We've got a website now!

Welcome to What's Cooking Richmond Blog...

We've got a website now.  Please visit us there for information about classes and monthly gatherings.

Thank you.

- Elli Sparks

Cluck Cluck… Good

Early March was warm enough to open the window in my home office. I watched the hens as they moved around the yard scratching through the leaves for bugs and heard them clucking at their latest discovery. My husband had tossed a bale of straw on the ground and the hens were investigating. Two hens stood on top of the rectangular bale, two were on the left side, and two more on the right.

“He’s dropped a bale of straw for us,” they called out. “It’s right here. We are standing on it. It’s golden. It’s beautiful. Come and see it. We’ve got something new. Come and see.”

What a treat it was to watch my hens and hear their chatter as I worked at my computer. My life, however, wasn’t always this pastoral.

Several years ago I was hit with a serious health crisis. Unable to find a way out, I stopped everything I was doing. I quit my full-time job. We drew on our savings. Things were tight while I focused all of my energy on getting better.

I had a hunch that changing my diet might help. I read a lot and discovered interesting facts about the food people used to eat and the food we eat today. Our great-grandmothers had prepared food in ways that heal and sustain. We had forgotten their nourishing traditions.

Our great grandparents picked fresh vegetables from their gardens and raised animals on pasture. They served good clean raw milk. They made yogurt, kefir, and homemade cheeses. They fermented all kinds of food: pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and chutneys. They made stocks, broths, butter, and lard. They served liver and an assortment of organ meats. They used honey or maple syrup for sweeteners. They always soaked or sprouted nuts and grains. All of this made the food easier to digest and the vitamins and minerals more accessible.

When asked, the grandmothers would say, “We prepare food this way to make healthy babies.”

Generations of grandmothers had done thousands of years of research on every continent in the world. While the varieties of vegetables and types of animals differed by region, the principles of preparation were consistent. This “Grandmother Research” sounded good to me, so I began to try these old-fashioned ways.

It took a while to learn how to soak, sprout, and ferment, but eventually I figured things out. I found local sustainable farmers growing good healthy meats and vegetables. I switched from sugar to honey. My kitchen counter-top grew cluttered with jars of veggies, fruit, and milk in various stages of fermentation. In the winter, a stock pot bubbled on my stove. I served Amish butter and cooked with lard. Liver and onions became a weekly ritual.

The names sounded weird and the food tasted odd at first, but I came to love the variety of flavors this old fashioned cooking offered. And, I started to feel better!

As a young person, I had dreamt of becoming a small farmer. Life, however, had turned out differently than my dreams. I was married to a city-boy, and we were living an urban life.

As my body healed, I began to explore the idea of farming again. I read a book called, “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin. Farm where ever you are, he said. Don’t wait to buy that big piece of land in the country. Fill your backyard with raised beds. Grow sprouts on your window sill. Ferment veggies. He didn’t exactly say to ferment veggies, but I figured that if I was growing tons of enzymes – those beneficial bacteria that heal and strengthen the digestive system – in the fermented veggies right on my counter-top, then I had, indeed, become a small farmer!

Inspired by what he saw, my husband got in on the act. He built a tiny chicken coop and found six beautiful hens through Craig’s List. We bought a black and white speckled chicken called a Barred Rock. We found a lovely little multi-colored French hen called a Mille Fleur. He brought home a golden hen, a Brown Leghorn, a reddish hen that lays eggs with green shells, and a black hen that lays eggs with chocolate-colored shells. We shared our table scraps with them and offered a yard full of bugs. In March these ladies gave us 132 eggs with bright orange yolks.

My husband went on to build raised beds and a fence to keep the hens out of the garden. We pruned the raspberry bushes I put in a few years ago and the blackberry bushes that had crept over from the neighbor’s yard. We ordered seeds and started seedlings indoors. We planted garlic last fall. It shot up green and tall this spring. We expect to harvest six varieties of garlic along with spinach, peas, beets, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs throughout the summer and fall.

Today, as has become our habit at the end of each day, we went outside with our two children. We visited the hens and thanked them for their partnership. We looked at the plants growing in the garden and noted their progress. We nibbled on greens poking up through the spring soil. We felt a great sense of peace, contentment, good health, and connection to each other and to the Earth.