My garden is primarily weed-free these days, and farmers markets do not officially begin until July 1. This leaves one week of "the calm before the storm." Summer gets busy with baking, canning, harvesting and spending one or two mornings a week at the market.
I am looking forward to seeing all my old friends and making a few new ones. So here I am, contemplating life in general.
As my years pile up beside the aches and pains in my joints, I think to myself, "Wow, life is so very different from when I was growing up," sometimes, I wish I could spend one day as a child. On that day, I would walk through the tall prairie grass inhaling the scent of wildflowers and enjoying the sun on my face. I would also ask my parents and grandparents some questions about their lives. They might not answer them, but I am hoping they would.
I ponder the change in our lives. We were free to roam the small towns of Fredonia and Gackle. Our parents wanted us out of their hair and only required our appearance at mealtime or for chores. We played with found objects and our imagination, climbed trees and inspected every living creature we encountered with curiosity and awe.
Life is so very different today. That got me thinking about whether my parents and grandparents found themselves thinking about that very same statement and frequently exclaiming how things were so different when they were growing up. As you know, if you are of my generation, we are starting to repeat ourselves in the course of a conversation.
My mom passed away five years ago in October, but my dad celebrated his 94th trip around the sun on June 23.
Being a journalist by trade, I decided to discover what transpired in his years on this planet. First off, he grew up on a farm around Wishek and never lived outside of North Dakota. He was born on Thursday, June 23, 1927. No doubt my grandmother did not take any maternity leave before attending to the daily chores of farm life. Probably that very same afternoon.
On June 13, 1927, Aviator Charles Lindbergh attended a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue in New York City after becoming the first person to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in his monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis.
On June 26 of that year, the Cyclone roller coaster opens on Coney Island. And, on June 29, the '" Bird of Paradise" aircraft, a U.S. Army Air Corps Fokker tri-motor, completes the first transpacific flight from the mainland United States to Hawaii.
My dad was born one year before Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered mold on his bread and extracted penicillin to save the world from life-threatening infections.
Believe it or not, television was invented in 1927 by Philo Farnsworth. Before this time, the only modes of communication were letters or transistor radios. My dad regularly watches us on Facebook and carries a cell phone with text messaging. Can you imagine that? The change from party line telephones, or no telephone at all, to having one in a pocket?
I suppose that televisions were not very useful when he was a child because the farm had no electricity. In the 1930s, cooperatives applied for loans from the Rural Electronification Administration to bring electricity to rural areas. The cost to sign up was $5, and the monthly fee was $3.50. That must have been quite a decision to make following the Great Depression. It wasn't until sometime in the late 40s and 50s that many farm families in North Dakota were allowed to take advantage of this work-saving wonder.
These are only a few things that have changed the way we lived our lives since my father was born. When I marvel at how life has changed, I can only imagine how he feels living in a three-room apartment in an assisted living facility. And, being the second to the oldest sibling in his family, watching the others pass before him has got to be difficult. He lost a younger brother only about a week ago. If I counted correctly, the tables are tipping. If I counted correctly, I lost 15 aunts and uncles but have 16 remaining, plus my dad. Two in my favor the way I see it.
They all grew up on the farm and are all too aware of the cycle of life. Planting brings life; harvesting is the reward; seeds remain, and life goes on. You can't do anything about it except to choose to be happy.
LEt's end our contemplation on a positive note. You can reuse your 1927 calendar for the year 2022 as both calendars will be the same except the dates for Easter and other irregular holidays based on a lunisolar calendar.
Oh, wait, I forgot – one more important thing happened on the very day of my dad's birthday. My best friend from college, and to this day, thanks to technological advances, Karen Benson McMahon shares that very same birthday. That way, it's easy to remember to send her a card.
Yeah, you can wish Happy Birthday on Facebook, but there's no replacing that archaic method of communication, a card in the mail. Here's to another birthday for all of us.
More common than Big Foot sightings in North Dakota are Gardener sightings. Not gardeners, but Gardeners, with a capital G. There's a difference.
It's not that people are deliberately hunting for Gardeners with binoculars or digital cameras for scrapbooking. Still, you might just run across one in a crowd, and you need to be able to identify a true "Gardener." Here's how.
There are many ways to identify Gardeners versus gardeners. It's like observing the male species of songbirds, colorful and noticeable, instead of the more subdued color of females. Just saying that gardeners blend in a wee bit more with the landscape than Gardeners do.
If someone says, "I planted tomatoes, but my chickens scratched them out of the ground." Pass them by. If you hear someone say, "I can't grow radishes." Turn around and look elsewhere. Besides comments like these, if a gardener plants in the spring and harvests nothing in the fall because they were too busy boating or something, yeah – sorry.
Here's how to tell a Gardener, remembering you can't tell them much.
Real Gardeners do not have green thumbs. Most of us do have cracks in our hands that fill with soil. Over time those cracks deepen, and who knows what insects or nematodes live in there. On a side note, there are many beneficial minerals in the soil absorbed through our hardworking hands. Forget about manicures; Gardeners' nails are clipped short and unpolished not to attract too much attention.
Gardeners can often be seen at the crack of dawn in PJ's or robes with a hose in our hand watering flower beds or small gardens. If you notice a robe hanging on a hook with a visible watermark around the hem, you have found a Gardener.
Another sign are jeans with slightly darkened knees. That’s because we can’t wash all that soil out of those pants which are commonly worn when down on our hands and knees pulling weeds from rows of tiny plants. Far be it for us to hold off weeding cause we got our dress jeans on.
And speaking of dress clothes, have you ever observed someone in dress clothes weeding the flowerpots in front of a hotel? Your first thought might be the hotel hires the best-dressed groundskeeper in the whole country. NOPE, that's a Gardener. Somehow weeds, even those that do not belong to them, compels a Gardener to assist in pulling them out so the flowers can live.
Instead of sporting a sleeve tattoo, Gardener's arms are a lovely tan color. Well, tan until your reach the middle of the bicep – aka farmer tan. As we age, blemishes and scratches create the unusual roadmap of years pruning gooseberries or repair irrigation lines.
Only a true Gardener will pay $4 for a package of 25 tomato seed, start them indoors in March, plant outside in May, water, weed and fertilize for two months to taste that first red fruit; but won't pay a penny for a grocery store tomato in winter.
Gardeners have sheds of tools, an abundance of zombie-killing tools such as pitchforks, rakes, serrated trowels, hoes, etc.
Most of us make no plans for Memorial Day weekend because
a. either you didn't put your whole garden in yet and the danger of frost in North Dakota has finally passed (we hope) or,
b. you lost some stuff to that last sneaky May Freeze, and you happen to have some extra tomato plants and cucumber seeds and need to get them in the ground.
Gardeners are a competitive bunch. If you overhear someone talking about a better method to mulch at church on a Sunday morning or bragging about the size of their radishes harvested before Memorial Day weekend, that's a Gardener talking. Always looking for a better method of growing the largest first crops of the seasons, a Gardener is always happy to share their latest "discovery."
Finally, Gardeners are daredevils when it comes to selecting seeds. They will go to great lengths to find vintage seed packets, heirloom varieties and seeds from other continents to try. Then they plant in good faith and hope for the coming harvest. In the end, all Gardeners realize there will come a time in their life when they too will be scoured by winter's wind and buried in the soil with the hope their life-long work will sprout some new variety of "Gardener."
Gardeners of a particular era will remember pulling a carrot out of the ground, wiping it across their pant leg and enjoying the crunch of the first carrot harvest of the season. Carrots are easy to grow and are the very last crop we pull from our garden in the fall.
There are climates warm enough to store carrots in the ground all winter, but my spouse made me promise never to do that again. He said it wasn't effortless chopping them out of the frozen North Dakota soil.
When people tell me they have no luck with carrots, I can safely assume a few things they are doing incorrectly. First, germination of those tiny seeds takes a little doing, and second, you must thin them early, so they have more room to grow.
Today's carrot is a relative of wild Queen's Anne lace, and that is apparent if you have ever forgotten to dig out a carrot and it goes to seed. Carrots are biennial vegetables and do not produce seeds the first year. However, if you leave that carrot in the ground and it does go to seed, lookout – you will have rogue carrots everywhere.
Before we plant those lovely carrots, we should choose a variety. And there are many varieties of carrots, each with its own set of healthy vitamins. Orange carrots are considered the most healthy because of alpha and beta carotene, which gives them the orange color. Before cultivated garden carrots were available, a wide array of colors grew in the wild – white, red, yellow and purple.
I love purple carrots, and two of my favorites are Purple Haze or Cosmic Purple, as they are purple through and through. Some carrots only have purple skin that turns orange when heated.
Carrots need well-worked light soil to grow correctly. If your carrots have "legs," your soil is too hard, impenetrable by the root, so it begins to grow in any direction it can. There's nothing wrong with these vegetables, but cleaning takes longer.
Carrots also don't mind a little cold weather and can be planted three weeks before the last frost and harvested after a fall freeze, or in our case, that October blizzard.
Now about planting those tiny seeds. First, wet your furrow well. The moisture will keep those seeds on the ground until you get them covered before our famous North Dakota wind carries them to South Dakota. If you are covering your rows with soil, make sure it is not too deep. Rather than bury my carrot seeds, I use some well-dried and chemical-free grass clippings to cover the rows. This keeps them moist until they germinate, and you can remove the grass when seedlings are an inch or taller.
Since I love to experiment, which is how gardening works – whatever works for you is the correct way. Someone posted a video on a Facebook group about gel-planting carrots. It sounded ingenious, and I thought I would try it myself.
Soak your carrot seed in water until you can see at least one seed germinate. This will not happen overnight, so plan. Using one tablespoon of cornstarch to one cup of water, cook until thick – you know, as in gravy. Allow to cool. Then drain the water off the carrot seed, mix with the gel in a heavy zip-lock bag and cut off the tip. Pipe the ingredients into the furrow. The seed flows out fairly evenly, and the gel will keep it moist until it settles in. Okay, so I didn't have much luck with the bag; I found a squeeze bottle for frosting, cut the tip a little bigger and like mustard on a hot dog bun, I spread those carrot seeds.
It was so much fun.
After those babies germinate and stabilize, they need room to grow. Thinning row crops was such a painful lesson to learn when I began gardening independently, but it is the key to good-sized beets, radishes and carrots. Using manicure scissors, I get down to their level and clip out every other plant. This accomplishes thinning without disturbing the soil and uprooting the ones you are expecting to produce. It also makes some people crazy, lying in the garden like that.
If you garden in a box, select a short fat carrot variety like Scarlet Nantes. Most of those boxes, the ones on the legs, are not too deep. And, go ahead and do it; it's not too late to plant carrots. My mother used to plant her entire garden at the end of May, and everything produced just fine.
Live a little and try planting a package of rainbow-colored carrots this year. Eat them along the way, but if you wait until after the first good frost to harvest the bulk of them, the flavor will be sweeter. In the fall, we will talk about recipes and storage for your colored carrot crop.
Rhubarb is a North Dakota thing. I've traveled across the country in my early years as an artist and met so many people that had no idea what rhubarb pie tasted like. I heard it was sometimes called "truckers pie," but how could you not know about this delightful vegetable?
That is correct; rhubarb is not a fruit but rather a vegetable. If you visit any old farmsteads in this state, you will most likely see that if nothing else survived abandonment, the rhubarb did.
As children, we played under the canopy of enormous rhubarb stalks. My mother was a master at making rhubarb everything in the spring to use its prolific green stalks. Since that time, I have learned that the red stalks, as in Canada Red Rhubarb, are sweeter. But I think it's the color that makes me gravitate towards that variety. When you make strawberry rhubarb jam, the color of the red rhubarb enhances the overall color of the jam. As you know, rhubarb sauce made from the green variety turns a dull color when cooked. But who's looking if it tastes good?
Varieties of rhubarb were discovered in ancient China. It was used for medicinal purposes during the plague and given as gifts to the king. Many historical events surrounding ancient Chinese rhubarb can be found at: http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/rhubarb-history.html.
So how did it get to North Dakota?
According to the website for the "Rhubarb Capitol of the World" in Sumner, Wash., rhubarb was smuggled to Seattle in 1893 by Adam Knoblauch from Eastern Europe. There's a complete recounting of the growth of rhubarb production in Washington at the website: http://www.ci.sumner.wa.us/Rhubarb/History.htm.
Another theory is the German people tasted rhubarb while in China, and as they say, the rest is history. If the Germans loved rhubarb, they undoubtedly brought it with them to North Dakota when they settled in the state.
Rhubarb, and Germans, are cold hardy making it a perfect plant for our 3a and 3b northern part of the state and the more fortunate gardeners in 4a and 4b.
Rhubarb is usually the first edible perennial to appear in the spring and produces until temperatures reach 90 degrees in the summer before going dormant.
The large-leafed plants will thrive in well-drained soil of almost any type but prefer organic matter in slightly acid soil. Fertilize new growth in the spring with either a commercial mix or well-aged manure.
The best way to grow your own is to find someone to share their old rhubarb cuttings. If you cannot obtain cuttings from your friends or relatives, you can purchase plant roots. It takes too long to grow healthy rhubarb from seed, so it is not recommended for the home gardener.
Space the root cuttings two feet apart if you need more rhubarb than one plant can provide. Once established, it is a prolific producer and will continue to grow new stalks until it becomes too hot. Continually pulling the seed head that grows from the middle will keep your plant producing until it gets too hot.
Usually, one or two roots will provide enough rhubarb to eat fresh and freeze for winter. Do not pick the first year's crop; the roots need those leaves to become established. As your plant becomes larger and the roots more crowded, you can easily separate and share the cuttings or start new areas.
In addition to being easy to grow, studies show that rhubarb has anti-cancer properties and, when eaten fresh, is a good source of fiber. The acid in a cold piece of fresh rhubarb can counterbalance stomach acid. Some also believe that rhubarb extract can alleviate hot flashes.
This excellent plant also has anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties, which would explain why the Chinese valued this fruit for treating almost anything that ails
However, there is a toxic chemical in the leaves, so you do not want your animals or children to ingest them. They do, however, work very well for concrete birdbaths and other fun art projects.
Around here, we love rhubarb pie made in a fashion similar to apple with fresh fruit, sugar and cinnamon.
If you prefer a custard-type rhubarb pie, here is an alternate recipe from my mother. She used to make pies, juice, jellies and more from her rhubarb patch that may very well still be growing in the lot of our former family home in Fredonia.
Rhubarb Pie Filling
My mom, Lorraine Meidinger Kaseman's recipe
2 cups cubed rhubarb
1 ½ cups fine bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups sugar
Brown bread crumbs in butter, add beaten eggs and sugar, mix with rhubarb and pour into 9-inch pie crust. Bake at 425-degrees until firm.
Here’s my brother, Curt, a master woodworker, cook and now violinist. He taught himself how to play watching YouTube videos during the quarantine.
"There are 24 useful hours in a day to do things." My son said that at least twice on Sunday as we drove to Jamestown for an early Easter dinner.
It was amazing. Chicken and dumplings, gravy, mashed potatoes, green fluff and kuchen. Fit for a king, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law. It was the first time we could visit my father, who lives in the Heritage Centre, just one block north of my brother's house.
Naturally, there were no hugs, and face masks were only mandatory at the assisted living place. We were comfortable but a little guarded about the whole thing even though nearly everyone there had had two injections already.
So, back to the 24-hours-day.
Before we sat down to eat, I came out of the bathroom to see my brother playing a tune on an old violin. I was shocked.
First, the violin was left in the attic of our old house in Gackle by the former owners. We moved in sometime in the late 60s. The attic in the old Lehr house was almost larger than the second story, an apartment. You see, in the old times, those large two and three-story homes were meant to house the young family on the main floor and while aging parents eventually moved up a story and up another story to be close to relatives that took care of them.
This I know because I rented the third story of a large blue house in Fargo, just off Broadway Avenue. I loved it. The sun is shinier way up above the treetops.
The attic of the old two-story in Gackle wrapped around the outside of the house; it was stocked with curiosities and things we were not supposed to touch. But we snooped anyway.
The old violin rested on a dusty shelf protected by a very worn velvet-lined case for all the years I lived there. When my parents moved to a smaller place in Jamestown closer to doctors and grocery stores, they could only take a select number of items with them.
The rest of their lifetime collection of "stuff" disappeared as most of our things eventually. It makes me wonder why we keep so many things?
Then, my younger brother, a twin, never played an instrument in his life. At least not that I am aware of.
Not that we don't come from a musical family. My grandfather could play nearly any available instrument you put in his hand. There was an old pump organ in the farmhouse's back room, which one of my cousins currently houses and maybe even plays. My uncle, Ellon, was the go-to accordion player for most of his life in Wishek. I have a whole family of cousins that live near Medina that sing and play guitars and pianos. One of my cousin's sons, Mark, sang at his step-father's funeral. It was beautiful.
So, it's not that we don't have some musical talent in the family, but this…
It was so unexpected.
"Is that the old violin from the house?"
"Yes, it is."
"Did you have someone refinish it?"
"No, I did it myself."
"Did you take lessons from someone."
"No, I watched some You-Tube videos."
Well, that explains it. My son, my brother, our mother, all display the same need to create 24-hours-a-day. Our family DNA has provided us with the unique talent to pick something up easily by watching YouTube videos.
Okay, back in my early years (and my mother's later years), we read books to learn how to do things.
We continue to learn, or instead teach ourselves, how to do things. And we do new things all the time.
Case in point. When we arrived back in Bismarck, after we dropped off our son and his son, he went to work recreating a window cling for a friend and me. When he sent me the photo of his latest creation, the accompanying text read: "Like I said. There's 24 useful hours in a day. Made two, as per your request."
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
What did you learn how to do over the COVID quarantine?
March in the rearview mirror means I just made another trip around the sun. According to Facebook, this marked day was a milestone in my life’s journey. But, like Mae West said, “It’s mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Remember the poem “When I am an Old Woman?” If not, as in if you are too young, you can find both the poem and the backstory https://laterbloomer.com/jenny-joseph/.
At one time, that poem made the rounds at the art fair circuit, around the late 80's and early 90's. After that, the Red Hat Society was formed and well, the rest is history. Now that I think about it, I don’t see too many purple dresses and red hats at lunches anymore.
However, NOW, that I am an old woman I am finally giving up wearing purple. The color doesn't suit me as well as red and orange. You may have deduced that as I am an Aries – a fire sign.
But soon I will not care about what color to wear. My uniform will be baggy work trousers without a matching shirt. There will be stains on the bottom of that tee shirt from carrying unwashed vegetables from the garden to the house. The hem on my pants will be worn and thready, but if need be, I can roll them up to my knees, but not past, since I might have to garden on my knees and need the protection. Shoes are optional.
I will rarely comb my hair and allow the wind to style it in waves and tangles. Someday you may find a ladybug, or two, sunning themselves on the twigs that wind their way through the curls. The curls, of course, becoming curlier from the sweat on hot summer days or on the rare occasion when it's going to rain. I wish it would rain. I will love the rain and will stand in it with welcoming arms and with prayers of thanks for thunder and lightning and precious water to nourish my tomatoes.
Oh yes, now that I am an old woman, my desire is to drive less, and walk more. Stay out of closed rooms and work outdoors. Eat all the fresh bread and butter and vegetables that I can. Order my toilet paper online and hand the UPS driver a fresh-baked cookie when he or she delivers my box.
My grandchildren will come out to visit me as often as they can and lift heavy bags for me because both Grandpa JC and Grandma Sue BB have to start thinking about avoiding lifting. You know you have to watch your back when you are an old woman, never letting that stop you from pulling those weeds or thinning those carrots. There’s no shame in getting down on your knees in the fresh moist soil and communing with the precious earthworms and insects that keep that soil alive.
I will daily say my prayers and listen for the sound of God the Father, Son and especially the Holy Ghost, in the wind and every living thing that crosses my path. In the morning I will stretch like Walter, our cat, and give thanks for the sun. In the evening I will watch the moon rise and give thanks again.
If I have time, I will continue to write my memoirs and tell a story that can only be told by me. If you are my friend, expect a card or letter in the mail someday because hand written notes are still the best.
So, now that I am an old woman and can say whatever I want, I will begin by thanking you for all the birthday wishes and cards.
You may have heard about the 100-mile diet craze of about 10 years ago. Maybe it was 15. Anyhow, that's about the time I got involved in the local foods movement through the ND Department of Ag. Before that time, I was doing what my mom always did – feeding my family the way food was meant to be enjoyed, locally.
I learned in the 1970s, my high school years, a typical roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes and carrots were produced no farther than 70 miles from the plate.
Things changed considerably, and I had no idea until I began my local food systems work. Former Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson said to my supervisor Chuck Fleming after my very first formal presentation, "She doesn't think people are really going to start canning again? Does she?"
Well, we were both wrong. People are interested in canning, and I did not ever expect to have to work so hard to find canning jars, bands and lids as I did last summer.
Gardening, canning and cooking my meals was my life. When I found out there were people out there that did not know that potatoes grew underground, much less that you could quickly boil them and make mashed potatoes, I was shocked.
If I had known that the information stored in my head about food preparation and growing your own was so sought after, I would have been writing it down and published a book.
I did publish a book or two. The very first one was a divine vision of how my many aunts and uncles survived without roads to big box stores. How did they preserve meat without electricity? Or eat any vegetables in the winter. It might be why I grew up eating food prepared from flour and water and the many variations thereof. Today, I still enjoy those dishes and have taught many a class in bread, kneophla, dumplings, and strudels. Just so you know, we tried to use only one spelling of the word "knoephla," in the book. It was impossible with all the ladies sending in their recipes with individual spellings. It added a flavor of its own to the recipes.
There has been the occasion that a student misinterprets what a strudel in our part of the country is compared to the sweet, apple ones from – well, I guess I don't know where.
I read a lot. Therefore, I write. The first book was called "Ewiger Saatz." I will address that a bit more next week.
In the meantime, I found this stew recipe and had a light bulb moment. I can make this dish from everything local. It's that easy. And boy, paired with a slice of spelt sourdough bread straight from the oven, a little salad (no, I didn't grow that, YET), we had a "meal from heaven," according to my husband.
Here are the recipe and the attribution to the grower.
EASY PEASY STEW
Stew Meat – I used grass-fed sirloin from Joshua and Tara Dukart's Seek First Ranch. They live near Hazen, and we have our meat processed at Hazen Meats.
Onion – Diane's Home Creations, Mandan, ND. Diane and I are partners in the farmers market. The seed for these storage onions called Dakota Tears came from Prairie Road Organic Seed near Fullerton.
Potatoes – Christy Werre, another one of my partners from the farmers market.
Carrots – I grew those myself. We keep two-gallon bags in the spare fridge, so they are fresh until about Easter when it's time to plant again.
Spicy Tomato Juice – Another one of my favorites. We had an excessive harvest of tomatoes this year, so I was able to make everything tomato for winter. I really used my tomato soup with roasted peppers for this batch and saved the spicy tomato juice for beer. All the ingredients, minus the lemon juice, were grown in my backyard.
DIRECTIONS: Prepare beef by cutting into one-inch cubes and placing in the bottom of your favorite Lodge cast iron Dutch oven. Peel, or not, your potatoes and carrots and cube them, layering on top of the meat. Add onion to taste, salt and pepper and pour the quart of tomato juice, or soup, over the top.
Bake at 250-degrees for four hours or until the vegetables are soft. If you have a slow-cooker, I imagine you could prepare this in there. I prefer the taste of cast iron and the oven myself.
So, two takeaways from this experience.
Here's hoping by the time you read this, warm air will sweep away this cold and the memory of it. Next week we talk German.
I thought I would share a few thoughts about North Dakota's weather for those of you who aren't avid weather watchers.
So in partnering with the Old Farmer's Almanac, a gardener's tool, I have put together a few observations about or weather. Now, whether or not I am will be accurate in my guesstimations will remain to be seen.
Let's face it; this has been an outstanding winter to date. This week is our annual January thaw week. Since the temperatures have been above average and running somewhere between 30 and 40 degrees since October's little cold air blast, this week, we saw temps closer to 50-degrees. I have always looked forward to the week of January thaw and a reprieve from the harsh winter weather we are all accustomed to.
Axiom number 1 says that the first three days of January rule the next three months. Wow, we are in for pleasant days because the New Year kicked off mildly.
Secondly, have you heard the birds? If birds begin to whistle in January, frosts to come. We have thousands of Canada geese that have not left the river bottom. Turkeys number about 40, and yes, I have heard some birds. So, following the January thaw, I expect we will be seeing a January freeze.
It has always been in the back of my mind and sometimes spoken aloud that I feel the cold so much more after the days begin to lengthen. I chalked it up to the quiet darkness of December, feeling cozy and warm. However, as the days lengthen, the cold strengthens. The sun is at its farthest south from the earth, and days are about or less than eight hours on the winter solstice. You might expect this to be the coldest time of year but wait. If you put water in the freezer, it first has to cast off its warmth to freeze. So, December seems warmer as the earth begins to cool and then boom – in January, we feel the cold with the lengthening days.
My husband and I argue all the time about whether I can predict the weather by observation. I document the fog days in December and then plan on planting radishes 90 days later when it either rains or snows. My best radishes have indeed been snowed upon. I put the date on the calendar and then plant shortly before the anticipated moisture. I swear it works.
Then, there's the moon. I heard tell that the weather on the day of the full moon will be the average for the next cycle. It changes with lunar cycles.
Whether or not I am correct in my predictions, you have to pay attention to the weather when you farm or garden. It seems like I remember as a child watching my parents check the weather first thing in the morning. When I stayed at my friend's farm in the Red River Valley, they had the weather on the computer's home page.
It is said that no one knows the weather like a farmer. Okay, things are changing with our climate. North Dakota has gained some growing season and is a Zone 3 or 4 depending on whether you reside in the "Banana Belt" region of western North Dakota.
I found a few funny axioms regarding the weather that may or may not be accurate, but it sure is fun to observe Mother Nature in her finest on the Northern Plains.
Oh, and before you get out your garden spade, think. This is still North Dakota and with this mild winter, expect payback in the spring. That includes a heavy frost in May. So, wait to plant those warm crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and beans until Memorial Day weekend.
Happy New Year resolutions
I say Happy New Year resolutions for a good reason. Let's make our resolutions happy. Everyone wants to start the year losing weight, running a marathon, filling in an artistic bullet journal, eating healthy, planting a garden, learning how to paint, you know. Me, I get the urge to clean and declutter my house. It is to no avail. Somehow every year, I start with this – "I'm going to use up all my yarn and not buy anymore unless it is for a specific use. No more buying on sale and stashing it away for another day."
I have been known to save yarn, buttons, etc., that are special to me for something special. Guess what? The day never comes. Every day should be special for us. We woke up, and our families are safe, and we have jobs to go to and work to do and money to buy food and drinking water that flows from the tap, clean and cold (or hot). Think about how many people in the world cannot say that.
So, again I fill in my first month of the year in my bullet journal. Yes, I keep one, and it's handy and fun, but it doesn't look anything at all like the Pinterest photos of fancy lettering and watercolor illustrations. My old-handwriting (I use a mechanical pencil cause I love pencils) and maybe some taped notes or pieces of paper.
It works. I can write stuff down that clogs my brain when it should be focused on things elsewhere. I do grocery lists and calendar events and reminders to pay bills and stuff — line items next to bullet dots. I have never been very good at writing on the line, just like my garden rows all over the place — big letters, little letters, printed letters, cursive letters. Anything goes. The reason for that is if I wait to be as perfect as the journal pages on Pinterest, I never put pen to paper. That defeats the purpose.
So, the rest of the house gets a once over big time. You know, fan blades, move large pieces of furniture, light fixtures and desk drawers. Granted, it's not as thorough as I would like, but what's the point?
It just gets dirty again anyway.
Now, there are the bathrooms. Showers, in particular, are challenging to clean once they are more than a year old. I have a friend that cleans for a living, and she gave me this recipe for a cleaner that I have begun to use in the whole bathroom.
I'm susceptible to chemical smells and things that give my sensitive skin a rash. I usually wear a mask and turn the fan on and open the windows to use most chemical cleaners. So, this recipe, my friends, is a god-send.
1 cup vinegar, heat in the microwave
½ to 1 cup Dawn original dish soap, the blue stuff
1 spray bottle, glass or plastic
Put the Dawn in the bottle, add the hot vinegar and mix. Spray on the dry shower and allow to rest. Then go to work. The scum lifts, and the shower looks brand new. I also have started using a squeegee in the shower to eliminate droplets.
This cleaner is amazing, and your bathroom smells like you are canning pickles.
To dust, I found this recipe to use instead of toxic sprays. One time my spouse brought an anti-allergen dusting spray home that just about threw me into antiphallic shock — not kidding about my sensitivity. So, I sprayed it into the atmosphere; sorry about that, I didn't know how to get rid of it and replace it with yet another spray bottle from the big box store with this recipe in it.
1 cup water
¼ cup vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lemongrass essential oil, optional
Mix and spray
There are many more cleaning recipes out there in the world of Google if you are also interested in homemade laundry soap or a general cleaner. Using baking soda and peroxide or vinegar really does work on glass top stoves and inside the oven also. These cleaners are so much better for you, your family, your pets and the world. So resolve to try an inexpensive household cleaner when you do your spring housecleaning.
Regardless of your ethnic background, all Christmas bakers celebrate by breaking out their favorite family recipes for cookies, breads and pies sometime before Thanksgiving. No other holiday has the many sweet and spicy treats with grandmother’s giving permission to indulge.
Coming from the German-Russian county of McIntosh, we enjoyed several cookies every year whether from my mother or my grandmother’s recipes.
There was some sort of anticipation in knowing what would be on the dessert table following a large holiday meal with a large family.
When I think back to those days, my heart is filled with love and then I realize “holy cow, those cookbooks I have collected over the year are considered antiques and are filled with vintage recipes.” After all, it’s been 30-plus years since I lost my grandparents, and my cookbooks predate those events. On a side note, I do still have, however, about 20 aunts and uncles still keeping our family traditions alive.
In these COVID-19 quarantine days, people have been honing their kitchen skills by baking bread and cooking meals at home. I have involved my children and granddaughters in the kitchen from the time they could sit on the counter. They learned how to count by cracking eggs or measuring cups of sugar into mixer bowls. Such messy memories.
One of my grandfather’s favorite cookies were ginger snaps. My mom passed down to me a recipe for what she termed “cracked-top ginger cookies,” or “molasses cookies.” Molasses was a staple in our childhood cupboard, usually kept there until the holidays.
These dark-colored cookies are soft and chewy right out of the oven and when cool become “dunkers,” with your choice of milk or coffee.
My original recipe card for these lovely cookies has been used so much the shortening has made invisible ink out of the ingredients and you have to hold it up to the light to read it.
Cracked-Top Ginger Cookies
1 cup lard (okay, use shortening – but remember it’s an old recipe)
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
4 cups flour with 2 teaspoons soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves.
Beat shortening and sugar, add egg and molasses. Sift flour and soda with spices and blend. Chill dough for at least an hour or overnight. Roll into balls, roll into white sugar and press down slightly on cool cookie sheets. Bake at 350-degrees for 18-20 minutes.
Sugar cookies are a staple at our hour year-round. I have a collection of cookie cutters for Easter, Christmas, Halloween and of course, my various size heart cutters can be used to fill in between holidays. I love sugar cookies.
There are three recipes I cherish for sugar cookies, each with a personality of its own. Not all sugar cookies need to be cut out and decorated to be enjoyed.
I don’t recall where this first sugar cookie cutout recipe came from, I have had it for years and shared it with my favorite editor mentor some 30 years ago and he still uses it today.
Sugar Cookie Delights
1-1/3 cup shortening
1-1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream together and add the zest of one orange. To this add:
8 teaspoons of milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
Mix well, wrap tightly, chill, roll and bake at 375-degrees for about 6-8 minutes.
NOTE: I prefer crisper cookies, so I bake mine till brown. If you are decorating them you may want to bake until lightly brown as to not interfere with the frosting colors.
This recipe, also from my mother, is for “to die for sugar cookies.” They are fast and easy to bake and can be frosted and sprinkled for the holidays, if they last that long.
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter (may use half butter, half shortening)
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-1/2 cups flour sifted with
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
Mix ingredients together, roll into balls. Place on cookie sheets and press down with sugar-dipped drinking glass. You can use colored sugar and then you don’t have to frost them.
Bake at 350-degrees. Watch closely.
Finally, this recipe came from my mother-in-law born in Pennsylvania. I love these cake-like enormous soft sugar cookies. No frosting needed.
Pennsylvania Dutch Sugar Cookies
3 cups sugar
½ cup shortening (or a ¼ cup each of butter and shortening)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
4-5 cups flour
Cream sugar and shortening, add eggs, beat. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
Bake at 375-degrees for about 10-12 minutes.
An Aunt Sally success story
Not one to ignore the comments people have been making about Aunt Sally cookies, I had to try them. Every time I made Christmas cookies, the recipe in the middle of the old Lutheran cookbook stared me in the face. I turn to that page so often it has torn loose from the binding. Somehow the edges of that cookbook look like they have been dipped in coffee or maybe molasses.
Now the first time I tried this recipe, I was amazed at how soft the dough was. I put off frosting them as the recipe for the white frosting seem complicated. The cookies need the frosting though because they bring a strong molasses flavor and need the balance of sweetness that the marshmallow-like frosting brings.
Well, needless to say, the cookies worked fine, but the first time I made the frosting, it was disastrous.
I had to try again. It worked and executed correctly the frosting is a keeper. All I could think about was chocolate cupcakes would be awesome with this frosting.
Now, why these are called Aunt Sally’s is beyond me. I do know someone had to sacrificially eat Spam in order for me to get the can needed to cut them into the familiar rectangle shape. Granted, cans are made with safer edges and pull-top tops so I’m thinking that the old Spam cans would be sturdier and have a sharper edge. The second batch of cookies turned out so well, I’m wondering where I can get an Aunt Sally’s cookie cutter made. These cookies brought out so many memories at our coffee party, you really should try them. Aunt Sally whoever you are, thanks.
Aunt Sally Cookies
This recipe comes from Emma Miller, Gackle, ND, and was printed in the Emmanuel Lutheran cookbook published in 1975.
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs (well beaten)
1 cup molasses
1 cup buttermilk (I substituted milk made sour with vinegar)
4 teaspoons soda with buttermilk
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 cups flour
Mix well, chill dough. Roll medium thin and cut with Spam can. Bake in 350-degrees oven.
Boil to medium hard stage:
1-1/2 cups sugar
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vinegar
At the same time, beat two egg whites until stiff. Add cooked ingredients and 12 large marshmallows. Beat until all melted. Cool a bit. Frost cookies and let dry before storing.
And, last but not least, the two most traditional cookies of my childhood – Grandma Meidinger’s honey cookies and Pfeffernusse.
Without fail, my mother’s mother would have honey cookies at Christmas time. They were simply a mound of delightful honey-flavored goodness topped with a white frosting and sprinkles. Somehow, she managed to get them perfectly shaped and baked. It took me a couple of tries to get the right amount of flour. As with Pfeffernusse, there’s a wee bit of guessing in the amount of flour, but fear not – they will still taste good, even if they are not perfect.
Grandma Meidinger’s Honey Cookies
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoon anise
1 cup warm honey
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup flour
Mix these ingredients and let stand overnight (not in the refrigerator). In the morning add enough flour to make a stiff dough. Bake at 350-degrees.
NOTE: I apologize, I cannot find the frosting recipe. Someday, I will need to call one of my aunts and hope they can remember.
Here’s a recipe for Pepper-Nut Cookies from Mrs. Helen Elhard, Gackle, N.D. from the aforementioned cookbook.
Pepper-Nut is English for Pfeffernusse, in case you were wondering.
Heat, then cool:
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 pint honey
3 eggs, well beaten
½ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
4 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoon anise
5-1/2 cups flour
Mix in order given. Refrigerate overnight. Make into small balls and bake at 350-degrees for 15-20 minutes. Roll in powdered sugar after cool.
WAIT, I have to add this final recipe in honor of my Aunt Alice Kaseman. It was her husband and my uncle, Ed, that encouraged me to research and try all the recipes of old handed down by my grandparents.
I miss the small Christmas dinners Alice would host for the Bismarck cousins, but I do not miss making this recipe. If you have ever been in your mother’s kitchen or made Hirshonsaltz Keacha yourself, you understand why.
Aunt Alice used to make these and decorate them with her granddaughters. A family tradition I hope these recipes has inspired you to try. Alice said they made the best cut outs.
Oh, the first time I attempted these I was thinking to myself, “Mr. Clean? What?” Do not, I repeat, do not use cleaning ammonia. Baking ammonia is available online at Amazon.com. Unless it has been outlawed since I last tried these cookies.
Baking Ammonia Cookies
1-1/2 cup sugar
½ cup soft butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sour milk (milk with a teaspoon of vinegar works)
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon baking ammonia
5-1/2 cups flour
Dissolve ammonia in milk. Mix all ingredients and let dough set overnight ina acool place.
Roll dough to ½-inch thickness on heavily floured counter. Bake at 350-degrees for about 10 minutes.
While warm, frost with powdered sugar frosting and sprinkle with color sugar or coconut.
NOTE: you can color coconut by shaking it in a jelly jar with a little food coloring.
Bake yourself some Christmas memories this year while in quarantine. Share those cookies with your neighbors and friends. You can do a “ring and run” to stay safe. But most of all, have a blessed Christmas holiday.
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.