Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monday Memories—SPT—Homemaking Tip

potato harvest 2008

This week our neighbors to the North started potato harvest. To me, the smell of potato dirt is finer than roses. I love potatoes. I only have one pet peeve and it has to do with my sacred cow, the potato. I dislike it when I’m standing in line at a buffet dinner and the person in front of me says, “Laws of mercy look at the size of these potatoes. I can’t eat a whole thing” and then turns to me and asks if I’ll split one with her. I have to patiently live with my peeve because I do not have the courage to say, “No ma’am. I eat potatoes three times a day and a half would only qualify as an appetizer. This is a meal and I think I’d better have a whole, but thank you for your offer.”

Last night as Cali and I finished our walk we gathered a shirtful of potatoes that the digger had dropped on the row ends. It reminded me of harvesting spuds, as Cali puts it “in one of your other lives,” and of the first personal essay I had published. It was fall and I was in Hawaii attending my first semester of college. Though plumeria smell wonderful and the ocean smells just as good neither is potato perfume and I missed it, so I wrote an essay on potato harvest for an assignment. An art teacher illustrated the essay and he gave me a strong resemblance to Romana or Beezus Quimby, Henry Huggins’ friends. In all of my wildest aspirations, looking like Romana or Beezus wasn’t one of them; however his work was free and far be it from me not to be grateful for free, Romanafied or not. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the potato harvest essay:
SPT—Me, the clodpicker model
Each fall my sisters and I helped with the spud harvest on our farm. We began by tugging on skin-tight, butterfly-spotted long underwear, sweatshirts or leather vests, overalls, and goose-down coats. For accessories we added old red and white Filer High School ski caps, leather hiking boots, pairs of cotton cloth gloves with plastic Braille imprints on the palms, and goggles. Then, and only then were we ready to help harvest potatoes in Southern Idaho. We were the clod-pickers. No glamour, no thrill, just clod-pickers who picked clods, rocks, weeds, and rotten potatoes from the freshly harvested potatoes. We usually rode on the back of the harvester—the spud digger as we called it. Hooked onto the back of the tractor, it dug the potatoes and blew out most of the potato vines. Our harvester was dried-blood red and it shook convulsively when the tractor started. On the back of the harvester was a platform big enough for two people to stand to do their job. There weren’t many seconds to pick the clods before the conveyer chains stacked the potatoes onto the piler and into the back of the truck. We had to work quickly to pull as much debris from the potatoes as we could, guarding our hands and gloves from the conveyer rollers. The rollers turned so fast, I was sure our hands and arms would be swallowed by a gradual slurp of the machine if we weren’t careful.

One night I wished I wasn’t clod picking at all. It was not only late at night, we were late getting the harvest in and winter was early. It was wheezing cold wind and coughing snow. Water rot had attacked the potatoes. Water rot breaks down the potato membrane and makes it gushy, slimy, and black; it also stinks. I was cold and cross, my thin brown gloves were soaked and I was tired of scraping potato slime from them. My feet were refrigerated in the mounds of rotting potatoes and mud. My back ached from the hours of stooping over the machine. My head swam from the oscillating lamp that sloshed the light over the rolling spuds. I wanted to quit and go home. I knew most of the family was home and so was roast beef, potatoes, corn and peach pie. I couldn’t go home. The potatoes provided our livelihood and it didn’t matter that there were some rotten ones, there were still a lot more good than bad that needed to be harvested.

I learned many practical skills from harvesting potatoes. Scanning for weeds, rocks and clods taught me to scrutinize the kids’ faces quickly while on a run for the school bus. Ear wax, dirty glasses and unbrushed teeth didn’t stand a chance with a former clodpicker. But, even more important skills were learned that one frigid night. Sometimes water rot attacks a family. Unwanted breakdowns happen. But no matter how bad it stinks, no matter how cold it gets, no matter how bad it hurts, families are our livelihoods and even with some rotten spots there is more good than bad—it just takes harder and faster picking to save the crop.

Homemaking Tip: You guessed it. A potato tip because potatoes are high in fiber, completely natural, good tasting, and cheap. Here are some of my favorite toppings and a recipe for one. Chive Butter is so very good and it's nice to serve at large gatherings because it eliminates bowls by combining things and speeds up the serving process, too.

Broccoli & Cheese Sauce
Morrison's Magnificent Meatballs
Pizza Style
Taco Style
Chili & Cheese
Chive Butter
Sweet & Sour Chicken
Shredded BBQ pork or beef
‘Tater Pigs (a cooked link sausage slid into a potato)
My sister, Marcia, tops her baked potatoes with a cooked, frozen-pot-pie for a quick and easy meal

Chive Butter
1 cube butter
1 cube margarine
16 oz. sour cream
¼ cup chopped chives
½ pound cooked, crumbled bacon (*opt)
Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.
What's your favorite baked potato topping?
What is a practical skill you learned at work that helped you in an unexpected way at home?


Mardis Family said...

What a neat story! I can totally picture you in your get-up picking out the debris! I wish I was a better clod-hopper in my family....

Anonymous said...

I love potatoes. They are the one food I would pick if stranded on a deserted island and I had to choose just one :) I totally agree with you on the smell of potato dirt- our buddy brought some down for our garden last spring and I wanted to make dirt angels in it.

The lesson that comes to mind for me was when I was a tween and my dad picked up extra work to replace a roof on a funeral home. This was August in TX and it was hot and we were under the gun because it was supposed to rain. My two older siblings and I busted out butts helping our dad and we were weary and sore and in foul moods. My dad never broke his stride, tried to make it fun for us by telling jokes and the like. By the end of the day, we were dog tired but held that satisfaction of getting the job done together. We didn't want the day to end. I try to remember that when it comes to teaching my girls about hard work. Nothing says you can't make it fun and hopefully the satisfaction and fun and bonding is what they will remember at the end of the day.

Kim Sue said...

great post...I had a baked potato tonight for super with a side of green beans. I like all kinds of toppings too - salsa being a favorite, because you know I love some tomatoes. Tonight I just had a little ranch dressing.

shelly said...

Jane I'm also a clod picker and truck driver. I remember the prayers offered in hopes of a digger breakdown, holding my frozen hands over the exhaust, and the digger links stealing my gloves. And like you, the thing I missed most the first fall I left home, was the smell of overturned dirt, potatoe, and tractor. However I don't miss it enough anymore to want to do it again!

Jenny said...

Jane, your stories are always so intriguing. They are endless. Thanks for sharing them. And I will promise never to ask to share a potato again :)

lelly said...

i wanted to keep reading the story of the clod-pickers!! fantastically written :)

when i grew up on long island (way before the vinyards took over), potato farms ruled the landscape. we did not farm, but were friends with many who did. in the winter, we would often ice skate on the frozen potato fields. it was a bumpy ride, for sure!

several years ago, Martha Stewart did a wonderful spread on a potato growing family in her magazine. it actually inspired me to serve a fire roasted potato bar at a bonfire last year. yum!

Kathy Perrins said...

I an generation behind you. (Graduated from high school in 1962)I started picking spuds when I was in the first grade. We went to the potato fields with a potato basket and berlap sacks. I was a lucky girl to have my best friend come and pick as my partner. My dad was so patient to have us because we giggled and played more than worked, but we were pickers in training. We were paid 7 cents a sack and so we didn't cost any thing, but didn't make much either. By the time we were in the 8th grade, we had graduated to a picking belt with hooks on each side of the back to carry the sacks and a board hanging in front to hook a sack on while we bent over and picked the spuds, throwing them in our sacks. When the sack was full, about 100#, we would stand it up and start a new sack. We would go up and down the rows bend over picking spuds and pulling the sack between our legs. Therefore we were called spud pickers, not clod pickers, I just realized the difference. The first day we would be so stiff that we could hardly move, go home, take a hot bath and then wake up ready to go the next day, not stiff at all. This would go on for two weeks. It really was a high light in my youth. I learned to work hard, to enjoy work, I learn about other cultures as we worked along side the migrant workers, who were much betters workes than we were on our best day! I learn charity as my mother was so kind to the families who traveled from state to state living in the most abject conditions just to eek out a living. (I must say that my girl friend and I thought those young Mexican men were the handsomest ever!) As hard as it was to bend over a sack picking spuds all day long, I never had a day as bad as the one you discribed on the harvester picking rotton spuds in freezing cold weather.

I LOVE the smell of fresh pototo dirt, I loved going into our cellar seeing potatos pilled high to the ceiling. I love a good baked potato. I am a heritic in Washington because I have mantained these many years that Idaho Potatos taste better! My favorite topping is the chive better receipe you posted!

Becky said...

Oh, Jane--this was such a nostalgic post for me! While I did not grow up on a farm (the closest we ever got was a huge garden and a couple of cows), I grew up in a farming community. I still love the smell of alfalfa after it is is cut, still love the sight of all those huge rolls of alfalfa, still smile when I drive around and see the cotton plants this time of year (they are just starting to grow their little white bolls right now), and I still can remember the smell of the Church corn fields...we would get up EARLY before the sun was up and drive out to pick the corn by hand...bags and bags and bags of it...most of it we didn't keep but some of it my parents were allowed to buy for some really good price and we would take home 5 or 6 brown paper grocery sacks full and then my older brothers and sister and I would sit on the back porch and pull off the husks and EVERY little bit of corn silk (yeah, my mom was picky) so my Mom could blanch and freeze it all. that was really long, eh? :) The thing I learned most while working was, well, to WORK...put your mind to something and just get it done.

Oh yeah, and I am definitely a chili and cheese on baked potato person but I infinitely prefer my mashed potatoes to a baked potato any day.

Loved this post just like all your others...

Lucy said...

I really, really love potatoes. It pains me that they are treated with such disdain nowadays. Starchy carbs. Bad carbs. High glycemic index. Pfffftooey!

I love a loaded baked potato. If there is a legitimate topping, I'll try it. I think sour cream pulls it all together though.

Amie said...

Excellent post. I love reading your memories. We love potatoes too. I laughed (and understand) about being asked if you want to share...

Thanks for the chive-butter recipe... that sounds like something we would love (and may have tonight)!

mdr said...

I love to make my own yummy topping. I mix butter, sour cream, grated cheese, minced garlic and bacon bits together. I put it in my KitchenAid mixer with the whip and run it on high to get it good and fluffy. The great part is the leftovers can go in a container in the fridge for later use.

See you in about 6 weeks! Can't wait!

michelle said...

I can't decide which I enjoyed more, your essay or the illustrations!

sheila piper said...

yes potatoes are great. They smell good tast good and the are cheap. As a child I did not have to work in the fields, I guess because my dad had to work so hard when he was small. Maybe I am spoiled but I did do alot as things and did learn to work in the house. Now as an adult and we grow potatoes on our farm in great quantity, I realize how much work is involved.