Archive for February, 2011


I come from a long line of pickle lovers.  Dill or sweet, hot or mild, capers, black olives or green,  you name it, we love it.  Every family dinner is not complete without passing the relish dish around the table several times.  When my mom asked me to pick up a jar of pickles for her, I told her I would be glad to.  She wanted not just any pickle, mind you, but the kind of sweet pickle that has chunky cucumbers, tiny onions, and cauliflower.  They weren’t in our local grocery, so I looked at one of the larger stores in Grand Rapids. Nope. No mixed sweet pickles. It became a quest for me, and I checked every grocery and variety store around. I had friends check in Bemidji. I checked on the internet, and they had some, but they were $12.99/jar plus shipping and handling.  Really? For pickles? A funny thing happened during the pickle search, though. I began craving them. I wanted that sweet, crunchy pickled cauliflower that I used to grab  out of the jar with my fingers when I was a kid,  eating the pickled cucumbers next and leaving only the onions. (I hope my mom isn’t reading this part, because she always wanted to find the culprit!)  Did you know that you can buy pickled okra? Pickled green beans? Hot pickled peppers? Pickled pig’s feet? Yes, one can find about any type of pickle  except the kind that Mom wanted.  I finally found them yesterday, when I stopped for gas in Cass Lake. As usual, I walked to the pickle section of the store to look, and there they were.

If you are wondering why a Minnesota Farm Woman doesn’t have a pantry full of home-canned pickles, I do. Sometimes they turn out well, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they’re crisp and sometimes they’re limp. Sometimes they are so sour that they will make your lips pucker.  I have tried to pickle cauliflower, and it tastes strong and vinegary  and not at all like that sweet crunchiness of these mixed pickles. I have jars of pickles from 2008, 2009, and 2010.  I have jars of pickled red cabbage which the recipe described as having a “delicious sweet and sour taste” but will melt the enamel on your teeth.  I have tried brining my cucumbers.  I have tried “hot packing”. I have tried “cold packing”. I have tried nearly everything.

I bought two jars of those pickles at $6.99 each.  Expensive, but cheaper than the trip to Duluth that I was going to make next to find them. One for Mom, one for me.  I ate all the cauliflower out of mine last night.

Mom was very excited to get those pickles. Now she wants me to find Shredded Wheat cereal. Not just any Shredded Wheat, though.  She wants the big biscuits that you crumble into your bowl before pouring on the milk.  Now where in the world am I going to find that?

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My husband and I keep separate checking accounts. It is one of the things we do to stay happily married. Experts say one of the most common marital arguments is about money, and our problem went so much deeper than that. For some reason, he thinks that when you write a check or use your debit card, you must immediately write it down and subtract it. Yes, right away. He also thinks that a checkbook should be balanced every month.

I haven’t balanced a checkbook since 1987.  Getting out of the habit was caused by multitasking, I think.  You women will know what I mean. I would be at the grocery store checkout lane, pushing a shopping cart with a squirmy toddler inside who was  grabbing the candy bars off the rack and sitting on the bread.   I would  simultaneously unload  the groceries to  the belt, return the candy to the proper place and try to remember both my debit card code and the store account numbers.  Any change and/or receipts would be crammed into my purse.   I then had to drive home, getting gas along the way which generates yet another receipt, put the groceries away and start supper while making sure the toddler wasn’t  into the dog’s water bowl.  Oh, no! Is that the receipt she is dipping in there? I was going to write that down! Even though my toddler is now 26, it seems like it was just yesterday and I am still not subtracting the amount, or even writing it down.  Old habits die hard, and besides, I know how much money is in there.   I think.

When my husband  shops, he needs to buy only a few  things. Beer.  Chips. Ice cream.  Simply paid for with a $20 bill, the change neatly put in his billfold and pocket. If he uses a check or debit card, he subtracts it right away.  His checkbook even has a pen inside.  He  opens those statements the credit union sends him and balances his account  each and every month.  I’ll bet the cash in his wallet is arranged from smallest to largest bills. I love him despite this borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder, and besides, he does the dishes every night. (If I may digress here, this is another tip for a long and happy marriage.)

Despite the separate accounts, the money in them is shared equally.  Just the other day, he asked me if I had any extra to put into our retirement fund before tax time.  Of course I do. You betcha. I think so.  Well, maybe.  I’ll know for sure after a quick trip to the ATM to check my balance.

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From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us!”  Scottish Prayer

My first few months in northern Minnesota were spent by myself. HE was living in our Florida house and working to keep our health insurance.

There are few absolutely quiet nights in a city.  There is always traffic noise, dogs, sirens, and maybe the neighbors’ TV that is kept on all night.  One gets used to these noises.  Moving to the country, I first noticed the lack of “city sounds” when the sun went down.  It was cozy, comforting, and quiet. Until he left. The quiet was TOO quiet.  Then came the sounds, and always at night. It was summer and I was sleeping with the windows open.  For a while.  I can tell you now  that the rustling of turkeys roosting on the clothesline has the exact sound of a burglar breathing outside one’s bedroom window.  One of my friends calls it “turning moths into grizzlies”, but I really believed that I  was listening to bears or wolves cavorting in my back yard during the night rather than the doe and two fawns that I saw there every morning at dawn.  Nonetheless, despite the warm summer nights, I slept with the windows closed and latched. Just in case.

It is winter now, nearly four years later. HE is home every night and we have our faithful dog Barney to protect us. Yes, I know he is a Chihuahua, but he is fierce and very scary.  A few nights ago, we were awakened by a strange sound. It was a noise that was coming closer and closer. It was kind of like humming, but not quite. It was a combination of sounds that I can’t even describe.  In the background of this visceral humming were the sounds of yips. Louder and louder, coming toward our house, then quieter and quieter after it passed, until  the night was silent once again. It was an unworldly, almost ethereal experience. It was 3 a.m.  My husband,  who is fazed by nothing, got out of bed and said “What the hell was that?”  We thought it could have been a pack of coyotes or wolves.  Traveling, perhaps, but certainly not chasing anything.  Moving down the road, as the ditches and woods were filled with deep snowdrifts.  Moving on.

Maybe you have an explanation, and maybe you don’t.  I don’t necessarily believe in ghoulies or ghosties, but there are plenty of long-leggedy beasties out here in the Minnesota wild.

Good Lord, deliver us!

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Christine Anne Nelson Quaal

This is the original Minnesota Farm Woman, Christine Anne Nelson Quaal of Forbes, Minnesota.  I am her namesake. This photograph of “Tina”, my great grandmother was taken at the farm in Forbes. My father told me that she had many  beautiful flowers in her yard that she fertilized with coffee grounds and buttermilk. Tina was born in Ishpeming, Michigan in 1873 to Lars Christian Nielsen and Kari (Carrie) Oie.  She died in 1966. I have her tea set, oil lamp, and rocking chair.   Thank you to my sister Liz, who lets me keep these treasured keepsakes in my home.

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The Secret

I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Minnesota Farm Woman is a fake.  I have been a Town and City Woman all of my life.  Four years ago, when we decided to make the move from Florida back to Minnesota,  one of my friends gave me the name “Minnesota Farm Woman” as a joke, and it stuck.  For the 30 years before our move,  I had not been more than a short drive from a mall, bookstore, or Starbucks.  I got monthly massages and pedicures.  I shopped at large  grocery stores or specialty markets where I could purchase sushi, exotic fruits, or  shrimp fresh off the boat.  If we wanted to eat out, we could choose from at least 15 restaurants within five miles of our home.

Despite all of these amenities, I yearned for a life in the country and everything that went along with it.  I wanted peace and quiet, country roads, apple trees,  and chickens.  I dreamed about a large garden, walks in the woods,  a crackling fire,  and more chickens. I thought about living a more self-sufficient life by growing and preserving our own food, supplemented by fresh-caught fish and our own chickens.

I am now living my dream and have learned a few life lessons along the way:  1) Deer love to nibble on apple trees, especially the larger ones that you just paid $59.00 for at the local nursery.  2) If you have made an agreement with your husband that he will till and you will weed the garden, do not ask him to till up half an acre just because you’ve always wanted a large garden, because you really won’t have any help with the weeding.   3) A crackling fire is appreciated more if the above-mentioned husband has started it for you and you don’t have to haul in wood and kindling yourself when you’ve worked all day and still have to go out and feed YOUR  chickens.   4) Shrimp Lo Mein  is not a quick dinner option when you live a 65 mile round trip from the nearest Chinese take-out restaurant.  5) When you have two weeks of below-zero weather and must have the heat lamps on in the chicken coop, it brings the cost of eggs up to about $7.35  per dozen.  6) I can’t possibly butcher and eat anything that I have raised and named Rose, Blanche, Sophia, and Dorothy.  7) Underneath her barn boots and warm socks, a Minnesota Farm Woman can still have a  nice pedicure with bright pink toenails.

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Here is the recipe for those of you who don’t have The Cookbook. If you need any Jello or Tuna Hot Dish recipes, let me know!

2 cups sugar   2 eggs   1/4 cup shortening   1 T vinegar   2 t baking soda  1 cup sour milk   1 t vanilla   1 1/2 cups flour  1/2 t salt    9 T cocoa  1 cup boiling water

Cream together the sugar and shortening, add eggs.  Mix well.  Combine vinegar, soda, sour milk, and vanilla, add to first mixture.  Sift together flour, salt, and cocoa; blend into other ingredients.  Add boiling water.  Bake in 9 x 13 pan at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.

(You can just add the vinegar to regular milk and let it stand for a few minutes and it will become “sour”.  Don’t overbeat, and don’t use expired baking soda! )

Fudge Frosting

2 cups sugar  1 stick butter  1/3 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup milk  vanilla

Combine all ingredients except vanilla.   Bring to a boil and boil for 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir in vanilla. Cool to lukewarm.  Beat until of spreading consistency.

(Mom always sat down and beat this with a wooden spoon. My sister and I would argue over who got to lick the pan, so Mom would give the spoon to one of us and the pan to the other.)

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The Cookbook

I once attended dinner where the hostess received a compliment on her dessert and was asked to write down the recipe. “Oh, it’s  in The Cookbook”,  she said.  The person was puzzled, but then, she didn’t grow up here. The rest of us know about The Cookbook.    Originally published in 1968 by the Dorcas Society of the Methodist Church, it was in most of the households around Deer River.   For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in this area,  it was the food of our grandmothers, our mothers, and our best friends’ mothers.  We ate this food at weddings and funerals, picnics and pot lucks.  We ate homemade cake or cookies after school served with a glass of cold milk.  Our moms made hot dishes that started with a can of tuna or a pound of hamburger and contained at least one can of condensed soup.  We ate salads in which the only thing green was the Jello.  It seemed like everyone’s mom cooked from scratch, and everyone’s mom had a copy of The Cookbook.

I received my copy  as a wedding gift in 1977. I think it was in its second printing by then.  Living in the south and surrounded by wonderful cooks, I made many of the recipes to combat my homesickness.  I learned that my husband hates Jello  and loves wild rice.  I learned that my coworkers could polish off a pan of bars in 15 minutes. I learned that in the south, a “hot dish” is called a “casserole.”  I learned that my mom’s Never-Fail Chocolate Cake recipe CAN fail if you use expired baking soda.   I learned that you really can go home again, even if it is just through your memories and a pot of beef stew simmering on the stove.

(Mom’s Never-Fail Chocolate Cake recipe can be found on page 37 and the fudge frosting on page 50 in The Cookbook)

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