Old, Old Butter Beans

MD-Carlton Nabb on Old Butter Beans_thresher

Hans Asmussen standing on top of his thresher

Many of the settlers, who were associated with agriculture in Dorchester County at the turn of the century, put down their roots here and established outstanding farms and families. Some stayed on this side of the Choptank River and others moved over to the fertile fields of Talbot County. The milder climate and topography of the area were more to their liking than that of the harsh Midwest.

One of the families that farmed in Dorchester and later moved to Talbot was the Asmussen clan, led by their patriarch Asmus Asmussen and his wife Mary, who emigrated from Germany to Kansas in 1883, shortly after their first son, Hans, was born. Their family flourished, with six more children being born in Kansas over the following nine years. It was 1893 when they made the move east and settled in Dorchester. The 1900 census shows the family living in the Bucktown District with 10 children, 7 of them boys.

The oldest son Hans was the one our family knew. My Dad and the Asmussens were close neighbors and friends, since they lived just across the road from us on the Fountain Farm located on Higgins Mill Pond. Evidently the area suited them well, as Hans was married to Laura Hoge from Dorchester and soon started his own family of seven children — Elmo the oldest, followed by Lucille, Herbert (Chappy), Albert (Phil), Charlotte, Sam and Clifford (Bird). As soon as Elmo was old enough he lived on a farm in Church Creek down Plantation Road, and married Virginia Malkus. Their son Charles was born in Dorchester County.

The close-knit family moved from Dorchester to Talbot in the mid-30s, hauling machinery and livestock across the fairly new bridge at Cambridge. The families settled on the shores of Island Creek on farms owned by a Dr. White from Philadelphia. Hans and his family moved to Walnut Grove Farm and Elmo settled on Southside Farm. Elmo and his son Charles farmed mostly on their own, but everyone helped each other out during the busy times. The other brothers and sisters were at Walnut Grove until they moved to the present farm just outside Trappe.

Now everyone who knew the family also knew that they were excellent farmers, excellent craftsmen, hard workers and hard to hold. Big strong men and women that let you know where you stood with them, one way or the other. One of the stories told on Herb was that he was one of the few men who could actually chock up a threshing machine, by the brute strength of being able to feed wheat bundles at a speed the machine could not handle.

I always knew Herbert by the name Chappy. After WWII Chappy went into the building business and later in life married my aunt, Sarah Nabb. During the early years in Trappe the brothers did custom farming as well as mechanical work on farm machinery and vehicles. A large dairy herd and many acres of farmland kept the boys busy, but the sisters, who never married, were the mother hens in the barnyard. Large flocks of chickens and ducks were raised for eggs and meat. The sisters raised a special breed of large white geese that they caught at Christmastime and put on the train at Trappe Station for their final trip to Philadelphia. Also, to make a few extra dollars, Charles would catch the pigeons that were in the barns and crate them up for the train.

MD-Carlton Nabb on Old Butter Beans_003

Asmussen family at Walnut Grove in Trappe.

Besides having the farm’s pork and beef, the girls always raised a huge garden for the fresh vegetables as well as for canning for the pantry. That garden had beans that were planted year after year from the same seed. Hundred-year-old butter beans, and slippery dumplings that fell clear to the bottom — now that would get things moving. There was breakfast, dinner and supper every day, and when noon came the work stopped no matter what. The boys would come over to our farm every year to fill the silos with corn silage.

The girls would come every day at 12 sharp and bring the meals to the boys. I can still remember the homemade rolls and butter, fried chicken, potato salad, and homemade pies laid out on the lawn under the big shade trees. That bologna, souse meat and flat cake sandwich I had, left me hoping Miss Lucille would have a chicken leg left over. Both Lucille and Charlotte were excellent seamstresses who at one time worked at the Rob Roy factory in Cambridge. When Charlotte retired, she spent many hours making dresses for her collection of 800 dolls. She also had a collection of salt and pepper shakers that numbered over 1,000.

The family always had the best John Deere equipment money could buy. The brother Philip was an excellent mechanic, although he had only a thumb left on one hand. The old story was that when he and Elmo were chopping wood as boys, Phil put his hand on the chopping block and dared Elmo to cut his fingers off. Elmo missed the thumb. Elmo’s son Charles told me that was not so, Phil’s hand just got in the way of a good swing.

After Elmo died, Charles left farming and was a master craftsman with wood and metal. He and his wife Debbie had three children and they have retired to their beautiful home outside Trappe. His hobbies of John Deere toys and farm antiques is absolutely unbelievable in volume and precision.

Bird’s son Eric carries on the farming operation under the name Hans Asmussen and Sons, and sons he has. He and his wife Angie, who is a school teacher in the Talbot County school system, have four boys — Will, who is 8, Bo is 6, Sam is 4 and Joe is 2. If they keep on they will have their own little league team for Trappe, and if all the boys should one day want to farm, Eric better find more land to till besides the 2,000 acres he now works.

However, all the Asmussens can believe one thing — as long as I’m alive I’ll remember their friendship, and the girls’ fried chicken.

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