Potato Harvest in Aroostook County

Across the road from our house is a potato field.  Where I live, most people live pretty close to one, so this is not a scene that is unfamiliar to those living in Aroostook County, Maine.  For the past few days we’ve listened to the whirring sound of the airhead on the potato harvester, watching the windrower ahead of it, going up and down the rows of the long field, as well as the truck going along side the harvester.  It’s a rhythm repeated throughout the fields in our town and others around the county this time of year.  It’s what we’re used to, we’ve even come to expect it.  But that wasn’t always the way it was…

When I was growing up, most farmers hired school children (and some adults) to “pick” potatoes.  We usually started back to school earlier than children in other parts of the country because after being in school for only 3-4 weeks, the potatoes would be ready and the farmers needed us to help bring in the crop.  Usually by the time you went back to school, you were pretty sure which farmer you would “pick for” that year and have your job lined up.  You knew how much  you’d be paid per barrel, as well as which of your friends would be picking with you.

Every year I would get so excited.  I had my money spent before I earned it.  Normally it started with school clothes, which is what most of us bought with the money we earned, but always included fun things like new records (yes, I’m over 40!) and other things we just had to have.  The only thing you forgot year to year was how hard the work really was.

You got up early, before the sun.  You dressed warmly in layers, because the mornings were frosty, but the days warmed up so you needed to peel off those layers as the day wore on.  You waited outside in the dark of the early morning for the farmer’s pickup truck to pull up, usually driven by his wife or family member.  You’d crawl into the back end of it, greeting whoever happened to be there already and sit on that cold metal seat.  When you got to the field, you’d be handed your basket and “tickets”.  Your tickets had a number on them so that you could tuck them safely into a part of the potato barrel.  That way, they’d know who picked the barrel and you could be paid for it.  By this time, the sun was up and the hard work of a long day began.  The only thing left to do before the work began was to mark off your “section” – the length of the field that was yours to pick.  You had to gauge how long your section was, because you had to figure out how fast you could pick before the digger came back down the row again, because you didn’t want to get behind – it would be embarrassing to have to have help to pick your section!

When you got to be a teenager, you knew you didn’t have to pick potatoes any more… you were now old enough to work on a “harvester”.  You’d stand on the platform of the harvester, the potatoes moving along in front of you, picking out rocks, potato tops and anything else that didn’t belong.  You weren’t bent over putting potatoes into a basket until it was full, then walking to dump it into a barrel, but you were standing on a narrow platform, bent over hour after hour, your arms flying this way and that.  No matter how you do it, potato harvesting is hard work!  Working on a harvester brought you more money than picking did, usually because while picking potatoes, you were usually also visiting with friends, stopping for the wonderful big lunches your Mom packed for you, as well as meeting and visiting with the new people you met each year.

There is so much more to the potato harvest that I haven’t included in this post.  The smells of plowed earth and potatoes, waiting with full barrels for the trucks to return from dumping said barrels at the potato house, grabbing a soda or snack while waiting.  I guess the thing I miss the most is the fun of it all.  Yes it was hard work, but it was fun work!

Now, the children don’t get out of school for potato harvest.  Machinery and adults do all the work.  Schools all over the county  have debated the “harvest break” for as long as I can remember and finally it has been decided that the children aren’t needed for the harvest to continue.  Is it the way it should be?  I’m not sure.  I know working parents had to find someone to provide child care while school was out if their child wasn’t working, so it’s easier on them.  I know that the era of picking potatoes by hand is almost dead, but should it be?  Are today’s kids missing out on something?  I think they are.  We learned a lot when we worked those three weeks during the year.  We learned responsibility and the value of a hard-earned dollar.  We learned how far that money would go and that if we worked hard, it paid off.  I’m sorry to see this part of our history in this part of the country die away.

This trip down memory lane was fun for me and I hope that in some way I’ve given you a glimpse into life in potato country – a life I wouldn’t trade for anything!

Posted in Growing Up | Tagged , | 13 Comments

A Bowl of “Garden Produce” Soup!

I just love a good bowl of soup!  When the days are cool and crisp as they are now, I find a bowl of soup to be comforting.  In addition to the feeling of comfort though, with the soup I made the other day there was also a feeling of accomplishment.  This soup was almost all made with ingredients that we grew in our home garden.  So, not only did it taste good because it was good, it tasted good because all our hard work had helped to make it.


From our garden into the soup:  Carrots, Green Beans, Peas, Onions, Tomatoes and the Green onion tops.  The only other things in there that didn’t come from the garden was the meat, spices and potatoes.  Living in the heart of Maine potato country, you’d think I’d grow my own, right?!?
Next year, we plan on trying a few new things in the garden.  Herbs and spices will be something new, although I need to do some research on what will grow in our area of the country, since it’s a short growing season.
Until next time…

Posted in Cooking, Gardening | Tagged | 4 Comments

New Idea for Upcyling Cardboard Boxes

I found this great “upcycled” craft a few weeks ago on another blog and wanted to share it with you.  It would be a great gift for the kids in your life, either to make for them or with them!  I have been recycling cardboard for a while now and have quite a lot of product boxes to choose from for this craft, so it ought to prove interesting.

The featured post below uses Mod Podge, but  I found a post on another blog about “homemade Mod Podge” complete with a recipe, as well as another blog listing the reasons you might not want to use homemade mod-podge.  After reading the reasons listed on why we might find the commercial stuff better, I also found this post, that adds clear varnish to the homemade recipe.  Personally, I’m going to try the homemade recipe for this craft and see how it turns out before I give any away as gifts.  If it doesn’t work out well, I’ll buy some “real” Mod Podge.

Thanks, Beckie – this idea is a winner!

Cereal Box Crafts: Notepads

April 12, 2011 By

Greeting friends today we are going to make cereal box notepads.  We are continuing on with our recycle theme in honor of Earth Day coming up next week (Friday, April 22nd). These are so fun to make and give and I think they would be a terrific addition to a birthday party goodie bag.  So go to your recycling bin and grab some fun boxes and lets get started.

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Supplies:

cereal boxes or other cardboard

Mod podge (I used matte)

Wide thin paintbrush

2 large binder clips

2 paint stir sticks

Exacto Knife & ruler or Paper cutter

Paper

1.  First of all decide what size your notepad will be based on the paper you have.  You can use notecards, an existing notepad, binder paper or cut up some paper from an old composition book.  Using a paper cutter or an Exacto knife with a straight edge cut your paper the size you want it.

earth day craft

2.  Look through all of the boxes you have and then cut out the cardboard box to fit the same size as your paper you just cut.  Cut one for the front of your notepad and one for the back using a paper cuter or Exacto knife with a ruler.

cereal box craft

3.  Sandwich the paper in between your two cardboard cereal boxes you cut out.  Line them up all nicely shifting them in place until the top or side edge (depending on what side you plan on gluing) is even.

4. Place the paint stir stick on the front and back of your notepad and secure the binder clip on top.  This will hold the book in place while you bind the top with glue.

crafting with cereal boxes

5.  Remove one of the binder clips and apply an even medium coat of Mod Podge on the edge.  Move the binder clip to the side your just glued being careful to make sure the top is not touching your glue.  Do the other side.  Let it dry.  Repeat the process two more times for a total of three coats.

cereal box book

cereal box notepads

When dry remove clips and stir sticks and enjoy!  Give them as a gift or pop one in your purse for a handy way to jot down notes.  Give them to your child in a restaurant to doodle.cereal box crafts

For more Cereal Box Crafts…

Click here for Cereal Box Crafts: Postcards

Click here for Cereal Box Crafts: Kid’s Art Display

Posted in Crafts, Upcycling | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Oatmeal-Molasses Bread

Growing up, one of my favorite breads was one that my great-aunt Gladys made.  It was a dark bread that was made with molasses and that’s about all I know about how she made it.  The only other thing I know it that it was good!  I’ve yet to come up with a recipe even close to her bread, but this is good in it’s own way.  Maybe one of these days I’ll come up with something that tastes almost as good as hers, but I doubt it.  I think that she made it with ingredients other than those than can be bought in a store. ♥

I use my bread machine for this recipe, but let me clarify that statement. I only use my bread machine to knead the dough and let it go through it’s first rise, I never let it bake in there. I’ve never cared for bread baked in bread machines. I use the “dough” cycle only.

Here is my recipe for Oatmeal-Molasses Bread:

Yield:  2 average sized loaves

3/4 cup Old-Fashioned Oats
2 Tbsp. Butter or Margarine
1/4 cup Molasses
5 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
1 & 3/4 cup boiling water

Add the above ingredients to the bread machine in the order listed.  After pouring  in the boiling water, stir gently with wooden spoon to mix the ingredients.

Let sit for 1/2 hour to cool the water down.

Then add:

1 Egg (beaten)
4 cups Flour
3 tsp. Yeast (I use Rapid-Rise)

Select the “dough” cycle on your bread machine.  When dough cycle is complete, usually over an hour (it has kneaded and risen), remove from pan and squeeze all the air out of it.  Divide in half, shape into loaves and place in greased pans.  Cover with a barely damp, lightweight towel and place in a warm, draft-free area to rise to double in size.  Bake @ 400° for 35-45 minutes, or until a dark, golden brown.

*Note:  I always peek in the machine a couple of minutes after I start it to see if it needs a few more drops of water or a little bit more flour.  Use your best judgement on this part.  If you like, you may add 1 Tbsp. Wheat Gluten before adding the yeast.  I like using this, as it makes a softer, better textured loaf that stays fresher a bit longer.

Until next time…

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Canning vs. Freezing of Your Garden’s Produce

There seems to be quite a difference of opinions when it comes to canning vs. freezing. Some love one over the other, while some do both. I’m from the latter group, although I do have a preference in how I prepare my food for long term storage. There’s no question about jams, jellies and pickles… canning is the way to go, in my opinion. I’ve tried freezer jam and didn’t care for it, so I’ll stick with my tried and true method. So which would I rather have in storage? It depends on the vegetable, but in general I like canned better for quite a few reasons.

I’m in my second year of freezing my veggies. The pressure gauge is broken on my pressure canner and since I haven’t replaced it yet, here’s another year that I didn’t get to use it. If two years of freezing has taught me anything, it’s that I need to replace that asap! I miss canning, the convenience of it and yes, even the “fun” of it. I love to can!

There are always factors to consider when looking at methods of doing things, and canning vs. freezing is no exception. I’ve read many people’s opinions that freezing is “so much cheaper” and “easier” than canning, but is it really? Maybe they’re comparable in the long run. Nutrition? Studies show no significant differences between the two (more on that later).

Here are some things to consider in order to decide which is right for you and your household:

1. What did you initially pay for the deep freeze? We got lucky on that score and a neighbor gave us a chest freezer they no longer needed, so ours was free. What did you pay for the jars? I haven’t bought a lot of new jars when compared to the number I bought second-hand or was given. I’d say that if I had to compare the cost of a freezer vs buying canning jars, I’d come out cheaper with the jars. Of course, that would change had I had to buy them all brand-new.

2. How much does it cost to run the freezer? I don’t know how you’d figure it out, but I’m sure that freezing all the garden’s bounty in the freezer is going to cost some electricity. If the jars are sitting on my cellar shelf, it’s not costing me anything to keep them. But, it cost me to process them on the stove. Again, I’m not sure how one would figure out the cost, but it’s there. Of course, if there were a natural disaster and you lost electricity for more than a few days, it’s a pretty fair bet to say you’d lose you frozen goods, another reason I like canned food – the security of it.

3. How much did the bags cost that your produce is in? Freezer bags can only be used once, whereas jars are reusable to infinity as long as they are taken care of. I won’t discuss cost of jars again, see #1 above. Then, there is the plastic vs. glass debate. Personally, I’d like to give up as much plastic as I can, so using the bags to put my veggies in wasn’t my ideal choice. There’s no environmental debate about glass jars.

4. How long will the veggies keep in the freezer when compared to the length of time they can be stored on the shelf?
This is a big thing with me. There are many schools of thought on canned foods and their shelf life. Let’s just say that it can be safely eaten for years and years as long as it was canned properly. I’m not going to say that ten year old green beans are going to have the taste or texture of shorter term stored green beans, but they won’t hurt you. I researched ideal storage times for both frozen and canned food and this is what I found. Ideally, canned food should be used within 1-2 years. Freezing vegetables for longer than 8-12 months isn’t recommended. Those figures alone would be enough to sway me.

5. Taste and texture. Some people prefer frozen, some canned. I prefer some vegetable frozen, while others canned. For example, I detest canned peas, but love canned green beans. I guess it’s all a matter of preference since the nutritional values are comparable. For years I was under the understanding that canned had very little nutritional value, but that myth has been proven false.

6. Convenience of use. I think this is a big part of why I like canned food. I find that it’s easier to use when it’s mealtime, especially if I’m in a hurry. Again, it’s a matter of personal preferences.

Well, that’s quite a bit to ponder. When all is said and done, I really believe that it has a lot to do with what we like the taste of and what we cook for meals and how they’re prepared, as well as what we’re used to eating. I’m not going to say that frozen food is inconvenient. It has it’s place in our home, but there are certain things I’d rather can than freeze.

Until next time…

Posted in Food Preservation | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

It’s finally autumn!

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Who wouldn’t enjoy some beautiful flowers?  This is the first year that I have successfully grown flowers and I’m SO happy with the results.  In reality, I only tried one other time and they were flowers I purchased at a garden center and then planted way too close to the front of the house and the rain coming off the roof killed them.  I had many flowers started from seed this year, along with some purchased rosebushes (all flowered this first year, too!) and some plants given to me from a good friend of mine. Before this the only thing I was successful at growing was vegetables and houseplants, so these were a great treasure to me!

I got to enjoy them for a long while, at least here in Maine what we call a “long while”. I wanted to take the picture when I picked them the other day so that I could have the reminder during the long, cold days of winter. I know that when spring comes again next year, I’ll have some peeking up through the soil, since I planted both annuals and perennials. Each year will be a learning experience for me, one I’m thoroughly looking forward to!

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , | 10 Comments