Mail Call: November-December 2008

1 / 4
Grain bins on an open prairie can resemble castles rising up towards the skyline.
2 / 4
Erin Neufeld humored her nephew by playfully mistaking combines for bumble bees.
3 / 4
Mincemeat Cake, like shown in the January/February issue, prompted a flurry of letters about mincemeat recipes.
4 / 4
The Southdown sheep breed was developed from the Babydoll Southdown, not the other way around.

You Married a Farmer?!?

You married a farmer? You!?” an old friend recently asked incredulously.

This is Year Three on the farm for this former city-dweller, actress and globe-trotter. The adjustments have been … interesting.

About a month after arriving at the farm, my mother-in-law asked if I wanted help with my flowerbeds. My response was, “I have flowerbeds?” Later, while she worked those newly discovered beds, I decided to tackle using the lawn mower – giving myself whiplash and my mother-in-law a good laugh in the process. It may still be a while before I attempt to master any of the larger farm equipment.

In the beginning, I found it difficult to remember the names of various pieces of farm equipment and buildings. When my husband would tell me he’d be in the Quonset, I’d spend at least 20 minutes looking for him on the tractor, in the workshop, or in the field, wondering the whole time what exactly a Quonset was. Now I know it’s that rounded building down by the tractors.

My 2-year-old nephew and I were walking around the yard one day, and he started asking me the names of various machines. I entertained him by making up names for them: a giraffe pole (auger), mini-castle (grain bin), etc. However, when I referred to one machine as a giant bumblebee, my nephew looked at me and solemnly stated, “No, Aunty Erin. That’s a combine.”

The proudest moment of the first year came with planting my garden. Only the carrots grew, but I was thrilled nonetheless. I did a spontaneous carrot-growing dance and started talking excitedly to my husband. “Isn’t it amazing?! I put these little seeds in the ground, and they grew into something totally different. Just like magic!” My husband just nodded and smiled. Only then did it dawn on me that my small feat was, in fact, what he had been doing on a huge scale for years.

Life out here can have a steep learning curve. However, its beauty, challenges and simplicity all captivate me. Though hard at times, there is always something to laugh about or bring a small measure of joy.

My answer to those incredulous old friends is simply to tell them that life on the farm is far more wonderful than anything I could have envisioned before experiencing it.

Erin Neufeld
Killarney, Manitoba, Canada

Garlic Puree Response

In Mail Call of the September/October issue of Grit, Diane Friel submitted a query about making chopped garlic in olive oil. Joe Cummins from Texas responded to the query and the following is his recipe for Garlic Puree.

2 dozen or more garlic cloves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Choice of herbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Place whole unpeeled cloves in boiling water for about 20 minutes or until clove meat is very soft; drain and cool. Once cool, remove skins and place garlic cloves in food processor or blender. Puree, adding salt, pepper, herbs and olive oil; pour into glass jar and refrigerate.
Use to thicken and flavor sauces, soups, stews, dressings and dips. Spread on croutons and serve with soups and salads, or use as a sandwich spread for leftovers. Can be served over hot rice. It is important to use extra-virgin grade olive oil because lesser grades will congeal under refrigeration.

According to a recipe found on, it is recommended that garlic puree be stored in the refrigerator and only kept for one week. If you intend to freeze the puree, recommends mixing one part peeled garlic cloves with two parts olive oil in a blender or food processor. After pureeing, immediately transfer to freezer container, cover and freeze. Do not store the puree at room temperature or in the refrigerator because the mixture can support the growth of Clostridium botulism bacteria.

Readers, if you know of a recipe for preserving non-pureed, chopped garlic, please let us know. Send us an e-mail Thanks! – Editors

All Grown Up

It has been more years than I can remember since I read Grit. I recently subscribed after receiving an offer in the mail. I love it! Why didn’t anyone tell me how much Grit has grown, how it’s such high quality and so full of super interesting stuff?!

Jo Anne White
Danielsville, Georgia

Thanks for the kind words, Jo Anne. Be sure to join our advisory group to help us keep the interesting stuff coming. – Editors

Grape Growing in Georgia

I train my grapes high enough so I can cut the grass with a lawn mower and not plow up the roots. I grow them on several arbors 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 71/2 feet high. I have picked 184 pounds from one vine. One vine is more than 50 years old and still going strong. In dry times, I use wash water to water vines. I enjoy growing grapes, and I’m able to give the fruit away to my friends.

Bill Campbell
Stone Mountain, Georgia

Thanks for the grape-growing tips, Bill. We bet your friends really appreciate your generosity! – Editors

Found a Friend

My little fawn Chihuahua, Princess Diana, passed away in 2006, and I was sad and upset. One day, I heard Paul Harvey on the radio talking about Floyd Jacobs in Bedias, Texas, who, after losing his dog, said if he knew for sure that dogs go to heaven, he would go to church so he could once again be with his dog.

I didn’t have much to go on to find Mr. Jacobs, so I tried Friends & Neighbors. It was a lengthy process, but one day a card came in the mail from Floyd Jacobs. I thought I would find him, but he found me.

A neighbor had seen my letter in Grit and called him with the information. And he sent me a beautiful card. We haven’t met yet, but we know our dogs are in heaven together.

The odds against this happening are huge. The Paul Harvey radio show originally aired in 1998, and what I heard was a repeat. Then to have my letter in Grit at a time when someone who knew Floyd would see it? It’s amazing.

Robin Smith
Mountain Home, Arkansas

Wow! We love this story! Thanks for sharing it with us. – Editors

Babydoll Correction

In the September/October 2008 issue, you published an article titled “Guide to Sheep Breeds.” While reading this article I discovered an error in the description of Southdown sheep. The article stated, “The Babydoll Southdown is a miniature breed, less than two feet high at the shoulder, recently developed from the Southdown.” Actually, the opposite is true regarding the Southdown and the Babydoll Southdown sheep. The Southdown was developed from the Babydoll Southdown in order to provide a larger meat carcass.

To clarify this matter, I contacted the current vice president of the North American Babydoll Southdown Sheep Association and Registry (NABSSAR), and she submitted the following statement:

The Babydoll Southdown is an Old World breed of sheep that came to America in 1824 as it appears today and was called the Southdown. The modern American Southdown that is common today is the result of the little old-style Southdown being bred up by selective breeding in the early 1970s to 1980s. The old original-type of Southdown that weren’t bred up are called the Babydoll Southdown today – to differentiate it from the modernized American Southdown.

Michelle Lane
Kellane Farm LLC
Black River Falls, Wisconsin

What an interesting breed history! We appreciate you calling this to our attention, Michelle! – Editors

Cats and Rats

In the May/June issue, I read the letter from Cecil Smith about his vole problem.

It reminded me of the Dust Bowl years in Nebraska when I was about 15. When we moved onto a 160-acre spread, we soon discovered it to be infested with rats. I remember how hard my dad fought them, using various poisons, traps and even a shotgun.

But the rats were winning. They got into the brooders and killed many chicks. They were in our garden, digging up the beans as we planted them. They were everywhere. At dusk, we would sit on the front porch and watch the rats run from building to building or into the garden.

We were getting desperate.

Then someone told us to get cats – lots of them. We got a mother cat with eight or 10 kittens and we started raising them. I think at one time we had at least 15. These were all barn cats that lived outside. We fed them fresh milk each night when we milked the cows.

Some of the adult rats were quite large, and the cats couldn’t handle them. But as time went on, the cats kept catching the younger rats. It took about two seasons, but the rats were all gone. There wasn’t a rat or mouse anywhere on the farm.

Cats are valuable, especially on a farm. If they are free to roam and hunt, they will do the job. They shouldn’t be made pets or overfed, or they might get lazy. You don’t really need 15. A couple of good gray tabbies will do.

Some cats will catch voles and bring them to your house or lay them on your doorstep. Maybe they are thinking to trade them for something a little tastier.

Chester Cast
Spokane, Washington

Mincemeat and More

In our May/June Mail Call, Joy Alford, Carthage, Tennessee, asked about mincemeat recipes in response to another Mail Call letter in the March/April issue, “Having Cake” by Diane Middleton. Diane makes her own mincemeat and had tried the mincemeat bundt cake recipe in our January/February issue (“Let Us Eat Cake,” Recipe Box).

Well, Diane sent her recipe, and several other readers sent recipes as well. So we thought we’d share.

In response to Joy in Tennessee’s question regarding homemade mincemeat, I have always used the green tomato mincemeat recipe from Farm Journal’s Freezer and Canning Cookbook, a book that is probably out of print. This recipe has no meat or suet so it is fat-free and still retains the traditional mincemeat flavor. Also it’s a good way to use up green tomatoes. The consistency is slightly softer than if made with meat. The recipe freezes well, also.

Diane Middleton
Battle Creek, Michigan

Green Tomato Mincemeat
6 pounds green tomatoes
2 pounds tart apples
2 cups raisins
4 cups brown sugar
2 cups strong coffee
1 lemon (grated peel and juice)
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
Core and quarter tomatoes and apples. Put through food chopper with raisins. In large kettle, combine all ingredients. Simmer 2 hours, stirring frequently. Pack at once in hot pint jars. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath (212°F) 25 minutes. Remove jars from canner and cool. Makes about 10 pints.
Note: Mary Claire Fiorello, Lowman, New York, sent the same recipe, and she made the notation that 3 tablespoons instant coffee dissolved in hot water works for the strong coffee.

Most people don’t even realize that “real” mincemeat is actually made out of meat. This recipe is from my great-grandmother, and it’s absolutely delicious. We always had mincemeat pie for dessert after holiday meals. This recipe makes 12 quarts (1 quart makes 1 pie), but you can cut it down. It also freezes well.

Loretta Liefveld
Three Rivers, California

4 pounds lean beef, cooked, then ground
1 pound ground suet (It’s important to get real suet; it doesn’t taste the same with other kinds of fat. You’ll have to ask a butcher.)
8 pounds green cooking apples, peeled and chopped
2 pounds raisins
2 pounds currants
4 pounds brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cloves
1 tablespoon allspice
1 quart cider (or you can use 1 pint frozen cider concentrate)
Vinegar to taste (or use the zest and juice of 1 lemon)
3 cups brandy (optional)
Combine all ingredients except brandy. Heat in microwave on medium for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add brandy.

Innovative Root Cellar

I read your article on root cellars in the September/October 2008 issue, and thought I’d share my experience. When I stored Irish potatoes in my basement root cellar, sprouts had to be removed several times during the winter because the temperature and humidity were improper. Then I buried a garbage can outside in the yard, with the lid just above ground level, and stored the potatoes there, covering them with insulating material when temperatures dropped below freezing. Now the potatoes are sprout-free until May, which is planting time here.

Nick Russian
Central City, Pennsylvania