Harvest is a time for celebration
As our North Dakota fields of wheat turn golden with promise, I am reminded of the quote by Hannah Flagg Gould: “Wisdom, power and goodness meet in the bounteous field of wheat.”
Is this not true? My parents were not farmers. However, my mother was raised on a farm, and each harvest season she was beckoned by the astonishing golden fields of grain. We would hop into the car and drive north of Mercer to see her father surrounded by an ocean of bold ochre. Just as birds fly north in the spring, during harvest my mom headed home to Mercer. There was a total settlement in my mother’s soul as she saw her dad gathering in sun-ripened, gleaming russet shimmers of grain. Her father’s toil, commitment, and faith were evident – all keen devices of a seasoned farmer.
This pattern has continued in our home since our marriage. Jan’s parents, Norman and Delores Thompson of Ray, have farmed together for nearly 50 years. Each fall Jan is not settled until she has witnessed harvest on the family farm. She waits to see the grain dust rolling in a palate of hazy hues from combines operated by her dad and brother, Wes. They harvest the wave of amber embroidery that nature has appealingly sown into the dark loam. The breeze brings whimsy to the glorious grain before it gives way to the combine’s grasp. Once again, harvest is in progress.
Harvest at the Thompson farm, like many farms, can be a time of anxiety and pressure. Yet within the endeavors of harvest, there are celebrations. In the center of the celebration has been my mother-in-law, Delores. She is well indoctrinated into the sisterhood of “being a good farm woman.” She has the qualities that are simply irreplaceable. In the midst of the breakdown or another rain shower, she is the calming force. In the joy of the sun-blessed harvest, she sets the example of giving thanks. Her presence brings about harmony, and it is easy to see that her inner farm gate has always been hinged with genuine concern and steadfastness.
If I were to make a movie entitled “North Dakota Farm Ladies with True Grit,” she would have a leading role. When I first stepped foot on the Thompson farm, I knew Delores was a real key player in this operation. The clock is saying 11:15 a.m. and the dining room table is set for dinner. It is set in Delores’ fashion. Before her marriage to Norman she worked as a waitress and at the Luzon cafe in Williston. Her qualities as a gracious and efficient hostess still shine through. Let me see-for efficiency there are salt and pepper shakers and a butter dish on each end of the table. These are set upon a terry tablecloth, and there is even a garden flower for the centerpiece. The roast beef dinner has been prepared in the kettles she purchased before her marriage. (She knew the good Lord wanted her to be cooking rather than kettle shopping so her decision to purchase stainless steel heavy-duty Vollrath kettles was brilliant.)
A handsome platter of roast beef arrives at the table, and mounds of steaming potatoes appear in a crockery bowl. Next comes some substantial brown gravy, a fresh green salad – the parade of food ends with a mountain of scrumptious homemade golden buns. (Since this meal, I have talked many times about my mother-in-law’s delectable buns.) Can you recall the feeling of warm serving bowls and platters being passed from hand to hand? This is an invitation at the Thompson home to be engaged with all who are gathered at the table. It is good to interact in this manner, and often it can be as embracing as a charmed waltz.
Meals at the Thompson home always end in dessert. Delores knows the faces of the farm family that gathers around her table like Norman knows the lay of their farmland. Over the years Delores has instinctively anticipated our yearning for sweets and graciously satisfied with a real array of very good sugar delights. It is, however, the fine cookies that Delores makes that I, along with all other family members, hold in high regard. We fondly refer to them as the Myrtle Binde cookies, and oh are they delicious. These taste bud pleasers are light in texture like sugar cookies and frosted with butter frosting. A complete batch has been known to be polished off in one coffee break!
Delores’ committed baking practices shine through on these cookies. It has become a family competition who can hide a stash of these for private nibbling. With cookies this perfect, she simply can’t help having a throng of admirers.
Last week we visited Ray, and true to form, we were treated to Delores’ homemade buns and Myrtle Binde cookies! Delores is also very reliable when it comes to baking, I can only recall twice in 21 years that these baked treats were not available. Meals certainly bring folks together, and when we gather as a family around the meals prepared by Delores, all are smiling. I do believe Tanner, Delores’ grandson, said it best when he recently exclaimed, “Man, can that woman cook!”
The wheat sheaf is an ancient symbol of abundance. As harvest begins, let us be inspired by this rich North Dakota tradition. Let us give thanks for fields of bounty, our energy, and good health. Let us not forget the hands that prepare the staff of life in our kitchens.
I share with you two recipes that know my mother-in-law’s hands very well.
Repnow is a Rugby resident.
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