It’s that time of year. The warm, sunny, bee-filled days become cool, clear, fly-hugging nights. Fall is on the horizon and, as on many of our farms, this means we are chopping fourth crop alfalfa and corn silage. Oh, the wonderful aroma of fresh corn silage. When the wind is blowing right – and this past week it has been blowing a plentiful amount – I can catch a whiff all the way in my barn. It prompts a sigh and a smile; I do love chopping corn.
    After chopping from 7:30 a.m. to about 8:30 p.m. daily for almost a week now, we have managed to finish fourth crop and fill one narrow bunker. For a while there were two choppers running – one on hay, one on corn – so we could get our hay done in a timely manner. The guys had it all organized to keep the flow of trucks steady, and somehow dug up enough tractor drivers to keep the piles pushing and packing. Now, as I write this, the guys are fueling up and getting ready for another productive day, to keep working on filling the big bunker. We anticipate rain tonight and cooler weather tomorrow, so chopping tomorrow is a bit up in the air yet.
    I love this time of year for the smells in the kitchen too. Fall means I trade in berries for everything apple, pumpkin is starting to wiggle back into recipes, and the heavier, hot, to-go meals are back on the menu. I have a certain routine when it comes to chopping corn. I start by perusing all my past years’ menus. I note the most mundane of things in my notebook of chopping meals; which makes going back to reading them a fun experience, much like reading a diary. I note the weather, how many guys I fed, any comments on meals, how to tweak the recipe next time, any extra people who rolled in and got fed, if I doubled the recipes, and sometimes even where I keep that recipe so I can save myself time. I make a list using columns: breakfast, main dish, desserts, snacks, breads. There are many staples that stay on the list from year to year because they are no-fail field meals (garden frittata muffins, grilled burgers, jelly roll) and others that get written in to experiment with (BBQ chicken bread, chicken cordon bleu sandwich). This helps me stay organized and a bit less frazzled when I try to balance my cow and kitchen time.
    I’ve been trading the store-bought bread items (biscuits, frozen bread dough, crescent rolls) for homemade versions all summer, and have been impressed. Why haven’t I been doing this for years? As one may guess, the homemade versions are sturdier, more flavorful, and much easier to work with a rolling pin. Homemade crescent rolls for the crowd favorite Taco Pockets are tenfold better than the dough from a tube. Yes, you have to factor in the rising time needed for things, but it is worth it when the kitchen smells like fresh dough and tacos. If you are in need of a few meals for your chopping crew, here are a couple favorites on our farm.  

Homemade pizza calzones
Mix the following and let rest for 15 minutes: 1 package dry yeast, 1 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. After it rests, add 2 1/2 cups flour. Mix well and cover lightly and let rise for 15 minutes. In the meantime, in a large bowl mix everything you would put on your pizza: sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, sliced mushrooms, pepperoni, etc. (This crust can do a 10x15x1 inch pan, to give you a gauge.) When dough is ready, roll on a lightly floured surface, not too thin. Cut circles out of desired size, I use a Cool Whip container as my measure. Put a large spoonful of filling on one side of circle, fold and stretch dough over it, bringing dough from one side over the other and pinching it closed. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Meat pies
Brown 2 pounds of hamburger with a sliced onion, minced clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Add 4 thinly sliced carrots and 2-3 big diced potatoes. A variety of soup additions can be used as the liquid: Golden Mushroom soup, French Onion soup, or a cup or two of beef broth. Let it simmer until vegetables are soft. To thicken the broth, sprinkle in mashed potato flakes until desired consistency. This tastes great in biscuit pockets, or a trustworthy pie crust. I do the same thing as the calzones, cut into circles, filling on half, then fold over and pinch together. Then bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or less, until beautiful brown. These are similar to empanadas or meat pasties, and a hot, filling meal for a cold night.

Betty’s apple cake
Mix together 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1 cup vegetable oil or applesauce and 3 eggs. Add 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, a dash of salt, and a few pinches of cinnamon. Mix well; it will be a thick batter. Add in 3-5 medium to large apples, peeled and sliced. Stir well. Pour into greased 9-by-13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 55-60 minutes. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar when cool, if desired. This cake barely lasts a day at the farm between men and kids. It has been a crowd-pleaser for years.

    Whether you are feeding a crew or feeding your family, I hope you enjoy these recipes. Best of luck for a safe harvest season.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (3), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.