Archive for June, 2012

My tomatoes have all been planted, and there is no room in the garden for any more.  I started out with ten plants of various varieties, all grown with tender loving care by my friends Dawn and Dale. “Ten will be plenty,” I told Dawn as I admired them. “Ten will be just right!” Ten WAS just right, until I stopped at a local plant nursery to check our their flowers.  I don’t know how I ended up in the tomato section. It kind of just sucked me in.  They had a new variety to this area called Polebig. Four to a pack. On sale. They practically followed me home, and I managed to squeeze them in between the pumpkins and the broccoli.  Fifteen will be just right.  If you think I am not counting right, I did say fifteen. You see, I have grown a Yellow Pear tomato every year for the last 20 or so years, so I must have one.  Yellow Pear tomatoes grow anywhere, are very prolific, have a sweet taste with a tomatoey tartness and I think of them as garden candy.  They are meant to be picked and snacked on while you walk through the garden admiring everything else. As I visited another plant nursery in my search for the somewhat elusive Yellow Pear, I couldn’t help check out all the others.  I ran into my favorite paste tomato, the Roma. I have tried other paste tomatoes, but the good old-fashioned Roma does best for me.  Dawn had given me two, but I was a little worried. Were two enough for all the sauce I plan to make? Was I sure? What about salsa? They came four to a pack. On sale. I managed to find a little space for them in the garden, right next to the zucchini.  I bought the Yellow Pear, too. Nineteen plants. NINETEEN. Oh, my. I guess tomatoes are like chickens:  One can never have too many because there are just so many varieties to choose from.  Tomatoes can be heirloom or hybrid, determinate or indeterminate. They come in red, pink, purple, black, yellow, orange, green and white. I almost forgot striped! Yes, there are striped tomatoes, too. The Mr. Stripey variety is one of my favorites.  They all are, can’t you tell?  There are  hundreds of varieties and just as many arguments as to which one tastes the best. I am here today to put it all to rest. The best tasting tomato is the one you grew yourself and is the first one of the season. Whether you eat it standing in the garden with the juice dripping down your chin or sliced thickly inside a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, that first tomato is always the best.  Some people wonder what heaven will be like when we get there. I don’t even pretend to be an expert on heaven, but I can tell you one thing for sure: There will  be tomatoes. There has to be, because for those of us who love them, fresh garden tomatoes have always given us that little taste of heaven.

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Donkey Quotes

A. A. Milne’s Eeyore once said, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”  Could someone please explain to me why I plant an entire row of beets and an entire row of weeds emerges?  Why the carrots are tiny little smidgens of green in the garden while the weeds have managed to grow four inches overnight and are overtaking them as we speak?  I am in the midst of my annual war on weeds. Me against them. Farm Woman vs. “flowers”. Since I garden organically, there are no sprays or chemicals involved, just my own two hands and a hoe, sore knees and a tired back.  As many of you may know, my husband does not garden. It was written into our marriage vows many years ago.  As a child, he was forced encouraged to work in the family garden daily, and to this day, hates gardening.  I can’t blame him, because I was forced invited along on many family berry-picking excursions and don’t like berry picking, either.  As my annual Mother’s Day gift, he spends several hours tilling until the soil is perfect.  At that point, the garden is mine….all mine.  This year I am trying garden paths and heavy mulch.  The paths are landscaping fabric secured with pegs and corrugated fiberglass roofing, left over from when we tore down the old screen house. The mulch is old straw from the bottomless pit of old straw…..the chicken coop.  It is not a pleasant job.  First, I shovel the stuff into a garbage can, then schlep it over to the wheelbarrow, which I (of course) can’t fit into the coop.  I then push this 500 pound wheelbarrow back to the garden and lay the mulch between the plants and the rows.  I have so far done this about a dozen  times and still have more in the coop and empty rows in the garden. You would think that with all this physical labor, I would weigh about 120 pounds, but not only do I NOT weigh 120 pounds, on warmer days I start to smell like a chicken coop. While I am outside battling weeds, the dust bunnies are inside, reproducing just as bunnies are known to do.  I’ll bet you didn’t know that dirty dishes reproduce even faster than dust bunnies. There is always a pile of them next to the kitchen sink.  I am fighting a losing battle, but I haven’t given up yet. I often tell people to “stop over anytime for coffee”, but I am going to give you one word of advice right now:  Don’t.  Either the dust bunnies will get you or you will be put to hard labor with a sink full of soapy water and a teetering mound of dirty dishes.  I know there are some of you out there who still manage to work full-time and have spotlessly clean homes and weed-free gardens.  Eeyore explained that pretty well, too:  “We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” Thanks, Eeyore.

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As a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I first read about the pie plant in her book The First Four Years, when she wrote about forgetting to put sugar in her pie.  I had no idea what a pie plant was until years later, when I learned it was rhubarb.  Rhubarb has always been one of my favorites, and when we were kids, we would sit on the back steps dipping stalks of rhubarb into little paper cups of sugar and eat until our bellies hurt.  Rhubarb doesn’t grow in Florida, but sometimes I would buy it in the grocery store just for old times sake. Yes, buy it.  I know you Minnesota people are shaking your heads wondering why anybody would ever pay for RHUBARB, but  I paid about $2.95/pound. That is a small price to pay to combat homesickness.   In Minnesota, almost every yard in the country, town, or city has a thriving rhubarb plant growing somewhere.  Nobody has to do much to it, because it just grows and grows and grows. Everyone cooks with it, freezes it, gives it away, then just ignores it until the next year because they are tired of it.  That is, everyone except me.  When we first moved to our little farm, I was excited to see a rhubarb patch in the front yard.  The rhubarb was pretty small, but I thought it was just early in the season, so I waited with eager anticipation.  It stayed small, with skinny, spindly stalks that weren’t worth harvesting.  The next year I dug up part of the patch and fertilized everything with compost and waited with eager anticipation. It stayed small and spindly. I sent off for new rhubarb roots, dug them in, fertilized them with compost and waited with eager anticipation. Even the new plants were  small with skinny, spindly stalks that went to seed about the time it came out of the ground.  This year, I have three different rhubarb patches, and I finally got a harvest.  I am very happy to report that I spent a little time peeling and chopping yesterday and got three cups. Well, almost three cups. Enough to make one cake. I know the rest of you have made pies, jam and sauce, plus have gallon bags of it in your freezer. Please don’t tell me about it because I feel bad enough already. I would feel even worse if the cake hadn’t turned out so well.  I thought I would pass along the recipe for those of you who have plenty of rhubarb. Be sure you have ice cream in the freezer so you don’t have to run out in your gardening clothes, only to find out that there are 17 people in the Bowstring Store when you thought you could slip in and out without being seen.  That’s another story altogether.

Oatmeal Rhubarb Cake

(A Farm Woman original recipe)

Cake:  1/4 cup butter, softened          1 cup sugar          2 eggs          2 tsp. pure vanilla          1/2 cup quick cooking oats

1 1/2 cups flour          2 tsp. cinnamon          1/2 tsp. allspice          1 tsp. cardamom (optional)          1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder          1 tsp. baking soda          3/4 cup milk          3 cups rhubarb, peeled and diced

Topping:  1/2 cup quick cooking oats          1/4 cup flour          1/4 cup butter, softened          2 tsp. cinnamon         

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped      1/4 tsp. salt            1/2 cup brown sugar 

Combine butter and sugar, mix until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute each.  Add vanilla.  Mix together dry ingredients, alternate adding milk and dry ingredients, mixing after each.  Fold in chopped rhubarb.   Pour into greased 13 x 9 inch pan.  Put topping ingredients in small bowl, mix with spoon until well combined. Sprinkle on top of batter in pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, done when a cake tester comes out clean.                  Serve warm with ice cream or cold as a snack cake.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


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Atta Girl

 My dad started building our cabin on Bello Lake in 1958, which was the year I was born.  Since he was a teacher and didn’t work summers, we spent the first summer of my life living in a tent on the beach while Dad worked on the cabin.  I probably started fishing off our dock about the time I started walking.  Sometimes my sister would fish with me, but I don’t think she liked it as much as I did.  She often gave up on the fishing to spend her time trying to catch frogs or minnows. The summer sun rises early in northern Minnesota and sometimes I was on the dock by 6:30, catching sunfish for breakfast. We fished with whole kernel corn, right from the can.  I don’t know why we used corn. Perhaps when we were younger, we needed help baiting our hooks and worms were dirty and wiggly. Perhaps the small nibbling sunfish couldn’t steal corn from a hook as easily as a worm.  Perhaps it was just because it worked, and many a meal was caught using no other bait.  Those idyllic summer days were often punctuated by the squeals and laughter of two little girls.  “Look, Dad! I caught a fish!”  He would often reply, “Atta girl, that’s a keeper!” He would say that even if the fish was small, and would make sure the young angler got that particular fish on her plate at dinnertime. Catching the fish yourself always made it taste better.   He taught us at a young age how to take our own fish off the line, which was something few girls did back in those days.  When company came, I had little patience for any squealing squeamish girl who was afraid to touch a worm or a fish.  Somehow, time has a way of marching on too quickly.  My sister and I are now middle-aged women and our children are grown.  We go to the cabin often, but it is much too quiet these days.  It seems like just yesterday, but my dad has been gone nearly 10 years. Surprisingly, his old fishing boat still runs well. My husband and I took it out on the lake today. He prefers bass or crappie fishing, but since I still go for the sunnies,  he pulled the boat closer to shore so I could catch a few.  A few raindrops started to fall, making circles upon  circles on the water, and we startled a great blue heron from her own fishing spot on a fallen tree hanging over the shallows.  It was early evening, the time when the noises of the north woods start to quiet down and the fish start to bite.  Perhaps it was only the birds calling to each other, but just for a moment as I looked toward the cabin, I thought I heard the laughter of two little girls. “Look Dad! I caught a fish!”  And quietly, quietly the wind whispered back: “Atta girl, that’s a keeper!”

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