Sunday, June 7, 2009


Two Pony Farm has been at the Midtown Farmers Market selling tomato plants.

The wonderful season of fresh vegetables and fruit is about to burst upon Minnesota!
by Charlie Leck

My wife’s great-great grandfather, Bradford Wakefield, arrived in Minnesota in 1856. They journeyed here from Ohio in a covered wagon pulled by a pair of oxen (via Mower County, Minnesota, where they spent one very difficult winter). He brought with him his wife, Maria, and a half-dozen children. Bradford’s good friends, John and William Harrington, had arrived here a couple years earlier and had already set up their settlement farm on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in an area that is now just a tad southwest of the village of Wayzata.

Bradford and Maria purchased land, which had been set aside for the local public school system, and was just northwest of the village in an area that is now partly occupied by Wayzata Country Club. The land extended west and north and included a large part of the south and east shores of Long Lake (including Billy’s Lighthouse Restaurant and the old Union Cemetery). There, along Old Long Lake Road, Bradford built a 16x16 foot settlement cabin and the big family moved in.

One of the boys in that family, Warren Wakefield (my wife’s great-grandfather), would later write of their first winter in Wayzata.

“We were a happy family that winter on the Bowman Hill, where we had plenty of palatable corn bread, fresh fish and venison and cranberry sauce, after eighteen months of wandering and trial we were mighty glad to be at home.”
Now, granted, that early Wakefield clan ate local and they ate relatively fresh here in Minnesota. There were not jumbo jets that could haul thousands of bushels of fruit and coffee up from South America. And there were not giant semi-trailers bringing vegetables galore from California. The family pretty much ate what they grew – potatoes, corn, green vegetables, eggs, maple syrup and maple sugar – or what they could buy from neighbors – apples, milk, wheat flour and some occasional meat. Otherwise they fished in the surrounding lakes and hunted for venison and other tasty animals.

The vegetable cellar was an important part of any of those settlement homes. There the produce of summer and autumn would be stored to carry the family through the harsh winters. With luck, there would be a few apples, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables still left when spring began to slide into the state. Warren penned an interesting story about a Sioux tribal leader, named Cut Nose, and the family vegetable cellar (it was a thrill for me to read the account in Warren’s original hand and on the original paper upon which he scratched it out).

“One spring we had a cellar full of vegetables that we could not use, so father invited all the squaws who lived near us to come and get some. They came and took them away. In the cellar also was keg [sic] and a two gallon jug of maple vinegar. Cut Nose, one of the finest specimens of manhood I have ever seen, tall, straight and with agreeable features in spite of the small piece gone from the edge of one nostril, was their chief, and came the next day with a large bottle, asking to have it filled with whiskey. Father said he had none, but Cut Nose said he knew there was a jug and keg of it in the cellar. Father told him to go and take it if he found any. He sampled first the jug and then the keg with a most disgusted expression and upon coming upstairs threw the bottle on the bed and stalked out. This maple vinegar was made from maple sugar and none could be better.”
In addition to this fresh, local food, Maria would make taffy for the children from her maple sugar and the kids also discovered they could make a chewing gum from the inner bark of certain elm trees. The gum was eventually named Slippery Elm.

Peter Gideon, one of the earliest white settlers in Minnesota accomplished what he had been told would be virtually impossible here; that is, he developed several species of fine eating apples – including the Wealthy and the Duchess – and he became very famous in these parts.

When Anne’s great-grandmother, Abby, arrived in Minnesota in 1868 as a 17 year old kid, she spent, by arrangement, “two happy weeks” in the home of the Gideon family. Here is how Abby, later in her life, remembers her arrival with her sister, Frances.

“A funny little steamboat – I think it was called the Governor Ramsey – awaited the train. It carried passengers to Excelsior. They were helped on board and soon the boat was chugging merrily over the water. At Excelsior they transferred to a rowboat which awaited them and were rowed around the shore into what was then called Gideon’s Bay to the home of Peter Gideon, the originator of the Wealthy, Duchess and other Minnesota apples. It was believed by many at that time that apples could not be grown in Minnesota, but Peter Gideon knew better and planted the seeds of the hardiest apples he could find and faithfully cared for the seedling trees until they came into bearing, retaining those worthy of preservation and discarding those bearing inferior fruit. To his work we owe much, though for many years most people thought he was wasting his time."
Today, Minnesota also boasts the wonderful Harrelson apple and the Minnesota Honey Crisp, as well as the Fireside and the Minnesota Delicious. The Keepsake is a late freshening apple that is pretty easy to keep through the winter.Well, now, here in Minnesota, we have about 5 months ahead of eating fresh and local. As I write this, on the first weekend in June, the local farmers markets are showing fresh asparagus, cauliflower, rhubarb and some sprouts, green lettuce and mushrooms. That’s about it. Late in June the raspberries will make an appearance. In July we’ll start to see beans, beats, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, eggplant, squash and blueberries. Late in July we’ll see strawberries, garlic and fennel.

It’s not until August that we can get really fresh and local in Minnesota and, oh, what a glorious month it is. I truly don’t believe sweet corn on the cob is any better anywhere in America than our own Minnesota corn. And, of course, we’ll also see tomatoes in August and I’ll stop on many days during the week at the wonderful Two Pony Farm in Medina to pick up some of Lisa Ringer’s fabulous heirloom tomatoes. I’m in heaven in August because the markets are flush with so many wonderful, fresh foods. My camera goes crazy taking photographs of all the spectacular varieties of potatoes, onions, peppers, melons, zucchini, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, and dozens of herbs.

A platter of heirloom tomatoes from Two Pony Farm

Minnesota Grown program, which touts itself as “Minnesota’s Buy Local Headquarters.” If eating fresh and local as much as you can interests you, you might like to visit the organization’s web site.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, those tomatoes look amazing! I want them. - Jennifer Miles.