Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You plowed under corn and planted what?

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July trip to Iowa, part 2.
Remember that part of the movie? I'm sure more than a few seasoned farmers in the Waterloo area have driven down Patti's highway and thought, "What were they thinking?" You see, when Patti retired a few years back, she decided to plant a vineyard. There were no voices telling her to do this, but it was a fulfillment of a dream. She went to school and studied to be a viticulturist, she visited Iowa vineyards and researched the ideal grape for her area. She ordered the Marechal Foch, 700 plants, and put them in the earth by hand, right where that corn used to stand. And over time, she added 5 Corot Noir, 5 Delaware, 15 Geisenheim, 5 Traminette and Rovat and 5 Swenson Red. Did I mention the hundreds of rhubarb she planted? Funny, a working farm with thousands of dollars in tractors and machinery, and really the only way to plant grapes is by hand. As the grapes grew, they needed to be staked and they needed arbors for that day when they would wrap around them and the fruit would hang. Vito's Vineyard was established.

When tornado #2 hit last year, we were relieved that no one was injured. The house was destroyed, but that's just bricks and mortar. The one question everyone was so afraid to ask was the condition of the vineyard. It was more than plants...it was blood, sweat and tears. No insurance check could replace the growth of 2 years, no insurance check could make up for all the family members that have spent time out there pulling weeds, and staking vines. There was loss, but it was not a total loss. She replaced the plants that didn't make it, and nurtured the ones that did. Lori and I joined her in the vineyard for a morning and tied up the new growth, pinched off the Japanese Beetles, and cut away the old twine that was holding the vines when the tornado hit. It was a battered shredded reminder of an event no one wants to think about, bad karma, away with it! I wonder, as the vineyard grows to maturity, if old dead Italian relatives will come through the arbors for a meal much like the old dead ball players did to play in Field of Dreams? I hope I am around if they do!

One afternoon, we ventured into Cedar Falls, and at the U of Northern Iowa museum they had a display of Iowa Food. It was a history of the progression of food in the state, from the family farm to a corporation, pretty interesting. It's hard to believe there is very little canning left in the state. There were lots of antique kitchen gadgets, linens and even an ad from Eagle Food Stores from the 70's, with these crazy cheap prices. We all smiled, because my dad probably had to approve that ad, he would have been a VP of Operations back then.

We had so much fun doing the simple things in Iowa. We looked for barn quilts, letters in nature and pondered our artist cards. The barn quilts are world famous, and throughout the state you'll see large quilt squares painted or attached to barns. Barns are such a phenomenon. They are very costly to build and repair, and many of the barns are a more decorative feature of a farm. They are used for practical purposes, but with the advances of aluminum sheds, there are much cheaper ways to add storage to a farm. One of the original uses was to store hay, but unless a farmer has livestock or horses, it is unlikely he grows and stores it. It is wonderful to see these barns preserved and maintained, they really are a symbol of our state and its history.
More than once we made Patti u-turn on a highway so we could shoot a picture.

The artist cards were something new to all of us. At an art store the clerks were talking about how they make these cards and trade them with other artists. They are the size of a playing card and are more creative than say a business card. As cool as they were, we all decided we have enough projects without adding this one to the list.

And finally the letters in nature. At many of the charming stores we wandered through, we would see these 4x6 photos, some color, some black and white. They were of things we see everyday, but when they are shot up close, they appear as a letter. We looked at everything with new eyes. This letter "J" I found at the Amish farm from the earlier post. Perhaps someone I love whose name starts with a "J" has an idea of what I'm up to!

Perhaps of all the meals we enjoyed, the things we made and sampled, nothing is as wonderful as Patti's Concord Grape Pie. The recipe is old and not particularly secret, it came from the old Better Homes and Garden Cookbook that all of our grandmothers had. Concord grapes are not the easiest to find, and there is no substitute for this pie. The recipe is a little time consuming in the prep, but once the grapes are skinned and cooked, they can be frozen and baked into the pie later. I have my eye on the various markets here and am hoping to get my hands on the grapes this season. I hope someone gets the chance to bake one, you will not be disappointed. I never publish a crust recipe, it is as personal as it gets for me. Patti uses lard. Yes it is flakey and delicious, but we know where that stuff comes from, and I know where it will sit forever! Happy Baking!

Concord Grape Pie

Slip skins from 1½ pounds (4 cups) Concord grapes; set aside the skins. Bring pulp to boil; reduce heat; simmer, uncovered 5 minutes. Sieve to remove seeds. Add skins to pulp.
Mix into pulp: 1 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tbls lemon juice
2 tbls melted butter
Pour into 9-inch unbaked pastry shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, sift ½ cup all-purpose flour with ½ cup sugar. Cut in ¼ cup butter till crumbly. Sprinkle atop pie and bake another 15 minutes.

Here is the quote that hangs in Patti's house, it is a reminder that with family friends, and faith in God, you can overcome anything.
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

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