As many of our customers at the farmers markets know, Marc and I are spending Thanksgiving in his home country of Luxembourg, staying with his sister and her family for a few days and then moving on. We took some time to visit the Mergen family farm, which has been in existence since 1725 and last owned by his Aunt (“Tata”) Ketty who passed away earlier this year. The original large tracts of land (and that phrase always brings movie bits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to mind) have, at various times, been sold off bit by bit over the last century, with the remaining chunk of green now gone. The verdure of the surrounding countryside is amazingly intense as if someone upped the color saturation in Photoshop to a ridiculous degree.
All that remains is the enormous barn, its adjacent house and small orchard behind the house and it will also soon be gone. There is no one left in the family with the inclination or experience to take over operations. The distillery, dairy and buildings all wear the air of abandonment since Uncle Eugene passed several years ago. I stood in the dairy while Marc went through memories of milking cows or driving the small herd out of the barn to pasturage. One feels the reality that there was an absolute point in time when the clock stopped and the dust motes started calmly floating and suspended in the rays of sunshine streaming through the small windows. Time simply froze. It might have been a renovated and modernized dairy farm in the 1940’s but that was the last time it was. Some developer will soon come in and gut the barn, taking care to preserve the outer wall (per local ordinance) to retain the sense of village character and history. Inside you can still see the stonework that was laid in 1725.
Since the family was awarded an actual family crest along with an official coat of arms in 1585 — presumably for doing what peasant soldiers did for their lords back in the time of the Crusades (the Crusades!!), I wonder what was around in the interim. Marc takes me inside the barn. It’s enormous (to my eyes). Naturally we, being the motorcycle nuts we are, measure a space in context of how many bikes the building might hold. The answer is “a sh*t ton.” Marc opens the large barn doors and we go outside. He points out all the orchard trees and brambles that provided the fruit for the distillery and how he would watch his Uncle Eugene prepare the mash and distill the schnapps or what Tata Ketty grew in the vegetable garden next to the barn. The old mirabelle trees are still in the small upper orchard and the raspberry, blackberry and hawthorne bushes are completely overgrown. I’m glad Marc’s sister Mariepaul managed to save some mirabelle stones (pits) for us before and some have been distributed to a few of our favorite farmers to see if they can get them to grow. I think “these are the plants from which JamAlula sprung.” There has been no one to prune them for over a decade and it makes me wish I could take some cuttings home with me.
I distinctly see in my mind’s eye the times the families got together, helped pick the fruit and then set up in the kitchen to can and jam the bounty (all playing in my head in black and white). Now that I’ve laid actual eyes on what I’ve heard Marc describe many, many times, it will be hard to come back some day, some years down the road, to see all this history being integrated into 4 or 5 new homes/apartment buildings. Time marches on but some traditions are worth perpetuating while you can. Hence, JamAlula.
Happy Thanksgiving to All!