Lost & Found

20 Nov

I found a key on Sunday.

It was shiny and bright amid a sea of gray gravel and dank, drab leaves.  It was just the latest in a series of tiny, buried things I’ve dug up since we bought the house in August.  Yet oddly enough, this lonely, forgotten key, proved to be the least mysterious thing I’ve found so far.

It wasn’t lost years ago by a traveling magician; it didn’t unlock a hidden passage; it wasn’t hand-crafted by an orphan raised by Shakers and it never served as a clue in a great mystery.  Once I had finished with my yard work, I walked to the front porch, fished the key out of my pocket, stuck it in the front door, turned it, and walked straight into the house.

I had been weeding when I found the key.  I got an idea into my head–I have no idea if it’s right or wrong–that, at this time of year, when most vegetation has died back and is turning brown, that anything remaining green and vibrant after multiple killing frosts and a few flurries, is a weed and should be removed from my gardens.  I started with the Queen Anne’s lace in the perennial beds then moved around to the front of the house where I fear I might have yanked out some wild bleeding hearts.

There were some funny, round leaves growing up through the little glacial moraine of gravel that helps to drain the stone foundation of the house (it’s built into the side of a hill).  I decided they had to go.  They came up easily, and I soon had a healthy pile of them in my weed bucket.  And then i grabbed one and pulled.  And pulled a little harder, and then with a gritty, metallic pop, out came the weed, and a rusted over latch.  The weed’s root had grown right through one of the nail holes that at one time held it onto the side of our house.

I’m so pleased that our house is providing the mystery I had hoped for.  It’s what I love about old houses.  They remind you that you’re not the first one to own them.  Was the latch abandoned because it no longer worked, or did someone drop it, cursing his cold, fumbling fingers?  When did ConEd stop using glass insulators for their wires?  What can I find out about …ock & Co. from …lem England?  Who left the key there, and were they coming back for it? (Okay, I’d actually rather not know the answer to that last one…)

These are fun little mysteries.  They serve as things to mull while doing dishes or pulling weeds.  But there do exist two larger puzzles that have me vexed.  One: How did a beautiful piece of Pueblo Indian pottery get into the garden?  And two: What is that strange building in the woods with all the crockery? (And only tangentially related: Why is my forsythia blooming?)

I found the pot one of our first weekends there, buried in the corner of a garden bed.  I knew what it was immediately.  My mom is a long-time collector of this sort of pot, and this example, though broken into a dozen or more pieces, is a beauty.  The burnished glowing auburn surface and deep-cut decoration means this pot was made with love by someone very talented.  Sadly, its been under the dirt just long enough to make the signature unreadable.

But how did it get there? Obviously someone buried it.  Was it because they felt remorse for breaking something so lovely?  Or were they trying to put it to use as a home for beneficial animals in the garden, figuring, well, if it’s broken, it may as well do some good?  How did it get broken?  Did a dog or child run into it?  Was it thrown at the wall in the midst of a heated argument?  Regardless, I’m keeping most of it in the garden as a decoration, and two fine pieces grace my kitchen’s windowsill as an aid to daydreaming.

I’ve got my own fanciful ideas about the strange building behind the house.  I discovered it over our four-day weekend when we went out back to gather kindling.  I was first drawn to it by the pattern of walls made discernible by the cover of fallen leaves–it’s a little, rectangular building.  And then I noticed the little blue teapot, and then a big spattered enamelware bowl, then a huge crock, a wooden bucket and more and more and more.

Dozens of vessels of every shape, size and material imaginable scattered in the woods near a little hut, just up the hill from a beautiful, cold, clean stream.  My mind raced.  Might it be an old moonshine still from Prohibition days?  I can’t wait for Spring, when the leaves have settled and deer hunting season is over, so I can venture back into the woods to do a more thorough investigation.  Until then, I’ll just have to do some research online to see if I can date any of the crockery to around the 1920s.

I have no culinary mystery to leave you with, but perhaps all this thinking and contemplating and pondering has left you hungry.  I know it has me.  So might I suggest some spätzle? The latest issue of Saveur has a wonderful recipe for käsespätzle that includes roasted garlic in the dumplings.  Given my undying love for these little German dumplings, I had to try it.

As with most recipes for spätzle, Saveur’s tells you to use a spätzle-maker to make them small and uniform.  Bah! I say.  Just drip the batter into boiling water off your spoon.  The spätzle will turn out bigger, more toothsome and hence more delicious.  Cook them until they rise to the top, then sautèe with a little butter and chopped garlic, sprinkle with cheese and broil until golden and delicious.   Serve with some braised sauerkraut and sausages, and you’ve got a meal fit for ein Königen.

No mystery there.


14 Responses to “Lost & Found”

  1. Sandie November 20, 2008 at 10:19 am #

    I know people who collect keys, antique door knobs too. I have no idea why. I really should ask sometime.

    When we moved into our home, the only thing the former residents left behind was a drawer full of keys. No appliance guides, no manuals, nothing. Just 30 some-odd keys. They fit NOTHING in our home. NOTHING. While we finally threw the keys away, I always wondered what they went to and why they were left. Some mysteries, I think, are better left unknown.

  2. Jonathan November 20, 2008 at 7:01 pm #

    you could also put some of the batter through a strainer (like a spaghetti strainer) – but i like your idea better!

  3. Mary Coleman November 20, 2008 at 7:54 pm #

    Spaetzle was one of my fave treats growing up. Of course, it wasn’t homemade it was in the yellow box at the grocery. I saw this recipe in Saveur and considered doing it but now that it has an approval from you, I’m all over it with my spoon!

  4. Will B November 20, 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    Don’t forget the red cabbage!!! The finishing touch for your excellent meal suggestion – especially on a cold November day – complete with flurries!

  5. ann November 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm #

    Sandie — That is an amazing story. I wonder, did they collect keys? I’ve heard of people that collect playing cards that they find on the street, perhaps these people just couldn’t help picking up keys they found on the street. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

    Jonathan — I’ve always heard about that method, but I just really prefer my spaetzle to be bigger and beefier. It’s how my German aunt has always made them :-)

    Mary — I like the boxed stuff too. It’s delicious! I hope you like this recipe if you try it. I was very pleased by it.

    Will — Flurries! I wish I’d seen them! It’s beautiful here ,but sadly no snow.

  6. Will B November 23, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    Look to the East about fourteen miles – we’re about 500 feet higher in elevation, but the hills kick up the moisture a bit and just add that little instability so we see the little white thingies…

  7. Lucy V November 25, 2008 at 5:13 am #

    We found a set of keys tucked up on a ledge by the safe which is built into our apartment. They don’t go to anything we have here, but we still keep them in the key box. Very strange that you found a key to your own house in the garden! Finding all of those lovely clues to the past must have your imagination going non-stop.

  8. EB November 25, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    You must feel like a little kid un-burying all those treasures. How fun. The first thing I thought about the broken pot was that a kid broke it and tried to hide the evidence! It’s like garden CSI.

  9. Terry B November 26, 2008 at 8:51 pm #

    A lovely post, Ann. I can tell you two are thoroughly enjoying your new home. The coolest thing I ever found digging around in the garden was an Indian arrowhead. I was living in St. Louis at the time, in a townhouse on a bluff that overlooked the Mississippi River. Not a mysterious find, necessarily, but evocative and even a little haunting.

  10. ann November 27, 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    Will — We drove past some snow on our way down here. It’s lovely!

    Lucy — That is so strange that the keys fit nothing. However, I am so jealous that you have a safe in your house! How wonderful to sit and ruminate on all the things that have been kept inside it for so many years. Through wars and depressions and times of joy too. Lovely!

    EB — I do! I feel just like a little kid. Maybe this is why I so desperately wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a child… The thrill of digging things out of the ground.. But then I realised all the most interesting places to dig also had all the most poisonous bugs and snakes. My fear trumped my curiosity.

    Terry — I’m hoping for an arrowhead! We used to find them sometimes around the house I grew up in, so I know they’re out there. They really are neat to find!

  11. Michelle November 29, 2008 at 2:46 pm #

    I really like the pics of the cool finds! Your photography is awesome!

  12. Yaya November 29, 2008 at 8:19 pm #

    I have been enjoying your wonderful blog for many months now. Your beautiful pictures of Italy really captured such splendor of travel and from there, I was hooked and visit often. Also, my love of NYC and cooking cause me to visit. Your blog is such a delight. I am so enjoying your move into your (what seems to be) country house. We also have a country house where we spend several months during the year. There seems to be never enough time to give our old country retreat the TLC that it needs. I do hope that you and yours had a very blessed Thanksgiving with the turkey on your table and NOT on your couch! LOL Bless your heart!

    I would like to pass along a special gift tag to you. It was given to me by the Duchess at http://www.theduchessofearl.blogspot.com. I hope that is okay with you. If you want to be a part of ‘A Random Things Meme’, please visit my lil’ blog at http://www.asouthernsunset.blogspot for the game directions.


  13. ann December 2, 2008 at 6:52 am #

    Michelle — Thanks!

    Yaya — Thanks so much for your kind words! You’re too sweet. I’m glad to know I’m not boring everyone out there… Our Thanksgiving was wonderful, and the turkey was indeed where it belonged. Thanks again.

  14. leona December 2, 2008 at 10:04 am #

    spätzle, my favorite!!! awesome idea, i will try. it would make the dish easier to prepare. i took a class over the weekend you might be interested in


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