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Growing, preserving their own food

By Staff | May 14, 2010

Marilyn Niemi examines her shelves of canned foods she uses while preparing meals. The amount of individual items determines how much of each she plants in her garden the following year.

The recent cold overcast days have put Marilyn Niemi’s garden in the same predicament as the acres of corn and soybeans surrounding her home north of Clear Lake alongside Interstate 35 in Cerro Gordo County – nothing is going to happen until warmer weather arrives.

Niemi’s cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, radishes and beets are in the ground. However, her tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, lima beans, watermelon and muskmelon plants are staying in her greenhouse until it’s safe to plant them outside.

Niemi started her garden last winter when she planted seeds indoors, placing them under artificial light. She tended the seeds as they sprouted and moved the young plants to her greenhouse built onto the garage when warmer weather arrived.

She and her husband, Robert, are the third generation on the family farm where Marilyn was raised. Marilyn recently retired after 22 years as a registered nurse at the Mason City hospital and 46 years of a nursing career.

As the parents of grown sons, their garden is large for two people and Marilyn Niemi said the garden has remained the same size for 10 years.

What does she do with all the produce from the garden? Niemi said she cans, freezes and pickles her garden produce to keep a steady supply of food on hand all year. Some of it she gives away to neighbors and friends or at the fall church bazaar.

Her canning includes some purchased food such as peaches. Two apple trees, planted by her grandfather, provide apples, which she freezes to be made later into pie. She has already frozen rhubarb this spring that will become cake at another date.

She learned to cook from her mother, Niemi said, but when she was growing up, she was more likely to be outside driving a tractor, helping her father with his custom baling and combining.

Marriage and family developed her cooking skills.

She remembers eating big meals in the field during summer and fall. There were morning and afternoon breaks with more food.

Marilyn Niemi noted gardening, preserving and eating their own home-raised food was common, because they “didn’t know anything else,” she said. When visiting her cousin in town she recalls eating an entire loaf of bread from the store. “Boughten bread was a treat,” she said.

Her fondness for cooking has been passed onto sons, Chris and Mark, whom she described as good cooks. Mark Niemi and his family live just a few miles away and Marilyn Niemi is teaching her nearby grandchildren, Paul and Rachel, how to cook.

Daughter-in-law Teresa Niemi grew up in town in northwest Iowa and has learned how to can from her mother-in-law. The two Niemi families often gather and cut up chicken and beef for canning. The canned meat later becomes stroganoff, soup and sandwiches.

With all her food grown and stored, Marilyn Niemi does stop at the farmers market, but it is mainly for the fresh caramel rolls that are available.

In spite of all the food she raises, Marilyn Niemi describes herself as a “fussy eater.” For example, she enjoys making pickles but will not eat them.

Asparagus casserole

White sauce:

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash pepper

2 cups milk

4 cups fresh, half-cooked asparagus cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces

4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

1/4 cup cracker crumbs, medium-sized

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Make the white sauce and blend in 2 tablespoons melted butter, flour, salt, pepper, then add milk all at once.

Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly.

Arrange half-cooked asparagus and all egg slices in bottom of lightly greased 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish.

Add half the white sauce.

Top with remaining asparagus sauce.

Toss crumbs with butter; sprinkle on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until heated through.

Serves 6

Carrot casserole

2 pounds carrots, sliced and cooked

1 cup Velveeta cheese – diced

1/4 pound bacon, browned and broken in pieces

Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Yorkshire pudding

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

1/3 teaspoon salt

Beat well

Add 1 1/4 cups flour to make a thin batter.

Leave drippings from beef roast in the roasting pan.

Heat drippings in oven to sizzling, then pour in batter.

Batter should be about 1/2 inch thick in pan.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 10 or 15 minutes longer or until pudding is crisp and brown.

Pudding is cut in squares and served with gravy.

Contact Clayton Rye by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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