The Longest Day

If you knew that a cake would bring you ruin, would you still bake it?  What if it were to be a really, really delicious cake?  You see my dilemma, then.

On the surface, the only disaster that you’d expect from the “Boston Scream Pie” (a chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced pastry cream and a chocolate ganache) would be a few extra pounds of holiday weight gain.  While love handles may or may not be a risk inherent to the recipe, my limited sample set seems to suggest something far worse: that this is a cake that heralds farm disasters.

The first time I made the BSP, I took the afternoon off (as was, I might add, normal on Tuesdays, when we worked late for CSA distribution).  I spent four hours in the kitchen making a fall feast for myself and my fellow apprentices.  We should have been out in the fields, scrambling to prepare for the immanent first frost.  But it was a first frost for us in more ways that one: none of us had ever worked on a farm before and so did not realize the full ramifications of 32 degrees for plant life.  Our boss, meanwhile, was on vacation.  So I cooked away the afternoon, and when we went back up to the farm, we ran out of time to cover all of our lettuce, or finish harvesting the peanuts, or even look more than once at our heavy-laden hot peppers (no one at the farmers market was buying).

The next morning, we found our fields frozen, lettuces jacketed with frost, and we thought to ourselves, “ooooohhhh dear.”  But that cake was really delicious.

This year, I planned ahead.  Andrew and I had high hopes of celebrating Halloween properly, with costumes and friends, and I had promised to bring the BSP to a party Saturday.

Friday dawned cold and clear and we set to work butchering our Thanksgiving turkeys.  Because there were only about fifty of them, and because our friend Teresa had come to help, I assumed that we would make short work of the turkeys and skin the greenhouse to boot.

But turkeys are big.  They do not catch nearly as easily as broilers.  They do not pluck nearly as cleanly as broilers in our plucker.  The scalder kept puttering out.  The cold began to bite at our hands, and the hours dragged on.  Finally, around 3:30, we put the last turkey in a tank of ice water to chill and headed inside for hot tea.  I knew we were due for a sprinkling of snow that night, so I checked the forecast to see what temperatures to expect.  In the eight hours we had been butchering turkeys, the forecast had changed from a sprinkling of an inch to a blizzard of 5-7 inches.  I entered panic mode.

My greenhouse still stood as naked structure of ribs, as I had not yet pulled the plastic skin across the roof, or hung the plastic endwalls.  I had not yet even purchased the plastic I would put over my outdoor veggies in the event of snowpocalypse–I had expected to harvest several rows before a snowfall like we were expecting.  Up to this point in the fall, we had only experienced one very light frost.  I was ready for cold, with thick row cover and hoops, but utterly unprepared for snow.  You can’t get snow before frost, right?  Apparently, winter in the Maryland mountains is entirely non-linear.

We left the turkeys to continue chilling and raced to the vegetable garden, calling all of our neighbors along the way, desperate for help.  Barry, our landlady, dropped everything to lend a hand, and we shanghaied our neighbor’s son Hunter and his girlfriend when they unwisely came by to visit a rooster they had given us.  Together, we pulled the plastic skin over the 48 feet of my greenhouse, and as the others held everything taught as I secured the edges.  By then Barry had to leave, and we released Hunter and his bewildered girlfriend.  There was still much to be done.  As the light began to fade, Teresa and I placed my thickest, strongest row cover over all of my crops.  The garden looked better than it had, but I worried that the hoops would not support the weight of our predicted snow load.

By then Teresa needed to go home, though Andrew and I soldiered on.  Andrew still had to clean and return the processing equipment, and the turkeys needed to be bagged and frozen.  With Andrew gone with our one decent flashlight,  I strung tarps across the open ends of the greenhouse by moonlight, feeling my way from side to side. Happily, between the deepening cold of the night and the tanks full of ice water, the turkeys never warmed in the slightest (just ask Andrew, who had to fish them all out of the ice bath!)  With some creative rearranging of our freezers, we finally made room for every last bird.  As Andrew completed his final chore–setting up a compost pile for the offal–the first snowflakes began to fall.

We fell into bed at 1 in the morning, wishing we had more light, more time, more energy.  When we awoke on Saturday, the snow had arrived in earnest, and all we could do was wait.

It snowed and snowed, a heavy wet snow that pulled down even the thin strands of our electric fence.  As the day wore on, I saw the hoops supporting my row cover sag, and some even slipped sideways.  I saw snow swirl over my tarp blockade and settle in my greenhouse.

But before we lost power, I made my cake.  It was, as I had remembered, fantastically delicious.  But was it worth it?

It took days for the snow to melt and for me to liberate my vegetables from their wintery entombment.  The kale, situated adjacent to the greenhouse, took a beating from all of the snow sliding off of the roof.  My lettuce looked a bit squished as I removed the row cover, and some of the beet greens had snapped under the weight of the snow.  But it all survived.  Tested under circumstances far worse than anything I had hoped to expose them, my veggies pulled through.

Now my greenhouse is fully enclosed.  I have more hoops for my outside crops, and plastic to cover them with.  And I’ve gotten that cake out of my system, so what else could go wrong?

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