Jilly D.

Posts Tagged ‘pea-shelling machine’

Cannonball Run on harmonica: sounds of summer

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on August 1, 2014 at 3:28 am

AFCU Class Swenson & Cooper Work 20100521GHUncle Donald was beginning to show early stages of Alzheimers disease when I met him. I recognized some of the signs before others did. But I loved him so much immediately I couldn’t say anything to anyone they didn’t already know. Uncle Donald had a pea-shelling machine that would save me countless hours, I had heard from Sam and Tom during Charlie and Janet’s reception dinner. I stopped by their house in Mecklenburg to inquire.

“Oh, yes. Just bring them bushel of peas up here and we’ll do them up right.” Uncle Donald said. I returned within the half hour with two bushels of shell peas. Donald Warren had dragged his machine out of the garage and hooked it up with an extension cord. We set up operations in the driveway towards the back yard. He showed me how to use it, including the removal of cotter pins from the basket covering the wire mesh bin. Once we had filled the pea drawer, Uncle Donald called out for help. “Nori, it’s time for the running board.”

peasAunt Nori came out of the house with a plastic bucket. She walked to the side of the house and started unwinding the hose. Then she turned the faucet on, but the power head on the hose was still off. Nori aimed the sprayer at the wooden running board and shot it down wet in a hurry. Then she showed me the real magic to this process of cleaning peas. As she ran the peas down the board, all the chaff stuck to the board and the peas ran down clean into the bucket below.  Nori’s kitty kept tangling herself around her ankles. Every time Nori took a step that cat did a figure eight through and around her feet. Nori stopped to pick her up and held her nose close to her cheek.

Uncle Donald was already thrashing the next bunch of peas in the sheller. But he forgot that the drawer wasn’t there. Aunt Nori was still rolling peas from it. Peas were flying everywhere. I rushed over and pointed out the problem to him. He shut the machine off and started yelling at Nori. It was her fault. He was ready and she wasn’t. Soon enough Nori had that drawer back in the pea shelling machine and Donald was off and running it all over again.

I left half the shelled peas behind for the two of them to enjoy.

Uncle Donald found his way down to the farm a few days later. I wasn’t going to ask how he got there, since he hadn’t been driving for several years. I’d been playing around with a harmonica trying desperately to learn how to make my own music, instead of just consuming it. He pulled in and found me sitting on a big rock under the shade of the tree making noise.

Uncle Donald asked to borrow my mouth harp. He knocked it a couple time hard against his knee to get my spit out. Then he put the harmonica to his lips. He began to blow softly and the notes went up and down the scale. Then he set it down once more on his knee and tapped it. He put it to his mouth again and suddenly the familiar tune of “Cannonball Run” came flowing out of the little organ. When the tune was finished, Donald smiled so wide.

“Do it again, please,” I begged.

Donald picked it up again and played another foot stomping tune. “Red Wing is the name of that one,” he said.

“Keep going,” I said in rapture.

“No, I can’t. I don’t even know where that came from,” said Donald. I saw from the look of oblivion that he was telling the truth.

“Do another, please” I said to Uncle Donald. He looked at the harmonica as though it were a spatula and handed it back to me.

“No, thank you.” Uncle Donald turned to Sam and started talking about the carburetor of an Allis Chalmers tractor. I knew the moment had passed. I treasure that moment as one where I met Uncle Donald as himself.

From then on, it was a struggle with Uncle Donald. He became increasingly belligerent with Aunt Nori. Thomas moved back home for a while to help his mother keep track of Uncle Donald.

He’d always been the kind of farmer who would get up from a dining room table full of company and walk out the door and not say a word. He’d plow a field or fix that motor or replace mower blades or whatever the task he’d had in his mind. No matter that company could be sitting down to a meal to which he had personally invited them.

As the Alzheimers progressed, this personality quirk of his got dangerous. He’d be sitting in his chair in the living room with the dog on his lap watching television and the next minute he’d be gone out the front door without a sound. Down to the post office. He’d walk to the old grange, the cemetery, past the old general store and waterwheel.

“Things just don’t look the same anymore,” Donald said to me in the lobby of the Post Office one morning. Donald and Nori lived just one house away from the parking lot of the P.O. but he’d gotten lost.

Then one day at home Uncle Donald stubbed his toe bad. It got infected. He took a fall and the ambulance got him to the hospital. They say it was a stroke but it was a blessing.

Sam had a hard time attending the funeral. He mourned one of his fathers. Donald had taught him to farm, repair equipment, work hard, love one woman and be honest. While Charlie has always had a hard time showing Sam affection, Donald showed it openly towards Sam by treating his nephew as a son. There are still days when Sam talks about what Uncle Donald told him or taught him. Gospel, Donald spoke.

Donald gave me personal instructions in farming techniques unrelated to the tractors. He supervised the transplanting of tomatoes into the field, potato planting and hilling cucumber seeds in late spring.

“Here’s how to use a hoe,” Donald showed me. He didn’t say another word, just demonstrated a variety of techniques. He handed the hoe back to me. “Do it.”

I learned by watching him and trying to copy his actions. He didn’t explain the principals of leverage or the importance of a sharp edge. The swift and easy swing of the hoe’s head cuts through weeds and soil within an inch of the roots of the plant. I learned the technique of using a hoe to create a hill for squash and cucumber seeds without any words. He worked the hoe while I watched. I tried it. He did it again and he showed me what I hadn’t noticed the first time. I got the hang of it and learn to appreciate how sophisticated one could get with such a simple tool. Actions superseded the need for words. Sam is a lot like his Uncle Donald in this respect.

June Peas

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on June 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Family of Fallow DeerFawns leaping. Buffalo calving. Pastures pop up green. The perch jump from the pond to splash in the dawn’s red light. From the first spring garlic greens to strawberries, spinach, radishes and baby lettuces, the taste of the garden comes back into the kitchen. The fields get planted and the corn seedlings emerge and grow inches in a single day.

June is the month of peas. The cool and damp nights and the sunny days nurture the vines. Some afternoons I swear I can see them stretching and growing. Every morning I spend the last moments of dawn with a hoe in the pea patch. Slicing off any new weeds at the roots and turning the dew on the soil into the roots of the pea plants gives them a head start. Once they flower, the pods begin to form.peas

Since my first summer with Sam I gardened here and mostly learned the hard way how to deal with weeds. Have you ever seen the yard ornaments that are wooden cutouts of old women bent over from the waist in the garden? The muscles along the backs of my legs and my lower back convinced me there had to be a better way. I have since worn the seats out of several pairs of shorts and overalls and jeans in learning weed management. The hoe is the most powerful tool in the farm fight against weeds. None of the toxic chemicals you can apply to soil work nearly as well as a hoe and bending over to get weeds right by the roots.

Growing up my parents believed we should learn to eat our vegetables. We did! I gagged on the puke-green tinny tasting canned peas. I used to spit them into my napkin or hide them under the rim of my plate. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I learned my dad hated canned peas too. He ate them because he wanted us to learn to love them.

I do love fresh peas. I don’t mean pea pods or sugar snaps. I mean old fashioned shell peas. Sometimes they call them English peas which the British eat with a butter knife.

When I tend my pea patch I treat the plants as living beings and gently lift the vines as a groom would a lace veil. When I tend to plants that bear food for me to eat, I try to be as humane to these living beings as I am to the four legged creatures who provide us with meat.

I only pick the pea pods that are fully developed. I don’t let them get too big and starchy. When the peas seem to burst out of the natural wrappers, you may have waited too long. Sugars begin to turn to starch as the pea matures into the seed for the next pea plant.

Mornings are the best time to pick peas. For hours I will gently tug the pods loose from the veil. Taste testing is encouraged. I often wonder if the original Pez dispenser of sweet candies didn’t get their original inspiration from sweet pea pods. I am a kid in the candy store and I snack along the row.

The more I pick, the more the pea plants flower. The more they flower, the more peas they produce. Some seasons I start my first harvest the last week of June and pick until August. If I don’t pull the vines and the fall brings cool and damp weather the plants may generate a smaller second harvest of fall peas.

Industrial farmers broadcast their pea seeds across acres of fields and harvest with enormous machines. The vines are ripped out and the pods shaken loose and the peas are sent on to be sorted, canned or dried. These farmers wait until almost all of the peas have gotten large enough in their pods to harvest. It’s all over within a matter of hours. There is just one picking.

I usually pick the same plants ten times over the course of a season. We don’t use the industrial model for our small scale operation but that doesn’t mean I don’t find machines useful. Uncle Donald Warren built a pea shelling machine from blueprints issued by Cornell Cooperative Extension many decades ago. Today, this contraption runs off the power generated by the solar panels, windmills and waterwheel. Uncle Donald converted it from handcrank to electric in the 1950s.

The pea shelling machine is a wire mesh basket that opens up so you can pour a peck of pea pods inside. The wire mesh is just large enough to allow the peas to fall through, but not the pods. With cotter pins, the basket is fastened shut. Above the basket is a wooden cover that directs any flying peas back down. Below the basket is a drawer. It sits on the machine’s base of legs. The basket spins around breaking open pods. The peas pop out and drop down into the drawer below.

Once the pods have been broken open, the wire mesh basket is cleaned out of the empty pods. These treats are fed to the deer, elk and buffalo. The pods are too chewy and stringy for the human digestive system. To the big critters, it’s candy.

The drawer is removed from the pea shelling machine and the second stage of preparing peas in bulk begins. The “running board” is a piece of rough cut lumber with side boards attached and mounted on a slant with short legs in front and long legs in back. First you get the board wet with water. Then you place a bucket at the bottom of the running board to catch the clean peas. Slowly you pour the contents of the pea drawer from the top of the board. The chaff sticks to the board and the peas roll quickly into the bucket.  Clean as a whistle. Add a little water and steam for a sinfully good treat.

In winter there is nothing like the taste of farm fresh peas. As a vegetable side dish, in soup or rice, there’s nothing so good as peas. I eat my fill of raw ones during the season and savor them steamed in June and July. I set up operations to freeze peas once I have run a bushel through the pea shelling machine.

My summer kitchen for freezing large quantities of vegetables is in winter my cold storage area. We don’t heat this space in winter and in summer we don’t want the heat from baking or cooking in the main room of the cabin.

After Sam built the waterwheel, the lean-to was replaced with a galley kitchen that serves in winter as cold storage and in summer as a kitchen. There is a crank-out window to the north side that opens outdoors to let the steam out in summer.

There is one freezer in the barn and one in the breezeway. We usually run only one freezer by February, having depleted some of our frozen foods. By June we have more than enough electricity because of the long days, so I start filling the second freezer with the fresh crops of fruits and vegetables for the next year.