Posts Tagged ‘the mn farm woman’

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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My great-grandparents, Andrew and Christine Quaal were among the first settlers in Forbes, Minnesota in 1893.   They were farmers, owned the general store and raised six children. Christine was also the local midwife and helped the immigrants with their English.  I like to call her the original Minnesota Farm Woman.  When telephone service came to the area about 1915, I’m sure there was plenty of excitement throughout the small farming community. Telephones would open up their little corner of northern Minnesota to the world. Grandma and Grandpa were instrumental in getting the service to Forbes, and kept the switchboard in their home.  Those of us who carry cell phones in our back pockets and purses perhaps don’t understand just how a telephone switchboard works, so let me see if I can explain it:  Ole wants to call Lena.  In order to do this, Ole must turn the crank on his telephone, which rings into Grandma’s house. Ole tells Grandma that he wants to talk to Lena, and Grandma plugs the wire into the jack, flipping a switch to make the connection. Being an operator would mean that Grandma must not have left the house very often, because someone always had to be there for the calls to go through.  Since she ran the switchboard for 40 years, she must have liked her job, too.  Grandma did manage to have a social life, however. She had people come in to watch the switchboard when she went to church,  Lutheran Ladies’ Aid meetings, or funerals.  Plenty of folks came to visit her at the farm for coffee and cookies and probably a little old-fashioned gossip. Grandma had the coffee pot going on the stove all the time, the good strong Scandinavian-type of coffee that can warm the belly on the coldest winter day and probably put hair on your chest if you drink more than two cups. Family lore has it that the coffee grounds weren’t changed all that often, but when they were, the used grounds were spread around the rose bushes along with buttermilk left over from the churning.  Those two ingredients were the secret to the prettiest flowers around, according to my father.  The part about the gossip is something I made up, though. Grandpa died in 1929 and Grandma died in 1966 when she was 93 and I was eight, so I don’t remember a lot about her.  I was recently stopped by someone who recognized Grandma’s  picture, which is the same old photograph that  I use for The Minnesota Farm Woman column in the paper and on my web site.   She recognized Christine as the lady that everyone in Forbes called “Grandma Quaal” and had a story that her own grandmother told her:  My great-grandmother, pillar of  society, midwife, business owner and churchgoer would listen in on everyone’s telephone conversations!  How did they know for sure?  Grandma had a cuckoo clock which rang on the quarter-hour, and that gave away her secret. We all had a good laugh over that one, but I tend to stick up for Grandma, since I was named for her.  What harm is listening in along with a little strong coffee and mild gossip to pass the time during the long Minnesota winters?  I watch Desperate Housewives myself so perhaps Grandma came up with her own version, Forbes Farmwives. A little Farm Woman advice is always forthcoming, though. 1) Don’t switch to mild coffee and strong gossip, as neither one is worth the trouble.  2) Never ask for a third cup of that Scandinavian brew or you really might grow hair on your chest. 3) Between you, me, and the cuckoo clock, watch what you say because you just never know who might be listening.

After the Forbes Rural Telephone Company was dissolved, the switchboard was sent to the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. It isn’t on display anymore, so it is probably in an attic somewhere, gathering dust.

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The country store is fast becoming a thing of the past. Gone are the days of old men playing checkers on the front porch, sipping 10-cent bottles of pop.  Gone are the days of farm children riding their bikes down dusty roads, change tucked safely in the pockets of their overalls for penny candy or a pickle from the barrel. Urban areas are spreading, supercenter stores sell cheaper, foreign-made goods and people stop in town for what they need on their way home from work. There are fewer farms and families are a lot smaller these days.  I grew up as a Town Girl and spent my young adulthood as a City Woman with a convenience store/gas station on every corner, so I never had the experience of living close to a real country store until I moved 16 miles from the nearest grocery store.  I’m not sure how my publisher will feel about me naming names, lest it be considered shameless advertising, so let’s just say that MY country store is located somewhere in the vicinity of Bowstring, Minnesota. The local men meet there every morning for coffee and gossip conversation. Since I know for certain that there are a couple of them who are younger than I am, I dare not compare them to the old men sitting around a checkerboard.  You would think a small country store would only carry a few convenience items and lottery tickets,  but I am always surprised at what they do have.  Old fashioned flypaper so I don’t have to spray insecticide in my chicken coop? Yep. Hooks and eyes for a barn door that won’t stay closed? That too, along with bait, tackle, hardware, wild bird food, groceries and sweatshirts for those vacationers that don’t realize that it can get mighty chilly here in middle of July. When I wanted to know what spices to use when canning venison, that’s where I went for advice.  They know where the fish are biting, what kind of bait to use, who shot the biggest buck and which neighbor has been sick.  The back of the door has hand written and computer-printed notices and items for sale. There is probably little profit in the gasoline that is sold there, but I know they have been awakened at midnight more than once to fill an empty tank. They don’t have everything, though. When my friend stopped in to buy nutmeg to finish a recipe, they didn’t have it. Not to worry, though, the owner just opened the connecting door to her house and gave her the bottle out of her own spice rack.  “Just drop it off next time you stop in,” she said.  That, my friends, is something that no supercenter store will ever give you:  Friendship, neighborliness, a sense of community and that warm comforting feeling of being home.

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I have a new phone. It is one of the “smart” types of phones, and it is much, much smarter than I am.  For those of you who get the latest and greatest gadgets every year, this is no big deal. For those of you who know me and how frugal and non-technical I am, you understand that this IS a big deal. Recent technological advances in both phones and cell towers around rural northern Minnesota now allow me to actually use a cell phone and get decent reception without leaning over the east corner of the deck holding the phone up high and waving it  around to get more than two bars. Thanks to those of you who honked and waved back. This really is a friendly neighborhood.   Phones are now mini-computers. One can talk, take photographs, watch movies and play games on a device small enough to slip into your pocket.  Some people can do all of these at the same time. This technology is totally amazing to me, who  grew up in the 70’s in a small town. Phones had cords and computers took up whole rooms at NASA headquarters in Cocoa Beach, where genies came out of bottles and were named Jeannie.  When the weather was nice kids played outside. Period. No exceptions, unless you were running a temperature.   When someone said  “your mom is calling you,” it didn’t mean to answer your cell phone. It meant she was hollering out the back door and telling you it was time for supper…..and you’d better not be late, either.  These days, if the errant kid doesn’t show up, Mom can push the “Family Locater” button on her phone and find him by GPS. That button would probably have gotten more than a few teenagers in trouble when I was growing up. (Not me, Mom!) I am now texting, too, which is something that I said I would NEVER do.  I’m eating….er, typing my words now, that’s for sure.  Texting can be difficult for those of us who need bifocals, as you have to hold the phone back a little in order to see it and the letters on the tiny little phone keyboard are in a slightly different order than a regular keyboard. Whose bright idea was it to change that? My texts always seem to contain misspellings and oddly placed letters, which can drive a [erfection(st lke me craxy. Younger, more agile  texters have their own language now, done in abbreviations, such as NOOb, which means “newbie”, (that’s me), or B9, which means “boss is watching”.  Learning another language, especially one using symbols, is just too much for a middle-aged Farm Woman. I will stick with regular words for now,  with a few exceptions: B4N (bye for now),  hoping the MFW hlps U to ROFL (roll on the floor laughing) or at least LOL. (laugh out loud). CUL8RG8R. (see you later, alligator).

This column is dedicated today to the memory of Steve Jobs, an ordinary man with an extraordinary vision that reached far beyond the wild blue yonder.

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