Stories from Beppe: The first Nor’Easter

Around our county, we periodically have these snowstorms which are combined with a bitter wind strong enough to blow a child over. This wind is infamously known as a “Nor’easter”, named for the direction it comes from. Now obviously this is not the story of the first North East wind of all time. Rather, it is the story of the first legendary storm my grandparents, Jack and Audrey Appel, experienced on our farm! As told by the matriarch of our family, our Beppe!

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This time of year always “encouraged” the grownups to find creative ways to entertain us!

“We had moved to Whatcom County in the year 1967. Once in a while we would hear people mention the northeaster, but we had no clue really what they were talking about. Our first winter was a mild one, but the next winter (of ’68) made a lasting impression.

One week after the Christmas vacation, the wind started to blow and didn’t stop for two weeks. Jack worked long, long days to keep the farm and dairy cows going in such freezing conditions. Our driveway was so full of snow it was impossible for even the snow plow to get through. The milk truck could drive across the neighbor’s field, so we were grateful the milk would not have to be dumped. The hired help couldn’t come because the snow had drifted across the roads, making them impassable. A neighbor from across the road showed up to help out, were we ever grateful to him!

We were ill prepared and everything froze. The generator didn’t work right away, and by the time it did it was too late. The worst of it was the cows couldn’t drink. After the milking Jack would herd them to the creek where a small stream still trickled. A few of the cows, to our great horror, walked up to the iced over pond instead. The ice cracked as the cows skittered around, but  it held.

Our children were cooped up the house, and there were two children living next door with their mother, so of course they had to come over to play! Because it was too cold upstairs, we brought the mattresses down on which they could sleep. The boys built forts with them during the day and had a great time.

A few times the boys and girls (7 total, all under the age of 10) got into each other’s hair, even though I had separated them in different parts of the house. One of the doors had a mirror on it and the kids slammed the door so hard it shattered into a thousand pieces. That’s when I broke down. However, the struggles were soon forgotten when the wind stopped after two weeks of howling in our snowed filled world. After the children went back to school, all the broken water pipes were fixed and our life returned to normal.

In the meantime, Jack had lost ten pounds and now we too could talk about the northeaster from experience.”

-Audrey Appel

Rainy Days

Watching the rain come down brings joy to my heart. I think we all can agree it’s been a little toasty this summer and many of us Washingtonians are really missing our famous rains. The rain signals summertime coming to an end and promises the return of the crisp air and foggy mornings of fall.

I absolutely love being curled up with a fuzzy blanket on the couch, hot drink in hand, just watching the rain come down. The more the better!

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Every once in a while it can be fun to go outside when the rain is especially intense, just to be in awe of the power of creation. For a little fun, puddle jumping is the best. Even as adults! All this rain also makes one especially glad they have a warm home to run into when the chill starts to set in. More often than not rain is better enjoyed when inside, where it’s warm and dry!

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Now, I may have a different story if I actually worked in the rain on a regular basis. I have memories of my dad coming in for breakfast after finishing the early morning chores in the freezing down pour of our winter rains. It’s not unusual to see those working on the farm rock a fashionable green or yellow plastic poncho along with their daily grey rubber boots. Even after peeling off this ensemble, my dad would have to change into fully dry clothes before having breakfast and then heading back out.

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Guaranteed, they have envied the warm, dry workplaces during the rainy season, but that doesn’t stop them from going out and doing what they love.

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Rain means extra care is taken to ensure everything in our barns is in tip top shape to keep the cows comfortable. No cow is allowed to get wet, muddy, or cold. Even if the farmers are consistently all of these things.

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This is one of the many reasons our farm simply cannot become certified organic. To become a “Certified Organic” farm, our cows would have to have year round access to a pasture. If our cows were in the pasture during the rainy season (which to be honest, is a good chunk of our months), they would be up to their knees in mud. In other (higher, dryer) areas, pastures are lovely! Unfortunately the rain that keeps our state so beautifully green makes it a tad difficult, for us personally, to keep the cows in pasture all year long. With our specific piece of land, it’s just too wet!

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Next time you run through a rainy parking lot into the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk for your weekend cereal, remember the farmers who are working in that same downpour. Rest assured, they make sure our herds are tucked safely away. Cozy as can be with their favorite snacks, watching the rain come down from their warm, dry, and clean stalls.

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Blackberry Pickin’

When I moved out of the old farmhouse to start a new life as a newlywed, I knew I would miss my family a little, but I had no idea how much I would miss the farm itself. Even though I still work for the farm, with the store on the end of the road I don’t often make the time to go past it. Too busy running from one place to the next! No longer is it a daily occurrence to see the old grey barn or bunkers filled with silage. When I do make it back to the farm it’s to spend some time by myself walking the dirt roads that weave around cornfields all the way down to the riverside.

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These walks never fail to show me just how fast everything changes on a farm. The corn this summer has shot up so fast! Though time continues to evolve the farm into a place where details begin to blur, every step of the land is full of memories.

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Rounding the corner of the bunkers at the edge of the barns is where you can overlook the land almost to the river. I can almost hear the laughter of my siblings as we run through the fields, the irrigation soaking our blonde heads. Over there is the little pond where the blue herons like to hang out. The creek flowing from that little pond is the best to play in, it even has a deep area where only the big kids could swim. Sometimes you could even catch a crawdad near the rocks!

All the way down to the river at the edge of the farm, stories come back to me. Different stories every day, triggered by a certain tree or a type of plant. Yesterday as I was nearing the river bar, I noticed the air was permeated with the scent of blackberries! Even something as simple as a scent brings back memories of summer days.

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Though most of them need a little more time, I managed to find a few to sample among the giant bushes growing wild. Though a little smaller this year due to the heat, they are still filled with the same sweet juice that tends to stain your hands instantly.

Berries

If anyone has picked blackberries before, they know the bushes these sweet little bundles grow on are absolutely loathe to give them up! The berries are a favorite summer time treat, but if you’re not cautious (and even if you are!), you may end up with some scratches and thorns stuck in you! Even though I was very careful about reaching around the thorns yesterday, I wasn’t watching my legs closely enough and ended up drawing blood! Violent little bushes.Bush

Thornes

When we were kids, blackberry season was always a highlight of the summer. My memories are so full of riding in loader buckets and competitions to find the biggest berry, I don’t even remember ever getting pricked by the thorns. I don’t remember being stung by the stinging needles that tended to intertwine themselves in the underbrush where our dirt covered feet would land. Farms are more than lots of fields and cows, they are the keepers of childhoods and the birthplace of amazing memories. A very important part of our heritage as Americans we should treasure deeply. Plus, you know, farms feed us and all that good stuff 😉

Barn Boots and Ice Cream

There are different types of women. There are put-on-a-skirt-and-go-to-work women and there are put-on-jeans-and-work-at-home women.  On the farm there is a third option, the put-on-barn-boots-and-jump-on-a-tractor women.  Then there are women like me who play childish pranks on her husband, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Judy Velthuizen is the barn boots type.  She would feed the cows in the morning then slip out of her boots, tie on an apron, and lay out an impressive buffet for her hungry family who have been out working with her. It was also common to feed a crew of workers and neighbors who came to help with putting up hay. Hay harvest days are sweaty, dusty, back-straining days that built hearty appetites. Judy took it in stride. I was young and single when I met Judy and I can’t tell you how impressed I was with how she could juggle home and farm work with ease and humor. I had no idea at the time that I too would be a farm wife someday, I hope I am living up to her standard.

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Judy first introduced me to the wonders of ice cream pie at a potluck in the late 1980’s.  I thought it was genius! Two great desserts in one!  That pie was made with a rice cereal and corn syrup crust and lots of chocolate syrup drizzled on top. My pie is a little different and uses my favorite of our new ice cream flavors: Salted Caramel.  I hope it serves as an homage to Judy’s creation.

Caramel Apple Ice Cream Pie

  • 1 graham cracker crust
  • 2 cups finely chopped peeled apples
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1 quart Appel Farms Salted Caramel Ice Cream
  • Candied Pecans (optional)

Melt butter in a small skillet.  Add sugars, cinnamon, and salt, then stir in the apples and pecans.  Saute until apples are tender, about ten minutes depending on the apple variety. Cool completely.
Soften the ice cream enough to make it easy to work with.  Layer one pint of ice cream in the pie crust.  Spread with the apple filling, then top with the rest of the ice cream.  Freeze until solid.
Thaw slightly to serve. Top with candied pecans if desired.

Candied Pecans

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves

Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Add the sugar and salt and heat until the sugar melts.  Add the pecans and saute for five minutes.  Spread on a parchment covered sheet pan to cool.

Caramel Apple Ice Cream Pie

8 Reasons Why Summer is Better on a Farm

Summer time is always better on a farm. Even a girly girl can go tromping through the woods sometimes!

  1. Bare feet! Shoes out, calluses in! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE shoes, but this is a freedom that can’t be beat. A regular washing of the feet was required before we were able to come back into the house, but it was worth it.
  2. “Down below”. This is how everyone refers to the area past the barns.
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    Fields, a forest, creeks, sand pit, the river- if any fun was to be had it was here. Running around building tree forts, swimming in the natural ponds along the creek, summertime was spent wild a free with out a worry in the world. This was also the best way to guarantee we wouldn’t wake my dad up from his afternoon nap. Four rowdy kids and their neighborhood friends do not mix well with a daily 3am wake up call.
  3. The “Boom”. With summer comes irrigation. With the irrigation comes a massive sprinkler we fondly called “The Boom”. Nothing beats a hot day better than running through a grass field getting soaked by a huge stream of water being shot over your head!
  4. A creek! Once in a while I would be really brave and join my brothers exploring. Something that was always sure to be a day of adventure was following the stream from the farm to the river. We would come home with scrapes from blackberry bushes, stinging nettle bumps, smelling of skunk cabbage, covered in muck, but with the biggest smiles on our faces and stories to tell. *Side note, shoes are typically not a good idea when attempting this. I can’t tell you how many shoes/boots were sucked off our feet never to be seen again!*
  5. A river bar. Now we weren’t allowed to go down here by ourselves until we were older, but the private “beach” next to a beautiful (icy cold) river quickly became the older kids hangout. HayI can’t tell you how many summer nights were spent gathered around a bonfire. Country life at it’s best.
  6. A haymow. Did you know you can make the absolute coolest forts ever in a haymow? Some of the bales were too big for us to maneuver, but the smaller, lighter, straw bales made great tunnels, rooms, and walls! I can’t tell you how many things I would smuggle up there to outfit my “house”.
  7. Other Farm Kids! We were blessed to grow up with multiple cousins around at all times. However, our family was much larger than biological. BoysOur farm in next door to the Smit Family farm, and like us, the family had moved into the area to farm and would pass their livelihood from one generation to the next. Therefore, not only did these kids have one farm to run around on, but two! Multiple generations of these families grew up (playing and working) together on the combined biggest playground ever! 
  8. These. icecreamsandwich-15 I’m going to cheat a little bit for this one! We didn’t have these growing up (with the exceptions of some church fundraisers), but we have them now!! Nothing says “summer on the farm” like one of these babies. And yes, I am addicted already.

If you asked my parents how it was raising kids on a farm they may tell you about the constant dirt and random animals we would bring into the house. But they would also tell you how it was the best possible thing for their kids to grow up in an area where their imaginations could run as wild as their feet. Some may think farmers don’t appreciate the land as much as they should, but I can tell you this. My family loves the land they have been entrusted with. Generations have grown up here learning respect for nature and the way it works. It was the best childhood you could ask for. Honestly, if we didn’t respect the land enough to take care of it in the best way possible, it would never last long enough for future generations to explore. We wholeheartedly believe God has blessed us beyond what we deserve, and because of that we have an even bigger responsibility to manage those blessings properly.