Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Mussels

The California Coast looked as English as it ever does: green hillsides with purple flowers, that if you squinted, and looked directly into the sunlight and swayed a little, could be mistaken for foxglove...if only you swatted away the clouds of hummingbirds, of which Europe is entirely devoid.

 The conditions were suitably early 19th century.  Smoke curled out of the chimneys, smoke from our wood stoves, the only source of heat in our little cabins.  And light came from our candles and lanterns.  We ran outside to fetch the cooking water.
And were not great 19th century themes evoked when we set out with pocket knives and a Trader Joe's bag to harvest mussels?  There was Dickensian child labor in perilous conditions. 

There was child against nature.

The theme of children's downfall due to bad parenting, prominent in Pride and Prejudice, was conspicuously absent.  Ahem.  Even though there was blood

and sweat and (almost) tears when a wave nearly swept away the harvest in its bag. 
Oh dear, scratch the blood, sweat and tears.  Wrong century.

There was success through hard work and perseverance.  Getting barnacles off mussels is as arduous as running any cotton loom,

but in the California sunshine, less likely to cause rickets.

The pride of the harvesters spurred them on to sample their harvest.

But the prejudice of those who had been too young to participate in the harvest

held sway and they would not partake in the feast.

All in all it was a trip worthy of a novel.

But all it gets is a blog post.


Stefaneener said...

One does one's best, doesn't one?

Pedant said...

Wikipedia says Teddy Roosevelt used "Blood, toil, tears and sweat" in 1897 and that Churchill may have gotten it from him. So, it's (barely and arguably) 19th century after all.

Kristin said...

What a great experience for the kids. --So daring to venture down those slippery rocks and harvest mussels.

I thought it was funny how the worry was to save the bag of mussels, when I was thinking that you were lucky the kids didn't get swept into the ocean. That is always my fear when mine are standing on rock-water breakers next to our wicked and beautiful Pacific Ocean. What did you think of the taste?

Susan said...

Stefani, ah one does try.

Pedant, I knew it had a 19th century ring! Thanks for commenting.

Kristin, I was with you--I was shouting down, "You are more important than a bag of mussels!" I am not a huge mussel fan. I never order them. Maybe because I read this in Kitchen Confidential, warning this contains language not usually found in my blog:

"I don't eat mussels in restaurants... More often than not, mussels are allowed to wallow in their own foul-smelling piss... I have had the misfortune to eat a single bad mussel... sent me crawling to the bathroom shitting like a mink, clutching my stomach and projectile vomiting."

But ours were cooked just right (thanks to my friend Judith) and delicious. Evelyn woke up in the night with a stomachache, but nothing came of it. Whew.

patricia said...

Other than the beautiful scenery, the impressiveness of the task at hand and the deft weaving-in of literature, what amazes me most in this post is the fact there are no hummingbirds in Europe! Really? Poor Europe!

Susan said...

Tricia, you crack me up! I feel sorry for Europe, too. Hummingbirds are our little American treasure.

The Stone Age Techie said...

Great post!
I'm wondering, was Europe always devoid of hummingbirds? Was there some kind of mass immigration or extinction, long in the past, or are hummingbirds simply an American thing?
I also was thinking, not about the bag of mussels getting swiped by the ocean, but the girls :-)

AM said...

Operating a cotton gin is apparently one of those "weird jobs that pay six figures." FYI.

Anonymous said...

and a great blog post at that! now I'm hungry for mussels. with butter, and white wine... and garlic. or you know, just fresh from the sea! and yes, that could could be the english coast! beautiful!

Susan said...

Karen, you made me curious and I did a little research. Turns out that hummingbirds went extinct in Europe and Asia. 30 million year old hummingbird fossils were found in Germany a few years ago.

AM, holy cow! I'll train my kids to work a cotton gin, then. But a gin (for separating seeds from the cotton) is not a loom (for weaving cloth). The loom has been around for 10,000 years and the gin for 200.

Barbara, I hope I didn't make you miss the English coast!