The knife slices through the potato, the sharp edge hitting the cutting board with each chop. Thwack. Thwack. It’s not quite noon, but I want the mashed potatoes made now, so all I have to do at 4 o’clock is pop the pan into the oven. Glancing at the meal planner for the week, I take out a bag of frozen corn to make creamed corn. I set the potatoes to cook in the Instant Pot, then grab a clean bowl to make Snickers Salad for dessert. The familiar thwack of the sharp knife hits the cutting board, slicing through the crisp Granny Smith apples. Once I’ve chopped all the apples, I mix the dry pudding mix and milk, the metal whisk ringing against the side of the metal bowl. I place the salad in the fridge and then work on getting lunch for the kids. Wiping my hands on the dishtowel, I feel satisfied that dinner is partially made, knowing it makes the hours between 3-5 p.m. a little less stressful.
During Nora’s nap, I retreat to my office. The piece of paper sitting on the table with “August Goals” written across the top taunts me. Like the planner I am, I wrote down a list of goals for this magical month of being off of Instagram. Write 500 words a day! Upload recent pictures! Start and finish the 2021 family photo album! Read (insert several book titles here)!
And the list goes on.
I exhale; I’ve only checked off one thing, Upload pictures. (Progress, yes?) But the other stuff? It hasn’t happened. And I’ve been feeling down because I haven’t been as “productive” as I hoped to be this month. I put the list aside as Allie calls, “Mom, I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?” from the living room.
Later that afternoon, I carefully place the steaming hot trays of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and creamed corn into the bright blue cooler, tucking a towel around the pans for added insulation. I hoist the cooler in front of me, shuffle to the front door, and open the door without putting the cooler down. The pickup is parked in the driveway, and I begin to load it with the various coolers and laundry basket I use to take out the silverware, plates, napkins, and serving ware. Once I’ve completed the “pickup Jenga,” stacking everything so it won’t come crashing down on the gravel road, I start to round up the kids.
Rhett is out in the field, where he has spent a fair amount of time the last few weeks. After I’ve loaded Nora and Allie into the pickup, I slam the doors and run down the list in my head: spatula for serving the meatloaf, a big spoon to serve the potatoes, and another one for the corn. Drinks, check. Plates, check. I realize I forgot to grab a spatula for the brownies and go back into the house, grabbing my favorite one with the black handle.
Using the steering wheel, I pull myself up into the pickup; the pickup taller than my 5’6” frame allows me to just step into. The diesel engine roars to life, and I back out of the driveway and head to the field. I pull my sunglasses over my eyes and sigh in relief, the cold air cooling me down from the strain of loading the pickup in the stifling heat.
After dinner in the field and the kids and I are back home, I unload the coolers from the pickup and bring them into the house. But I stop my usual system of cleaning up the kitchen and putting everything away. All three kids are “farming” in the front yard, each driving a piece of equipment on the brown, dry grass that lost the battle with the drought. I grab a lawn chair and plop down on the sidewalk with a cold drink in my hand—the heat slowly dissipating and cooling off into a nice evening.
The sun is still bright, so I shade my eyes with my hand and watch the kids play. Nora is barefoot, her bangs covering her eyes; Allie’s ponytail fell out hours ago, and her long dark hair falls around her face; Rhett’s jeans are torn at the knees, and his face is dusty from the field.
While I’m not creating in the ways I had hoped to this month, I have written meal plans, chopped countless potatoes, read recipes, carefully measured spices and sauces, and folded heavy cream into golden corn. I’ve wiped my brow, sweating from the physical labor of cooking and wrangling food and kids to the field.
I’m teaching my kids about hard work and working together as a family. I’m also training myself to be more flexible in my 9th year of harvest. I gave up on the usual bedtime weeks ago, knowing schedules and routines can go back to “normal” once the combines stop and the bins are closed.
Summer is winding down fast—school starts in less than two weeks. And this year, I’ll be sending two kids to school full-time. I’m hopeful that the days I’m living will cultivate words and stories I can harvest later.
But even if they don’t, I know the time wasn’t wasted.
Even though I haven’t been on the ‘gram, the meals have still been going to the field every night. And spoiler alert: I haven’t taken pictures of the food. But here’s a partial list of things I’ve made if you want any harvest meal ideas or recipes to include in your rotation at home.
But first, I want to pause here to recognize the three unofficial sponsors of my harvest meals.
Disposable pans. Throw away the pan after dinner without having to scrub the lasagna off the edges? Yes, please!
Slow cooker liners. Same theory—different mode of cooking.
Frozen chopped onion. Onion that doesn’t need to be chopped and never goes bad on the countertop.
And now, onto the food. The point of this story.
Baked spaghetti via Pinterest. You can make this one ahead of time, and it feeds a group!
Meatball subs are always a crowd favorite. I am too lazy to make my own meatballs, so I place frozen meatballs in the (lined!) slow cooker and pour a good marina sauce over the top. I let it cook according to the handy package directions, low for most of the day, or you can crank it to high for 4-5 hours. When the meatballs are cooked and it’s time to hustle to the field, grab the hoagie buns and broil them on a baking sheet in the oven for a few minutes to toast them. Take the pan from the oven and place a few meatballs on each bun. Then top with mozzarella cheese (measure with your heart, friends), and then sprinkle on grated parmesan cheese. Place back in the oven under the broiler to melt the cheese and toast the bun a little more. Then I wrap each sub in aluminum foil and put them in an empty cooler to keep hot until I get to the field. (Skip this step if you’re eating in the comfort of your home.) Enjoy!
Tatertot Casserole from Homestead Recipes by Amanda Rettke. This isn’t your regular tater tot casserole; there’s a special layer of cheese sauce added! This is one of my favorite cookbooks.
Oven burgers. Burger purists, hear me out! This hamburger isn’t charbroiled over flames; it’s baked in the oven. It makes a perfect meal to take to the field and a nice change from a grilled burger. The recipe says to use brioche buns, which I highly recommend not diverging from. I’ve used regular buns in a pinch, and they weren’t as good. I make these at least once (sometimes twice!) during harvest.
Salsa verde burritos. A super easy slow cooker meal. The most challenging part of this recipe is shredding the beef at the end of the day. I recommend putting on a good true crime podcast and zoning out with your forks for about 10-15 minutes. I serve these with cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, and cilantro if I have it.
Sloppy Joes. Nothing beats Manwich, well, this recipe might, but hungry guys in the field are not fussy.
Meatloaf. I found this recipe years ago on Pinterest and cannot find the source, and I haven’t made another version of meatloaf in almost nine years.
I’m told that tonight is the last meal we will have in the field, but now I’ve just jinxed it by putting it in writing. Either way, we are nearing the finish line, and I’m looking forward to cooking just for my family and not having to lug all the food into a dusty field in the scorching heat.