Zeni Ranch Sequel . . . Lady Jane
We made arrangements with Jane to come back to the ranch to harvest the Italian castagnes during the week.
And so we headed back up the hills of Mendocino, through the grove of majestic redwoods, and over the unpaved dirt road. Once we get onto the dirt road, we time another 25 minutes until we hit the front gates of the Zeni Ranch.
After finishing a half-day of business and errands, we made our way for our trek to spend the rest of the day towards a slice of heaven.
We turned into the yard and parked beside the Grape Arbor, underneath the umbrella of a California Walnut tree. It wasn’t a couple of minutes before I heard Lady Jane’s truck pull up behind us. The door swung open and out flew this white blur. It was Jane’s Fox terrier, Zip. He came over to greet us and to check out what we were pulling out of our truck. We brought Jane and the family a crate full of fresh baked bread from our local corner market. We included some “pre-baked” rolls that she immediately placed in the chest freezer to keep the dressed rabbits company. She exclaimed “ Oh, these will be nice for Thanksgiving.” Her eyes widened when she spotted the bag of sourdough rolls, her “favorite”.
We also shared some of our homemade jam to go with the bread. You guessed it, Fig Confiture. Just before leaving the house, we received a phone call from our bank. It was our favorite bank officer that we’ve known for several years. She was calling to give her personal thanks for the jar of Fig jam we left with her as a token of thanks for always being kind and friendly when we do our banking. She declared that she could not stop eating “toast and jam” that morning and exclaimed “had three pieces of toast!”. I changed my method of preserving this year and have been soliciting opinions from “my super-tasters”. So far, my new method makes for another hit. Didn’t get the opportunity to enter this recipe in the Harvest Fair this year due to my travels, but hope to repeat the method next year for entry in the County Fair. I love collecting the Blue ribbons. The cash award isn’t bad either!
We spent time chatting with Jane on the front porch of the main house. We talked about "Singapore George" and his family. George was responsible for introducing us to this Italian clan. He's a member of the family. During our visit, we learned a little more about Jane. She is the Director of the 4-H Youth Development Program for Mendocino County and teaches children about animal husbandry, gardening, etc. We walked up the hill together and stopped by the apple tree. She collected some of the fallen fruit to give to the pigs over at the barn. I don’t mind the smells of the barn so much. The crisp breeze that carries over from the Pacific Ocean through the trees, over the hills and into the meadow seems to clear the “odoriferous” air that lingers around the barn area. Jane began to tell us this fantastic story of how she and her son began a business in raising pigs. Their business is under the name of “Zeni Swine” and has earned them quite a steady income. Her son’s pigs win prominent recognition and cash prizes at the various livestock shows he enters. In addition, he started selling the “wieners” (baby pigs) for young kids to raise on their own. She gives us little story of how “political” some of these shows can get. She proudly mentions that her son managed to pay the tuition for his first year of college all on his own.
Three Little Pigs . . .
The most amazing thing Jane shared with us is that she is a self-proclaimed AI Expert. (That is, she taught herself, via the Internet, how to Artificially Inseminate sows.) To further my astonishment she described how it’s done with all the technical equipment and essential material (if you know what I mean). She says it’s all clockwork and has a system set in place using a calendar as part of her recordkeeping. Last year, she had two sows ready to birth at the same time. She was up over 48 hours when they delivered within a few hours of each other. Jane stayed with the “piglets” to make sure they were all okay. She had 27 piglets at one time! Fantastic! AND she does it all SOLO!!! She is one of two women in all of the County that does this and she taught the other woman!!! FANTASTIC!!! I observed her facial expressions and could see the passion and joy she has in this endeavor. Not once, did I hear a note of regret, frustration or disappointment in her voice. She is exuberant and vivacious when she shares with us of her experience.
Jane left us to our picking and proceeded to start the feeding of the animals.
Chestnut Burr . . .
I don’t have a very strong back, but considering what I would get in return, I could bend over to pick up these chestnuts anytime. The nuts are protected under a husk that has a burr. It is vital to wear thick gloves when picking chestnuts as those burrs are a pain to deal with. It smarts to get pricked with these suckers. It was so relaxing to do this chore.
Anni's harvest basket . . .
We set back down the hill, stopped by the apple tree for a light snack and met Jane back at the main house. She had just finished cutting back the rose bushes and pruning the Bridal Veil. I admire how she gives us the impression that she is the sole groundskeeper on the property. She invited us to go down to the garden to harvest some veggies for their dinner. Her husband, Raymond, insists that "meat and potatoes" be included in their meal, otherwise "it's just appetizers". I spotted a butcher-wrapped bundle, marked "PORK" with a date, sitting on the tailgate of her truck. She noticed it was still rock hard frozen and I suggested she slack it out (thaw) in a bowl of water. I suspect it's going to be part of a stew. With her bucket under her arm, she continued down the entryway, crossed the road to go down the embankment towards the garden. There below, in a rough and ready basin, lay drip hosed grids of squash, melons, corn, beans, peppers, flowers, herbs, etc.
Jane sent us home with a selection of butternut squash, peppers and basil. The squash is going into a curry dish I’ll prepare this weekend using some of the Indian spices I hauled back from my recent trip to Southern California.
Before leaving the Zeni ranch, we peaked our heads into the "famous Zeni Caves" . Story has it, back in the early 1920's, another generation of young Zeni brothers were given the arduous chore of digging a part of the hillside to create a cave, to be used as a natural cooler. One big giant ice chest to store family provisions. At that time, I'm sure the ranch was as rustic as rustic could be. With the cool breeze in the air that day, I estimated the cave was at a steady temperature of at least 40 degrees. Just about the right temperature for refrigeration. Brrrrrrrrr. Anyway, as the story continues, the 3 brothers had gone out hunting for wild boar and bagged a big one. They brought it home, ate it and unfortunately, all 3 brothers died of what was suspected as "trichinosis". It was quite tragic. Sometimes, I can feel the spirits of those boys running around the ranch, being rambunctious and adventurous.
It was another fine day. If time and schedules permit, Ander and I plan on another excursion up to the Zeni ranch to celebrate pre-Christmas antics with the family and friends. I think I'll bring Flan. Jane mentioned that was missed at the potluck. Because it's the time of year the "girlie-girls" slow down, I don't get as many eggs as I do during the Spring and Summer. I NEVER have to buy eggs. But an opportunity to see the Zeni family and share good times is always worth making that trip to the corner market to purchase a dozen eggs or so. It's worth it...
On our way home, I received a call from my brother. He and my sister-in-law just came back from a doctor’s appointment. He was calling to announce, quite joyfully, the gender of their expected baby, due in April. With respect to my brother and his lovely wife, I will defer from sharing the gender here, in this forum, until after the baby has arrived. This baby will be my Mother’s 7th grandchild. WHOOOOO-WHEEEEEE!!! Another little darling to fill our lives . . .
Life is a banquet, my friends.