while sitting in the porch swing. When the water was pressed out she would leave me on the porch while she went to get salt to flavor the butter. The salt was worked through the butter with the same wooden paddle.
As she walked through the living room she would stop and play a riff on her spinet piano. Always old Gospel songs, always from memory, always with sincerity. Yet when she returned with the salt cellar from the kitchen stove she would joke about that song being about a bear named Gladly who couldn't see straight. The old song of course, was Gladly the Cross I'd Bear.
I recall the chuckle we would share as she presented another parody of an old Gospel tune. She would invite me to the enclosed back porch where there would be other crock bowls filled with clabbering milk, the sour smell filling the air. One table was always a field of bleached white tea towels where cottage cheese was in production.
There were many life lessons that I learned from Inez. You don't get flavorful butter without pressure and seasoning. It's okay to laugh at things that are sometimes taken too seriously and there was the lesson that some things in life really aren't appreciated unless they go sour.

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