Sara Franklin took two, carefully measured steps backwards toward the far wall of the kitchen. Blond and blue-eyed, Ms. Franklin moved just the way she’d been reared to move if, say, a tornado blew through a croquet game at the country club. She politely stepped aside as Neftali Duran, whirled through the kitchen of his mid-century home in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, bearing the carcass of a 40 pound goat in his arms.
Moving as instinctually as a dancer through his thousandth performance, Mr. Duran said “We must not forget the espazote.” Reaching for the fresh avocado leaves that give his family’s Oaxacan black beans their distinct licorice taste, he spun back toward the door as gracefully as Balanchine.
The pot of beans was already settled on white coals in the bottom of the fire pit in his back yard. Fifty guests had already gathered to share the feast that Mr. Duran’s family has, for generations, prepared as a clan.
The goat was about to be wrapped in guava leaves, pressed into a large roasting pan, and take up residence next to the beans. As far as Mr. Duran was concerned, everything was right on time. The timing, however, was something known only to him.
“Nef does not really like to share his process,” said Ms. Franklin, a well-trained baker and cook who is a doctoral student in Food Studies at New York University. She and Mr. Duran have been dating for a year.
“I like lists,” she said, “I follow them. I like checking things off.”
“My hands know what to do,” he said, “when my family gets together, its forty or fifty people cooking for three days. We all have jobs. One group works on the salsas, another on the fire, another catching and butchering the goat. We don’t have to think about it, we just know.”
The couple’s divergence is partly cultural.
Coming of age in Westchester County, she said:
“I grew up with this sense that food magically appeared from the kitchen, carried by a perfectly coiffed mother. Food was relegated to the background. You ate small portions– food was something to be measured and moderated. Tastes weren’t strong, and neither was the culture of the table. Most of the socializing, really, happened around tennis and cocktails.”
Growing up in Oaxaca City and Puerto Escondito, Mr. Duran said:
“We went to my grandmother’s, we were all in the kitchen, that is what we do. The kitchen is where it happens. That’s where you hear the stories. Learn who you are.”
They have different approaches to entertaining.
“I used to carefully invite only as many people as wouldn’t overwhelm my food preparation, or dirty up all my dishes or floor,” said Ms. Franklin.
“Nef invites anyone he can get on the phone or that he bumps into that day.”
For Mr. Duran, a recipe is not something you set down on paper, it is a dance learned by osmosis and is always a story of “we.”
Cooking instruction was not something he thought about in 1997 when he first moved to Los Angeles. He lived in a close-knit Oaxacan community where no one ever needed to explain mole to anyone else. When he moved to New England in 2003, however, explanation, recipes, a new language of food became necessary.
For Ms. Franklin who is herself no recipe follower the story of a recipe is always “them,” as in “we need to make it clear for them.”
She says: “What if I am someone who has no idea what ‘Mexican roasting color’ means when charring a chile?”
He inhales and says “oh…kay” It is not as much assent as it is a pause to imagine not knowing, to recall a lifetime of ambient chili, to calculate how to distill the nuance and contingencies of a particular chili into a single word. He pauses. He uhms.
She writes: “tree trunk brown.”
“Nef doesn’t think in terms of recipes,” said Ms. Franklin. “He practices until he gets something right, and then seems to have a pretty amazing ability to replicate it again and again. I ask him a lot of questions, probably more than he would like me to.”
She said: ” I don’t have the discipline to practice recipes over and over until I get them right, at least not for leisure.”
He said: “She has an amazing ability to ask the right questions, we finally get it right.”
She said: “I’d actually rather stand back and watch and smell and taste and see how things are processed and get a feel for how a dish should be.”
He said: “We,” and then he pauses, the way the recently-encoupled do, whether to remember that a lifetime of family “we-ness” seems to be expanding, or simply to marvel at their good luck.
It was 90 degrees and Anne Kennedy was walking though the fields and up toward the pig pens at Old Field Farm the day I went to visit our pig. A photographers’ rep and activist, Anne and her husband, the artist Peter Nadin have, over the past several decades been converting their weekend home in Cornwallville NY into a haven for heritage Tamworth and Old Spot Pigs. She looked tired. She’d been up all night delivering a litter. Cousins of the Tamworth destined for the Live Fire Cooking Arena at LongHouse.
“We don’t name them,” said Ms. Kennedy, as we approached one of the pens, “its hard enough as it is.”
The bond of animal husbandry competes with regard for the land in upstate as surely as it does anywhere that people are trying to save openspace, traditional lifestyles, good food and genetic diversity. Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Nadin share a lifetime of experience navigating complicated, intense and often competing interests. It’s the stuff that art is made of.
Old Field Farm supplies heritage pork, ham, rillette, honey, eggs, jam and the occasional rooster to some of the best restaurants in Manhattan. On weekends, they host groups of artists working on ceramics, printmaking — and once, in Mr. Nadin’s hill top studio the art of butchering. Art and agriculture are stitched together like a crazy quilt — their urban sensibility, their passion for sustaining agriculture in their little valley upstate, the tight bonds they’ve forged with neighboring farmers, the realities of animal husbandry. The affection one feels when holding a sentient being as it gulps its first breath. Saying good-bye.
“There’s your guy,” said Ms Kennedy, as the pigs snorted and galloped to the fence to greet her.
“How are you doing in this heat?” she yelled to the porcine assembled. “why don’t you go roll in your mud? its cool! do you want more water? get out of the sun! go have a nap in the shade!”
It takes a lot to rattle the constitution of a Tamworth. Bred from English and Irish swine in the U.K., the Tamworth is one of the oldest breeds, and among the closest to the original European forest swine. In the U.K., the Tamworth was celebrated for it’s thick, lean cuts – perfect for bacon. Interest in the Tamworth in the U.S. has usually been confined to times when lean meat was more favorable than excess lard. A hardy breed that grazes in the forest and bracken, the Tamworth is not well-suited to modern production methods, and, for that reason, is considered a threatened breed.