This Farm Girl Cooks for Harvest Crews

Farm Field Tailgating Carves Out Family Time

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
Connect with Pamela:
A quick meal in the field is more than food, it unites families. Eleanor, Luke and Ryan Frieders take a moment during harvest to share the comfort of a meal. (Photo courtesy of Deanne Frieders)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Nothing works up an appetite like working outdoors, and nothing is quite like harvest time to celebrate the food the surrounds us.

Deanne Frieders believes in good food and lives by the theory that "cooking is love made visible." When she married into a Waterman, Illinois, farm family, one of her first jobs was to carry that love of cooking to the field to sustain the work crews.

She quickly learned that the need for hearty meals also often required that the dishes hold for long periods of time before the crew consumed them. Equipment breakdowns and an untold number of unforeseen events make field dining much different than showing up for a restaurant reservation. Often the meal needs to be able to be eaten on the go.

After doing her own "field testing," Frieders started to concoct some satisfying tips to making the field or the tailgate her table. She started sharing these hints in a blog called "This Farm Girl Cooks." This past March, she published a cookbook, "Table to Tailgate" with 52 recipes and a guide for meals served in fields.

"Every farm family does things a little differently. Many of the farmers I talk to want something they can hold in their hand and eat on the go," she said.

Sometimes her meals give all new meaning to takeout -- as she might need to leave a cooler of food in the ditch for a worker who doesn't have time for the full meal deal. But her favorite feeds are when everything can be timed right to have the whole family come together.

"We've made a concentrated effort to stop for at least five or 10 minutes to eat most days. I notice when I'm driving the grain cart that it really is a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts," Frieders said. "Taking that moment is just so important."

Harvest is an easier time to schedule fields in meals than during planting season -- which can get frantic and more spread out, she said.

The slow cooker is her friend, but that doesn't necessarily mean the food is cooked in it. "It is like my own little personal warmer. Even something simple such as a grilled cheese sandwich can be made, wrapped in foil and kept warm in the slow cooker until eaten," she said.

Here are some additional tips she offers:

-- Farm meals require flexibility. Slow-cooker meals and Instant Pot meals are your friend. Cook foods that can be ready 30 minutes early or served two hours after they are ready.

-- Use the "no knife required" test. Almost anything can be prepared to be portable. The best bet is foods that can be picked up with hands or eaten with a fork.

-- Provide a snack for later, such as an apple or something healthy for the inevitable time when the stash of cab snacks runs out.

-- Don't get your feelings hurt if eaters don't rave about the food. Too much visiting and you take the chance that the whole meal idea might get eliminated. In other words, save the long picnics for after harvest.

-- Keep track of what works for your family and what is liked best, so you remember for next year.

Frieders' recipes are a combination of foods she grew up eating or has acquired over time. "My Mom was big on casseroles. I've taken many of those recipes and made them more heart-healthy. Some are riffs on tried-and-true things, but I've come up with ways to make them more portable or things you can eat by hand," she said. For example, one recipe she's created is lasagna tucked into a wonton wrapper and made in a muffin tin.

Other ideas include ways to transport food to the field. For example, don't take good kitchen utensils to the field because they often don't make it back to the kitchen. Laundry baskets are great to corral and carry your meal.

Table to Tailgate is available on Amazon in paperback for $24.99 or as an e-book for $14.99. You can also purchase through her website where there are also recipes and tips available:….

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
Connect with Pamela: