Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kansas-The Breadbasket of the Nation

If you drive along the highways in Kansas you’ll see signs proudly proclaiming Kansas as the number one wheat producer—which is accurate. Since the 1870’s stats have been kept on wheat production, and the only state closely rivaling Kansas over all the years has been North Dakota.

Wheat is one of the oldest known foods, and is believed to have been derived from wild grasses thousands of years ago. It wasn’t brought to the U.S. until the seventeenth century and not to Kansas until the mid 1800’s. Some early settlers grew wheat, but most grew corn. It wasn’t until a class known as winter wheat proved to thrive in the dry land that the crop really took off. Russian-German immigrants, used to dry land cultivation, started dedicating large portions of their recently acquired Kansas acreage to the plants.

Machinery to harvest the wheat quickly transformed from the hand scythe to horse drawn and steam powered thrashing machines. The railroads criss-crossing the state from the cattle days provided the farmers access to markets and mills. Grain storage also grew rapidly and most every town boasted a grain elevator and mill.

A longtime Kansas farmer was quoted as saying, “Wheat is the crop of first importance. It’s the backbone of our economy, and made Kansas famous around the world.”

Bread was a mainstay, and baked regularly. In some households daily.

From a very old family cookbook, here is a basic bread recipe. (My mother still uses this recipe. I cheat and buy the frozen loaves.)

• 1 tea cup milk
• 2 scoops butter
• 1/2 teacup warm water
• 2 spoons active dry yeast
• 2 big spoons sugar
• 1 palm of salt (teaspoon)
• 1 teacup of warm water
• 6-7 teacups flour
Heat milk and butter until butter melts. Set aside. Mix yeast with the ½ teacup of warm water and stir until well dissolved. Set aside. Put sugar, salt, and 1 teacup of warm water in a large bowl. Mix. Add milk and butter. Add yeast. Add flour one cup at a time until it’s too difficult to mix with spoon. Turn onto floured board and knead in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth, not sticky. (Add flour if needed.) Grease a large bowl with butter. Put the bread dough into the bowl and roll until well coated. Cover the bowl. Let rise. Punch down and knead into loafs. Place in buttered loaf pans. Butter the tops and let rise again. Bake for 45 min at 350.

I have no idea why they signify ‘teacup’, but there truly is nothing like the smell of homemade bread baking!

With my Quinter Brides series set in Kansas, I knew one of the brother’s would have to be a wheat farmer. Shotgun Bride has Kid, the cattle man. Badland Bride has Skeeter, the bone hunter. Boot Hill Bride has Hog, the restaurant owner, and (finally) the forth book, Guardian Bride, has Snake the wheat farmer. (Wildcat Bride has Bug, the oil man.)

I’ve had so much fun with this family. I’m really going to miss them when I type ‘the end’ on the last story. (Which is probably why I still have one chapter to finish on Wildcat Bride.)

Here’s an excerpt from Guardian Bride—The Quinter Brides Book Four.

The jingle of harnesses and the creak and clatter of wagon wheels interrupted the casual tweets of the prairie songbirds. Frowning, Snake moved beyond the end of the long rows of wheat. The small plume of dust had grown closer. He squinted. With the force of a lightning bolt, his heart plummeted into a dark, spooky place.

An old mule, wearing a hat that someone had cut long slits in the brim so the animal’s ears could stick out and full of purple and pink flowers, trotted along the trail. Dust rose into the air in the animal’s wake. Two women sat on the seat of an odd shaped, little wagon. He began to shake. They didn’t need to come closer for him to know who they were. The driver wore a hat to match the mules, minus the ear slots, and the woman beside her, totted a well-used shotgun.

Fear like he’d never known raced over his body, and he scanned the vast ground, erratically trying to figure out which way to run.

Just as he hefted a leg, which felt like it weighed three hundred pounds, a rough voice sliced the air. “Don’t move! I got you in my sights!”

“Aw, shit!” The two women—together—could only mean one thing. Turning back to the wagon, he shouted, “Put the gun away, Ma, you ain’t gonna shoot me.”

“You don’t know that!” she reiterated.

On second thought, a good round of buckshot wouldn’t be as bad as the alternative—marrying the woman who sat beside his mother, glowering at him like he’d just killed her mule, hat and all.

Summer Austin flinched as the gun in the woman’s hands clicked. Out of the corner of her eye she checked if the woman sitting beside her had cocked the trigger.

Stephanie Quinter had. Moreover, one gnarled finger was set to pull the lever back the rest of the way.

Summer swallowed, stirring up the bile that already churned in her stomach. Marrying Snake Quinter wasn’t necessarily what she wanted, but he was her ticket out of Dodge, and she had to take it. Another option wasn’t likely to come along and time had run out.

(The picture is of the stove my husband bought me about twenty years ago for my dining room. I still love it.)


Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Lauri, what a great blog. I
ve had winter wheat in a couple of my stories (Nebraska setting). I can sure understand why you'll miss you Quinters...but there's always the next generation?

I love the pic of your stove...but I confess recipes requiring yeast scare me to death.

Best of luck with your sales! oxoxoxox

Linda LaRoque said...

Loved your post and the Quinter Brides series. I'm behind so guess I better get busy and buy more of them. Great looking stove!

Paty Jager said...

That's what I love about your books. I learn about the midwest history.