The first thing Pa bought when World War II ended was a new Farmall H tractor. He paid $1,750 for it. The second thing he bought was a threshing machine, a used Case thresher that he and our nearest neighbor, Bill Miller, bought together. They paid $282.50 for the machine. The seller wanted $300, but in those days you never paid full price for something, especially if it was used. Pa’s share was $141.25. I suspect one of the reasons Pa and Bill refused to pay the asking price was because no drive belt (a canvas belt that connected the tractor to the thresher) came with the machine. Pa bought a new drive belt from Sears and Roebuck for $49.
Everyone in our neighborhood grew oats in those days, 20 or 30 acres, enough to provide oat straw to bed the cattle during the winter when they stayed in the barn, and enough grain to add to the corn to make cattle feed, grist we called it when the corn and the oats were ground together at the water-powered mill in Wild Rose.
I had been a part of the threshing season since I was a little shaver — one of my first jobs was shoveling back oats in our granary’s oat bin after men working at the machine carried sacks full of the newly threshed grain to the granary.
But now I was old enough to go from farm to farm with Pa and Bill Miller and their threshing machine, threshing the oats for the neighbors. Threshing season was akin to a neighborhood celebration as everyone who had grain to thresh helped everyone else as the threshing machine went from farm to farm, creating enormous straw stacks and filling granary bins with oats.
Threshing season was hard work — forking grain bundles onto a wagon, driving the team and wagon from the oat field to the threshing machine, tossing the grain bundles into the noisy machine, one after the other, not overlapping them, not leaving a gap between the bundles, with a hot sun beating down and sweat streaming down your face and back. And everyone watching to see if you could do it, for after all you were still a kid. And you discovered that you could, even though your arms ached and your back ached and you needed a big drink of water after you’d pitched a wagonload of bundles into the maw of the ever-hungry threshing machine.
When noon finally arrived, you gave the team a drink from the neighbor’s stock tank, and tied them to a tree so they would be in the shade. Then you splashed some water on your face, cleaned the grime from your hands and arms and filed into the neighbor’s dining room with the rest of the threshing crew, sometimes 10 or a dozen men and maybe a couple of kids as young as you were. You were treated to one of the finest meals you would ever experience, right up there with a Christmas or Thanksgiving meal. When the meal was finished, everyone went outside, shared a story or two, or mostly laid out flat on the ground for a half-hour nap before going back to work. For most farms, threshing continued throughout the afternoon, so you had an opportunity to eat an evening meal too.
The threshing dinner menu would include mashed potatoes and gravy, roast beef or pork roast, cooked peas and glazed carrots, homemade bread, date nut bread, dill pickles. and apple and cherry pie.
For the threshing crew, Ma always made boiled coffee in a big blue coffee pot that sat on the back of the wood-burning cookstove. The coffee smells great, and tastes pretty good too.
2-gallon graniteware, enamel coffee pot
2 C coffee grounds
1 egg, beaten
1 C extra cold water, if needed
Fill the coffee pot about two-thirds full with cold water and place on the woodstove.
Mix about 2 cups coffee with one beaten egg in a small bowl.
Stir until the egg and grounds are moist. Add ½ cup cold water if you need to, to be sure the grounds are moist.
When the water in the coffee pot comes to a full boil, add the coffee grounds and egg mixture. Stir constantly to prevent the coffee from boiling over.
Boil for 3 to 5 minutes. The longer it is boiled, the stronger the coffee will be.
Remove the coffee pot from the heat.
Let the coffee pot sit so the grounds settle to the bottom of the pot. You can add ½ cup cold water at this point to help the grounds settle faster.
Pour the coffee through a fine-meshed sieve or strainer into small coffee pot to serve. Enjoy!
Excerpted from “Old Farm Country Cookbook,” Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2017. Go to http://www.jerryapps.com for more about Jerry’s writing and TV work.