Mail Call January/February 2015: Hay Harvest Memories, Canning Memories and More

Readers share their memories and insights about hay harvest season, canning, and more.

Square Hay Bales

Small square bales haunt the dreams of rural kids who grew up in decades past.

Photo by Fotolia/zsollere

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Stinging Hay Memories  

Back in the late 1940s, many farmers still used horses. My friend Donnie lived with his grandparents, and they had a great team that outworked the old Farmall. I was visiting during the hay harvest, and to help, Donnie and I would walk behind the hay wagon with pitchforks and move the hay that was missed over to the next windrow to be picked up on the next round.

There were many interesting critters in the hay field, including bumblebees that made their hive in the ground. Their nest was covered with hay, but it was disturbed by the horses when they walked ahead, pulling the wagon and hay elevator. As we were walking behind the wagon, we were the next target for the bees when the hay was lifted off their hive. Donnie and I were the next best target for their anger, and since I couldn’t outrun them, I got nailed right between the eyes. As an 8-year-old boy, that sting really turned on my sound effects as I ran to the grandparents’ house seeking “medical treatment” for my wound.

Grandma was a very wise woman who knew all the necessary treatments for just about any ailment, and she told me to sit down while she made the pain remover.

I remember her saying, “There are three weeds you crush together and put on the bee sting, and it will quit hurting. But I can’t remember what all three are. But I know that a fresh cow flop will do the same thing.” She had plans on curing me with a dose of cow dung, and I didn’t agree with her.

It was a three-mile walk to my house, and before she could “treat” me, I was high-tailing it home, in spite of the pain.

I had a very funny looking face by the time I got home — my forehead was swollen and my eyes were almost closed. It took about a week before I was back to something normal. 

Ben Webster
Carson City, Michigan

From snakes to fire ants, there are many critters in those hay fields that sting our memories. We got a chuckle out of reading yours, Ben, about one critter that is often overlooked in the hay field. And we don’t blame you for refusing treatment, either! — Editors


Chicken Feeder

Check out the completed chicken feeder made with plans featured in your magazine back in 2011. We had to increase the width of the treadle, but it is very nice. Thanks for featuring this feeder. We love your magazine and look forward to reading the informative articles. Long ago it was printed in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. We were subscribers then, and it has improved with age.

William and Marian Lynn
Cassville, Pennsylvania

Thanks for the kind words, William and Marian, but take it from us, the biggest compliment we can get is when we encourage and inspire folks like yourselves. Thanks for taking our ideas and putting them to use. — Editors


Squirrel Bowl

I just finished reading Tim Nephew’s article on squirrels (“A Squirrel’s Life,” May/June 2014 issue). At my community’s school, the opening of squirrel hunting season is serious business. The Friday night football game is changed to Thursday night, and the game is called the Squirrel Bowl. T-shirts are sold, and there is a Squirrel Bowl trophy. The team that wins the game keeps the trophy until next year’s game, when it is passed to the new winner. It’s a legal holiday to miss school on Friday and head for the woods. It’s a fun time of year for everyone at Buckeye High School in Buckeye, Louisiana.

Dot Rosier
Deville, Louisiana


Cheap Chicken Remedy

I read your story on chickens getting their vents plugged in your May/June 2014 issue (“Top Problems in Chicken Health,”). What I do, right from the beginning, is give them apple cider vinegar in their water. I give them one tablespoon per one gallon of water. This cleans out their digestive tract. I have done this for 10 years now, and have not had any problems since. I read this in a book years ago. It’s a very cheap remedy.

Wade Brower
Zeeland, Michigan


More Food in a Can

Growing up, my mother canned a lot to cut down on the cost of feeding the family. One year, she canned 200 quarts of green beans, in addition to tomatoes and spaghetti sauce. She has passed on her love of canning, and together, my husband and I plant a garden that is 150 feet by 60 feet. Last year, our garden included onions, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, beets, zucchini, summer squash, spaghetti squash, beans (yellow and green), cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. In order to preserve everything, we canned 68 quarts of pickles, 31 quarts of beets, and 150 pints/quarts of beans. Canning tomatoes was a Labor Day project, and with 75 tomato plants, we had a lot to can. We store the onions and potatoes in the basement, and we freeze a lot of zucchini and squash to use later in spaghetti sauce. We also freeze the peppers for use in making chili, hot sausage, and stuffed peppers through the winter. With two small children, I know that when I grow and can my own food, they are getting the best quality.

Misty Thurber
Fenelton, Pennsylvania


Canning Memories

Thanks so much, Hank, for your letter in the September/October 2014 issue (Our View). I know lots of us girls have memories of canning with our mothers, so it was quite refreshing to read a sweet letter like that (“Blue Ribbon Jelly”) written by a man. Every time I read something like that, it’s a trip down memory lane. I remember hot August nights — it would be hotter than Hades — and my mom and I would be steaming up the kitchen canning our homegrown tomatoes. Even as hot as it was, there was nothing better than a bowl of fresh stewed tomatoes. Like you, I have many great people in my family to thank for my ongoing interest in cooking and preserving the old-fashioned ways of doing things.

Brenda Obrien
Via email


Recycle, Reuse

I read with interest about new life from old junk in your March/April 2014 issue (“New Life for an Old Wheelbarrow”). Check out these bits of recycled junk — two old lawn mowers made into one (bottom left), with an old rake seat. I don’t know what the steering wheel is made from.

The top image is a barbecue grill made from old pipe and put on wheels, a roof constructed from old tin, some odds and ends, and it even has a tongue to pull it along. The picture shows the gentleman going down to the neighbor’s where a party is going on — the food will be almost cooked when he gets there. The builder is dyslexic and couldn’t read or write well in school, but look what he can do.

Rosa Harmon
Bloomfield, New Mexico


Broody Chickens and Egg Eaters

There were some great tips in the article “Top Backyard Chicken Problems” in the May/June 2014 issue. However, for broody chickens, I don’t like to lose a layer in my flock to this behavior because she stops laying for a long time.

I have researched the topic, and now, as soon as I see a chicken beginning to act broody, I put her in a cage by herself. I keep her there for a few days, or however long it takes for her to stop running back to the nest box for her imaginary eggs, and to stop making that funny clucking sound that broody hens make.

I put a small roost in the cage, along with food and water, of course, and this “cools” her off and breaks the cycle. When she starts clucking normal and doesn’t dive for the nesting box, she’s cured — sometimes in as little as three days.

To discourage egg eating, I keep a golf ball in each nest box at all times, on top of a pile of fresh straw. This has worked very well for me. They sometimes knock them out, so check every day to make sure they are in place, because once the habit starts, it is very hard to break. I hope this is helpful to those who love having layer hens.

Thanks, Grit, for a great magazine!

Gina Stack
Blue Mounds, Wisconsin


Sharing a Recipe

My grandparents came to this country from Austria-Hungary in 1908. This is a recipe my grandmother brought with her. It’s my favorite cookie recipe. These cookies, which contain no shortening, keep extremely well and are great for mailing to the men and women serving our country.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a cookie sheet, and set aside.

Sift 4 cups flour, 1-1/2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice into a large bowl. Add 5 egg yolks and enough warm honey (about 1 cup) to make a medium-stiff dough. Roll out to about 1/8 inch thickness, and cut into 2-inch rounds (I use a juice glass).

In a small bowl, mix together some sugar, cinnamon and finely chopped nuts.

Brush tops of cookies with slightly beaten egg white, then dip in nut mixture, and place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, or until light brown.

For colorful holiday cookies, use a cinnamon-sugar mixture colored with a few drops of food coloring.

Robert Griisser
Joppa, Maryland


Share Your Thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with high-resolution photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at Letters@Grit.com.