Whether your crews harvest forages or grain, they all welcome food that looks good and tastes better. So Hay & Forage Grower asked for advice from the ultimate eating-on-the-run experts – grain-harvest members of U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc.
These women travel seven to eight months each year, cooking meals in cramped trailer kitchens for up to 30 workers at a time. Here’s what they’ve learned, while juggling pots and pans, children and grain trucks, to provide in-the-field meals for the masses.
“Guys are so meat and potatoes,” observes Stephanie Chandler of South Fork Harvesters, Imperial, NE, who fixes lunch and dinner for 23. “Pot roast and mashed potatoes go a long way. But then, I make casseroles every once in a while and I grill a lot.”
Winter’s a great time to prepare, Chandler says. “I try out new things when we have just a couple of guys working. That’s better than fixing a bunch of something and have them not like it. I just tried ‘stove-top’ pork chops and they loved those. It’s almost a chicken breading, but it was pork chops.”
She doesn’t do all the work. “My helper comes on the road with us. She focuses on desserts. I focus on the main stuff.”
Chandler also keeps a flowchart to cater to picky eaters. “If a person doesn’t like the sandwich I’m fixing, I’ll come up with something else. I have written down if they don’t take lettuce, tomato, cheese or whatever.”
Sandwiches are the obvious lunch staple, and Nancy Schroeder of Schroeder Harvesting Inc., Inman, KS, packs them in ice with fruit, chips and, many times, homemade cookies.
Planning is a key ingredient to good meals, says Trish Schemper of Schemper & Sons Harvesting, Holdrege, NE. She cooks for 8-14 workers at a time.
“I write my week out; I know what I’m going to make every day. There is a Crockpot lasagna (pictured) that they all love, which is one of easiest meals to fix. Last year, I had one worker who was a big lasagna fan. About once a week, he made a request.
“I use the slow cooker a lot,” she adds. “I’ll get it going in the morning, take a load to the elevator, and then I’ll box everything up and take the truck out (to deliver the meal).”
Her four-year-old son tags along. “When he was a baby, there was a lot of Hamburger Helper.” Now Schemper fixes more nutritious meals. “Instead of buying chocolate bars, I buy apples, pears and grapes – especially for their afternoon snack.” She encourages the crew to drink water but will provide soda if asked.
When Linda Payne made meals for the workers at S&L Farms, Imperial, NE, she prepared all five of the major food groups. “At dinner, I would set up a table and they would sit down and eat. My meals gave them something to do to relieve the boredom.”
Payne fed up to 30 at a time. “I thought of it as a Thanksgiving crowd every day. I would scour recipe books. I made a new menu for every meal. It might be roast every 10 days, but something different would go with it.”
Her advice: “Have a list, have menus, buy what you need for two to three days. If you are well-organized, that is the shortcut.”
Cook a chicken overnight in a Crockpot set on low, advises Mona Stephenson of Camargo, OK. In the morning, bone the chicken and use it in a recipe. One she uses combines chicken broth, store-bought frozen noodles and cream of chicken soup with the boned chicken, put back in the Crockpot until the noodles are cooked.
Stephenson has cooked for Stephenson Harvesting, Inc., for 46 years. Her daughter-in-law, Monica Stephenson, cooks with her. “If Monica is behind with what she is cooking, I’ll help,” says Stephenson. “The same way, she is there for me. And sometimes she will do the noon meal and I’ll do the evening meal.”
The best thing young cooks can do is relax, Stephenson advises. “I’d fix something and worry about if they’d like it,” she says of the early years. “Then my husband said, ‘Quit worrying. If they eat it, they eat it.’ ”
Do what works for you, says Schroeder. At one time, when her three children were all under age three, she hired a nanny to travel with the family. “She would help me take care of them, and I did the cooking.
“Get done what you can and don’t worry,” she suggests. “I try to make homemade cookies. If I don’t have time, I buy cookies. If I don’t have time for dessert, I don’t make a dessert.”
That said, for all of these cooks, birthdays remain special days. “We have cake or their favorite dessert or we do ice cream from scratch,” says Payne. “They are always hoping someone will have a birthday, so they can have ice cream.”
From Trish Schemper
1½ lbs ground beef
1 jar (1 lb, 8 oz) Ragu spaghetti sauce, any flavor
16 oz cottage cheese
1 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 box “oven-ready” lasagna noodles
Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Brown ground beef. Mix in Ragu sauce. Layer in large Crockpot in this order: 1/2beef mix, 1/2 cottage cheese, 1/3 of mozzarella, 1/2 noodles. Repeat. Over second layer of noodles, layer remainder of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese as desired. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours. Serves 8.
For more recipes from U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc. members, visit Cooking For The Crew Recipes.