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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harvest Meals, Delectable Orange Rolls

Harvest in Montana is a big deal. Harvest anywhere is a big deal, but when you've got about 10,000 acres in cultivation and it can take more than an hour to reach one of your fields, it's a very big deal.

I grew up on a farm in Michigan of about 180 acres, of which 170 were tillable. We had other farms, which I think were larger, but this was the one in Athens.

We raised sheep and various crops until about 1970 when the market for market lambs and wool dropped out with the importation of Australian and New Zealand products. Then, we raised mostly corn. My dad had a combine and he'd combine other people's fields as well as our own.

I was quite surprised when my brother left the Bureau of Indian Affairs where he had been a forester, and took up farming in Montana. My mother, who grew up in Great Falls was doubly surprised and couldn't figure out why he wanted to farm in Cut Bank as it was one of the driest parts of Montana.

Farming is difficult. Farming in the area my brother is in Montana is even more difficult. The land is absolutely gorgeous, but the land and the weather also takes a toll. For the last 10 years, my brother's farm has been in a drought. The worst was in 2007 when he averaged about 10 bushels to the acre.

Dave raises predominantly barley as this is one crop, along with winter wheat, which can take the dry and the short growing season. Usually, harvest begins in mid- late August, and he can still be harvesting into November. Farming is a gamble. In fact, I laughed when I saw the casinos in Cut Bank. You'd think that the people in the area would have enough uncertainty that they wouldn't need to gamble that way. Maybe it's the people who raise cattle or are oilmen who frequent those establishments.....

Often Dave has to go longer because he uses older machinery. Combines, grain trucks and smaller trucks to haul the grain from the fields; augurs to load the grain into bins or onto other trucks. You name it. It all breaks down. A lot. Dave's ground is rocky and sometimes the grain doesn't stand up....he says combines don't make very good bulldozers.

This year was different. He could tell it was going to be a whopping harvest. He hired a harvesting crew, custom cutters who go from field to field harvesting then go on to another field. This crew was out of Kansas, and they were good. It was a joy to watch them work. In addition, he rented a newer John Deere combine.

The crop was good. Instead of the 10 bushels to the acre, he was getting an average of approximately 39 bushels to the acre (at least that was the reckoning when I left a week ago).

Harvesting is hard work, and it means all hands on deck. My sister and brother-in-law usually come out from Washington state to help for a week when they can. For the last several years, my brother has hired my youngest niece. Beth, now dubbed "Cookie", usually does a lot (this year most) of the cooking and helps string fence, sometimes taking a turn on the combine. My sister-in-law Barb drives truck. Mark Benjamin is hired to drive a combine and is a cracker-jack mechanic as well; and another neighbor is also hired to drive truck. Frequently, one or two other people are hired on as well.

Food is brought out into the fields. We do the best we can to keep the food hot on the trek out to the fields. Hopefully, everyone is near. Usually someone has just left to go to the elevators and then it will be 2 hours before they return. You hope to leave the house at 4:30 or 5:00 to get to the field. Sometimes, you can even make it.

We bring a towel and a jug of warm water with soap in it, and they wash as best they can....but there is usually ground in dirt and machinery grease to season the meal. Hot coffee as well as various pops (or sodas if you prefer) are brought out as well as water to drink.

My mom helps as she can. She used to do a lot of the cooking, although this year she was to make the pies....I thought I was going to explode when I was out there---huckleberry, apple, pumpkin, blueberry and lemon meringue were all part of her offerings.

I do whatever I can. This year, it was covering for Beth while she and my sister Mary and my brother-in-law Den went out to cover some grain, and to make orange rolls.

Orange rolls are a Broberg specialty. When I was little, mom would make them on Christmas Eve, setting them to rise slowly on the enclosed porch of our old farm house, where milk pans had originally been left to separate. On Christmas morning, she would pop them into the oven and they would come out all glistening and sweet.

I dreaded it if some of them got left in a tad longer....light golden, not brown, was the hoped for color. She said it was one of the few things that she could get us to stop from our presents.

I think she got the recipe from some ladies' magazine, but it has been around in our family so long that we don't remember.

Even my copy of the recipe is grease stained and splattered.

So, when Beth asked me to make them, my response was "But it's not Christmas!" Beth said nothing was too good for her "boys." She was making egg casserole (aka cheese strata), fruit, orange rolls, and I can't remember what else for dinner to be taken to the field and the orange rolls were to be the dessert. I thought this was particularly funny because my husband and daughter dislike breakfast being served for dinner.

Orange Rolls take quite a bit of preparation. It really isn't bad, but they have to raise in the bowl twice, then again on the sheet before baking. This gives them really good texture. It doesn't need a lot of attention, but you do have to be there for it. I love them because they are tangy and not as sweet as cinnamon rolls or caramel sticky buns (pecans or not).

Here's the recipe. It makes 15 - 18 depending on the size you make the rolls. I usually at least double the recipe, and usually at Christmas I quadruple it to share with neighbors. The recipe easily multiplies, you just have the have enough pans or cookie sheets in order to bake them. They also freeze very well, but they are best when the first come out of the oven. When I was a child, I'd slather them with butter as well, but now I don't, or if I am feeling very indulgent, I'll spray it with a spritz of spray butter.

Orange Rolls

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.

1 pkg. yeast
1/4 c. warm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 vegetable oil
1 3/4 cup - 2 cups flour.

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in 3/4 cup warm milk, salt, sugar, egg and 1 3/4 cup flour. Mix with spoon (or blender) until smooth. Add an additional 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups flour by hand or with a bread hook on a stand mixer (it gets tougher at this point). Turn onto lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and blistered, about 5 minutes. Round up in a greased bowl; bring the greased side up. Cover with a damp cloth (plastic wrap is OK). Let rise in a warm place (85 degrees) until it has doubled in bulk--about 1 1/2 hours (if the kitchen is cool, place the dough on a rack over a bowl of hot water and cover completely with a towel. I usually warm the oven, turn it off and put it over a bowl of hot water in the oven).

While the dough is rising, mix creamy orange filling: Mix 3 tablespoons soft butter or margarine, 1 tablespoon grated orange rind, 2 tablespoons orange juice, and 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar.

Punch down, round up. Let rise again until almost double, about 30 minutes. Roll dough 1/2 inch thick into an oblong, 18" x 9"

Spread with 1/2 the amount of creamy orange filling. Roll up tightly in a long roll; seal edge well (I usually say as best as you can as I'm always having it pop a bit on me). Cut into 1" slices. Place cut side up on a well-greased oblong pan (I usually use jelly roll pans, my sister uses several 9" x 13" pans) Cover and again let rise until double in bulk, 35 - 40 minutes. Bake at 350 for about 25 -30 minutes. Remove from pan onto a rack and spread the top with the remaining filling. Serve immediately......or freeze if you can stop eating them long enough to.

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