Mail Call: July/August 2014

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Plenty of youngsters in rural America are all to familiar with the hay wagon.
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Nebraska Dave, a Grit Blogger, works constantly to improve an urban gardening plot he named, “Terra Nova Gardens.”
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Photo courtesy Nebraska Dave
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Homemade mayonnaise turns the lunch sandwich from ordinary to extraordinary.
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Heirloom tomatoes save seed well from year to year, and they are incredibly flavorful.
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Grit Blogger Caitlin Carpenter models the blogger T-shirts. Her blog is titled The Domestication of Cattle Cait.

Baling Hay

Dear Hank,

Just received the digital Grit magazine, and read through Making Hay on a Small Scale in the May/June issue. Hay days were good memories for me, too.

My memories must have started a bit earlier than yours. I do have many memories with square bales. The bales ran anywhere from 60 to 80 pounds, depending on how tight they were packed. My uncle had John Deere tractors and New Holland haying equipment. The mower was a John Deere mounted sickle mower with a 9-foot bar. It wasn’t until I was about 11 or 12 that I was allowed to actually mow hay alone on the tractor. My uncle pounded into my head to never put my fingers anywhere near the sickle bar. He showed me how to unchoke a bar by turning the steering wheel to the left and backing up, which would swing the bar around. That would do the trick most of the time. On the occasions that it would still be clogged, the tractor was shut off, the brakes were locked, and the power take-off was disengaged. Instructions were to always climb off the tractor away from the bar. We kept a wooden stick on-hand that we used to remove the chunk of hay or weeds that was clogging the mower. Safety was a big thing with him. I guess it’s why at 83 and retired from farming all his life, he still has all his fingers and toes.

The rake was a New Holland with the four or five big rotating wheels that had spring tangs around the outer circumference. The wheels floated up and down according to the terrain. We raked the hay into rows, and when the top side was dried, the rake was again used, and you’d just barely clip the row enough to flip it over to dry the bottom side. All the while, we hoped and prayed that it would not rain. If all worked out, then it was time to do the actual baling. The mowing and raking were accomplished with a 1949 B John Deere without power steering or live PTO. The seat was solid, and we celebrated if an umbrella kept us out of the sun.

Most of the time a flatbed wagon hooked behind the baler was the way we baled. A crew of five on hay day was the best. One person would drive the tractor, one would take the bales out of the baler and heave them back and up to the stacker. When the flatbed was full, the other two would exchange the full wagon for an empty one. Their task was to unload the wagon and return. Sometimes my uncle would bale the hay and drop it on the ground if the threat of bad weather was imminent. If the baled hay did indeed get wet, then we walked the field and stacked the bales by setting them up on end in a tripod. When the bales dried sufficiently, the flatbed crew of usually three picked up the bales and stacked them either in the hayloft or in an outside stack. The tractor for this was a c model. It had more power than the ’49 B, as well as live power take-off and power steering.

Always, hay day was on the hottest day ever. Have a great hay day.

Nebraska Dave
via email

Your experience, we’d bet, is similar to a lot of country kids out there, Dave! So cool hearing about what equipment got you through it. Thanks always for being a continuing and knowledgeable voice in our community. — Editors

Sharing Trade Secrets

I’ve been receiving your magazines for eight years, and I read them all from cover to cover. The best article I’ve read so far is Inside a Midwestern Community Supported Agriculture Farm,by Crystal Stevens (May/June). The article is informative of Crystal’s life and business, and that would be enough to make a good article. But what I like best about the article are the details about planting that Crystal includes.

Since receiving the magazine, I leave it open on my kitchen table and refer to it daily while I’m planting my garden this year. Crystal gives all the details of her indoor starts, what to plant and when. She talks about her plans for direct sow, and then about succession gardening. Everything I need to know is in Crystal’s article. I know I will use it to guide me every year I plant. Please pass along my regards to Crystal and her family, and thank her for me. It was very nice of her to let us in on her secrets.

Laurie Lee
Denver, Iowa

We’ve found that there is very seldom any harm done in sharing wisdom, methods and tricks, Laurie, and that’s what we’re all about! We agree with you, Crystal did a wonderful job on that article. — Editors

Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe

I enjoyed the article on homemade condiments (Craft Your Own Homemade Condiments) in the May/June issue of your magazine, and I’d like to comment on the mayonnaise recipe. The one I use has whole eggs (so you’re not wondering what to do with the leftover whites) and is incredibly simple to make with an immersion blender. You can use a regular blender, but then the oil must be dribbled in a little at a time; with the immersion blender, everything is added to the mixing cup all at once.


• 2 whole eggs
• 3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 to 1 teaspoon dry mustard
• Dash of ground pepper
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
• 3/4 cup mild vegetable oil (I use safflower)
• 3/4 cup peanut oil

Place ingredients in blender container. Insert blender to bottom of container; blend on low speed until thick, about 1 minute. Recipe halves easily. I personally don’t like the taste of olive oil in this recipe, but it could be used.

Marcia Bundi
Great Falls, Montana

Newfound Love of Vegetable

After reading the article on sweet potatoes (All About Growing Sweet Potatoes) in the May/June issue, I remembered that I learned to love sweet potatoes late … ahem, at almost 60 years old!

As a child, sweet potatoes were a big deal at holiday meals, and always slathered with brown sugar or some syrup (maple, caramel, honey, whatever), marshmallows, pineapple, coconut, pecans, etc. I think in my mind I thought, “Boy, these things must be really awful if that is the only way they can get folks to eat them.”

I remember a Thanksgiving when I was about 6 years old and my dad insisted I have a bite of the marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes. I gagged and threw up in my plate (pardon the picture). My dad was furious with me, but I don’t think anyone ever made me eat sweet potatoes again. Sweet potato pie was the exception; I always liked that.

More than 10 years ago, I was served a plain baked sweet potato with a steak — a sweet potato prepared the way one serves a baked white potato. I was grown up enough to give it a try topped with butter, salt and pepper, and I was shocked that I loved it. Where had those been all my life? Not only do I now eat sweet potatoes (usually baked or oven-roasted with garlic, or added to soups and pot roasts) at least weekly, but my husband grows them, too. This year he is trying some of the purple ones and some white ones as well as our usual Georgia Jet.

Sweet potatoes are, well, sweet! For my taste buds, seasonings made the difference.

Donna Shelby
Comanche, Oklahoma

Remembering Tomatoes

Just read your tomato article (Pondering Grafted Tomatoes in the March/April issue). Golly gee, it took me back. My grandparents grew several varieties, and I gorged myself on fresh tomatoes with hot biscuits. Nowadays, you can’t find a decent tomato; even growing them, they don’t have the flavor. My mom found a variety of Tommy Toes that is excellent (half tart, half sweet), and for the past four years hasn’t had to replant; they return on their own in her “yard garden.” I’d love to have some of my own “yard” tomatoes (we moved off the farm years ago), the same heirlooms we had growing up. The best ones weren’t even the pretty ones. Mamaw had some that were shaped like wrinkled old men but were the sweetest tomatoes. They were the best for canning. Then there were the purplish ones and the bright red ones that had some tartness.

If I break down and buy from the grocery store, they are just tasteless.

Patsy Ruppe
via email

Blogger Tees

Just want to thank you for the T-shirt — AWESOME! I love promoting what I do. I hope your other bloggers are experiencing the great feedback I am. Every week people stop me and tell me they look forward to reading the blogs. It has literally changed my life for the better. Hope you don’t get tired of me telling you ‘thank you’ for letting me be part of your blogger community.

Lois Hoffman
Sherwood, Michigan
Blogger since August 2013


I would like to take the opportunity to thank you and your magazine for the years of happiness you provided to my mother-in-law. She passed away March 17, at the age of 84. She enjoyed reading the articles and especially the section of requests on “looking for old and different items” (our Friends & Neighbors department, usually found on Page 14), as she was very good at crocheting and making quilts, and she loved sharing patterns and ideas for projects. She placed an ad in your magazine in about 2002, wanting a pattern for a crocheted oval or square tablecloth. In receiving so many patterns from your wonderful readers, she had a list of states that she had received these patterns from. It included one from almost every state.

It was amazing to her that people just reading the article would be so kind as to send “a stranger” a pattern. It was so much fun to her to keep in contact with each and every person, and when she got a pattern from someone, she would send a thank-you note — these people were like pen pals, friends and neighbors. She was one to keep busy doing something with her hands and mind, especially since the passing of her husband 12 years ago. She said she wanted to keep busy and interact with other people as long as she could, saying this would keep her mind sharp.

Again, thank you and your wonderful readers for the enjoyment you gave her.

The McKoon Family
Paola, Kansas

Thanks for the note, McKoon family, and we are just as grateful as anyone. It’s community members like your mother-in-law who make our Friends & Neighbors department a success. — Editors

Former Delivery Boy

I sold the GRIT newspaper for several years back in the mid- to late 1960s. The paper was 15 cents, and I got to keep a nickel from each one I sold. My little bank filled up pretty good. I must have ridden 5,000 miles on my bicycle and walked around the world one time selling those papers. In the process, I learned how to buy and pay for items using “credit.” I bought a fine Timex watch and a Western Flyer bicycle selling GRIT, as well as picking up some pretty good prizes from the newspaper itself. When I “retired,” one of the girls in the area took over the route and kept it going.

What a great time learning how to figure profit. I sure do miss it. Thanks for the lessons long ago.

Ron Provence
via email

Another Cast-Iron Tip

As I write this on March 3, we have five inches of snow on the ground here in the Ozarks, and I am rereading my first issue of your magazine — a Christmas gift — to pass some time.

Got a real chuckle from “Cast-Iron Tip, Take 2.” I’m 82, and I also used the heating method to clean our cast-iron skillet. I’d put some scrap wood in the burner barrel, then put the skillet on the wood and burn it off. I remember the time I used plywood scraps, half the barrel full, skillet on the wood, lit ’er off and let ’er burn. When I went to get the cooled skillet, all that was left was the handle and a glob of metal. My indestructible pan was gone, melted away. So, too much heat for too long is not good.

Loved the magazine then (newspaper), and love it now.

Harold Westcott
Cassville, Missouri

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

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