Growing up on a farm in central Minnesota, blizzards were something I heard about and experienced.
Many stories of powerful and dangerous blizzards were told around the family dinner table. There were many tales of winters filled with snow, high winds and zero visibility.
Stories were recounted such as when my great grandparents and grandparents had to tie a rope between the house and the barn, so that no one got lost commuting across the lawn during blinding snowstorms going to or coming from milking the cows. Yes, people had died, losing their way and freezing to death alone in a cold fields.
Then, there was the Armistice Day Blizzard of November 11-12, 1940. Survivors of that storm even today get nervous about early season storms.
That day started out unseasonably warm and sunny. By midafternoon the temperatures had climbed to a balmy 60 degrees. The storm hit rapidly with 50 to 80 mile an hour winds, a 50 degree temperature drop, freezing sleet and up to 27 inches of snow. The blizzard showed no mercy, especially to the many Minnesota duck hunters who had set out to enjoy a beautiful fall day.
Due to the lack of weather reporting and the warm temperatures many of the hunters had dressed lightly. When the storm so savagely stuck, they were caught unawares. There are accounts of hunters who froze to death right in their duck blinds. Others drowned trying to escape the storm by getting to shore. Our great Uncle Vensel got caught in the storm, got soaking wet, almost froze getting home and got so sick the aunties claimed his health was never the same.
Of the 49 Minnesotans that died in that storm, almost half were duck hunters. Nationally that blizzard claimed 149 lives.
I have two very vivid personal memories of blizzards from when I was a small child. The first was a year when the storms seemed to come with rapid frequency. In those days snow removal from roads was the county’s responsibility. However if you wanted to get out in a reasonable amount of time farmers bucked out the neighborhood gravel roads themselves.
We were a dairy farm. That winter the snow got so deep that the milkman, from the creamery in town, could not get down the gravel road to get our milk, nor could we buck ourselves out with the old 1940’s John Deere tractor and loader. All of our cow’s milk would have to be poured out if we couldn’t get it to the creamery.
My dad and my uncle that year bought their first snowmobile. It was also the first snowmobile in our whole neighborhood. Along with the snowmobile, they also purchased a very large wooden toboggan. They used that Polaris snowmobile to pull a toboggan full of milk cans to Highway 16, where the milkman would pick them up. This was a business saving decision, for our farm, I am sure. What I remember the most is the fun of speeding over those snow covered fields and the hours of toboggan rides.
The other major blizzard incident I remember is associated with a storm that dumped huge amounts of snow and whose wind whipped that snow into drifts so high it covered porches and doors to the barn.
Farm kids being the creative daring lot we are, and not having access to television or other forms of indoor entertainment, we played outside and invented our own fun. Well after the big storm, one of my older cousins dared his brother to jump from the hay loft’s outer door of the barn into the biggest drift in front of the barn. Dares, no matter how dangerous or poorly thought through between males in a rural environment, must be accepted and carried out with enthusiasm and vigor. This dare was no exception.
The one brother accepted the challenge, made a run at the loft door, sailed out into thin air loudly screaming the name of a famous Indian warrior and then disappeared as he sunk to the bottom of the drift. To the horror of the spectators looking down from the loft, there he stood stuck in snow several feet over his head with his muted cries for help drifting heavenward!
Another talent that all farm kids acquire, which is frequently underestimated and unappreciated, is the ability to quickly shovel large volumes of animal manure, corn, wheat, soy beans and in this case snow!
Anyway, what would a Minnesota winter be without a good blizzard story. With this year’s warm temperatures and lack of snow the only blizzard I might be able to brag about is “White Blizzard Chili.”
White Blizzard Chili
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Three, 15 ½-ounce cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained
Two, 4 ½ -ounce cans diced green chili pepper or chopped jalapeno peppers
4 cups chicken stock or broth
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Dairy sour cream (optional)
Chopped canned green chili peppers or jalapeno peppers (optional)
In a Dutch oven or large cooking pot cook onion and garlic in hot olive oil until onion is tender, but not brown. Stir in cumin, oregano, ground red pepper and cloves. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the beans, chili peppers and chicken stock or broth. Bring to boiling; reduce the heat. Simmer for at least an additional 20 minutes. Add chicken; heat the mixture through. Keep warm until ready to serve.
To serve: ladle chili into eight large bowls. Garnish each serving with ¼ cup shredded cheese, sour cream and reserved chopped peppers. Serves four.