Wood Prairie Farm

Maine Tales. Katahdin: Greatest Mountain.   Sherman, Maine.                         Circa 1937.  
     Without question, the undisputed monolithic icon of northern Maine is Katahdin.  The coast has beacons in their lighthouses.   Rising from the Maine woods we have Katahdin.  Both are there to guide us. While Katahdin is seventy miles southwest of Wood Prairie Farm, the mountain is so prominent it's top can be seen in this region on clear days from our highest hills and peaks.   

Katahdin (Elev 5268'). View from the East.
Maine's highest peak and northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Friday, December 17, 2010

    Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter
                          Organic News and Commentary

     This Issue:

Katahdin Travels
    Last week I had an organic meeting in central Maine and drove south along I-95 past Katahdin to get there. This 115 mile stretch between Houlton and Bangor took me ninety minutes to drive. Back two hundred years ago it took Indians and pioneers two weeks of paddling to complete a similar journey. 
     Earlier in the week northern Maine had been clobbered with a storm that dropped up to a foot or two of snow. As often happens the deepest snow fell in the Katahdin valley – the sparsely populated townships near Katahdin and whose weather is seriously impacted by the impressive Katahdin.
     Driving down early, the morning was calm, crystal clear and hovering around zero. The snow had been wet and the days since the storm had been uncharacteristically windless so clinging now solidly frozen to the boughs of the spruce and fir trees was a 4-5 inch layer of pristine white snow, every bit as perfect and unbelievable as a painting on a Leanin’ Tree Christmas card.  The snow on the shoulder was piled deepest as I approached the southern boundary of northern Maine – that would be the Penobscot River – where our familiar land ends and that different world begins.  One of our last towns this side of the Penobscot and staring right into Katahdin is Sherman, Maine, a small outpost in the Maine woods.

One Room Schoolhouse

     Years ago we had a friend who as a new teacher taught in a one room schoolhouse in Sherman in the shadow of Katahdin back in the 1920s and 1930s. Thirty five students, K- Grade 8, ages five to fifteen, three foot to six foot tall, all crowded into a thinly boarded mightily spare wood building, without insulation and outfitted with an almost adequate woodstove.  There was nothing between the schoolhouse door and the breathtaking view of Katahdin except for some fast moving air. When it was snowing outside and the wind was blowing  it would also snow inside that bare little schoolhouse.
     Like most northern Maine towns Sherman was a woods township with the cleared ground planted to potatoes and oats. While unique to northern Maine but common to the Katahdin valley, Sherman also had farms where dairy was bigger and potatoes was smaller, most likely due to the fact that as you get away from the sandy loams up north comprising the center of the Potato Empire, the cleared ground was not as well-drained or early and therefore more fit for growing sod for hay and pasture.

Pronouncing Katahdin

    Now, most any place pronunciation is a queer duck.  Subtleties are embedded in local dialect.  Take “Katahdin” for example.  It’s an Indian word which means “Greatest Mountain”, which explains why we don’t call it Mount Katahdin (Mount Greatest Mountain is way too many words for a northern Mainer). Maine is quite partial to bestowing its iconic names on creations we’re proud of. Of course, there’s Katahdin hair sheep. Then when the era’s best potato variety came along, it just seemed to make sense when it was released in 1932 to call it “Katahdin” (You’ll find our Onaway potato has Katahdin in its parentage).
    Fact is, Mainers are particularly brutal when it comes to handling ‘Rs’.  Folks down along the coast tend to lose them (‘Baa Haabaa’ is how Bar Harbor is pronounced).  Folks up here in northern Maine tend to grab them floating ‘Rs’ and stick ‘em onto words to make the process of speaking go along faster (“Goin’ down to Auguster,” “Headin’ up to Madawasker”). The upshot is we have a short season in northern Maine and there’s no point wasting time saying out real long words when a short version would do just fine. Nowadays, we’d allow that Katahdin is still spoken every day in Maine potato country conversations (“Got me a load of Katahdins to put up the fore noon,”  “Naw, them Superiors not nearly as late as a Katahdin,” “That one thar don’t take to blight as quick as Katahdins”).  So for many reasons there’s a pile of practice and daily experience behind the northern Maine pronunciation of Katahdin.
    Without any pride of mastery we have reduced the original Katahdin of three syllables down a tad to just one and a half. A well placed ‘R’ shortens up that tedious (‘tedjus’) long middle syllable. Phonetically speaking,  'Ktardun' (Note: no pauses; quick start with a forceful ‘Kt’ sound; must be spoken fast, as though you’re always in a hurry, after all winter is always on the way).

School Days

     Here in Maine back before World War II, schools started up in November after winter brought the farming season to an end. School continued through winter ‘til mud season in the Spring, allowing families to gear up for the farming season after the mud dried up. Well, the 1920s had been real good years and then the thirties were very very tough.  To help their families make ends meet most of the boys in Sherman school ran traplines for beaver and fox pelts.  They’d tend these traplines before school and show up at the schoolhouse laden with pack baskets full of pelts and traps and of course snowshoes, rifles and knives.  The pelts and snowshoes were parked outside leaned up against the schoolhouse. By negotiation and mutual agreement the guns, knives and traps were stowed under the teacher’s desk. These were an outdoor people and these were outdoor kids. Katahdin was their constant companion.  Katahdin was their guidepost in the woods and the center of their world.

The Outside World

     Back in the 1930s in places like Sherman, electric power lines to farms were still decades away.  But the invention of battery powered radios brought to folks in Sherman and rural America the new option of a revolutionary glimpse into the wide outside world through radio broadcasts.   Three generations ago the most famous radio personality was the renowned world traveler and story teller Lowell Thomas.  Beginning in 1930, his regular national radio broadcast “Lowell Thomas and the News” carried on NBC and CBS, continued for almost five decades. Lowell brought into view foreign places like Cairo, Cripple Creek and Katmandu. To backwoods Maine school kids who’d never imagined venturing away from home, Lowell Thomas came to possess god-like status and gravitas.  That is, until the day his story telling brought him to northern Maine.

Blow after Blow

     Most of Lowell’s listeners didn’t realize it but he was what’s known as a “cold reader”.  He would most often read scripts live on the air that someone else had produced without ever having pre-read the text. And most times he performed impeccably as the master story teller.
    Well, one day Lowell’s subject turned out to be the wilds of northern Maine.  With Sherman ears attentive like never before, his story unfolded. He soon made reference to Katahdin, royally mispronouncing it repeatedly as ‘Mount Cat-ta-din’ and kept right on a-readin' the script in complete and total oblivion to his stunning blow after blow of error. At the first blunder every jaw in Sherman dropped.  From five year old on up there was instantaneous shock in Sherman: this god of the radio waves rambling along didn’t know what the heck he was talking about.

Cold Winter Day

     It had been a cold winter day in Sherman.   The kids in Sherman got a big real world education they hadn’t bargained for when they crawled out of bed that morning.  At the end of the day some of their innocence was left behind. They were sadder yet wiser to the ways of the outside world. And maybe just a little more hesitant to cross over to the far shore of the Penobscot River. 


Recipe: Buttery Potato Gnocchi ('No-Kee')

You can use either waxy or floury/mealy potatoes. Click here for our Potato Texture chart. Waxy potatoes don't need an egg yolk when mixed with the flour, but mealy potatoes will.

-2 potatoes (about 1 lb), unpeeled (I used Elba - one of our December Sampler of the Month selections)
pinch of sea salt
-1 egg yolk (optional)
-3/4 c Wood Prairie organic whole wheat flour
-2 tsp olive oil
-4 T unsalted butter
-salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
-freshly grated parmesan cheese, for garnish
-fresh sage, for garnish

1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 30 - 40 minutes.
2. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan. Shake the pan gently over low heat to dry the potatoes. Let stand just until the potatoes are cool enough to handle.
3. Peel the potatoes and cut them in chunks. Pass them through a ricer or food mill. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. If using an egg yolk, make a well in the center of the potatoes and put the yolk in the well.
4. Sprinkle the potatoes with some of the flour and slowly work in. Repeat until all the flour has been added and the mixture forms a smooth, slightly sticky, dough.
5. Divide the dough into fourths, and roll each piece into a 15" long rope about 3/4" in diameter. Using a floured knife, cut each rope into thirty pieces. The gnocchi can be cooked as is; or to make decorative ridges, flour a dinner fork and roll the gnocchi under the tines.
6. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the olive oil, and then drop the gnocchi gently into the boiling water.
7. When gnocchi rise to the surface, cook 30 seconds more. Drain in a colander.
8. Melt the butter in a large skillet along with the sage and add the gnocchi. Toss gently and season with salt, pepper, and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.


Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

Click here for Wood Prairie Organic Kitchen Potatoes

Homemade Onion Rings
        Potato Gnocchi.
        Photo by Megan Gerritsen

         Organic Maine Potato Sampler of the Month
         FREE Shipping upgrade by Christmas.

Special FREE Offer: Maine Potato Sampler of the Month.

     Yes, Christmas will soon be here! But there's still time to give a gift of our delicious organic potatoes. Our organic Maine Potato Sampler of the Month club is our most popular product and this time of year we ship out hundreds to happy folks all over the country.
     Here's our Special Offer. If you order an 8-Month, 5-Month or 3-Month club now - as a gift to a loved one or for yourself - we'll guarantee that your first Potato Sampler will arrive in time for Christmas dinner. And any extra Air Shipping charges are on us: FREE for you. Your organic Potato Sampler will arrive safe and on time.
     Please use Promo Code WPF1014. Offer ends Wednesday December 22, 2010 at 2 pm Eastern. Can not be combined with other offers. Please call or click today!

Click here for Maine Potato Sampler of the Month.

Our Mailbox: Potatoes and Grain.

Organic Potatoes.
Please begin his new 8-month Potato Sampler club when current shipments end. Thanks. He still loves this gift...why argue with success!
Portland OR

Organic Grain.
Q. I ordered 5 bread mixes on 9/14/10, and I still have 2 loaves left. The reason I am writing is that the loaves have a "best by" date of 12/15/10, and I doubt that I can get both loaves made by that time. I did not notice this date when I got them. I do not make bread all of the time, so now I am down to the wire.
     The loaves I have left are a Five-Grain, and a Whole Wheat. I am using a bread machine.Sure isn't a long date from the time I ordered. Is the yeast going to expire? Or is it something else? Would appreciate an answer so I can act accordingly.

Woodville TX

Go right ahead and use the bread mixes in the next month or two - they will be perfectly fine. We value freshness and quality in the organic grain we grow and the stone-milled organic grain products we make. This is an important aspect that separates us from our competition. For ultimate quality organic whole grains should be milled fresh and often. 
     As your experience reflects, we mill to order. The "best used by" date is a mechanism that we use here on Wood Prairie Farm to record and track production dates of our grain products (our production date is the "best used by" date minus a conservative 3 months). So, you ordered on 9/14, we milled and shipped your order on 9/15, and the "best used by" date of 12/15 reflects the production date of 9/15 (12-3=9). 
     Also, if you freeze the bread mixes they would be good for a year. Thanks.

Click here for the Wood Prairie Organic Bread Mixes.


Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(800)829-9765 Certified Organic, Direct from our Family Farm