Canned

I have just finished reading The Dirty Life, On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. And today my blogger friend, Susan Nicholls, has posted a piece entitled “Canned” complete with appetizing photos of the canned goods, stored on shelves for savory eating on wintry days like these.

Kimball’s book describes how she trades a life in the publishing world of Manhattan for growing vegetables, raising pigs and cattle on the farm of a man she had interviewed just months earlier. The story is told with the backdrop of the old/new movement toward local food, community-supported agriculture, a network of consumers and farmers who share the benefits (and risks) of food production. Consumers pay at the beginning of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest and then receive honey, eggs, meat, and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, whatever is in season.

Susan’s blog post “Canned” is a reminiscence on the stored wealth of nourishment in the cellar of her childhood. In her post today she recalls her grand-parents’ farmland and the “garden” of one and one-half acres her own family cultivated when her children were little. She reminds us of so much we take for granted in our land of abundance. Read it above!

S.K. Nicholls

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I was in the grocery store yesterday and browsing the local produce…much of it not so local, being shipped from Chile, Spain, Costa Rica, California, and Mexico, but fresh nonetheless. Fresh watermelon and cantaloupes year around!

It is January and there were fresh beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, asparagus, squash, cucumbers, cabbages, snow peas, avocados, apples, pears, oranges, tomatoes. We take so very much for granted in this global economy. I am not talking smartphones, computers, and tablets, but simple luxuries, like fresh food.

My grandparents had a huge farm, and they had a garden that covered three acres. They taught me about gardening and harvesting.

When my own children were growing up, we had an acre and a half that was garden space.

I can’t say that we grew organic, because pesticides and herbicides were used. I can’t say it was better or worse for us, but it…

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Tomato Girl, Part II

Our family has fertile, Lancaster County land in lots and parcels, scattered hither and yon: behind our house there is a small garden of beans, sugar peas, and cucumbers, embroidered with roses and peonies. Then there is a field of four acres in Rheems which Daddy plants in corn and sweet potatoes, besides the 9 acres of tomatoes over the river and through the woods near Bainbridge. That’s where I learn to really work–planting, hoeing, and picking the tomato crop.

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On the way home from the tomato field in July, I notice a few stars emerging from the twilight sky. The road from the field back to home seems more bumpy now because I’m tired, and I crave a soapy bath to scrub the green tomato plant “glue” from my legs and soak the dirt from under my fingernails. But there’s a happy spot in my mind with the picture of a beautiful bike in it.

Days in the tomato patch come and go, and finally it’s time for my birthday. Mom tells me to go hide in the dining room and wait for the surprise. From my post in front of the long, lace-covered mahogany table, I hear the screen door open to the wash-house, then the kitchen door, and finally the sound of rubber bike wheels turning on the linoleum. I can hardly wait! The anticipation of the sleek bike I pictured weeks ago in the tomato patch is soon to become real. My daddy proudly holds the handlebars of this very special bike, a look of pleasure on his face.

Well, there is a bike. There before me sits a beat-up, second-hand relic with dents that have not quite been hammered out under ugly, flat paint from the shelves of Longenecker Farm Supply. The shiny blue and white bicycle I’ve anticipated all these weeks has morphed into a wreck of muddy blue and dull white the color of pale dirt. The picture in my mind deflates with my dream, a balloon punctured with a rusty nail.

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For a few seconds, I act happy because I should, but I can’t possibly stifle the flood of tears burning my eyes. I turn and run through the dining room and up the stairs to find solace in my bedroom.

I’d rather have a bag of dimes.

I wonder why my Dad was so proud of his present to me, one I had a totally different perception of.  Is it frugality, cluelessness? Something else?

Tomato Girl, Part I

Tomato Girl, Part I

Lancaster County, early June 1953 – and I’m in the tomato patch with Mother and Daddy. Actually, it’s not a tomato patch, it’s over 9 acres of farm land not far from Elizabethtown in Bainbridge where we are about to plant a new tomato crop. Years earlier, my parents planted tobacco, but a Mennonite revivalist came through the county, preached powerfully against making a profit from plants that could be turned into deadly cigars and cigarettes, and so like others they switched to tomatoes or corn.

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Today Mom and I sit side by side on the metal “tractor” seats at one end of the planter, each with a burlap bag laden with tomato plants in our laps. A trowel-like attachment of the machine attached to the Massey-Harris tractor carves a row and we take turns inserting a plant with dangly roots into the furrow.  As soon as a valve opens with a gush of water, two metal “hands” close over the plant, sealing it into the rich, humus soil. Usually Mom and I are synchronized, but if we can’t keep up with the click-clack of the mechanism, we yell at Daddy at the helm who hits the tractor brake so we can catch up.

TomatoBlossom     Move ahead to hot July now, and Monday starts another tomato-picking week. My time-conscious Mom keeps us all on schedule: “Marrrr-i-an, it’s soon time to go!’ So I schuss around and put the thermos on the porch so Ruthie sees we’re ready.” She will be at our house any minute now with the Longenecker Farm Supply pickup to take herself, my mom and me to our field near the village of Bainbridge. I can see it now: rows of warm, red globes in clusters on the bushes. Timmy Barnhart, ”Barney”—a squat, jolly farmer in bib-overalls will probably meet us there and help with the harvest. I like when he comes; he knows that twelve-year-old tomato pickers like the Reed’s butterscotch candy and red licorice packets he stuffs into his pockets to sweeten the labor.

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I’m paid ten cents a basket for my pains, but it’s hard to keep track of the number I fill, so I decide to put one green tomato on top of every 5/8 bushel basket, so I can add them all up and compute the dimes I’ll earn. Frugal Mom puts an end to this idea: “Don’t do that; you’re wasting perfectly good tomatoes. Why don’t you put your baskets in the middle of the row separate from the rest.” I know she’s telling me to do it this way, not asking if I really want to.

And so I plod—up and down the endless rows as the sun beats down on us. For awhile the grown-up chatter between my Mother, Aunt Ruthie, and Barney keeps me entertained, but then I stick my hand into a stinky, rotten tomato for the tenth time this morning, and I burst into tears. Dear Barney, now just a blue blur near the end of the row, hears the outburst and suggests a trip with the two of us going to Stauffer’s General Store down the alley and around the corner along a side street in Bainbridge. The store has oiled, wooden floors just like school and smiley Anna Mae Hess behind the counter. Barney, a widower, likes Anna Mae, and they chat for a while, giving me sweet reprieve from the blazing sun. Before we go, he orders two pints of Breyer’s neopolitan ice cream in a square box each cut in half with a butcher knife. Anna Mae puts four flat wooden spoons in a paper bag with the cold treat and we’re back in the field to share a late morning snack with Mom and Aunt Ruthie.

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Late afternoon brings Daddy in his flat-bed Reo truck to load the baskets in three or four staggered layers. If there is any room left over, Oscar Forrey, a farmer who patronizes my daddy’s shop, can add his picking to our harvest. “There’s no sense in two people driving half-filled trucks to the same place now is there?” Dad says. He’ll drive to the Mt. Joy depot for tomato farmers where the Heinz Company will truck the harvest way over to Hanover. My Dad has brought along a cold watermelon (wasser-ma-loon, he calls it) to save us from dehydration. Bless his heart! Mom must have told Daddy about my melt-down because he promises me a bike for my July 24 birthday. I picture a shiny blue and white Schwinn with a cute, white woven basket in front of the handlebars, maybe with fancy, pink dingle-dangles!

I don’t remember if my teachers ever assigned an essay “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” But planting and picking tomatoes would have been my topic until I turned 15 and could work for real pay at Baum’s Bologna.  There I wrapped sweet bologna in clear cellophane and pasted on the label, festooned with a smiley Amish face with a beard and wide straw hat. Then I graduated to working in the dementia unit at Masonic Homes. But that’s another story.

Tell us something memorable about your summers as a child or a young teen. If you remember it after all these years, we’d certainly be interested in reading about it.