Kathy returned from grocery shopping with strawberries, the size of which will dwarf those that will be picked from our garden. She was surprised when I wished aloud that they had been left in the store.
The dismay harkens back to a time when strawberries, peaches and other fruits were not available year-round, and their availability was much anticipated. Waiting for Mother to bring in the first ripe strawberries from the garden bed made them even sweeter. Soon after the first berries trickled in, Mother served strawberries and biscuits, and filled pint jars with preserves.
She worked far harder than we realized. The fault for not appreciating the hard work involved is found within her children. Taking things for granted is a weakness that dates to the time Eve convinced Adam to taste an apple from the forbidden tree.
Our own strawberry bed is filled with white flowers and a few little finger-sized berries. The bed was covered with leaves and grass in fall, and the wait to see if the plants survived winter was long, but ultimately rewarding.
Mother was patient enough to wait until spring to dig parsnips — keeping them in the ground through winter made them much sweeter. Appreciation for the root vegetable must be learned. The lesson was taught by a woman who said she did not run a restaurant, and thus what was served must be eaten without complaint.
Overwintered horseradish roots were also dug in spring — a process that transformed the kitchen into a laboratory of sorts. Mother gathered baby food jars, vinegar and sugar before processing the roots through the meat grinder. The juice burned exposed digit wounds but did not deter her from freezing enough horseradish to last an entire year.
Horseradish and ham, Dad said, went together like a good Schottische dancing team. The horseradish was so wickedly strong that if taken in too great amount could burn through the brain like a wildfire. It, therefore, was routinely used as a litmus test for the young men who visited while courting Dad’s daughters.
If the romance-seekers handled the brain explosion with good humor, they were good enough marital prospects. I cannot recall if anyone failed to pass Dad’s test.
Kathy said she thought about buying sweet corn at the store because it was on sale in four-ear packages. She thought it had been grown in Texas or maybe Florida. Regardless, it is likely to be a poor imitation of the corn that will be available in late July and August.
It is far better to allow anticipation to build than to grab instant gratification. As a former dairy farmer, it took more than two years for a heifer born from the herd’s best cow to enter the milk herd. Often, the heifer produced as expected, but sometimes it disappointed.
When herds were smaller, it was possible for a cow to remain in the herd for a decade. Dad, who was not the least bit sentimental, said that the best cow in the herd would be buried on the farm. She was the bell cow that led the herd from pasture to barn, never kicked and owned the stanchion the farthest from the barn door.
Although he would not admit to it, a few tears fell when she died and was buried in the pasture. It is necessary for a dairy producer to know each cow’s character and impossible to become attached to them.
It is a testament to the modern food supply system that grocery shelves are filled with foodstuffs from the world over. The wisdom of such lengthy supply chains is troubling to many. It has given rise to the growing locally produced food movement, which has provided opportunity for many producers.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.