Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stuff*** My Dad Says

My dad is searching through the freezer case at the big HyVee for supper.  He finally settles on some organic, non GMO, nondairy stir fry.  He's eighty years old and not making any kind of statement: he just needs his food to be gluten free and this store has a variety.

Over in the regular freezer case he chooses a Banquet pot pie for my mom; I pick out a frozen pasta meal of tortellini.  It is a Tuesday night, practice night for the Lake orchestra...and I am getting a chance to sit in.

The chicken pot pie makes me smile.  We always had home cooked meals when I was growing up, but every once in a while she would serve up chicken pot pies in the little tin pans.  Despite being a picky vegetable eater as a kid (in preference, not practice: we ate what was good for us with no comment) I liked the pot pies..... unless an errant lima bean leaked out in the gravy like the proverbial fly in the ointment.  I liked the cubed chicken and especially the way the steam escaped when you pierced the crust with your knife. Banquet pot pies are still just a dollar, but back in the sixties you could buy them 5 for a buck.  

We watch the news and weather, waiting to go to band practice, visiting about food.  The Hursts have always been beef people with roasts and hamburger and steaks at the ready in the freezer;  beef is the pinnacle of our food pyramid and our first choice.

My father is the oldest of five kids, born in the '30s.  He leans back to recollect the protein on their table, 'We ate stuff like pigs feet...and was awful.  We kids knew this was terrible stuff.'
'The first time I went to eat at your mother's house, her mom fixed veal birds.' My mom chimes in, 'Remember Schulte's? Well, Mr. Schulte would call your grandma whenever he got a nice piece of veal.' My dad laughs, 'That was the best meat I'd ever eaten..'  
I remember my grandma making veal birds, just like I remember my grandpa eating 'mush' every morning for breakfast.  These were exotic antique foods to me, foods one only ate at one's grandparent's.  I have looked up veal birds but have yet to find pictures or recipes that are exactly as I remember my grandma's.  
Grandma's veal birds were pan fried like her chicken and served with mashed potatoes and gravy. I can believe my tall skinny father thought he'd been offered a feast....

Both sets of grandparents lived on Greenberry Road.  My dad had a paper route and rode a bike; my mother caught the city bus to school.  Her parents had a car but my grandfather also took the bus to work every morning.  I remember the 1964 Dodge they drove when I was young, but when I ask my folks what car preceded that one?  'A 1938 Pontiac', my father offers instantaneously, 'People didn't buy cars during the war.  You were only allowed 2 gallon of gas a week...that wouldn't take you very far.'  
My father says he used to ride with his father in their 1933 Chevrolet  from Jefferson City over to Cole Camp to visit his grandparents  The road was paved the forty miles to Versailles but gravel the remaining 21 miles to Cole Camp.  The Chevy had no heat, so his Grandma Renken would heat a rock in her big black wood stove before they started home, wrap it in a rug, and put it on the floor board to help ease the chill.  My dad said the rock almost stayed warm til they arrived home. 

When I was a kid, my sister and I loved nothing more than to read my mom's yellowed copies of Judy Bolton mysteries and Cherry Ames nursing books.  These books were cheap even when they were materials during a time when anything of value was conserved for the war effort.

  We counted 1943 and 1944 pennies from the piggy bank...gray pennies of steel, not copper.  We played her Monopoly game, Chinese Checkers, and a horse race board game with Man O'War, War Admiral, Whirlaway and Seabiscuit..  Her childhood seemed like a treasure chest...we had no conception what ordinary families sacrificed during those years or what it was like to be children during the 1930s and 1940s.

 From pig feet to organic GF right in your freezer case, five minutes from the microwave to table. From 60 miles without a heater to a weekly visit for orchestra practice and quiet night's sleep in their comfortable condo on the Lake.........this is what my folks have experienced....and I think I've seen change in my time!

   This evening, I am just thankful to have been along for the ride.....

Monday, January 27, 2014

It Might As Well Be Spring

"I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm
I'm as jumpy as puppet on a string
I'd say that I had spring fever
But I know it isn't spring...."

Its January.
Which means it must be time to get coverings on the greenhouses that still need new plastic to both survive the gales of March and let the sunshine in to grow the blooms of April.  If there are three still hours we leap into action like firemen responding to the sirens.

Its January.  Time to clean up last year's paperwork and print more for the tax man.  Josh is fetching the 
W-2s as they emerge from the printer.  January is the month we build the scaffolding of spreadsheets that hold the key to the spring's business.

The spreadsheets can't lie, don't fudge....out there in March there will be at least 100,000 little plants a week shipped to our door in boxes that will need to be transplanted during that seven day period before the next multitude arrives.  The season progresses in an inexorable, nearly Biblical progression:  "February has its thousands, but March has its ten thousands".

Takes your breath away.  Gives you nervous chills.  I know that sounds a little over  the top. But that's how it feels.

Just one greenhouse open these days, heaters hissing blue flame, propane rushing out of the tank and steam dissipating futilely into the frigid out of doors.  One greenhouse with HID lights glowing late into the night, fooling 8000 rootless geraniums into thinking March is around the corner.

The earliest pansies with their dainty scalloped leaves arrive nestled against moist pads in their cardboard cartons.  Those most hopeful and fragrant of March posies wear monikers like 'Blueberry Thrill' and 'Fizzy Lemonberry'.  What could be more contagiously springy than those?
The plugs are as dewy and pert as when they were packed in Colorado. We can't say enough good things about Kevin, the driver who usually delivers our FedEx plants.  Unlike other drivers, he never leaves packages on Lee's front porch, my back porch (neither heated, I might add), the middle of the driveway, or the garage.  He sends texts and hands us a calendar each month with his days off.  We always hope he takes his vacations in the fall :) .
The unrooted geraniums cuttings are bagged, tagged, packed to keep cool, not warm.  One batch came from Guatemala and the other from Ethiopia.  Geranium propagation is clearly high risk and rife with potential problems.  Several years back we got a batch of diseased cuttings and had to destroy a number of plants and sanitize the whole house.  The repercussions were widespread and costly for greenhouses over the entire East, South and Midwest.  In other years, rooting stations have come and gone in places like China and Mexico.  We too keep a weather eye on our infant geraniums..
January is too cold, but also too dark for some of the beloved tropicals that find summer porches so hospitable here in the Midwest.  We tried to grow ferns in December and January one year, but they shrunk down into their baskets and sent up nary a frond.  The only thing that grew in those baskets during the dark months were the most opportunistic of nasty greenhouse weeds.  They flourished. We decided not to fight Mother Nature and let our ferns, crotons, and palms spend their Christmas and New Year's down in Florida.

More boxes.  And a family unpacking party.  Everybody joins in.

And that volume of green is sufficient to drive away the blues of winter, the gloom of heating bills and  

bring on the fever for spring...

I haven't seen a crocus or a rosebud
Or a robin on the wing.
But I feel so gay,
In a melancholy way,
That it might as well be spring,
It might as well be spring.
 (from State Fair...Rodgers and Hammerstein)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What Does the Farmer Eat?


It was a happening, ranking somewhere between hosting your kid's future inlaws and Airforce One landing at the Gould Petersen airport on the bottom just east of Tarkio on the terror and anticipation scale.  CNN was coming to our farm....the same CNN that every home in the US tuned to for coverage of Desert Storm.  But this time, the reporter, the tech guys, were going to film our farm, a feel good seasonal story about a family farm during the golden days of harvest back in 1991.

The pictures in the field we all call "Dad's Big Bottom" could have been taken any year...and it was the perfect location for a long sweeping iconic panorama shot of combines rumbling through the mile long rows as the tractors with auger wagons brought the corn up to the trucks.

  Just Because Farmers Grow it....

I don't know why the Smithsonian article I linked to above brought the CNN episode to mind.  Perhaps it was the references to the hectic hum of harvest, the eating on the road, the irregular hours, the long days. Perhaps it was the odd presumption that farmers are still somehow at a subsistence level, living off the seasonal bounty of the land rather than taking their products to market, to the elevator, to the auction, to the gin, to the mill, to the rail head, to the packer, to the processor.

Or perhaps I connected this brief article about farmers and their meals with the fixation the guys from CNN had with our family's daily bread more than two decades ago.  What does the farmer eat? And when and how?  The CNN guys stuck their cameras right down into the eggs and sausage I cooked that morning for Blake to catch the sizzle and pop of grease and heat...even though the kids waiting for the bus had long since finished their cereal and milk.

The CNN guys were also quite adamant that we eat dinner out in the field because they thought that's what real farmers would do.  At least farmers they would show to the public.  Fair enough. Some dinners are eaten on a tailgate, but when the tailgate is long gone, a hood will do. 

 I don't remember what we prepared that day, but I do recollect feeling quite self conscious about the paper products threatening to fly away and become litter.  As you can see, harvest days may be warm, or cold, but they are always windy.  So sometimes the farmer will opt for shelter of the family SUV... 

or the pickup cab.
The crew at CNN filmed a good long segment in the front yard of Millie and Charlie's house, a bucolic setting beneath the two big pines.  The whole family gathered for noon meal and I am positive as I can be that we had Millie's homemade potato salad and sweet corn and beef from our freezer. 'Cause that's what the farmers eat.  
This is Sunday dinner Hurst harvest style 2013.  Two combines, a tender truck, the tractors and auger wagons, several semis, and fourteen other family vehicles.  The CNN crew would have had a hay day with this event.

We rural cooks do have disadvantages.  I can't always get the ingredients at my local store necessary for more esoteric or complex recipes.  That type of dish requires planning, not just a quick run by the HyVee after work for mushrooms or sour cream.  On the other hand, if I want to grill steak anytime during the six months of the year I can cook outdoors, I can...

 Making pasta or chili is just a matter of beans and pasta in the pantry and walking down the stairs.
 Even though its January, there are a few good apples from this past fall...time to bake them up though!

It may be simple fare but we farmers find plenty to eat during the cold months of wintertime..probably more than we need to fuel up during the cold days....

But  in summertime, living off the land really gets easy.

So, despite rumors that we all rush from a slab of cold Casey's pizza to potato chips to a hearty repast of York Peppermint Patties, the folks that provide your daily bread appreciate fresh, hot, tasty, and home grown meals themselves.  Whether putting the crop in or taking it out,

at daybreak

or after the sun has gone down....

there's only one more thing you have to know....

The farmer will always choose home made ice cream....

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go.....on a Sentimental Journey

This is a love story, a classic tale of boy meets girl.

In this case, a boy who listened to eight track tapes of Charlie Rich and Charley Pride.....

And a girl raised with the classics with a stack of LPs of folksy pop songwriters the likes of Paul Simon and Billy Joel ......before they lost their hair.

He was pretty darn smart...

aleck and well read and not at all boring....

She learned the lyrics to 'Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain' and 'Shotgun Willie', 'Good Hearted Woman', and 'Wurlitzer Prize'. 

Whoopin' and hollerin' and raising you know what in the balcony of Stephens College, peering through the smoke at a Jerry Jeff concert in the '70s, singing Cadillac Cowboy or Railroad Lady could give new meaning to the title ''Ridin'High". Jerry Jeff was hardly mainstream, even by Outlaw standards....
But when it was time to dance close, time for swing a little to a melody, there was only one tune back in '77 for this guy and gal.  All through a long summer apart she heard it nightly on the radio while she wrote letter after letter back to Missouri.  Waylon looked rough, but his voice was mellow and warm as a summer night.
Take a listen and walk back in time....

With that as a theme song, why wouldn't Luckenbach get a big blue star on the Texas road map, population 3 or not?

Lone Star beer.. Bob Wills music. And, yeah, we got the kids t-shirts and tacky refrigerator magnets.  
Two coffees and a Pearl beer....still early in Luckenbach...

Lookin'good in that hat...

'Whither thou goest, I will go....'
 And to elaborate on the kind of partnership, if not complete harmony, two music lovers can aspire to....
your music will be my music....whether all that jazz is Asleep at the Wheel's Western Swing... 

San Antonio Rose
Or a night on the town at Bohanan's, where steaks and white linens are followed by mellow cornet and sidemen of Jim Cullum's Jazz Band...

A little Jazz Me Blues...and Irish coffee

 Bandana hangin' on the mirror
Still wet from ear to ear
Well I guess it's true then
What the wise men say
When you ride your last one
Make sure he's a fast one
Jump while he's movin'
Keep your hat boys and walk away

 (Cadillac Cowboy....Jerry Jeff Walker)


Turn up that radio
Don't think about a rodeo
Don't think about a roundup
Out in old Cheyenne
It's a crazy circuit
But still you work it
Turn down that sound boys
Let's get up and check the scan

Thanks, Texas, for this musical memory...