Winter is here, welcome or not as it may be. The winter solstice is a time of year associated with powerful allegory, since time began for humans. Universally, the mythologies of the pre-Christian era, other religions of the world, and even of the Christian religious calendar, place a struggle between the forces of darkness and light, death and rebirth, at this time of year. It is neither arbitrary nor accidental that this is the time of year assigned to the birth of Jesus Christ.
For gardeners, one of the allegories that personify the contest between darkness and light is that of the Holly King and the Oak King. The Holly King and the Oak King, representing the duality of the natural year, struggle for the love of the Green Goddess (the earth) and vie with each other to the death, yearly.
When each is apparently winning, he is simultaneously sacrificed, struck down, vanquished. So it is that the winter solstice in this myth marks the simultaneous apogee and end of the Holly King's reign, which in turn symbolizes death, reflection (lessons learned), and rest. The Oak King returns and commences to strengthen his reign, symbolizing rebirth, growth, and expansion, culminating with the summer solstice.
The Island forest demonstrates the aptness of the myth's observations. During the green season, the oaks overwhelm, dominating the woodland, but in fact inevitably losing their bid to winter. As the season declines, the hollies emerge, maintaining their foliage and regaining their dominance in the woodland scene.
And, like people of old who attended closely to the waxing and waning of the sun's strength, gardeners everywhere do well to utilize that knowledge in their efforts. The focus shifts: the in-gathering chapter mostly closes, and a quieter period ensues, that of maintaining the household economy during winter's passage. In our era, we as Americans have experienced unparalleled ease and freedom of want, overall. Some actually have had the choice to fail to prepare for winter - apart from "switching screens for storm sash" - and can behave as if immune to winter's variables.
Anyone my age who grew up on the Island probably knew dozens of people who made old-fashioned preparations for winter. Many had fascinating stories about life here during Prohibition, the Depression, and World War II: how hard it was to make ends meet, and some of the experiences, antic or harrowing, that people went through. The description of hundreds of unemployed local men turning out to apply for work on the original Lagoon drawbridge, in a recent Vineyard Gazette archive, should make us all pensive, as few local people work on today's version of the project.
Economies of root cellar and woodshed - all that might seem fusty and old-fashioned - are headed our way. I do believe frugal is the new chic and that many have a renewed interest in "all that." Frugal blogs are popping up on the Internet like mushrooms, driven, it sometimes appears, by competition to out-granny our grannies; however, I concede the older generations are mostly through with "all that," and would just as soon hang onto whatever modern conveniences they can.
I must say it helps to have a cellar that is just that: not a home gym, rec room, or home theater, none of which are frugal anyway. I can't see how a home theater is really compatible with root cellaring. Good storage conditions for many items, not just foodstuffs, revolve around low light levels, cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and absence of temperature fluctuations.
Potatoes, onions, apples, beets, carrots, celery, jarred products (canning) and wine are a few of the common foodstuffs for which it makes sense to have a real cellar. For the ornamental gardener it is a nice bonus to over-winter dahlia and canna roots in the cellar. The list goes on: carrying over dormant geraniums (pelargoniums) for next summer; rhubarb and chicory for forcing; mushroom culture.
Each year I attempt to utilize our cellar better. It is sort of like the Oak King and the Holly King, putting things away at the low point; then the seed catalogues arrive and/or seeding begins; bringing them out once again to thrive and grow.
After many years of enjoying others' liver pâté, I have finally made one that measured up to my expectation. While deer season is for the most part over, many Island residents remain on the list for road-kill deer. They have the opportunity to make this delectable specialty, which requires liver that is really fresh.
By weight, put through the meat grinder, using the coarse plate: one venison liver, trimmed of tubes and membrane, about two pounds plus (or substitute pork liver); about one pound of pork belly or bacon; one onion; three/four cloves of garlic; and last - cleaning out the meat grinder's workings - one quarter pound fresh breadcrumbs. Mix well, then add to the mixture in the bowl: two tablespoons of chopped sage; a scant quarter teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg; salt and freshly ground black pepper; two tablespoons Calvados; and one demitasse cup of dry white wine.
Line two heavy loaf pans or terrines with strips of bacon, or simply butter them. Divide the pâté mixture between the pans, layer over the bacon ends, and cover with buttered aluminum foil. Place containers in a roasting pan half filled with boiling water and bake for one and a half hours at 325°F, or until the pâté firms up and shrinks from the side of the container. Leave in the container, weighed down by bricks over the foil, and store in the fridge or cold pantry for a day to let the flavors mellow. The pâté may be frozen.