Summer food on the farm

Summer was a backbreaking season of work on the farm for my father and two older brothers. There was no daylight-savings time for farmers — it was work from dawn to dusk. Then during harvest season, help in the form of hired men and day laborers was brought in to cut, shock and thresh the small grain before a rain fell that would delay the process.

In the kitchen my mother, along with a hired girl and me, toiled to prepare and serve six meals per day. Breakfast comprised meat, eggs, slices of bread and canned sauce. But if the strawberries were ripe, my mother would rise early and pick the strawberries, which were served for breakfast in a light pink glass bowl — and what a treat that was, because most of the fresh fruit from the farm garden was set aside and canned for winter use. Right after breakfast, the women would start baking cake, pies, and cookies for the day. Bread was made once or twice per week — a batch that consisted of seven loaves of bread, a pan of buns and maybe a pan of cinnamon rolls for Sunday morning.

At mid-morning my mother packed a morning lunch in a big round dishpan. She lined the pan with a fresh white hand-embroidered dishtowel, which also then covered the numerous sandwiches, cake and cookies. Along with this would be one fruit jar filled with hot coffee and one filled with homemade lemonade. Then I was sent out to the field where the men were working, with the dishpan full of food. The men would lounge in the shade of the tractor where they hungrily consumed the lunch.

My mother went all out for the noon meal — the most important meal of the day. The men would return to the house where the table was laid with roast beef or pork, mashed potatoes, vegetables and lots of bread that could be slathered with homemade churned butter and homemade strawberry, rhubarb, gooseberry or apple jam or jelly that had previously been handpicked and canned. Salads were not a part of the offering since the men needed food that filled their stomachs as well as supplied much needed protein, carbohydrates and fats. When the meal was finished, my mother brought out plates of freshly made pie and hot coffee. After this heavy meal, my father always lay down on the hard kitchen floor and took a short noon nap. No nap for the women though, they needed to wash up the dishes and start preparing the meals for the rest of the day.

The mid-afternoon lunch that I carried out to the field was very much like the morning lunch.

At the end of the day, when the men returned to the farmstead and had finished the evening cattle chores, my mother served supper. This was always a lighter meal than the noon meal, and consisted sometimes of hash (ground left-over meat and potatoes — fried in a pan), or sliced cold meat like Spam, fried potatoes, more homemade bread and always, always canned sauce or homemade pudding.

The sixth “meal” was served just before going to bed, while watching the evening news at 10 p.m. This consisted sometimes of sandwiches, but always the leftover cake, pie or cookies. My brother liked to fill a glass with chopped up chocolate cake with milk poured over it, which he ate with a spoon. In the winter the last meal of the day would probably be ice cream that had been churned earlier in the evening — but since there was no ice or snow with which to freeze the cream into ice cream in the summer — this was only a wintertime treat.

It would seem that not only the men, but the women had had a really full and productive day — but in between preparing these meals, the women also had to can the vegetables and fruit that came into season at the very same time as harvest. But that’s a whole story by itself — for another week.