Thursday, December 2, 2021

Looking Toward the Horizon

 

The prairie grasses swayed gently in the breeze of a pleasantly cool November morning. As I gazed out across the landscape now dressed for fall, I thought about the past.


This little bit of Kansas prairie probably looked much the same back in 1900. At that time, Albert Brinkman bought acreage along the Rattlesnake Creek in Stafford County, Kansas. Brinkman, who was a great-great-great uncle of Randy's, paid about $4 an acre. Originally in a tract of 1,040 acres, 560 acres remain in the Fritzemeier family.  

Today, Randy owns the pasture, along with his cousin, Don Fritzemeier. Two generations ago, Randy's Grandpa Clarence owned the pasture with his brothers, Ed (Don's father) and Harve.

This is an undated photo of Randy's Grandpa, Clarence Fritzemeier, with a bull. The back of the photo has written (in Randy's Grandma Ava's handwriting): "He looks like he knew he was going to be sold."

The breeds and the characteristics most coveted by cattleman have changed through those 120+ years, just as the landscape shifts from verdant spring green to faded fall hues to the sparse monotone of winter.

But the land itself has been there - silently playing a part in the family's farming legacy. For 121 years, the family has been the steward of the land they call the Big Pasture. And the land has been good to them. Those native grasses have helped sustain cows and their calves, adding diversity to the family's crop farming operations. 

 The meandering Rattlesnake Creek has been a source of life blood for the cattle that graze there.

A summer view - August 2020

Some years, the weather and the markets shone on the family's financial coffers. 


Other years, conditions were less than ideal. But, through it all, the legacy has continued.  

And it will continue. But our role in that legacy is shifting. On November 8, we completed our final cattle roundup at the Big Pasture. We will continue to own the land. But we are leasing our cow herd as part of our transition from active farming to retirement next year.


In truth, I'm not convinced it will be Randy's last cattle roundup. Since we will own the cows and retain a share of the calf crop, he can probably be persuaded to help with the roundup. But we sold our feeder calves this fall, rather than keeping them and feeding them throughout the winter. It will be nice to have the flexibility to go to family events without having to find someone to care for our herd. 

But it may be tough when January and February roll around, and the parade of baby calves is not quite as easily accessible. (For the record, our partner in the cow/calf operation - Tye - has said I can visit and take photos any time.)

As I sat in the pickup, honking the horn to attract the cows and calves to the hay and lead the parade to the corrals, I thought it was fitting that my eyes were focused on the rearview mirror. 


As we eye a new "normal," it's still important to look back at the legacy.

Years ago, the extended family would gather in the spring to take the cattle to pasture and then round them up in the fall. I think this undated photo would have been taken in the 1950s.

L to R: Clarence Fritzemeier (Randy's Grandpa) Milton Giedinghagen, Ben Fritzemeyer, Melvin Fritzemeier (my father-in-law) & Harve Fritzemeier. Yes there are two different spellings on Fritzemeier - it's not a typo! 


While the guys were rounding up and sorting the cattle, the women got together to make a big meal.

My mother-in-law Marie, Jean Newell Fritzemeyer & Marjorie Giedinghagen on a cattle working day back in the 1950s.

I helped with the round-up there for the first time in 2019, though I'd been helping at other locations for years and years. To our knowledge, I was the first woman to help with the actual cattle work at the Big Pasture. (If I want to get technical, the woman still gets the job of making the meal. It's just sandwiches instead of a full-course hot meal.)

Undated photo - Clarence and Melvin

Back when Randy and Don were young, the brothers and families hauled all the cattle back home in small trailers. As they drove through Stafford, Randy remembers his dad telling him to "duck down." School was in session, and Randy was absent for the day. (Knowing Melvin, it was probably more joking around. It wasn't unusual for kids to be excused for a day of work back then.)

Don recalled a cattle moving day when Clarence took more than one unintended dip in the Rattlesnake. They also remembered a run-in Melvin had with a cow who was reluctant to leave the wide open spaces of the Big Pasture. She appeared to be trying out for the Olympics with a vault over Melvin's 4-wheeler. Luckily, both man and beast were unhurt.


Who knows? Maybe this Hereford pictured with Melvin was on the Big Pasture at some point. 

At that time, the Fritzemeiers raised horned Herefords.

Randy and I also had Hereford bulls as well as Angus bulls for our crossbred herd. But we opted for polled Herefords. 

My horn honking finally paid off with some of the herd heading toward the corrals.

It took more than one excursion for the guys on the 4-wheelers to find all the cows and calves scattered through the acreage. 


Once they were gathered, it was time to set up panels, the loading lane and loading chute so we could get the cattle from the pens to Don's semi. Don built the lane and chute one winter. 

The guys have done the set-up so often that it's kind of like watching a choreographed dance.

Just like their ancestors before them, they used plenty of wire to keep everything together. (It's a farmer thing!)

Then it was time for sorting. Our cattle and Don's were intermingled, so we sorted out our cows for the first semi load. The two cousins (along with a couple of other helpers) sorted while I ran the gate. The guys have been doing this a long time, and they seem to know instinctively what the other is going to do.

 

That done, we separated our calves for the next semi load.


 

This year, Don opted to load his cows and calves together, so that sped the process.

By now, the guys are used to my insistence on photos. 

Our friend, Mike, has been helping at the Big Pasture long enough that he's learned the "choreography" as well. I had to convince him to be in the photo. But then he insisted it was my turn, too.

It's tempting to look in the rearview mirror and remember only the good parts. But, just like anything, we've had our share of "mud" - the challenges and obstacles inherent in any business operation. It's just that our obstacles were sometimes literally mud ... and other organic matter.

But those challenging times are just part of life and business.

Since our children have chosen other careers, we will partner with a young farmer who has come back home to work with his family. As I wrote earlier this summer, Randy's Uncle Glenn gave him the opportunity 50 years ago as a sophomore in high school to get started with farming. Randy is thankful for the opportunity to "pay it forward," hopefully helping another young farmer - Tye Miller - make this farming and ranching thing work.

The sun was going down as we returned to the farmstead after a long day at the Big Pasture. We unhooked the trailer and headed for home.
As we drove away, I asked Randy to stop for a sunset shot.
And I was thankful for this legacy and this life.


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The March Toward Harvest: November Update

November 21, 2021
 

The march toward Harvest 2022 continues. As I wrote last month, I have "borrowed" an idea from Stafford County Flour Mill. During the last growing season, the mill posted monthly photos on its Facebook page. 

Our summer 2022 harvest will be our final one as active farmers, so I decided to do something similar. Since we began planting wheat on September 21, I chose the 21st of each month as my target date. The photo at the top of the post is November's entry into this online journal of sorts.

October 21, 2021

Here's how the wheat looked a month earlier on October 21 at the same location. 

In October, I also photographed wheat that we'd planted in a field where we'd harvested corn. We had volunteer corn coming up among the wheat. 

 


At that time, I said that a hard freeze would "zap" the corn, and it would no longer be viable. But the winter wheat is designed to survive the winter.

Even though a hard freeze was later in our region than it normally is, it did happen. The still green-colored growth is wheat and the dried up plant matter is the corn. You can also see a portion of a corn cob.


The dying corn gives fields where it's located a yellow tinge. But the wheat will be just fine. 

Our planting was delayed by some rain. We didn't finish up planting and replanting until October 23. 

That wheat is a month behind the earliest planted wheat and you can definitely tell the difference. It's not nearly as thick and lush looking.

You can see where Randy replanted in this field. He ran the wheat drill a different direction, trying to fill in the stand.

I decided to take a photo at the same location I'd taken the October sunset photo. As you can see, there's still some water in the mudhole.
 

We are not alone in seeing the discrepancies in our wheat stand. We subscribe to "The Wheat Farmer/Row Crop Farmer," a publication that caters to wheat farmers. One of its Kansas columnists said this in the November 2021 issue:

Many farmers delayed planting because it was either too hot or too dry, while others went ahead and dusted in wheat. Then when they did get started, they ran into rain delays. There was a great deal of replanting. I know of several farmers who planted the same fields three times. ... In our case, we have a lot of terrific looking stands but others, while good enough to keep, are just scrappy looking. There could be some weed issues on those fields next spring.
Vance Ehmke, Ehmke Seed, Healy, Kansas
in The Wheat Farmer/Row Crop Farmer

Another columnist from Belle Plaine, Kansas, said:

There are good fields, and there are bad fields. ...

And that sums up farming in a nutshell.

Until next month ...
 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars

 

All things pumpkin seem to take center stage on dessert tables for ladies' meetings and family gatherings this time of year.

But if I'm on the calendar to provide a fall treat, I think about my sister, Lisa. She's not a pumpkin fan, though she says she's more accepting of pumpkin-flavored desserts than she used to be. 

It's tough to be pumpkin-challenged at this time of year.

So I usually opt for another fall flavor. I was the dessert provider for my PEO group last week. I tried out an Apple Cheesecake recipe. It got good reviews with my cheesecake-loving granddaughter and her Daddy. Really, it got good reviews all around.


But I was looking for something even better. Jill suggested Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars from Sally's Baking Addiction. Sally's is Jill's go-to favorite baking blog. (I'll let that slide, since my blog has a schizophrenic focus - farm, family, faith, photography and, yes, food.)

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars are what Jill makes herself as a birthday treat. (If you're the Mom, you know about making your own birthday treat.)

After tasting them, it's no wonder. It's good just as is. Who can argue with a buttery shortbread crust ... and crunchy streusel. But the homemade salted caramel sauce brings it to a whole other level of scrumptiousness. 

I will definitely add it among my favorite apple dessert recipes. For the PEO meeting, I topped with a small scoop of caramel ice cream and drizzled with a little additional warm caramel sauce.

It was a hit. If you're looking for a last-minute addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, look no further!

 

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars

Shortbread Crust

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Apple Filling

4 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced, 1/4 inch thick (I used Granny Smith, but Jonathan would be good, too, if you can find them)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cold and cubed
Homemade salted caramel (see below) or store-bought caramel sauce

Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Make the crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes and then remove from the oven. (As the crust bakes, you can prepare the filling and streusel.)
  3. Make the apple filling: Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
  4. Make the streusel: Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
  5. Turn the oven up to 350°F. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. Cut into 12-16 bars, depending on what size you want. NOTE FROM ME: For a fancy dessert at a meeting you will probably want to cut them larger - maybe only 9 bars per pan, depending on the serving size you want. Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The bars will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and drizzling with caramel.
  2. Apples: Sally's Baking Addiction recommends using two different kinds of apples for a more complex flavor. She typically uses both a tart apple variety such as Granny Smith, and a sweeter apple variety such as Pink Lady. You’ll end up with about 3-4 cups. A little more or less is OK, based on your preference of filling.
      ** Sally's original recipe called for 2 apples. Jill suggested using double the amount of apples, so that's what I did. (This is one of those times it would be helpful to have a measurement in cups, since the size of apples varies. I used about 8 cups of apples for a 9- by 13-pan.  
 
      3.    Larger Batch: Recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9×13 pan. Pre-bake the crust for 18 minutes, then extend the bake time in step 5 to about 45-55 minutes.

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar (make sure it’s labeled “pure cane sugar”)
6 Tablespoons salted butter, room temperature cut up into 6 pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Heat granulated sugar in a medium heavy-duty saucepan (avoid using non-stick) over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn it.
  2. Once sugar is completely melted, immediately stir in the butter until melted and combined. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added. If you notice the butter separating or if the sugar clumps up, remove from heat and vigorously whisk to combine it again. (If you’re nervous for splatter, wear kitchen gloves. Keep whisking until it comes back together, even if it takes 3-4 minutes. It will eventually– just keep whisking. Return to heat when it’s combined again.)
  3. After the butter has melted and combined with the caramelized sugar, cook for 1 minute without stirring.
  4. Very slowly stir in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Since the heavy cream is colder than the hot caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble when added. After all the heavy cream has been added, stop stirring and allow to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the salt. Allow to slightly cool down before using. Caramel thickens as it cools.
  6. Cover tightly and store for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Caramel solidifies in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove to desired consistency.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: You can make this caramel in advance. Make sure it is covered tightly and store it for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before using in a recipe. This caramel is OK at room temperature for a day if you’re traveling or gifting it. You can freeze the salted caramel, too. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature, then warm up before using.
  2. Sugar: This recipe is most successful using granulated sugar that’s labeled “pure cane” on the packaging. (For example: Domino brand regular granulated sugar says “pure cane granulated” on the packaging.
  3. Salt: Use regular table salt or kosher salt. The original recipe called for 1 teaspoon. I thought that was a little salt forward, so I suggest 1/2 teaspoon instead. You may want to taste it and add more, if wanted.