Real Cooking

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CHERYL JOST
I took a deep breath. “OK, before I go to town and start getting the third degree, how many acres do we have planted to wheat, is the crop poor, mediocre or good, and when do you anticipate cutting?”

Our Explorer was full as we headed to Marion for dinner at Kingfisher’s Inn. My husband and I, along with our kids, were taking Keith’s parents out for a combination birthday party/Father’s Day celebration.

Now, as we sped down the road, I questioned the farmer and his supposedly-retired farmer-father.

“The wheat looks real good this year,” came the response from the back seat.

After farming for more than 50 years, Bert Jost should know.

“Shawn cut a load this afternoon,” Keith added, referring to our farm manager at the dairy in Kingman. “Alex and I will go down on Monday to help cut the wheat there and then we’ll move back home. By the middle of the week, harvest should be in full swing.”

“So, how many acres do we have in wheat?” I asked again, knowing that as soon as I entered a grocery store, church or restaurant I would get asked that question. “I need an answer-inquiring minds want to know.”

“Tell them that I don’t know how many acres are in wheat, but that I just hope we remember to cut it all,” Keith said with a chuckle.

“You boys better not forget a field.” We all laughed. Alice Jost knows how to keep her son in line. I’ve learned a lot from that woman over the years.

When I was a young bride thrust into my first wheat harvest literally days after I married her son, Alice was the one who took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. There were long, hot hours in the field and long, hot hours working in the kitchen.

Alice did it all without a peep of protest. In fact, she seemed energized by the excitement of bringing in a year’s crop.

These days, my sister-in-law Sharon and I share the duties of preparing meals and snacks for our harvest crew. With our children pitching in to drive trucks and tractors, harvest doesn’t seem as hard as it use to be.

But there is still something exhilarating about watching the combines crawl through a field of golden grain. Maybe it’s the anticipation of finally finding out just how many bushels each acre will yield.

Maybe it’s just the pleasure of working side by side with three generations of family members-the jokes, the eye rolling, the teasing, the knowing glances-and listening to Grandpa’s stories. These are the things that make each harvest memorable.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot over the years living here on Jost Farm, so I thought I might take this opportunity to share some items with those of you who-like me-might not have grown up living or working on a farm.

Here are a few friendly tips to help you through wheat harvest in Kansas.

Remember that you live in a primarily agricultural society. Many businesses and industries in the area rely on farm dollars to operate. A good harvest can mean a better local economy, schools and money in the Sunday offering.

If you are leading a meeting or a congregation this week, it would be to your advantage to make a fuss over harvest.

Know what you’re talking about. If the harvest is going well with fine weather and good crops, celebrate. But if the farmers are fighting rain and poor yields, you had best commiserate big time.

Numbers play an important role in harvest. Remember these: 14, 35, 50. If you remember these three numbers, you won’t look like a total dweeb when discussing this year’s crop.

The ideal moisture level for wheat is 14; numbers above 14 indicate the wheat is too wet or weedy while numbers under 14 imply that the grain is too light.

To look like you know what you’re talking about ask, “What did it test?” when inquiring about a crop. If the answer is 14, smile. If it’s 15 or above, shake your head and say something about too much rain this spring. Lower than 13? It got too hot and windy

The average wheat crop yields about 35 bushel to the acre. It’s OK, but nothing to get excited about.

When you ask, “How is it yielding?” and you hear numbers of 50 or above, pat the guy on the back. If by some miracle the numbers climb to 70-plus, feign a heart attack brought on by sheer joy.

Remember that harvest isn’t the only thing going on. This is prime hay-baling time and many farmers are still putting in other crops like milo and soybeans in addition to daily chores, working animals and plowing fields in preparation for next year’s crop.

Be careful when driving on the highways and down country roads. Overly tired or young, inexperienced drivers may be behind the wheel of a grain truck or tractor. Be patient and take your time to ensure everybody’s safety.

If you or your kid has never ridden in a combine, don’t be shy about asking a farmer that you know for a ride. Just be sure to choose one with a cab and air conditioner-the combine, that is, not the farmer.

And bring along some cookies-or some watermelon, or some cherries, or some cupcakes, or pizza. Pizza is always good. Harvest tends to make one hungry. Go figure.

* * *

I thought it only fitting that I include a recipe that uses a wheat product. This bread is great right out of the oven. I like to mess around with the seasonings a bit; rosemary is a nice addition and fresh minced garlic makes it all the better. Try dipping it in a nice grade of olive oil topped with freshly ground black pepper.

Focaccia

23/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 tbs. active dry yeast

1 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. basil

1 tsp. garlic powder

Pinch of black pepper

1 tbs. vegetable oil

1 cup water

2 tbs. olive oil

1 cup mozzarella cheese

1 tbs. Parmesan cheese

Stir together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, herbs and pepper. Mix in the vegetable oil and water and stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

When the dough has formed a ball, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. (Or use your mixer with the bread hook.) Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl turning to cover. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes.

Punch down dough and place on a greased baking sheet. Pat into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Brush top with olive oil and sprinkle with the cheeses. Bake in a 450-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

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