We have been having a most unusual winter, though I’m not sure why anybody is surprised to find cold weather in Iowa in February. Of the 95 winters I have known, some have been colder than others. Some have had lots of snow, while others had very little. If February is too mild and dry, I become concerned. So I am actually all right with the frigid, snowy winter we have been having.
Fortunately, I do not have to go outside very often this time of year. From the window in my cozy office, I can look out over the sparkling snow and see the beauty of the day, not the challenge of trying to get around and get work done out in the elements. I can also think back to former winters when I did face more challenges from the weather.
The coldest winter I lived through was in 1936. A February blizzard blew into the state, burying everything with several feet of snow. Winds were so strong that snow drifts soon covered fences and livestock could walk out of the fields simply by staying on the snow.
A decade later, Robert and I began our married life in a small farmhouse south of Farragut that had a big cast iron range in the kitchen. We could burn dried corn cobs in it, firewood, or coal, and through the winter that was what I cooked on. It also provided a great deal of heat for the house.
Robert would get up early in the morning and start the fire in that kitchen range. Heat from the stove found its way upward through a grate in the second-story bedroom floor. When I could feel that warmth, it was time for me to get up and go start breakfast.
Robert also had an open water tank for farm livestock. In it he put an iron stove called a cowboy stove. The top of the stove was above the water so that he could build a wood fire in it. It kept the water from freezing so the animals had a place where they could drink.
Another important chore was milking the cows. Robert would bundle up for the walk from the house to the barn, but once he got in where the cows were, their warmth made the barn much more comfortable. He sat on a three legged stool with his head against the warm side of a cow and the rhythmic sound of the milk hitting the bucket was a melodic accompaniment to his reverie.
The barn cats would come by as he was milking the cows and he would sometimes squirt milk into their open mouths. They loved the attention and the treat, and repaid him by keeping the rat and mouse populations in the barn at a minimum.
Not all of the animals stayed outside or in the barn during winter cold spells. Our sheep always seemed to lamb in February in some of the worst weather of the year. We sometimes put new-born lambs behind the stove in the living room or the kitchen to keep them warm until the weather changed or they were old enough to survive outside. I also remember times when we had a cardboard box full of baby chicks by the stove, too.
By the time our sons were school aged, we lived in a farmhouse with a coal furnace in the basement. The boys would hurry out of bed to stand in the warm air blowing up through the register in the kitchen. KMA was always on the air over the kitchen radio, and they listened eagerly to Frank Field’s morning program to hear whether school had been called off because of snow.
We filled days of cancellations by making cookies together and playing games. No matter how cold it was, the boys almost always wanted to spend as many hours as possible outdoors. I would bundle them up in snowsuits and four-buckle overshoes, and send them out to play.
These days, I’m enjoying the quiet of winter. February is a time when the earth gets ready for spring. It is a time of resting and regrouping for the Earth. It might be a good time for people to slow down and rest a little, too.
Winter is a good time for soups. Cissy Voyles introduced us to this delicious soup, and it is rapidly becoming a favorite.
1 small head cauliflower crowns removed; broken into florets.
1 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
3 cups milk
2 Tablespoons butter
Wash and remove cauliflower crowns. Put them in a pan with a lid.
Put in enough water to steam cauliflower, covered, until completely cooked. If not a great deal of water is left no need to drain.
Mash cauliflower, add butter and milk, heat, then add shredded cheese. Stir as cheese melts. Add more milk and cheese you desire for thickness or cheesiness.
You could also add broccoli to the cauliflower as it cooks, but this would make it Broccoli-Cauliflower-cheese soup.