Tea Time Stories
Over the years the clapboards and shingles on Tasha’s house have darkened from sunlight, rain and time. Winter brings a moment of rest and peace to the land, gardens and house as it sits in the quiet landscape. Christmas is here, as is a cardinal not indifferent to the sunflower seeds scattered around the back step and under the lilacs. Balsam needles and melting snow from the newly set up tree have been swept from the floor, along with bits of paper left over from wrapping presents now under the tree. Indoors everything is alight in reds, greens and gold.
To the north of Tasha’s house where the bee balm blooms red in the summer and beech leaves rattle in the winter wind sits the old birdfeeder. It rests atop a cedar post about six feet high, and has for many years, been the center of activity for chickadees, blue jays, and red squirrels. It was even used as a scratching post by Tasha’s one-eyed cat Minou, who preferred canned sardines to birds. The feeder is a six by fourteen-inch platform with wooden sides six inches high on each end and a glass roof, and there are even two narrow strips of wood running the length on each side to keep the birdseed from blowing away.
Tasha was fond of chickens, especially the rare Spitzhauben breed. She said their combs did not freeze in winter, as they had a topknot to keep their head warm, and that they were especially intelligent. “The intelligence of small children and chickens is often underestimated,” she was fond of saying.
Between autumn and winter there is often a type of weather that lasts a few hours or as much as several days. This pause between the seasons often accompanies the big storms that spin off the Atlantic and bring snow, or rain, or wind, and often all three.
Hand cranked ice cream is one of those traditions that is particularly relevant nowadays. It takes a while to make, but it is supposed to. That is why it tastes so good. Tasha used an old ice cream churn, painted green on the outside with copper wire holding the staves together. The gear and crank assembly that spanned the top of the wooden bucket and turned the stainless drum within never quite stayed seated and required occasional adjustment during the cranking process, but it made the very best ice cream. The open door of the woodshed with a view past the dovecote and to the pines to the south was the preferred location for ice cream production. Even on hot days the shade is cool beneath the roof where rows of firewood sit quietly, and there was always a corgi enjoying the proceedings.
Some chickens are real individuals. The most notable chicken Tasha ever knew was Chickahominy. His mother was a bearded Belgium bantam that started her clutch of eggs early in spring, and failed to hatch any save one, at which point she abandoned the effort. Rescued by Tasha from the cold, and thawed atop the double boiler on the woodstove, Chickahominy soon demonstrated his penchant for woodstoves, tea, gardening, scrambled eggs, traveling and people, especially Tasha.