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Cooking for the hay crew

Came across this column in the Tacoma News Tribune about shortcake suppers.  She talks about her grandmother cooking for the farm crew and it struck a cord in me because I grew up helping my mother put on the big spread for farm workers and cooking for the hay crew happens at our house too!  When I was growing up my dad had 3-4 good farm friends he swapped labor with for things like haying and chopping silage.  Each farmer had a couple pieces of machinery (tractors, mowers, wagons, forage harvesters) and they would share machinery and help each other at crucial times of the year.  The really cool thing is that each farmer did slightly different things – one was a dairy farmer – another raised beef cattle – so their busy times were not at the SAME time!

As my Dad and the other farmers traveled from place to place doing the big, shared work projects like haying and silage, the wives would always put on the big spread for lunch.  In the 70s there wasn’t many arenas where women competed – except in the kitchen.  Title IX was a few years away and most women were relegated to pink collar jobs.  But, in the domestic domain it was full-contact homemaking!  Just like the Amish women at barn-raising events, the tables would be groaning under the weight of baked goods and breads, mashed potatoes, gravy, roast beef…and dessert!  Cobblers, cakes, and PIES!

Now, my Dad was a bit of a joker and he liked to egg people on.  So, when they were having lunch at Charlie’s and Marion was feeding them he would say things like, “Well, you know, at Hank’s last week we had apple and lemon meringue pie!”  Sure enough, the next day Marion would produce, apple, lemon meringue AND cherry (with ice cream!)  It is a wonder they ever got any work done given the amount they ate, but they were also doing hard physical labor and could justify the big meals.

At our house we typically feed the helpers who work with us on hay deliveries.  Sometimes we have 3-4 of them on busy days so dinner is a big, sit down affair.  On Saturday we do a big farm breakfast for everyone who shows up by 8:30 in the morning.  Last week we had eggs, sausage gravy, fried potatoes, toast and jam.  I do this as a carry-over from the tradition when I was growing up.  And the crew is always grateful which provides a reward for the work of cooking for them.  While I don’t have other farm wives to contend with in a contest of pie-baking skills I need to be careful because occasionally a mom will ask “So, what did you feed them this week?” in a my-kid-seems-to-like-your-cooking-a-bit-too-much tone of voice.  But the fact remains, I like to cook for an appreciative audience.  The other night we had one of our former helpers who was home to visit family for the 4th call and say that he was coming over to help us for a couple hours for old time’s sake and the last thing he told my husband was  “….and I will stay for supper!”  Game on!

One thought on “Cooking for the hay crew

  1. I read the article about the years of feeding farmers while the silage, haying, etc. was being done on the farms with fondness. My husband Tom was raised on a dairy farm in Ireland and the same thing went on, and continues to a degree, today. I visited during the time of cutting the silage. I am a California girl and was really out of my element but at the same time interested and up for a challenge. My mother-in-law gave me a crash course in the art of feeding hungry farmers their “dinner” as they called it. First was the potato peeling – if I peeled one potato that day I peeled 100. Then came peeling the carrots and turnips. The roast or chicken would already be roasting. While I was busy with the peeling my mother-in-law would be baking fresh bread and fixing the dessert.
    It was a real education to say the least. I am currently staying on that very farm I first visited over 41 years ago. Our own children made trips over to the farm and have happy memories of their visits. Thanks to all the farmers both near and far for their hard work!

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