Archive for October, 2013

Bittersweet is a vine that grows in Minnesota which every fall bursts into bright orange glorious berries, which are beautiful but poisonous.  Some species of the plant are considered noxious weeds which overpower even the largest pine.  Bittersweet also means taking the good along with the bad, or the happy along with the sad, and is exactly how I feel at the end of every fall when I am cleaning out my garden.  By the first part of August, I usually run out of both time and energy, and the weeds have pretty much taken over everything.  By mid-October, sporadic frost has usually killed off most of the plants, and my beautiful green garden, which just a month ago was punctuated by the bright orange of pumpkins and the red and yellow of the last of the tomatoes, has become a Halloween graveyard of sorts.   For those of you who live south of here, and that is just about everybody, this time of year might mean you are still enjoying fall. Here in the north, it could become winter at any moment, and we don’t want to be caught with our pants down or our tomato cages up.  As I pulled up dead plants and seemingly endless handfuls of weeds, I was surprised to find a few garden goodies which made for some good eating.  Those of you who keep a weed-free pristine garden will probably never be surprised by a handful of hardy yellow pear tomatoes that were safely cocooned within a tent of falling-down corn stalks.  Those of you who have the time and the inclination to pull up and toss your broccoli plants at the first signs of frost have never enjoyed their bright yellow flowers or tasted the tender new growth that the nip of frost only sweetens. The cabbages that were too tiny to bother with a month ago had a growth spurt and I can add them to the stockpile. (Garden journal note to self:  If you plan to make lots of sauerkraut and plant 25 cabbage plants,  FOLLOW THROUGH with said  plan, or your fridge and everyone else’s will smell like cabbage.)  I left the Brussels sprouts for the squirrels and mice, as they didn’t have the same growth spurt as their larger cousins.  Despite my friend’s suggestion of cutting the tiny little things off the stalks and serving them like peas, I thought that God’s little woodland creatures would relish them more than HIM, who would rather eat a bowl of steamed and seasoned golf balls than Brussels sprouts.  Not that I ever get them to grow that big. Most surprising to find were two large second-growth celery bunches, their leaves so large and bright green that I am surprised that I didn’t trip over them as I pulled up the last tomato cage.  They will play a starring role in tonight’s apple and cabbage salad. The last of the heirloom pole beans that I left on the vine to dry will be saved and replanted next spring, after a long winter of sitting by the fire, eating cabbage soup, stuffed cabbage, and coleslaw, and of course, planning next year’s garden.  I guess this Farm Woman life is more sweet than bittersweet after all.

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One of my prized possessions is a stereoscope, which is a picture and/or photograph viewer which was once owned by my great-great grandmother.  Although I never knew her, I can kind of imagine how she felt all those years ago, leaving her home country of Norway, leaving behind her parents, siblings, and friends. She came to a new country that perhaps wasn’t so strange to her, being of similar climate and topography, but she spoke no English when she moved to the melting pot of many cultures and languages that Minnesota became all those years ago.   My great-great grandfather probably made the wooden case that holds the stereoscope and two dozen cards that go with it.  I wondered if she sat quietly at her kitchen table as she looked at the same pictures over and over, although with ten children, cows to milk and bread to bake, there were probably not many quiet moments in her life.  I often wonder  if generations of children were allowed to touch the precious photographs of Norway, which come two to a card and when inserted into the viewer, give somewhat of a three-dimensional view through the stereoscope.  I wonder if she told them stories of her homeland and her ancestors and if she taught them her native language, or if she was  like her grandson, who grew up to be my grandfather, and wanted nothing to do with the “old ways”, wanting his own children to work hard, be proud Americans and speak English without an accent.  I wonder if she felt homesick as she told the stories of her homeland, and if she filled in the gaps with those pictures and colorful descriptions of places or people they would probably never see.   Those of us who have televisions, the internet, and Skype would certainly find it hard to imagine having a handful of stereoscope cards to view and a long wait for the mail to come with word from the home folks.  Although she lived to a ripe old age, neither her son nor her grandson did, and my father knew little more than that she existed.  I got to know a little of my great-great grandmother through genealogical research.   I found more of her descendants and got to visit the farm where she raised her children.  When the farm and its contents, which were still in the family, went up for auction, I lived many states away, but contacted someone who went to the auction in my behalf. I didn’t really care what they bid on, because whatever it was, it would be a little piece of her. For some strange reason, I felt like there was something missing, and having one of her possessions helped me fill the gap.  So, on behalf of The Minnesota Farm Woman, the daughter of Gilbert Alfred Quaal who was the son of Alfred Olaf Quaal who was the son of Andrew Peder Quaal who was the son of Anne Olsdatter Bye Quaal,  I would like to give a little advice:  1) Cherish your family and friends as if they were moving across the ocean tomorrow. 2) Be a proud and hard-working citizen of your country. 3) Tell the stories of your parents and grandparents, so they might be passed on for generations to come.  4) Make sure the stereoscope doesn’t get sold for $5.00 in the estate sale when you are gone. 5) Fill in the gaps the best way you know how.

#4 is for my daughter, who doesn’t like old things and “old ways”. I wonder where she got that from?


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Call them griddlecakes, flapjacks, or silver dollars, the pancake is a food item found in most cultures around the world.  My mom’s parents immigrated from Finland, but they were of Swedish descent and spoke Swedish.  I often wondered aloud why people who lived in Finland for many generations just didn’t call themselves Finns, but nobody ever answered me to my satisfaction, so I still wonder all these years later. Mom always made the best pancakes, and the ones she made most often were a nod to her Swedish heritage.  These thin, light-as-air circles of love were made many Sunday mornings and wherever we had company.  She sometimes had two pans going on the stove, but each pancake was made and served one at a time, and that’s how we ate them, everyone’s plate getting an equal turn.  I preferred a stack of them, and for that luxury, I had to either get up early, stay at the table after every one else was done, or make them myself. Although the pan was greased with a little butter, we always added more on top, plus a generous pouring of real maple syrup or canned wild blueberries. If anyone was in a hurry, one could be spread with butter, jam, and then rolled up for a portable breakfast.  Sometimes we would have Kropsua, or Finnish oven pancakes.  She didn’t make these quite as often, and I really don’t know why, as they are much less time-consuming and were also a family favorite.  Kropsua can be buttered and covered with syrup or strawberry jam,  but are also delicious with warm fruit poured over the top. At this time of year, apples cooked with cinnamon and nutmeg come to mind.

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 cup buttermilk          1 egg  (beaten)        1/2 tsp. baking soda          1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder          1 Tbs. sugar          3/4 to 1 cup flour

Mix the soda into the buttermilk. (It will bubble up, and this will give the pancakes their light texture.) Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the beaten egg and buttermilk mixture. Don’t overmix the batter. Grease a hot pan with butter and pour on about 1/2 cup batter per pancake.  Flip when bubbles form on top.  This recipe doubles easily, and sometimes I substitute whole wheat flour for part of the flour, but they won’t be quite as light.

Finnish Kropsua (Oven Pancake)

3 eggs          2 cups milk          1/2 cup sugar          1 1/4 cup flour          1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Melt 4 Tbs. butter in a 13 x 9 pan in the oven, then swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Beat the rest of the ingredients together and pour slowly into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes.


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