The full lunar eclipse happens very rarely, and apparently over Senning 250 years ago. Tonight, it will occur again, and so we plan to make a picnic and take some blankets and sit out on the horse field to enjoy the lunar eclipse.
But first, it’s still morning and there’s work to be done. We bring in the freshly picked blackberries that grow along the backyard fence, 2.3 kilos of blackened berries, wash them and bring them to a boil on the stove. It’s jam and liqueur time. Once they’ve come to a boil, I purée them with a handheld mixer, and then strain into a bowl.
The strain leaves all the seeds, twigs and dead bugs behind. The mulch and pulp that remain become the basis for the eventual liqueur and once the liquid from the blackberries is strained into the bowl, leaving the glob of residue behind, I dump that into a jar. Once the blackberries have been strained, the juice is then reboiled with sugar and a sugar plus pectin mix. I ladle the thick liquid into jars, and Francziska caps them while still hot.
When cooled they are stored in a rom in the cellar, full of other preserves: tomato sauce, pickled corn, apricot jam, apple sauce …. This is some delicious stuff. The remaining pulp, meanwhile, is covered with alcohol from a plastic bottle that has a 96% on its label, which Birgit gets at the apothecary, but she says any type of plain schnapps alcohol would do. This mixture stands for three weeks on a window sill; it won’t work in the dark. After three weeks, sugar water is added. She pours the alcohol over them, seals the jar, and places it in an appropriate sill; she then retrieves a different jar that has cherries in it, strains the cherries she left standing in alcohol before I got here, adds the simmering sugar water to them. She admits she needs a second opinion on the ratio of sugar to alcohol; it would be rude to not oblige…it tasted like mixture between Christmas Eve and a first date.
After the blackberry jam is completed, I get to work making the apricot knödel: three packages of topfen mixed with two whole eggs and 4 egg yolks, 9 tablespoons of semolina flour and 9 tablespoons of bread crumbs. This is the basic recipe. Once you’ve got this, anything can go in the middle. Birgit pulls a package of apricots she froze from the freezer. I scoop a large tablespoon of dough onto the palm of my hand and flatten it; put an apricot in the middle and roll it up. Finish a dozen, and in boiling water they go. Once they float to the surface, I scoop them out, and roll them in a bread crumb, butter, cinnamon and vanilla sugar crumble.
While I was working on the knödel, Birgit makes a spread with fresh red peppers, koriander, onion and cumin. Total kitchen time: from 9 to 2, and I love every minute of it.
After lunch, each person finds their own quiet corner or place, but soon around 4:30 we find ourselves mucking out the horse stalls. The horses are kept in Charlie’s father’s barn, where he used to have his dairy cows and steers for beef. Pitchfork in hand, scooping the soiled straw into the wheelbarrow, deep into the smell of hydrogen sulphide and methane from the concentrated manure, I ask Birgit what became of them all. According to Opa, Charlie’s father, who was putting new hay in the feeding trough, the distributors for local beef and dairy in Stockerau, the bigger city 8 km away, closed down, apparently suffering from the same thing that happens to small, individually owned stores: they get gobbled up by bigger chains. Another and more alarming explanation, is that only ten years ago, Austria made it law that you need to get your cows out to pasture and not keep them cooped up in the barn all day; small farmers around here need their land for crops and don’t have enough for grazing fields, and as a result, probably rarely got their animals outside.Times change everywhere, even in the stillness and quiet of rural Austria.
I shower after that, enjoying the clean smell of suds from the Nivea shower cream; back upstairs, Birgit decides suddenly, or not, but she says suddenly that she will make pudding for tonight’s eclipse. What a woman! Preserving, cooking, mucking and back to cooking and making salads for tonight’s picnic. The aroma of cream and vanilla pleasantly eclipses the manure and methane of ten minutes ago.
Towards 8 the family gets ready to go up to the field for the picnic. Shouts for pillows, shoes, binoculars, cameras, blankets, food baskets, wine, the tripod are echoed throughout the house – anyone who lives in a large family will be familiar with the chaos of getting out of the house at a designated time. Eventually, all are ready, and we leave from the barn, where two wheelbarrows of picnic material are waiting to be hauled up to the field. Birgit remembers to grab some horse food mix on the way up, so she’s got a bucket in each hand, Charlie a wheelbarrow, one of the son has another wheelbarrow, the other on a go cart, one on a bike; we could easily be mistaken for a family of refugees.
While we assemble up on the field, Birgit calls some neighbors over she sees walking along the road, Charlie brings the dog back because he was chasing the rabbits over and through the fields, the children call dibs on pillows and places on the blanket, we pour the wine and note the dark clouds on the northern horizon. Not to fear. The moon is expected to rise any minute.
The plates are distributed and some clouds appear in the south where the moon is awaited, the horses are finished eating their food mix and slowly inch their way towards us (this is their field, after all). Birgit creates a makeshift barricade with the wheelbarrows, but those sly creatures come in on the flank. She has to shoo them away, but they decide to run behind us, and stand a polite distance away.
Soon, smart creatures they are, they give up and mosey back down to their hay, and we are left with our picnic of salads, meat and cheese, wine and juice and the sparks of lightning, pushing the thunderous effects closer.
The neighbor lifts his phone to the sky and using an app, locates the moon hidden behind the clouds. This will provide the only viewing tonight, and I am able to see the blood orange partially eclipsed moon, at least this way, for my memories.
The neighbors leave after a glass of wine, each one of their children clinging to them in response to the increased wind and ominous storm that appears to be heading our way. Adamant that we will see even a bit of the moon rise above the low clouds in the south, we hang on to the romance of a picnic in the impending rain. The children, however, don’t find it as appealing, and begin to wonder how long we plan on holding out. Soon the wind picks up in tumultuous currents, forcing us no option but to concede to packing up the wheelbarrows and heading home. The pudding will have to wait.