I've been thinking about this morning all week, waiting to see.

I'm not sure why it captures my attention.

Maybe it’s the food scraps that have been collecting all week that I want to get out of my sight. But it's about more than cleaning up garbage. It’s a tending, a checking in, an ultimate fascination with the process of turning the unwanted into a priceless resource.

It’s my alchemy.

Compost bin

I swing the pallet door open, pitch the fork into the pile, and proceed to tear into the layers of straw and weeds and food debris.

And it's a good thing.

Even though the parts around the edges were dry and the center is humming with heat in perfect moisture, the stuff at the bottom of the pile is too wet, a compacted slime that has passed its prime. It is just beginning to carry that sour smell of anaerobic stalemate.

Evidence of Magic: Compost that reaches 130° to 160° will eliminate plant disease pathogens.
Compost that reaches 130° to 150° for four days will eliminate plant disease pathogens.

The rest of the pile is cooking. At one point my glasses are so fogged with steam that I can’t see through them. I soon peel off the sweatshirt that I had needed just a few moments earlier. As I scrape bottom,  I notice which items are still hanging on (the pineapple tops), turn over the seed sprouts from last week's cantaloupe guts, and judge whether I need to back off on adding more straw.

This is how I know it's working: when I look closely, I see a city bustling with activity. Small insects hover, while others scurry and mine for gold. Fungi sprout tiny skyscraper mushrooms while their mycelium build a network that holds it all together. This is a world unto itself, crafting the best soil builder known to humanity. I can only marvel at it all.

Compost mycelium

Then back in it all goes, the driest materials dragged to the bottom while the really wet stuff falls toward the edges in an inexact science.

After the pile is back in place I add another layer, close the door, and rinse off my shoes and the scrap bucket.

One step closer.

 

When I think of Aunt Edna, she’s laughing. She spins off a one-liner, claps her hands one time and does a little kick while everyone busts out in laughter. Usually she will tap the person next to her and whisper a few more observations loud enough for everyone to hear, and the party goes on.

The number one recipe requested by my cousins for our family cookbook project is by far my Aunt Edna’s Scalloped Corn. The dish brings grown men to tears.

Scalloped Corn

And by far, this has been the toughest one to pin down, because when you make a thing for 60-plus years, the word “recipe” doesn’t apply.

When you know something well, you cease to measure ingredients.

I wanted to make sure I was making the Scalloped Corn just right, so I made an appointment to learn from the master. She gave me more than a recipe:

When you watch a person, you get a feel for what they are aiming at. Edna very plainly wants everyone to know that they are loved. Praise and I-love-you’s and hugs spill over from her heart to yours, and you walk away wanting to come back for more.

Maybe that’s the secret ingredient that makes everyone beg for this dish.

Tracing the Lineage of a Recipe: Edna was given this recipe by her mother Lucie, who we are pretty sure received it from her mother Chloe Hamilton. Edna remembers her cousin John (Lucie’s sister Mary’s son, if you follow) bringing Scalloped Corn to a family function “and it tasted exactly like mine.”  Chloe must have been the common thread. Edna’s granddaughter Bethany makes it now, adding a little brown sugar to her version. Five generations of a family recipe.

Edna’s Scalloped Corn

3 8-oz. cans creamed corn
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
3 eggs
1 ½ sleeves of saltine crackers, crushed
2 Tbsp butter

Mix the corn, sugar, milk, and eggs. Reserve ½ cup of the cracker crumbs, and add the rest to the mixture. Pour into an oven-safe dish. Sprinkle the crackers on top and dot with butter. Bake at 350° for  45-60 minutes, until mixture is solid and golden brown on top.

 

When my children ask why we had to move away from the lakeside community that they call home, I list reasons like family and opportunity and Daddy's new job that allows him to be home more.
But it doesn't tell the whole story.

Then I wandered across this poem written by Julia Matson over at Along the Gravel Road. It gives words to my reasons. Thank you Julia for sharing your words.

Just Like Sarah
by Julia Matson

Momma said her name was deep in the soil underneath our feet.

The land that spread from the northern row of evergreens

to the sparkling stream in the south, to the gravel road on the east

to the softly sloping western hill – the last place the sun touched every dusk.

Momma said she left her name buried in the dirt when she left

and knew it was still there when she – when we – stepped on this land again.

I, a child and new to this land, didn’t know where her name was buried,

but I wanted to dig.

To find her name. To ask her why she left it amongst the fields of alfalfa

and the hills hemmed by the green rows of soybeans.

I asked her about the places she went after she had written her name

on the heart of the farm. And why did she come back?

When she lived in the golden ranchland of Nebraska, didn’t she want her roots to grow deep beside the fields of wheat?

Or later when her home was in the warm and welcoming South, didn’t she want her name there in the land shadowed by the Appalachians?

When the Colorado mountains filled with rocks and twiggy pines cradled her home why didn’t she write her name there – beneath the columbine?

Her answer to my questions came. Not in words, but in who she was and how she moved on this land.  How she hung the white linen napkins on the twisting wire underneath the noonday sun and how the white squares seemed to sway to her song. How her face glistened in the fresh wind of May when she dug and planted and pulled and plucked and prodded the tendrils of the yielding dirt and when she danced in the rows.

The sun slipped past that curving western field night after night and left streams of light across the land where her name was written.  The land stayed the same after each setting of the sun. But I changed one of those nights and I began to know what it meant – to write my name in the land.

To let my heart pour out through my hands and into the land, just as the sand.
To know this land holds my plans and my place when dreams take me away for a season.

And remember this is where I belong.

This land where my name is written

right beside my momma’s.

Julia Matson will always call the farm “home” even though wanderlust runs through her veins. She currently lives in central Iowa and has the privilege of doing something she loves – ASL (American Sign Language)/English interpreter. She  loves 70% dark chocolate with cayenne pepper, a full mug of coffee, and listening to the stories of people around her. You  can find more of her words at Along the Gravel Road.