Century Farms; The Tuttle farm, Dover, New Hampshire

By , Special to the Christian Science Monitor

''It's been pretty much word of mouth down through the generations. Each generation tells the family stories, the family history to the next one,'' explains Hugh Tuttle, owner of the Tuttle farm here in Dover.

''Our favorite storytelling time would be at dinner around the table after dessert, particularly Thanksgiving time, when the grandparents and all the children would be there. The stories went on endlessly . . . there were literally hundreds of them about old characters.''

With the last remaining red and green cabbage, purple cauliflower, and parsley plucked from the soil before the heavy frosts, that time of year described by Mr. Tuttle as ''more meaningful than Christmas . . . meaningful to anybody that's close to the soil,'' is fast approaching.

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Relatives will come from far. A rotund turkey will grace the table, and the fall harvest will be spread in excess. There will be laughter and stories, including, certainly, mention of immigrant John Tuttle.

John was an apprentice barrelmaker who ventured to America from Bristol, England, in 1632. With a land grant from King Charles I for 30 acres in hand, he boarded a ship called the Angel Gabriel, the Tuttles believe, and set off for the New World. The vessel was shipwrecked off the North American coast, presumably by an early hurricane. Finally, after many a tribulation, John Tuttle staked his claim in Dover in 1635, establishing a farm that has been handed down from generation to generation - 10 to date, with two more generations in the wings.

One well-worn Tuttle yarn retold at Thanksgiving is of Hugh's great-granduncle, William Penn, who owned the farm for a brief span before it was returned to the direct family line. He was proud owner of a small crop of strawberries. Being too much the good, frugal Quaker to bear the thought of losing any of them, he insisted his pickers whistle while they picked - knowing they couldn't eat strawberries and whistle at the same time.

As Hugh sits back and rekindles these family stories, his weatherworn face glows. But for his '50s brush cut, dark green work shirt, and knee-high rubber boots freshly coated with mud, he looks as if he could have stepped right out of one of those old-time tales.

''I had ideas of doing a lot of different things (instead of becoming a farmer), but I guess the pull of the soil was too strong,'' he explains. ''You hear about people growing up in nautical families that have the pull of the sea. . . . I have a great deal of trouble staying away from the soil.''

Staying with the soil brought its share of trouble, too. Yet the Tuttle farm managed to stay afloat, primarily because of the foresight to convert an old barn into a roadside stand. Today, Tuttle's Red Barn offers a wide variety of items, from fiddleheads and imported French truffles to cheeses and home-grown vegetables.

''This farm would have been broken into house-lots if we hadn't gone retail, '' says Hugh, on a more solemn note.

For the immediate future, the Tuttle farm will be in safe hands. Hugh's son William is carrying the Tuttle name on the farm one more generation. And on the horizon there's generation 12 - grandson Andy, age 61/2.

''He grew one of the finest gardens this year,'' Hugh says with a wide, satisfied grin.

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