We visited the farm last weekend to introduce two of my favorite people in the world to wheat harvest. It’s a busy, dusty, exhausting, fun time of the year.
The days are usually really long – starting in the morning and reaching until way past sunset as long as the grain is still dry enough to cut. Dad is super efficient when he’s harvesting. Actually, he’s always super efficient. And everybody has their place in the wheat harvest train.
It may sound like a small piece of the puzzle, but mealtime during harvest season (or planting or spraying) is an important part of the farm’s efficiency. Taking time to stop the equipment, load up and head to the house for a sit-down meal, then drive back to the field and restart where he left off just doesn’t make sense. That hour-and-a-half he wasted is equal to almost one semi load of grain.
To fill this gap, my mother – and my grandmother before her – have taken on the fine art of making lunches. A “Lunch” (which is clearly a noun rather than a time of day) includes: one or two homemade sandwiches, a paper sack filled with chips, fruit, veggies, and dessert, and a jar of freshly brewed iced tea.
To be clear, my mom is multi-talented. She has her degree in physical therapy, but hasn’t practiced as a therapist since my brother and I were kids. As the farm grew, she assumed her role as office manager, keeping track of employee payroll, sending and paying bills, and tracking grain inventory.
In addition to these very important tasks my mom assumes another more “traditional” role of farmwife: feeding the farm crew.
Mom has always balanced her roles with incredible grace and efficiency – and a seemingly endless supply of energy. It never occurred to me as a kid that managing the books for the farm, always being on-call to drive the grain cart, raising two small children, and cooking at least two meals a day for 10+ people was anything other than normal. You can see why I feel I have large shoes to fill.
At harvest time, Mom makes every kind of sandwich imaginable – and then comes up with more ideas. During the two-week harvest she rotates through brisket sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches, meatloaf sandwiches, and (as a special treat) even steak sandwiches. Occasionally she makes deli sandwiches when she’s really running out of time and ideas, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The harvest crew eats well.
In addition to one or two sandwiches, each employee also receives a brown paper lunch bag filled with goodies. As a kid I’d carefully write (and elaborately decorate) the names of each of the guys on these brown paper sacks to identify whose treat belonged to whom.
Whether it was depression-era frugality from my grandmother or the prudent use of resources that an unpredictable farm income teaches you, few things are wasted and most things are re-used (or up-cycled) to make lunches. Old butter and sour cream dishes become home to freshly baked apple cake, carrot sticks, and Pringles (of which I’m pretty certain Mom had every variety on hand at all times).
Then there is the art of the tea jars.
Miracle Whip has been a staple in the house for sandwiches for as long as I can remember. Prior to the mid-1990s it was sold in glass quart jars with a wide rim. As it turns out, this jar is the perfect size for a glass of cold iced tea to last the afternoon. Lids fit tightly so liquid doesn’t spill in the shuffle of transport from the kitchen to the field to the combine. My grandmother cleverly invented this technique for tea jars before Nalgene water bottles existed… and who would pay good money to buy water bottles when it comes free out of the tap, anyway?
Once the quart glass jars are filled with ice and tea, each don a coat of a cold, wet rag. These ripped and stained pieces of cloth turn out to be a small piece of heaven when you’ve been out in the dusty, 105-degree, windy Kansas wheat field all day.
Tuck the tea jars in the big, red cooler and cover them with an old towel. Place the paper lunch sacks around the jars to fill in the extra space. Sandwiches travel in a separate insulated container so they’re still piping hot when they reach the cab of the tractor.
It was while making lunches I learned how to cut a cantaloupe, use a paring knife for just about everything, and make sandwiches 15 at a time. I helped Mom bake dozens of cookies and learned you could fit at least 20 cookies on a baking sheet (and sometimes up to 25 if you space them carefully enough).
It was making lunches with my mom where I learned to cook and love and serve others. It is still making lunches with my mom where we catch up on life, share our hardships and fears, and encourage one another.
I hope you find the joy of making lunches for people you love – and also the joy of opening your very own paper lunch sack with your decorated name on the front.
With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.