Left in Andover: A jumpstart on a year of renewal

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While Covid-19 has devastated us humans, it has proved modestly beneficial for the environment and wildlife.

Estimates are that greenhouse gas emissions were down almost 10 percent worldwide over the past year, the result of decreases in travel and manufacturing.

The pandemic has handed us an unwilling jumpstart on Shmita 2021, which was not scheduled to begin until this September. Shmita refers to the seventh year of renewal, in repeating cycles of seven, in the ancient Jewish tradition.

We are all familiar with the term “sabbatical” as applied to certain elite professions. Shmita is its parent concept.

Rooted in biblical era agricultural practice, Shmita can be adapted to contemporary good practice as well. For six years the land was tilled, in a withdrawal of sorts. On the seventh, farmland was allowed to lie fallow, providing opportunity for regeneration and pest control.

Gleaning tree and volunteer field crops was permitted. For the rest, people survived on stored pulses and grains such as lentils and barley.

Susan’s lentil burgers cooking in her husband’s great-grandmother’s cast iron pan.

Shmita was not limited to agriculture. Debts — between family members at least — were forgiven. Following each 49 year cycle was a year of Jubilee.

The federal Covid relief bills, generous unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and moratoriums on eviction of the last year offered many Americans a token sort of society-wide “sabbatical.”

Although Andrew Yang’s revolutionary proposal for a $1,000 minimum monthly income did not gain traction, the pandemic emergency did result in bold government initiatives to even the playing field for lower- and middle-income Americans.

The challenge as I see it is for enlightened public policy initiatives to continue expanding, even as the pandemic loses strength.

The coming year of Shmita begins at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Appropriately, it coincides with Labor Day this year.

Right stewardship of the Earth is the non-negotiable foundation for loving and respecting life, human and otherwise. Shmita is an ideal available to all people, of all faith traditions.

One way to honor this tradition is to incorporate more pulses into the diet. Biblical tradition holds it was a lentil stew for which Jacob traded his brother Esau’s birthright.

Although I love a good vegetarian lentil soup, I confess I don’t find it very satisfying as a main course, without a lot of cheese sprinkled on it at any rate. My mother’s lentil burgers were a different story.

Popplewood Farm’s Book Nook browsers in the 1970s were often invited to stay for Susan’s mother’s hearty lentil burgers.

In the 1960s and ‘70s when my father was running his book barn at Popplewood (See Left in Andover, July 22, 2019)  any number of unsuspecting browsers were rewarded with invitations to join our family for supper. We made many great friends that way.

My mother’s go-to was whipping up a platter of lentil burgers. She kept a big pot of the regular, big brown variety of lentils handy on the wood cookstove. It was just a matter of chopping up onions — and beet greens as I remember — then adding eggs and bread crumbs. Fried in a cast iron pan, these were rib-sticking good.

These days, several varieties of lentils are widely available. All of them work for this recipe except the instant orange ones.
My own version:
Boil lentils til soft.
Add chopped onions, garlic, celery, parsley etc.
A couple beaten eggs.
Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste.
A small amount of any gluten free flour except coconut flour.
Fry til crisp in olive oil in cast iron pan.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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