Tag Archives: farming

What Is On My Mind Today? Rock Picking Minnesota’s Farm Fields and Danish Puff Pastry

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For the first week in June, it is rather cool today.  When there is enough humidity in the air fog up my glasses, I will know that summer has finally arrived in Minnesota!

The effects of summer heat and humidity is something a farm kid learns to dread at a young age while doing field work, especially rock picking.  Getting rocks out of a field is a dirty, hot, sticky, exhausting and a very boring job.

rock picking 3

However, it is important to pick rocks out of the fields that are bigger than the size of an orange.  During harvest hitting a rock with the combine will cause the combine’s sickles to break. My Uncle Myrwin always called these small rocks, “sickle-breakers.” Fixing a broken combine sickle is expensive and brings the entire harvest to a standstill. You can easily lose half a day or more driving to town and back, finding and purchasing the right part, then installing the part to repair the machine. When you have hundreds of acres of grain to harvest before a Minnesota winter hits, you cannot afford to lose any time.

So, every year just after school let out for summer vacation, when all of the town kids took swimming lessons, visited libraries for story time and played, us country kids would find ourselves day after day from sun up to sun down in a hot grain field looking for grey rocks.

In reality rock picking season only lasted for several weeks from the time the plants were big enough to be visible in rows until the soybeans began to bloom or the corn became too tall to fit under the tractor’s axles. In my mind’s eye this character building torture lasted for almost the entire summer. There is nothing more endless looking to a young child sitting on a flatbed wagon than a couple hundred acre field full of rocks.

rock picking 2

In addition to boredom, one thing you could always count on during rock picking season was intense heat and humidity.  The crops loved it, but it sure wilted this kid.

On a family farm everyone has to pitch in and rock picking was no exception to this rule. We usually had two, but on occasion, when the plants were getting too big and we had fields left to do in a hurry, we used three rock-picking crews.

First, there was what I would like to call the slow crew with the little red H Farmall tractor pulling the wooden flatbed rock wagon. This crew prided themselves on accuracy. Many a time they were spotted in a virtual standstill seemingly sifting gravel on top of hills, to make sure no “sickle-breakers” got away.  It was the firm belief of their leader that small rocks would grow into big ones by the next year so there was just no point in not picking them all.

rock picking

This crew usually consisted of the very young, the old and the slow moving. A very prominent state-sanctioned slow moving vehicle sign was clearly displayed at all times on their tractor as a constant reminder of output expectations and of them being a field or road hazard.

It is important to note that this crew was made up of our most dedicated hardworking and thorough folks who were accustomed to long hot hours in a field.  No slackers here. They were the family traditionalists and came prepared to get the job done.  They strictly adhered to the farmer’s official dress code of a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants. They wore this uniform no matter how hot or humid the weather.

Should some misguided young wimp decide to challenge tradition and swap long pants for short, on a hundred degree day sitting in the blazing sun in a windless field of heat seeking black dirt while believing that the evaporation of their sweat is only serving to increase the humidity and misery index further, payback for violating the dress code was swift and merciless in the form of wooden slivers embedded in the back of soft tender thighs.

The sliver reprisal by the wagon was a two-for, as they hurt worse coming out, than going in. One of the traditionalists would get out their ever-ready tweezers that came with the jack knife kept in the middle pocket of their overalls and sadly shake their head while removing the sliver muttering, “Some people’s kids.”

The injured rebel, who had thought they had a cause, instantaneously learned that the wearing of the official farmer’s uniform of a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants was a generational homeopathic preventative for in the field unsanitary surgical procedures and major sunburns.

The second rock picking crew was built for speed…not accuracy.  It consisted of three members. One to drive and two to jump off and on the big red International tractor. The rocks they picked were deposited in a homemade skid that was mounted behind the driver just above the tractor’s wagon hitch.  This team’s quality control was inversely affected by the speed of the tractor and teenage attitude. The speed of the tractor usually increased the closer the rock picking season came to high school football training or date night.

Rock picking procedures established by this crew could be described as the original cross-fit exercise program–simultaneous weight lifting, throwing and running. It was part of their official bylaws that any”sickle-breaker” that was not in plain view would be disregarded. As they must concentrate on getting the best tan on their shirtless chests while finding, lifting, carrying and tossing the largest rocks in the field to build muscle, and improve the chances of the school football team winning the conference and them getting a girlfriend.

To increase aerobatic capacity rocks were picked on the run. The tractor must never slow down or stop. Should a member violate this rule, they had to eat dirt.

This rock picking crew could be seen racing up and down the fields at high speeds bare chests glistening in the sun, shirt tails flapping in the breeze as they occasionally picked rocks when not dodging lit firecrackers or dirt clogs.

It is important to note that an occasional female could be promoted to be on this team. However, no matter how concerned the fellows were for the girl wilting in the heat, only the boys could go shirtless in the field.  Regardless of how hot it got, any suggestion to the contrary would have killed off all of the old people in our entire community and most of the Mennonite neighbors, and in all likelihood would have gotten a robust Lutheran farm gal a one-way ticket to a place hotter than that field.  Yes, shirts for girls was the rule and like a horse in the old days that included being fully harnessed.

If you didn’t see this rock picking crew you could always hear them. Their work ethic necessitated the constant revving of the tractor’s diesel engine, a radio blasting rock and roll music, and shouts of general mockery to advertise their superior expertise and provide a motivational shaming to improve the progress of all the lesser rock picking crews.

The old folks prayed for that crew a lot.

Finally, there was a third tractor that was used for rock picking.  It was a very old John Deere with a front end loader.  My grandfather purchased this tractor on the black market, just after World War II. It is still on the farm today. This tractor was used sparingly for rock picking due to respect for its history and age. It had many other farm duties such as; digging ditches, cleaning out the cow manure pile, burying the farm’s garbage piles and in the winter clearing out the long snow covered driveway.

When used for rock picking this rusty old green tractor sported a driver and usually two pickers.  The pickers rode in front of the tractor in the loader.  This was most dangerous, as the loader’s controls worked in the opposite direction from what logic would dictate. T

The safety protocol most commonly deployed to protect this crew was quickness. Quick thinking and moving.  When you did dump out your fellow pickers for what ever reason while the tractor was moving they had to quickly to roll away from the tractor tires.  Then, pop out behind the tractor, run, catch up and jump on again.  If you dumped out anyone more than once, you were no longer allowed to drive and could expect to get hit with multiple hard dirt clogs. No rock-pickers were ever squished.  Safety first was always our motto.

Rock pickers get hungry, no matter what crew they were on.  Dinners were our big meal and were usually brought to the fields and served picnic style. The food would arrive at noon and was always hot. Whether fried chicken, potatoes and gravy or a casserole (or a hotdish as we call casseroles here in Minnesota) nothing ever smelled or tasted so good.  As on most farms, salads were served for the cattle, hogs and chickens.

Sometimes suppers were also delivered into the fields.  They could be leftovers or just sandwiches, chips and pop. No matter which meal was delivered it was always accompanied by plenty of home-baked, breads cookies, bars, cakes, pies and pastries to provide energy and help replace the many calories we had burned off working hard in the fields all day.

The family members that stayed behind in the kitchen also knew what heat and humidity really was….there was no air conditioning in any home back in those days and baking still had to be done. Only small electric fans and open windows were available to help cool down those cooks in those hot, hot kitchens.

I can still picture those loud little oscillating fans blowing the dead insect covered fly strips dangling from the kitchen ceiling light back and forth in the breeze.  My grandmother expertly ducking out its way to prevent the yellow ribbon of bug death from sticking to her hair or dropping flies into her cooking.  Oh, the horror of having a bug cemetery wrapped around your head!

bug death

Those hot cooks and kitchens never let the field workers down.  We were always fed and fed well.

Danish Puff Pastry would have been too fragile and sticky to be included on a field meal menu. It was made for special occasions as a treat or to impress guests. It is a wonderful light summer pastry that can kept simple when topped with just icing and nuts or dressed up with fruit pie filling or preserves and icing. Either way this pastry is a real gem.

Danish Puff Pastry 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 butter
2 Tablespoons of cold water

In a small bowl mix ingredients together like a pie crust.First cut the butter into the flour, when that is combined, add the water and mix into a dough.

Put crust dough onto an ungreased  cookie sheet and pat into a 6 X 12 inch rectangle.

Puff Pastry Top:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 cup flour
3 eggs

In a medium-sized sauce pan bring water and butter to a boil.  Remover from the heat; add the almond flavoring.  Then, quickly beat in flour.  When the batter is smooth, add the eggs, one at a time.  Beat well after each egg, until that egg is completely combined into the dough before adding the next egg.

Spread the batter over the crust to the edges.

Bake for about one hour.  The batter will shrink over the crust and be golden brown. Cool completely.

Top with icing and nuts, or with some fruit pie filling or preserves then drizzle with icing.

Powdered Sugar Icing

1 cup of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of almond or vanilla extract
milk or cream

Put powdered sugar into small mixing bowl. Slowly stir in milk or cream one tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the consistency you desire.  Icing is usually the consistency of syrup.

Add flavoring.  Stir until combined and drizzle over cooled puff pastry.

 

 

 

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Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam Followed By A Good Punch!

Considering how late our spring was,  I was thinking that everything would be behind schedule. Not the case at all.

The blue-bells in Southern Minnesota are in full bloom.  This picture was taken by my daughter-in-law last weekend.

blue bell

Some of the corn on the farm is already sprouted and proudly standing up in rows.

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And my neighbor just informed me that when he was in northern Minnesota by Ely fishing this weekend, the water temperature was 10 degrees higher than expected. Sadly, they did not catch any fish as their bait was too big.

fishbait

Yes, here in Minnesota rhubarb patches are already producing, so it is time for a few more rhubarb recipes.

This excellent jam recipe comes from the home of Terri Knowlan, and is a great way to combine the end of the rhubarb season with the beginning of the strawberry season.

rhubarb-jam

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
from the kitchen of Teri Knowlan

4 cups fresh strawberries washed and stemmed
2 cups chopped rhubarb
¼ cup lemon juice
5 ½ cups sugar
1 package — 1.75 ounce powdered pectin

Crush strawberries. Place in a large saucepot. Combine chopped rhubarb with strawberries then add lemon juice and pectin. Bring to rolling boil over high heat. Add sugar then return to rolling boil. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly. Pour hot strawberry/rhubarb mixture into hot jars. Leaving ¼ inch headspace. Adjust caps, and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Makes 6 half-pints.

rhubarb punch

Rhubarb Punch

6 cups of rhubarb, chopped fine
6 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
one, 6-ounce can of frozen orange juice
one, 6-ounce can of frozen lemonade
2 quarts of lemon-lime soda

Put rhubarb and 3 cups of water together and boil until rhubarb is cooked.  Strain rhubarb to separate the rhubarb mush from the juice.  Drain well, you might want to press down on the rhubarb mush to get all of the juice out. Boil the juice again with the two cups of sugar.

Cool.

To the cool rhubarb juice mixture, add orange juice and lemonade, 3 cups of cold water and lemon-lime soda.

Serve in punch bowl with ice.

Recipe: Spring Calves and Buttery Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

calves running

The snow here in Minnesota is finally melting.  The sun seems warmer now and brighter too. Winter’s thick blanket of silence has already been replaced with the sounds of song birds merrily singing away and geese honking as they pass overhead on their yearly trek north.

As the snow melt water and mud recede, plants quickly emerge.  Filling a color-starved world with a much welcomed emerald carpet.  Farm pastures quickly become great green waving seas of luscious grass.

pasture spring

On our farm the cows and the year-old calves were kept inside the big barn during most of the winter. It just got too cold for them to be outside.  So, it is a joyous day for the entire herd when they are finally released from their stalls and pens and shepherded out the barn door into a world of bright light and fresh air.

cows in cold barn
Cows in cold barn

Joyous it the right word for the first day that the cows are let out again into the pasture.  Even the old cows kick up their heels and cavort about like young heifers.  However, it the young stock that really put on a show.  At first they just buck, jump and kick.  Then, they sprint around chasing each other like a bunch of big frisky puppies.

cows happy

Not only does spring get the cows out of the barn.  It is also the time of year when the cows get their calves out of their wombs.  When a cow was ready to give birth she would often wander off by herself to some remote area of the large pasture.  There she’d give birth and hide her calf.  Much like a mother doe.

cow and calf

Old bovines, just like most of the rest of the world, always think they are much smarter than the farmer. So, shortly after giving birth a much thinner version of the old gal, often dragging her nasty slimy after birth while displaying a vermilion stained behind, would show up at feeding time acting like nothing new was a foot.

The birth announcement would go as follows, “Well, that one has a calf somewhere!”

Then, the yearly spring ritual of finding and retrieving her calf commences.

The story below describes this process.

Going to Get the Calves

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Having grown up on a dairy farm, I have memories of cows.

Every morning and evening we’d go down to the cow yard with grandpa and dad and call the cows in from the pasture. We’d all stand there by the silver barbed wire fence, bathed in the colors of the rising or setting sun, hands cupped around our mouths, yelling, “Ca, Boss…. Ca Boss” at the top of our lungs.  As I recall calling in the cows at odd hours of the day was strictly frowned upon.

Soon, the cows, in a nice straight line, would come in from the pasture. They would climb the worn wood ribbed ramp into the barn, find their very own stall and patiently wait to be milked.

Oh sure, on occasion you’d get a beller’n bossy, but all and all they were quite well behaved.

In the spring when the calves were born was my favorite time of the year. Our cows always gave birth to their calves in the pasture. They’d hide them and we would have to go find them.

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Hidden newborn calf

Grandpa would hitch up the small gray metal grain wagon to the little red H Farmall tractor and the search and rescue mission was on.

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Red Farmall Tractor

We were all lookouts, and you had to, stealing a cow’s baby after all the effort she’d just expended made her mad. Who wouldn’t be?

The goal was to distract the cow while grandpa put the calf in the wagon, got back onto the tractor, put the tractor in road gear so that we could go faster than the cow could give chase, and then to get out of the pasture before the cow could escape.

cow charging

Grandpa was 82 years old, so being distracting was something us kids had to excel at. Besides who hasn’t had to stare down and taunt an angry bovine a time or two in life?  Excellent life-skill training!

Once we had successfully gotten the calf into the wagon and grandpa safely back onto the driver’s seat and headed in the right direction towards the pasture gate, the cow would inevitably charge the wagon to save her baby.

elephant charging

With the tractor in road gear and grandpa with one hand, minus a thumb, on the steering wheel and the other hand holding onto his faded and frayed yellow straw hat that grandma assured us he’d had since birth, and as the wagon gleefully bounced over every cow hump and pocket gopher mound in our path—one of us would comfort the calf.

Meanwhile, the other members of the team sat on the very back edge of the rocketing, jumping and bucking wagon wildly flailing their feet and legs in mid air. Occasionally, feet coming into contact with the cow’s forehead each time she got too close to the wagon.

Naturally, the whole operation could have become dangerous had the cow decided to ignore the preventive foot volleys and chose to join us in the wagon, or if any of us had been over the age of 10 or under 80. Safety first! That was our motto.

When we were safely out of the pasture, the calf was gently carried inside the barn, checked over, thoroughly petted and fed.

feeding calves

All of the calves were kept together in the barn until they were old enough to be turned out to pasture—weaned. The cow’s milk would come in shortly after the birth of her calf.

Each Minnesota dawn and twilight would find us all standing by the fence, calling the cows home from the pasture to be milked. Inside our big red barn the cow would walk to her numbered stall and wait to be milked. The calves safe and warm inside the barn would watch their mamma’s parade by each morning and evening. Somehow they too learn the milking routine.

Throughout every season, the milk was sent to the creamery in town, to be processed, and sold to city folk.

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Butter makes bakes better!   This recipe combines the rich taste of butter and chocolate with sweet caramel and the salty crunch of pretzels.  Just like a like every newborn calf… this one’s a keeper.

PretzelCookies

Buttery Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of butter, softened
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 bag (11.5 ounce) of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bag (11 ounce) of Kraft Caramel Bits
1 cup of chopped pretzels
36 small pretzel twists for garnish

In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer cream together butter and sugars.  On a high speed, beat them until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.  Turn mixer down to low setting and slowly add the dry ingredients.  Mix until completely combined.  Add chocolate chips, caramel bits and pretzels and mix slowly until evenly distributed.

Roll a large tablespoon of dough into a ball.  Place cookies about two inches apart on top of the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Press a pretzel twist into the top of the cookie, slightly flatting the cookie.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the edge of the cookies just begin to slightly brown.  Remove cookies from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of  minutes.  Transfer the cookies onto a wire rack or clean counter top and cool them completely.

May the joy of spring be yours! 

What Is On My Mind Today? Spring Preparedness: Divining Rods,Weather Sticks, and Field Checks

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Before the days of well-educated folks providing weather reports over the air waves, that often conflict with the view out of your window, knowing how to find water, predict weather weather and test soil was essential information passed on from generation to generation.  In our farm family that meant mastering divining rods, the weather stick and field checking protocol.

The most important topographical feature to a pioneer picking out a homestead site was an accessible nearby water source.  Here in the land of ten-thousand lakes you would think that a visual inspection of your immediate surroundings would suffice. After all, few Minnesota farmsteads rest far from a standing body of water.  Therefore, it seems to me that one could assume that the water table is high and that well locating and digging, even for the novice, could only end in success.

There are many ways to find sources of ground water.  I just finished reading a handbook for pioneers that was published in 1859.  The writer dedicated a whole chapter to signs in nature indicating ground water. Apparently my great uncles never got their hands on a copy of this fellow’s book, because to the absolute horror of my Christian grandma, they searched for ground water using, “Divining Rods”.

 

Divining rods are either thin metal wires or a “Y” shaped branch cut off of willow trees.  The wire ones are about 20 inches of straight with a right angle for a handle at one end.  With a rod held loosely in each hand, the operator slowly walks forward.  When the rods detect water, they quickly swing together of their own accord and cross.  As you walk away from that area, they immediately swing wide apart again.   The willow works similarly, except the pointed end will point down when over water.

luther's small catechism

Divining rods are used by a “Diviner”.  Since neither term is included in the catechism of Martin Luther and nobody can explain how these mysterious rods work, they were immediately labeled by my grandma as conscience stimulating instruments of the dark side. Of course, none of us knew how electricity worked or how roosters got hens pregnant either, yet electricity and poultry products were consumed guilt-free.

So when my great uncles, grandma’s brothers, showed up on our farm with those divining rods they were about as welcome as a horribly itchy, gland swelling, stomach emptying, body annihilating  communicable disease.  It was disconcerting to her that none of the adult males on the premises had moral sense enough to have a healthy aversion to self-motivating wires or sticks. However, since hope springs eternal, the children were warned not to go near them as they were suspect.  The divining rods, not the great uncles.

The idea that these rods could find water right out the blue smacked too much of magic or chance for grandma. Both works of the devil.  The only power she gave credence too, was God.  And rightly so. If it wasn’t God inspired, it was suspect. Grandma felt that there was nothing divinely inspired about divining rods. Moreover, she felt very strongly that expecting something from nothing was gambling.  Gambling at best was foolishness, at worst a vice. Vices were the root of all moral decay. Therefore, the divining rod pointed to sin not water.

Now, many people would bet that in a small church-going farm community like Swede Grove, in a state where games of chance were outlawed, that the fear of acquiring a gambling addiction from divining rods would be against the odds. Maybe, even irrational. If I was a wagering woman, I might agree, but I am a Swedish farmer’s daughter. There is logic to grandma’s concerns.  Sin, just like redemption, requires a first step. It’s sort of like her sex before marriage analogy.  Sex is like ice cream, if you have never tasted it, you aren’t going to miss it.

Besides, the farmers I knew were are all gambling addicts from the get go.

There were wagers on which neighbor spent the most time eavesdropping on the telephone party line, if Mennonite ladies wore underwear, how long any member of the family would stay in the outhouse, how many green apples could be consumed before you couldn’t leave the outhouse, which sow would farrow first, which cow would have the biggest calf, what ornery rooster would go next into the soup pot and on and on.  I suppose that some of the chronic wagering could be attributed to weakness of character, but I’d like to think it was because we did not have a television set.

When you really think about it. In reality, the whole enterprise of agriculture was, is and always will be one big gamble. Farming is a crap shoot, all over the place.

I think that is why the menfolk enjoyed using the divining rods. It was a small gamble in their world of constant big gambles.  Eventually, of course, we all took our turns learning to use the wires or sticks to find water.  I have used them and tested them by walking over a water pipe and they did work.

Now, learning to using a weather stick is not nearly as complicated or morally questionable as divining rods.  Weather stick usage is fairly straight forward.  The value of weather stick use is based solely on the presentation of its applications.

yard stick

A weather stick is usually the size and shape of a yard stick.  The kind you get for free at the Minnesota State Fair.  However it is painted completely white.  To predict accurate weather, the stick must first be planted about three inches into the ground.   If you cannot dig a three-inch hole in the ground, you know that your stick’s predicting powers have already begun to work as it is telling you the ground is still frozen. Should water fill the hole you have dug for your weather stick, you can be assured that grandma’s prayers have been answered and no further use of divining rods will be necessary.

Once planted the stick really works its magic.  If you can see it…it is daylight.  If you cannot see it…you need to get your eyes checked, because you should be able to see a white stick in the dark.  If nobody can see the stick…it is foggy. Should the stick cast a shadow…it is sunny outside. If there is no shadow….it is overcast.  If the stick is wet..it is raining.  If it is floating…you are experiencing a flood. If it disappears…it is snowing. Should it blow over…it is windy.  If it turns green…you need to cut your grass. And,  if it turns yellow…you need to holler at your dog.

Once you have found water and can use your weather stick, it is time for field checking.  Field checks always taken place after the snow has melted, but before all of the standing water has disappeared.

farm fields

When the time is right, usually during a chore shortage, or before or shortly after a round of food consumption, someone of driving age, between the ages of 6 and 86, will announce they are going to go check fields and start a tractor.

Tractor choice can be a poser. Sometimes, the tractor is chosen because it’s the closest to the field checker. Other times it is picked, because it already has fuel.  Most often though, it is chosen because it is the biggest and fastest.

Once the tractor is started, the field checker invites guests to ride along by hollering for volunteers over the loud revving diesel motor.  The guests, never more than two, stand on the wagon hitch behind the driver. The vehicle then roars down the farm lane.  It races down a county gravel road until the breaks are slammed down hard as its operator rudely cranks on the steering wheel attempting to make the sharp turn into the field’s landing.

Once the all important traditional pause and moment of silence on the landing has been completed.  The tractor, driver and guests brace themselves for a rigorous field testing experience.

The clutch is slowly let out as the throttle is simultaneously thrust to full.  The tractor leaps onto the rich black soil. The deep tread of its large rear tires catapults dirt clogs high into the air.  The driver jams the stick shift into a higher gear to gain speed in an attempt to outrun the dirt clog shower raining down on unprotected heads.

The tractor races across the field, with its passengers’ shirt tails flapping in the spring breeze. It slows as it crests a hill.  The tractor pauses before yawning loudly and taking a deep breath.  Then, with a loud roar, it charges down the hill with its driver enthusiastically yelling, “Hang on!”.

The passengers behind the driver hang onto the tractor’s fenders white-knuckled. They stand on their toes and loosen their knee joints to act as shock absorbers to prepare for impact.  Valiantly the tractor hurls itself towards the flooded valley beneath the hill’s summit while silently screaming, “I am not a boat!.”

stuck tractor2

The splash of water and mud created by several tons of tractor hitting open water at road speed is spectacular! Physics does not lie. For every action there IS an equal and opposite reaction.  As muddy spray shoots heavenward, the tractor’s great rear tires furiously spin.  There is a slide one way, and then a slip the other way before the tractor  just sinks straight down.

Swedish farmers by nature are pessimistic optimists.  They know things can and do go wrong. However, all is not lost if you can find even a little bit of good in it.  Therefore, you only really lose if you give up.

stuck tractor

It is this innate positive attitude to never give in, that can be misconstrued by the non-Swedish as stubbornness, that makes the driver continue rock the tractor back and forth until such a time as it becomes clear to God, nature and humankind that the tractor is going nowhere. This point of cosmic consensus is reached when the tractor’s trailer hitch is underwater and the axles have settled below the mud line.  When these hallmarks are met, the field test is assessed as successful and the field officially declared…not ready.

farmer scratching head

Then, the tractor’s driver and guests slowly survey the scene, while figuratively and actually scratching their heads.

After a historical recitation of infamous past spring field checks and an exchange of situational observations, conclusions are reached.  The tractor is stuck.  They should not have chosen their biggest tractor.  Calls will have to be made to neighbors for assistance. There will be a mandatory re-telling of the best stuck tractor tales.  And, they are going to have to walk home….again.

 

 

Recipe: Snow Pile Misery and Mischief and Caramel Apple Cinnamon Bun Coffeecake

snow covered lane

Yes, the snow has finally began to fall here in Minnesota.  The flakes this morning are particularly large and lovely and are just now starting to accumulate making the yard look like it has been dusted with powdered sugar.

Since breaking my back, snow on the ground and the slipperiness it brings means that I am indoors for much of the duration of winter.  I have always hated being indoors. Still, those first few beautiful delicate white flakes initiate a sense of childlike joyful excitement, create a rush of memories and a need to preheat the oven.

Maybe it was because I was a lot shorter or that farmsteads were so isolated, but it seems to me that the snow storms during the 1960’s, when I was growing up on our farm, were monsters compared to any in recent memory.  Of course, no matter how severe the whiteout conditions or how buried we were in ten foot high snowdrifts, nothing ever compared to the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.  And….it didn’t.

Snow on the farm was always much more fun for children than it was for adults.  In those days, there were no cozy defrosted and heated cabs on tractors.  Snow removal was a freeze your face, hands and feet operation for our farm’s menfolk.  It was their  mission to remove the tons of snow that isolated us from contact with fellow human beings or an excess of family bonding.  Either way the situation that required immediate action.  Most importantly prevented our cow’s milk from being delivered to the creamery in town.

snow2

The long tree-lined picturesque lane of spring, summer and fall became their nemesis. For it morphed into a glacial blue chasm that needed to be constantly defended against an onslaught organized by the wind and rolling sea of snow drifts  to erase everything of color.  Eventually they devour even the sliver-laden wood snow fences whose red stripes inevitably disappeared completely from view.

Our old green John Deere tractor and its front loader, which was purchased right after World War II, was well-trained in the task of removing nuisance solids.  Whether it was cow manure or snow, that tractor always seemed to have its wheels spinning in something slippery whenever it worked on destroying or making piles.

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There are many types of piles on a farm.  Some are more fun than others. Stinky or painful ones should be always avoided.  However, ones of grain or snow are great fun.  All of the snow removed from the lane and farm yard would create mountainous piles of snow for sledding, belly surfing, and fort building and defending.

A day of playing on a snow pile often ended with piles of wet woolen mittens; socks; hats; snow pants; and old plastic bread bags, forced into emergency service as boot liners, hanging on the wooden clothes drying rack.  In the heavily cinnamon-scented dining room around a great round oak table, warm delicious baked treats, made especially for weary snow pile builders and players, disappeared as quickly as the visibility outside of the old farm house’s leaded glass windows in a snow-laden gust of wind.

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Caramel Apple Cinnamon Bun Coffee Cake

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Lightly grease an 8 X 8 X 2 inch cake pan

2 cans of cinnamon rolls
4 large apples, peeled and finely diced(Tart apples are best my favorite is Haralson)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup caramel sauce

In a large bowl mix together apples, sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  Coat evenly.

Open cinnamon roll containers and separate the rolls. Cut each roll into 1/4 in slices.  On a floured counter, roll out slices until thin.  If rolls are too sticky to roll out…coat with a little flour and proceed.

In the bottom of the prepared baking dish arrange the first layer of thinly rolled cinnamon bun dough.  Be sure to cover the entire bottom of pan and up the sides.
Seal all of the edges by pressing them together with your fingers.

Spread half of the apple mixture over the first layer of dough.  Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of caramel sauce on top of the apples.

Cover with another layer of flattened cinnamon roll dough.

Spread remaining apples on top of dough and drizzle with remaining caramel sauce.

Cover with remaining flattened cinnamon roll dough.

Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Cool for at least a half and hour.  Before serving,  drizzle with the icing that came with the cinnamon bun dough.

Slice and serve.

 

 

 

 

What Is On My Mind Today? Genius Is As Genius Does….Gopher Hunting!

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Gopher population control can be a real issue for gardeners and farmers. Those little buggers can become annoying pests really quickly.  To limit the amount of damage these rodents could inflict, we would hunt gophers.

I usually gopher hunted with my Grandpa George who was in his eighties. I was not yet six years old.  Grandpa and my method of gopher extermination was to flood their holes with water and try to hit them with a shovel when they emerged.  I got to hold the water hose and grandpa was the shovel guy.  Any gopher who was a good swimmer, had nothing to fear from our shovel.  We sure scared them though!

My cousins and brothers were much more successful getting gophers, as they used traps.

Even our dog was more successful at getting gophers and Grandpa and I.

This video is about some folks who use common household products coupled with oxygen and propane to blow up gopher holes.  I bet grandpa would have been against us trying this method of gopher hunting. Using oxygen and propane to blow up gopher tunnels doesn’t seem like something a Swedish Lutheran farmer would do.  Too noisy and showy. Honestly, it all seems a bit Baptist.

Enjoy the video. Don’t try this at home! And always remember:

Election 11

 

 

 

Recipes: First Day of School, Rotten Apples, Cabbage Rolls and Refrigerator Pickles

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The first day of school is always exciting, even if the only thing you are looking forward to is getting back with your friends and recess. Yesterday was the first day of the new school year for many of Minnesota’s youngsters.  I really enjoyed checking out all of the Facebook posts of happy, and some not so happy faces, setting off to tackle another year of education dressed in new duds, and toting backpacks that in some cases looked almost as big as the child.

I will never forget one of my preschool students, a very petite three-year-old girl who marched into each class session with a look of determination and a backpack that absolutely dwarfed her. I never knew what she kept in that backpack, but she always had room left inside to cram her papers in to bring home.  Honestly, when that child unzipped that enormous backpack and begin pushing her crunched up papers in, over half of little girl disappeared.  I felt obliged to stand ready to fish her out of that thing, should it gobble her up completely.

As far as I am concerned when school begins, summer ends.  Yes, autumn is here!  It is now time to clean out the house and garden, and begin cooking and baking at will. For the most part, the hot humid days of summer are over. Windows can again be flung wide open, unless you are allergic to rag weed then you have to wait until after the first frost for any window flinging. And, turning the oven on to bake is no longer torture. It takes the chill off of your home and produces wonderful aromas that dance throughout the house.

I was going to try a recipe for rum cake today, but as a teenager I promised my grandmother that I would not be a drinker of alcohol and a promise made, is a promise kept.  Therefore, the only distilled or fermented beverages in my home are used for cooking, and as luck would have it, I am out of rum.  I do have rum extract, but making a rum cake using that stuff, would be an insult to cakes everywhere.  Due to a lack of planning on my part, and my refusal to buy alcohol on a Sunday, there will have to be a rain check on the rum cake.  Disappointing I know, but we must soldier on all the same.

I do have two new recipes that will help use up some of those end of the growing season vegetables.

The first recipe is delicious and a boon for time management…Crockpot Cabbage Rolls. These cabbage rolls are prepared with a sweet and spicy tomato sauce.

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Crockpot Cabbage Rolls

12 leaves of cabbage
1 cup of cooked brown rice
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup minced onion
1 pound of extra lean ground beef
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 (8 ounce) can of tomato sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Put the cabbage leaves into the boiling water for about two minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, egg, milk, onion, ground beef, salt and pepper. Place about 1/4 of a cup of the meat mixture in the center of each cabbage leaf. Tuck ends of leaf in and roll up, just like a burrito or egg roll.  Place rolls in the crockpot.

In a small bowl, mix together tomato sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over cabbage rolls.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

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apple rotten

This second recipe is a bit of pure tasty nostalgia.

Fall on the farm meant cricket serenades, swimming in huge piles of harvested corn and beans, apple wars with siblings, cousins and neighbor kids and pickles.

Apple fights were as much of fall tradition as a good snowball fight is in the winter. Throwing rotten and/or wormy apples at a worthy or whiny opponent was not done out of spite or to advance yuckiness.  It was not to create additional suffering for your target or laundry for your mother.  Nor was it to increase your thrill or justify the level punishment that would be meted out should you be caught. It was not to enjoy the sound of a good splat.  Not at all.  Rotten apple throwing was a matter of religious observance.

We were all Lutherans and wasting food in any form was highly frowned upon by those in authority and who were observant. Therefore, good tree apples had been long ago banned for use as weapons or ammunition in broad daylight. While good apples delivered a much smarter sting, sadly, we had to be content to use their softer rotten treemates to teach the unsuspecting how to, “take it like a man.”

With all of the flinging, fight, fun and frolic of fall, it is important to remember that it is also the time of year for pickles. I have always loved eating pickles.  My Great Uncle Ed would often hand me a very tart dill pickle and dare me to try it while loudly declaring, “That will grow hair on your chest!”  Eventually, it became clear to me that I needed to cut back on of my dill pickle consumption and focus on sweet pickles, as I began to have nightmares about displaying a hairy bosom in a prom dress.

This recipe for sweet pickles tastes just like the bread and butter pickles canned and shared at every family get-together by my grandmother and great aunts.  However, these are much easier to make and keep well for about two months in the refrigerator.  I hope you make and enjoy…..Sweet Spicy Refrigerator Pickles.

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Sweet Spicy Refrigerator Pickles

6 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 cups onions, thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups of sugar
1-1/2 cups of cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, scant

Place sliced cucumbers and onions in a large bowl and set aside.

In a medium-sized sauce pan combine and whisk together:  sugar, vinegar, salt, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, and cloves. Bring to a boil.  Cook and stir until sugar has dissolved.

Pour boiling vinegar mixture over the cucumbers and onions.  As the mixture cools, press cucumbers under the vinegar mixture.  Cool.

Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before you serve.

Another pickle recipe on this blog:  Watermelon Pickles the Happy Pickle