Saturday, May 26, 2012

Real reel mowing

When I was a child in the 1970's, growing up in Oregon, it was my job to mow our two lawns. We had a push mower with a giant bladed reel and a basket that attached to the back, to catch the clippings. I never even questioned that there was an easier, more modern way to cut the grass. In fact, although it may be hard to believe, I was in my TWENTIES before I even knew about gasoline-powered mowers with blades that spun like the hands of a clock.

When we bought Appleside Cottage, there were many things left behind from the previous owner. She was lovely to speak with; left her beautiful Madonnas at both doors to guard and bless our home, as well as a lively circular Shamrock sign attached to the side of our kitchen cabinets. Luck, luck and more luck.
There was a wonderful cabinet in the damp, stone basement with "St. Lawrence Waterway" stamped on the side in industrial stenciling, another beautiful beadboard cabinet nailed to the wall of the basement steps and painted 90 shades of white- which I promptly pried off the wall, stripped and restored and now use as a bookcase. We found a lonely spindle legged drop-leaf table in the back shed- minus the leaves that I cleaned and covered with one of my mother's 60's era tablecloths and now use as a computer table. But one of the nicest finds was the honest-to-goodness reel mower we found in the corner of the tiny, one-car garage.

By 2012, we had owned Appleside Cottage for 2 years. In that 2 year time, we'd never once touched the cobweb-covered tool. I honestly thought it was too old and too rusty to be worth mowing with. The handle was wooden. The wheels were cast iron. My 1970's era model at least had rubber tires!

While we were doing some gardening during the Memorial Day holiday in 2012, my husband and sons dragged the old reel mower out of it's corner and hovered around it, pushing it back and forth and speculating on it's possible effectiveness. Finally, my husband Jeff grasped the wooden handles and pushed it into the yard- a bold and determined decision to uncover the answers to their questions.

I watched this masculine dance with fascination; what was he doing? This relic couldn't possibly cut our grass decades after it had been parked! Well, I was delighted to be wrong... The wonderful old tool performed as well as it must have at least 100 years ago when it was made!

I have to confess to failing in trying to determine the origins of this mower. All I know is that it reads: Reading Special USA Pat Pend on the wheels.

To be honest, the cut-and-dried facts of the manufacture of our reel mower are relatively unimportant. What delights me is that this simple, well-designed, well-made American tool is every bit as good today as it was before I was born.

Detail of the wooden handle
And the environment loves it too!
This is a cylinder mower from 1888. It is almost identical to ours. According to county records, Appleside Cottage first changed hands in 1887. So this style of mower could certainly have been the type the first owners used!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

True blue

Blueberries, along with acai and broccoli, have become the hipster's current darling; being used as a natural disease preventative- tossed down American gullets like unappreciated water in hopes of a magic bullet for good health. But Blueberries should not be seen as just a weapon against potential disease. They are brilliantly formed little capsules of flavor and texture that for just one moment, catapults the taster back to our human ancestors, picking berries off bushes in order to survive.

These days, however, people know that the anthocyannins and other antioxidents contained in this wee package of goodness makes this deep blue berry a "superfruit", helping to combat against cancer, heart disease and other problems caused by free radicals.

The remains of the flower are what form the crenelations in the berry.
Accordingly, it's known as the "flower end"; the opposite side is known as the "stem end".

Much like "Bubba" did in Forest Gump, blueberries can be made into dozens of delightful and delicious treats. This useful fruit can work in scones, pies, cakes, cookies, smoothies and syrups, as well as be part of BBQ sauce and meat marinades.

Many people think of blueberries when they think of summertime desserts. Lots of recipes exist for patriotic tarts where the blueberry is used as the canton part of the American flag. This is because the blueberry plant flowers in spring and takes many weeks to become ripe. Blueberry plants need full sun and prefer a sandier soil, rather than a heavier type of soil. It's roots are shallow, so need space to be able to soak up all the nutrients it needs to set satisfactory fruit. We have two blueberry bushes here at my suburban home that I stumbled across while wrestling with a cart at my local Harris Teeter grocery store. Last season, I picked 3 POUNDS of fruit off just one bush, so if you enjoy blueberries and don't have deep pockets for the somewhat high retail price, consider purchasing a few plants to provide yourself as many berries as you care to eat! The plants are cheap and relatively easy to grow. Here are some of my favorite sources of plants:

Blueberry Lemon Cream Scones

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup cold, cubed butter
1 quart of fresh blueberries (or whatever you can wrangle together, dried work too)
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup honey
6 eggs, beaten

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cream, honey and eggs. Set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and zest in another bowl, cut in the butter until the butter is roughly "pea" sized. Add the cream, honey and eggs. Mix to combine and drop in 1/2 cup dollops onto a pan prepared with non-stick pan spray. If your batter is too dry, add more cream (or milk) until it loosens up to your liking. Bake approximately 30 minutes or until lightly golden. Eat hot with cafe au lait or good English tea!

Dear John, I love John Deere!


Four long years after we bought Winterrest Farm and began the dream of living and working on our own small farm, we saw an ad for a Farm auction down in the tiny North Carolina town of Four Oaks.

"What do you think, hon," said Jeff, pointing to the newspaper announcement, "want to go?"
"Why?" I replied, "looking for something in particular?"
"Yep. We need a tractor."

 The time had come to start thinking about our first investment in farm machinery. We needed non-grazing horsepower to help us with everything from discing and plowing to mowing and pulling. We already had a Kubota BX1500, our wedding gift to ourselves way back in 2002.

"Are we ready for a full-size tractor?" I asked. "Is it time?"
"I think so." He replied, "we're moving in less than a year. We've got to have something stronger than Lucille to get the work started." Lucille, Lucy for short, was our flame-orange Kubota tractor. A small-scale mowing tractor with a front-end loading attachment, Lucy was wonderful for many things, but too small for the type of work we needed to get done.

So, before dawn one early October morning, when the temperature hovered around 25 degrees, Jeff and I drove the 45 minutes south to Four Oaks. I was sure the cold weather would keep some competitors home in bed, but no such luck. The place was packed. There were crusty old mowers and rusty bike parts, used masonry tools and grimy oil cans. I spotted a dune buggy in one corner, next to what must have been the brownest lumbering oaf of an RV, circa 1971.
Then I turned and saw what we'd driven here to see and maybe to bid on. Tractors! Rows and rows of new and old, big and small, red and green and blue tractors! There were several adorable, shiny red 1939 Farmall H tractors, set cheek-by-jowl with the mammoth, modern New Holland T4 Powerstar tractors. Squeezed in between, lined up together, were what we'd hoped would be here: the bright green and yellow of John Deere.

The auction started and we watched as the monster pro Ag tractors sold in the tens of thousands. The auctioneer moved down the line, barking from the top of his after-market golf cart, fitted with giant speakers poking up on all four corners. He finally got to the line of John Deeres. My palms started to sweat in the cold morning air. Butterflies flitted in my gut and my breath came in gasps. WHAT WERE WE DOING??? Did we have thousands to throw at a tractor? No. Could we dig around in our rainy-day funds for thousands to throw at a tractor? Probably. But still, it was a big step for us and we were both shaking. The auctioneer reached the last available John Deere, and we realized that we needed to fish or cut bait.

"59, 59, 59" sang the auctioneer. "59, 59, 59...Who'll do 60? 60,60,60. $6000.00 for this one-owner 2040, 60,60,60! Worth every penny at SIXTY!"
"Yefff," I mumbled under my breath, "Widdd!!" I punctuated this command with a push of my elbow.
"...Goin' ONCE. Goin TWICE"...
"SIX!" Jeff stabbed the air with his index finger and the auctioneer and the current winning bidder stared.
"You in at six?" asked the auctioneer.
"Yes." Jeff replied. He was pale and his eyes were big as saucers.
"Six, six, six," the speakers shouted, "...Goin ONCE, goin TWICE! ...SOLD! Six thousand! You got yourself a pretty little tractor there, son! Congratulations!"

We were elated. We had no "farm number" or any sort of Agricultural status that gave us a break on sales tax. Regardless, we handed over our credit card, knowing full well that this was a rotten way to pay for farm equipment, and signed the sales slip. We were thrilled. We trailered the big green machine back home, set it up in the driveway and gave it a wash. We dubbed it "Ricky" to keep with the I Love Lucy theme and parked it in the garage. We're probably the only suburbanites with a John Deere 2040 sitting in their two-car garage, but we wouldn't have it any other way!
The protruding ledge holds 50 lb. counterweights, lined up like slabs, one next to the other. This helps keep the tractor from lifting up in the front, when a heavy load is applied to the back.
The "J" shaped steel forms move the wheel in and out to accommodate different field and terrain conditions, to widen or narrow the wheel base.
The right and left brakes are on the right, the clutch is on the left. The yellow stick is the range, which controls high, low and reverse. Th red stick controls the gears; low, 1-4 and high, 5-8.
In this era of tractors, the engine forms part of the tractor's frame. This particular tractor was manufactured in Manheim, Germany in 1979 and has a 40 horsepower engine.

This 3-point hitch holds the tractor driven attachments. There is also a draw-bar for tow-behind attachments.

Farmlicious read: Farmstead Chef