The Hungry Month of March

I don’t know if it’s a personal defect, or something that comes along with participating in the annual rituals of farming, but I often find myself standing back from a situation and wondering something to the effect of “wow, I wonder what this would have been like 100 years ago?”   I imagine this perspective comes through in many of these posts.

Looking westward at Brock and King St. 1910

Even in our own lifetimes, we’ve seen the world change and morph in surprising ways.   I’m old enough even to remember having 13 tv channels, rotary dial telephones and a world perfumed by tobacco smoke.  I know many of you have seen even greater changes and perhaps hail from parts of the world where the transition to modern Canadian life seems even more dramatic.

A reality that our forefathers dealt with that we’ve been fortunately insulated from is actual periods of shortage.  Sometimes in larger measures like the Great Depression and wartime rationing, but also in smaller, annual ways, as the stored food, feed and fuel gathered in the previous season began to wane and run out.  It is quite something to hear these stories from old timers: how they ran out of hay and just had to turn the horses into the forest to gnaw bark and eat conifers, or the monotonous ordeal of eating potatoes and turnips three times a day.

Owing to our climate, late winter has historically marked this time, and earned the traditional title of “The Hungry Month of March” as the options for suppertime became fewer and further between.  This of course has been codified in the West as the religious season of Lent: a time of fasting and austerity as we wait on the rebirth of Spring.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559

Yesterday of course, many of us celebrated Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday: a last going off before looking hard at a barren landscape and our inner life.   This tension, between solemnity and hope, joy and suffering is so entrenched in our culture that this seasonal dynamic is a recurring theme in European art.  (It’s worth taking a moment to look closely at these paintings, there are countless interesting and amusing details).

Battle Between Carnival and Lent Jan Miense Molenaer, 1633

Migration to the New World threw a monkey wrench into this dynamic however.  One can only imagine the astonishment felt by the pioneers of eastern North America, as they looked at the last of their salt pork and flour, to observe the Indigenous people making pure sugar from the sap of trees… So much for The Hungry Month of March. 

And so, while still holding to the spiritual nature of this season, we certainly look forward to the miracle of maple this spring and invite you to share in it.  We should be boiling by next week, and if you or your family would like to come observe, please feel free.  Just give us a jingle and head on up.

As far as austerity goes, well it looks like the world may have a little bit in store for us yet!  At this time of year, as we begin to assemble supplies for the season and invest a great deal with relatively little income, the consistently creeping prices of everything is becoming quite distinct.   That being said, we will also have to raise some of our prices this year – we’ll do so gradually and gently.  We appreciate your understanding.

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