From the field to the table is a short walk at the home of Mary Florence Smith. She cans and stews home-grown tomatoes every summer, and every winter her grown children return home to Rolling Acres Farm to help cure the hams.
"I don't use any thickening in my stewed tomatoes," explains Smith, an energetic woman with graying hair whose dish is a tradition at the annual gathering. "I just use bread croutons. The recipe has been in my family for years. My mother did it that way and so did my husband's mother. Everyone looks forward to stewed tomatoes and mashed potatoes on Butchering Day."
Smith's stewed tomatoes and her ham cure can be found in a recently published cookbook, "From the Field to the Table," a collection of recipes from the kitchens of Carroll County farmers.
The cookbook is the work of the Women's Committee of the Carroll County Farm Bureau, an organization that promotes agricultural interests and educates about farm issues. The simple, plain-looking cookbook, a fund-raiser for a county scholarship fund, offers a window into a farmhouse kitchen.
Unlike many cookbooks that divide food by types of dishes, "From the Field to the Table" separates recipes by farm commodities: aquaculture, beef, dairy, diversified, fruit, grain, lamb, pork, poultry and vegetables.
Cookbooks are not uncommon projects for local farm bureaus -- they've been done in Queen Anne's and Dorchester counties, for example. What makes Carroll's effort stand out is its glimpses of life on the farm -- Butchering Day in New Windsor, raising catfish in Hampstead or milking cows in Taneytown.
"That's one of the things that makes this cookbook unique," says John Butler, field services director of the Maryland Farm Bureau. "Included within the cookbook are profiles of farm families, and that's something I haven't seen in others. It really is a nice cookbook."
The recipes include familiar fare such as meatloaf, potato, vegetable and meat casseroles, white bread, apple pie and ice cream. From some of the county's unusual farmers, such as Diana and Fred Beuchert, who for many years raised emus on their Mount Airy farm, have come recipes for bell filets, quesadillas, stir fry, all with emu as their main ingredient. Emus are the more friendly, graceful cousins of the ostrich.
"We're always looking for ways to promote agriculture in the county and to raise money for some of the good things we do," says Sharon Fritz, a committee member whose family operates a dairy farm in New Windsor. "The cookbook is a good way to show the diversity of farms and to help people make the connection about the food they eat: where it comes from and how it gets to the table."
Making that connection in Carroll County and Maryland is becoming more difficult because of suburban growth and changing lifestyles. Today, the typical American family is at least two generations removed from the farm. Less than 2 percent of Americans live on farms.
The rolling Carroll County countryside, once a quilt of corn, hay and wheat fields, is being transformed into waves of housing developments. Despite that growth, agriculture remains the primary industry.
Fritz says the folksy cookbook is a good way to reach out to newcomers moving into Carroll County and to give them insight into the daily life of a farmer.
"People will recognize some of the farm names in the book. They'll ride around and see farm signs and realize that's where some of the food they eat comes from," Fritz says. "We want people to make that connection."
At $7, the cookbook, in its third printing, is selling briskly. It's available at Southern States, a farmers' cooperative in Taneytown, Hampstead and Mount Airy, and at RD Bowman & Sons Inc. in Westminster. Publicity in farm journals has brought orders from as far away as California.
Fritz's daughter, Jessica, Carroll County's farm queen, recently demonstrated some of the recipes for shoppers at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers' Market in Westminster. Jessica chose some of her favorite family recipes: milk punch, apple dip and a cheese ball.
Milk punch, a combination of milk, orange sherbet and Sprite, is a favorite in farm kitchens, birthday parties and at 4-H events. The concoction tastes like a Dreamsicle and earned accolades from an Emmitsburg nun.
"It tastes so healthy. I bet you could use skim milk and make it even healthier," Sister Therese. "It's excellent."
The farm women spent nearly two years collecting recipes, typing them and compiling the 120-page cookbook. Some recipes were hard to come by. Many farm women cook without recipes, following directions handed down from generation to generation, adding a little of this here, a pinch of that there.
"There are lots of good cooks out there, but we had trouble getting some of them to sit down and send us recipes," Fritz says. "A lot of women said they were just plain cooks, and fix normal, traditional types of things. But that's what we wanted. We wanted home-style cooking."