Potato Harvest and Lessons Gleaned

Published by Recently Empty Nested

gleaned potatoes from potato harvest

Photo courtesy of diynetwork.com

Potatoes are a major crop in my husbands home state of Idaho, and potato harvest is a big deal. Referred to by the locals as “spud harvest”, for a few weeks every fall life revolves around it. I suppose it is fitting then that I learned so many things about life during that time.

combine and truck

photo courtesy of glidemeister-usa.com

It was shortly after marrying and making our home in Shelly, Idaho, the spud capitol, that I was introduced to the potato harvest. All things being relative, I might have been considered a city girl prior to moving to Shelly, but I was quickly educated in all things potato. How they are planted, harvested, stored and best of all-eaten. My favorite is a Cowboy Spud! I learned other things too. Things that had less to do with potatoes specifically, and more about life. Baked potato with toppings One day my mother-in-law called to invite me to go “gleaning” with she and grandma and some other women from the neighborhood. Gleaning? I had no ides what she was talking about and so I asked. And there began some of my first lessons from potato harvest.

Lesson 1. Terminology.

My mother-in-law explained that her friends brother was harvesting his potato crop and she had arranged for us to go to his field. It seems that the machinery used to harvest the potatoes would drop some here and there. Maybe they were missed, too small and fell through the prongs, were shaken loose or spilled over the edge. At any rate, we would be allowed to follow behind and pick up those potatoes that had not made it into the truck-Gleaning. Ok, I thought, I’m game. Pick up a few potatoes. I agreed to go. I gathered up my 2 month old daughter and we set out. When we arrived, my husbands grandma pulled out a dozen or more large, burlap sacks, my mother-in-law several more and the other women more still. It was then that I realized this was serious stuff. Did they really plan to fill all of those bags?
potato field

Photo courtesy of Scott Farms

Lesson 2. Where there is a will there is a way, even if one has a very small baby to attend to.

I announced that I didn’t know how much help I would be with a baby and all, but that I would pitch in however I could. Grandma very lovingly took the apron from around her waist and showed me how to tie my baby to myself, freeing up both of my hands. “There you go” she said smiling, “you will have no trouble now.”

Lesson 3. When there is a job to be done, it easier with friends and a little fun.

I don’t recall how long we were there, but we filled every burlap sack. I remember wondering if we were getting paid by the farmer to get the potatoes he missed or if we were just providing a service. Either way it didn’t matter, it had been kind of fun talking and laughing and telling stories while we worked. Some of the women even took turns with my baby.

Lesson 4. Our elders are wise with experience and can teach us a lot, if we will listen.

As those women, all much older than me, recalled past harvests, people they knew, hardships they’d overcome and fun times they’d had. I gained comfort and reassurance that I too, would be able to handle anything that came my family’s way. Even work could provide happy memories.

Lesson 5. Love thy neighbor.

After dragging the full potato sacks back to the cars, nose and fingernails full of dirt, hands gritty with the earth, I learned that those potatoes we had gleaned were ours to keep. Wow! What would we do with all of those potatoes? The women started divvying them up. One 40 pound bag to a family in the neighborhood who had fallen on hard times and another for the family of a man who was out of work after a serious motorcycle accident. 1 bag was divided into smaller paper bags for several widows in the neighborhood, including Mrs.Thompson who lived across the street from my husbands childhood home. A couple of bags to Grandma, several to my mother-in-law and 1 bag to me. The rest went with the other women present that day.
gleaned potatoes form potato harvest

Photo courtesy of diynetwork.com

Lesson 6. Preservation and preparation.

I was instructed to place my potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place so that they would last the season without spoiling. Later I would learn how to make jam, can fruits and vegetables and make pickles, but these potatoes were my first exercise in preparing and preserving for the future. It was pretty exciting.

Lesson 7. Cowboy Spuds!

It is tradition in my husbands family that after a day of gleaning Cowboy Spuds are prepared for dinner. Oh-my-word! Delicious! Baked potatoes, rich hamburger gravy, real butter, sour cream and a variety of delicious toppings. My mother-in-law started by washing the fresh dirt off of the potatoes, piercing them with a fork, rubbing the skins in bacon grease (people used to keep a crock of it on the stove for cooking, no lie) wrapped them in foil and baked them in the oven. Then she made hamburger gravy, another first for me. So yummy. When the men and children returned from school and work we all sat down to the table, discussed our day, laughed about all the firsts I’d experienced and enjoyed dinner together, grateful that the Lord provides. Years have passed since, and we no longer live in Idaho or glean the fields, but we eat Cowboy Spuds every fall to welcome the season, and several times during the winter. Each time we gather around the table to enjoy them I am reminded of the valuable lessons I learned early in my career as wife and mother, the blessing of family and the joy that can be found in everything we are asked to come through.