My mother hated the wind. As I sat in my morning chair listening to the wind constantly blowing (since around April 12), I could see why.
The moisture was very welcome, and we did not have any snow this past weekend, but we received an inch of precious water, served up with wind. I can relate to why my mom hated the wind after listening to the ominous sounds of our house attempting to stand against the gale force of the north winds. Not to mention our high tunnels.
As much as I love the stillness we experience each August, the wind never bothers me as much. I used to tell my two children to go outside and let the wind blow the stink off them when they were ornery. However, enough is enough already; I have spring work outdoors.
When I come indoors and say, "It's so beautiful outside today." That comment has little to do with the temperature. I realized that the wind wasn't blowing on those "nice" days. And there's no such thing as a breeze in this state.
Mom grew up in the Depression. I did a little research and found this information, "The Great Depression of the 1930s coincided with a long, intense drought in the Great Plains. Most of North Dakota suffered serious drought during the 1930s. When a little rain came along, it was often not enough to make up for the many months of drought that came before the rain. Crops dried up, and hay would not grow. Some farmers made hay with thistle to feed their cattle even though cattle won't eat thistle unless they are very hungry. Because there was no rain to wash away the grasshopper eggs, many farm crops were completely destroyed by clouds of grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were so hungry that they ate brooms and clothes on the clothesline once they had finished with the crops." (SOURCE: The Great Depression - North Dakota Studies. https://www.ndstudies.gov/gr8)
I asked my mom about those days. She said, "I remember one dust storm. It was awful, it just . . . It was all black. Coming right at us. And then Alma (her sister) and I started crying because we were -- we must have been pretty little, so they made us sit underneath the window so we wouldn't see the dirt and dust storm. Then they went, and they stuck towels under the doors so it wouldn't bring too much dust in and on the windowsills. I don't know how long it lasted; that I can't tell you, and I don't know where the guys were, they must have been in the barn or something, but the younger ones were all at the house, they ran for the house when they saw that dirt coming. But that was horrible I can still see it. It's black."
That doggone wind also robs us of some of that God-given moisture as it dries it up when it sweeps across the prairie. Don't get me wrong; I'm so thankful for the snow and rain. I can see the grass coming to life in the front yard. The nighttime temperatures will be rising this upcoming week and hopefully we will be able to see the garden and move my transplants to the greenhouse without the danger of freezing my hard work of the past two months. We all know the North Dakota weather saying, "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes; it will change." Here's to change.
PS: Here is the original quote from Mark Twain: "If you don't like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes." And you thought we made that up.
I have fond memories of the Blizzard of ’66. No school for three days and afterwards so much snow and so little time. We hollowed out tunnels to slide from the top to the bottom. You can see the drifts in Fredonia were up to the roofs in many areas. The tiny figures at the peak are my sister and me.
I'm positive the topic of everyone's day is "blizzard." It's been on my mind. I admit, though, I love a good blizzard; however, it bothers me that it's so light out. You can't escape the light. The day begins at 6 a.m. and ends around 10 p.m. There's something unnatural about all the carefully sculpted snowdrifts and the light. At night, the beautiful full Pink Moon reflects brightly into our bedroom. There's too much light for snow. It should be spring.
My plants know it. They want out. But, my greenhouse is a bit leaky. It was built from found objects beginning with our old houseboat. We repurposed old windows from the Mandan Beanery, and added a free greenhouse furnace from my daughter's garage sale treks, a potting table, bin and tools from the Wheelers when they moved to a smaller house, and a compost bin from my friend Jess Toman. That's just naming a few of the folks who have assisted us in building up our farm.
My husband did the bulk of the work with the help of various volunteers, as covering a 96 by 120-foot-high tunnel cannot be accomplished with two old folks on ladders.
It's April, and like we always do, we filled the propane tank. The seedlings have developed strong roots and healthy leaves this time of year and beg to go outdoors. The recent snow would be fine, but between the wind and the cold, I cannot lose my livelihood to a window blowing out or the furnace pilot light blowing out.
There are drifts as high as the deer fence over my garlic. I can hear it screaming to be uncovered to take advantage of the sun and additional moisture. Alas, that's not going to happen for some time if the weather reports are accurate.
Since I'm not driving to town to work anymore, I thought I would get ahead of the game and plant some Chinese cabbage and my favorite "trout romaine" lettuce. It's in the high tunnel and has a row cover plus some plastic over the top, but I fear it had not enough time to establish a root system before the 0-degrees nighttime lows.
Sigh – "This is the way."
The traits of a farmer most certainly include being an optimist with outstanding patience and plenty of faith. Mostly it's like gambling. You place your bets on specific crops and play the odds against Mother Nature every year. Usually, the rewards are not where you thought they would be.
Snow rewards, although, were the much-needed moisture and grandma time. The children made it out for Easter dinner despite the white-out conditions at 5 a.m. Sunday. After dinner and Easter candy, we dressed in our snow pants and mittens and headed outdoors. It was only my son and three grandchildren. After a bit, my son went back indoors and there I was with the three youngsters. With only one sled to share, there was time to make snow angels, build a snow tower and throw snowballs at the hole where a beaver had decided to make his home in our irrigation ditch.
That's a story for another time.
It was the best Easter encouraging my grandchildren to live a little in the great outdoors by venturing a bit too close to the not-frozen ice to retrieve the sled whipped by the wind into the ditch. Oliver decided I needed help and ran to the house searching for a rescue team because grandma was in the water. If it had been one of them, I would have been banned from grandma-hood forever, sometimes too adventurous for today's parents. Grandma was rescued, the sled was saved, and so was the day. The "Best Easter Day" ever.
My cousin Marion asked me to help with kuchen for her daughter's wedding more than a few years ago. Most German-Russian weddings serve kuchen. Somehow, I remember kuchen being a spring dessert prepared especially for Easter; and one year, my birthday.
It's spring. Here's hoping everyone is home safe and baking for Easter dinner. Of course, if we are in the middle of a blizzard this week – oh well, we need the moisture. So let's talk about the ultimate spring dessert – kuchen.
Kuchen seems to be a famous mystery to most folks. They love it and want to learn how to make it or, better yet, have someone make it for them. It's not that difficult. Of course, the folks on The Great British Baking show do talk about the difficulties of Crème Pat. I experimented with puff pastry during Covid lockdown and realized that I have been making Crème Pat since birth (almost). Kuchen custard is the same recipe except for vanilla. Oh, and, so we are on the same page, my kuchen recipe is Protestant, the raised kind. If you are German, you know what I mean.
Kuchen is for spring. I imagine that after a long winter, the cows freshen, the chickens begin laying with the longer daylight hours, and everyone is ready for Easter. I was born on a Good Friday, so my birthday was close to Easter for many years. And, I loved kuchen.
One year my mother asked me what I would like for my birthday. I must have been around six or 7-years old. "I want my very own prune kuchen," I said; and received my wish.
Prune? That's correct. If you are a true German-Russian lover of kuchen, you know that prune kuchen is the original flavor. Most people wrinkle their noses at prunes and associate them with, well, you know what. However, prunes are merely dried plums, sweet and delicious and the perfect non-juicy topping for kuchen.
Every year about this time, I make kuchen. It freezes well, but I genuinely love it right out of the oven. My recipe makes 12 kuchen. If we are not hosting Easter dinner, I drive around and drop them off at all the children's houses and this year, I donated some to the church bake sale, so I wouldn't have to eat it all myself.
I saved one prune for Sunday dinner. My kuchen has always been a source of pride, and I have heard some comments from German ladies such as, "this is the best kuchen I have ever eaten." My grandfather even told my mom that my kuchen was good. Coming from German-Russians, those are quite the compliments. Mainly because it is my Mom's Mom's recipe. When I teach kuchen classes, I include my grandmother's name, Gramma Emma, in the title.
It used to be that I would not share my grandmother's recipe with anyone. One day, I realized that she might be disappointed in my selfishness. So to honor her, I submitted it to the Ewiger Saatz and Gutes Essen cookbooks, which wasn't hard since I wrote the copy and edited both. And, yes, I would share it here, but I am out of room for this week. If you ask, I will email it to you. Now, it's off to the kitchen to make my traditional "kase knephla" in preparation for Easter dinner. I'm so happy to be hosting this year for the first time in years. So, in addition to the kuchen, we must have traditional German-Russian foods.
I do hope you have a blessed Easter with your family.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.