“I can’t feel my lips,” said The Mister. He was sitting across from me at the small kitchen work table, indulging in a midmorning break from farm chores and enjoying a slice of toast. Although toasted homemade bread is just fine by itself, it had occurred to him to up the ante when he remembered there was a little jar of leftovers from yesterday’s jam session.
It was hot pepper jam, made using my sister’s bumper crop of jalapenos and our own bell peppers. However, some of the latter came out hot even though they were sweet pepper varieties, which might have had to do with having been planted in close proximity to hot ones in the same raised bed. Whatever the reason, I realized toward the end of freezing and dehydrating several pounds of what I thought were sweet peppers that we just might be surprised when we go to eat them this winter.
I wasn’t surprised that the hot pepper jam turned out as hot as it did. The recipe calls for two cups of chopped sweet peppers and three-quarters of a cup of hot, but I didn’t taste every pepper I used. Some of the ones I got out of the basket of supposedly mild varieties might not have been so mild after all. Either way, the jam was atomic. And delicious.
“This should snag me some pretty good goat services,” I remarked. Hot pepper jam, it turns out, is good enough to be used for currency in some circles.
I lack the skills and confidence to perform high-stakes goat procedures such as disbudding and neutering and tattooing, but am lucky enough to know someone who is good at it.
“What do I owe you?” I asked him one day two summers ago as I was unloading goat kids out of a crate in the back of my car.
“Not a thing,” he replied. Then he stopped and thought for a second before adding, “I’d take a jar of that hot pepper jam you brought to the meeting last month, though.”
Since then, it’s assumed. He helps me with my goats, and I keep him supplied with smokin’ hot pepper jam.
It’s a nice feeling, trading homemade goods for homesteading services. The twenty-first century word for it is “barter,” but we didn’t call it that when I was a kid. Back then, people just gave what they had and expected nothing in return. But since everyone did it that way, we always got something back anyway.
My mother rarely went anywhere empty-handed. She was a country woman and she brought what she had at the time—garden vegetables, a portion of prized gladiolus bulbs, a loaf of homemade bread, or a handcrafted bead creation.
We never knew what might show up at our house in return. Sometimes it was direct thank-you gifts from recipients of my mother’s generosity, and sometimes it was right out of the blue. It was often things we couldn’t make ourselves—manufactured clothing or accessories, outdoor tools and equipment, or books.
Nowadays, people come at it a little differently. If someone has something I want, I am glad to trade with them directly for something I have. It’s still a win-win.
And I’ll bet that if my mother had kept goats in her barn and hot peppers in her garden, she just might have struck the same kind of deal.