Monday, October 20, 2014

A Celebration of Autumn Past in Video and Pictures

Here's my third posting in a row about harvest time in the past.
Overkill? Maybe...just a little...
However, before you click off, please let me explain why I wrote (or, actually, re-wrote) this one: though it's a revision of a revision, I've added quite a bit of extra historical information and utilized further primary sources to give a more well-rounded history of the celebrations and activities of the fall harvest. 
I've also added plenty of video clips that I've taken while visiting historic Greenfield Village that will actually show the fall harvest of days long past live and in color - with movement and sound and everything! Ain't technology wonderful?
And, yes, there are also a ton of photographs, a number of which are new and not been published here before.
It's rather long but it's here where you will find how the autumn was celebrated in colonial and Victorian times. If you don't want to read it off of your computer, just print it out and cozy up next to your fireplace, candle, or oil lamp and allow yourself to journey into autumn past.
It's a wonderful history lesson and I hope it gets you into an autumn mood:

Harvest Home! Now Is the Autumn Time of Year!

A fall farm scene

The trees say they're tired,
they bore too much fruit,
Charmed all the wayside,
there's no dispute,
Now shedding leaves,
they don't give a hoot!
La-de-da, de-da-de-dum,
'tis Autumn!
 
The Ackley Covered Bridge turned into a time-tunnel, whisking us back centuries to when America was young and proud.

Our modern calendar states that fall begins usually in the third week of September, though the Celtic calendar of old says that fall's been here since August. Either way, we can all agree that the season of fulfillment and a time of rejoicing is here, for harvest time has begun!
Let's begin this journey through autumn past with food selection; how do the folks at Greenfield Village select the food they cook and present for their culinary history lesson?
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The three main months of autumn - September, October, and November - is when the fall harvest time takes place. In times gone by, autumn was a period of hard work. What I hope to show here is not only the labor of these hard-working people, but of the satisfaction our ancestors received for a job well done. The fruits of their labor ensured their survival, and there was no time for "sick days," nor did they have a "sick bank" to enter if they felt 'stressed out' and needed time off to 'get their head together.'
If one didn't put their time in, they didn't eat. And neither did a few others.
I am also hoping that the reader will find a deeper appreciation for the way our ancestors lived and maybe even be enticed to grow their own kitchen garden by way of non-gmo heirloom seeds. 

So close your eyes...clear your mind...before you know it...

ZAP! It is now Autumn 1760 - What Now?? 

The circa 1750 Daggett Saltbox House

When the farmer has fallowed and tilled all the land,
And scattered the grain with a bountiful hand
And the team that had labored with harrow and plough,
Has conveyed the rich produce safe home to the mow.
Then what shall we do? what shall we do?
What shall we do? what shall we do?
Sing, Harvest Home! Harvest Home!
And shout with full voices our Harvest home!



I would like to quote from Senior Manager of Creative Programs at Greenfield Village, Jim Johnson, as I feel I cannot explain this aspect of harvest time any better than what Mr. Johnson has written
(all photos, by the way, were taken by me):

The Daggett kitchen during the fall
 
The Daggetts would have stored away a variety of root vegetables in stone-lined pits that would have prevented hard freezing for turnips, potatoes, beets and other similar vegetables. The earth is a great insulator, especially a small hillside. These outside “root cellars,” dug deep enough and lined with stone, provided the protection needed. The stone lining not only insulates, but keeps the items stored away cleaner. The wooden cover/door with added straw insulation made access throughout the winter possible. A heavy layer of snow would further help to keep the storage area from freezing. This would normally be in addition to the cellar of the house, also used for food storage.
Cabbages would have been pulled roots and all and also stored in similar ways. Pumpkins and other winter squash would have been kept in house cellars or possibly garrets (attics), to prevent freezing, allowing them to be used well into the winter months. Several other root vegetables like parsnips and salsify would have just been kept in the frozen ground of the garden and dug out as needed.


By this time of year, beans and peas would have been dried and stored away in sacks in cool dry locations. Dried peas and beans used in soups, stews, and baked bean dishes were simply left to fully mature on their vines or stalks in the field. Once completely dry, they were pulled by the roots and loaded into a cart or wagon and hauled back to the barn. In some cases, the partially dried plants were attached to long poles set-up in the field, once fully dried, the “bean” poles were hauled back to the barn to await further processing. This allowed a nice compact way to store them.


Much like threshing grain (more on this later), beans and peas were laid out on a flat surface, usually on a tarp, and hit with a wooden flail (two lengths of wood connected by a leather lace). The wooden flail would break apart the pods and loosen up the dried beans or peas. Once loose from pods, the beans and peas were carefully scooped up and then cleaned by a process called winnowing. Using the breeze, the bean and peas were flipped up and down in a large shallow basket. The dust and lighter debris would blow away leaving the beans or peas behind. Once clean, they would be stored away in barrels or clean sacks. Dried green beans were re-constituted and added to soups or stews in the winter and early spring when nothing green was available.


With careful planning, all these sorts of vegetables would carry over the family’s needs until the new summer produce became available again. It’s no wonder that the first early greens from the garden were so looked forward to after a winter of starchy root vegetables.
As you visit the Daggett farm throughout the fall, you will see the staff harvesting and storing away a variety of garden produce.
Drying plants for winter use hang over the kitchen fireplace

Fruit, especially apples, was another important food item carefully preserved for the winter. The Daggetts had very limited technology when it came to “canning” as we know it today. Fruit jams or preserves were kept in small crocks or glass jars and sealed with bees wax, spirit soaked parchment, or animal bladders that when tightly drawn over the jar opening, would dry and seal off the jar (they were reusable). Lots of fruit was dried by slicing and lying out in baskets or on wooden racks. Fresh fruit was carefully packed in barrels whole to keep in a cool spot.
Enjoying the fruits of their labor

Why don't we visit the colonial Daggett ladies themselves as they prepare a harvest meal?
Here they are:


Here she speaks a bit on food preservation:

Here's part two of what the woman above was explaining:


Here the ladies prepare an apple tart:

And here they are cooking the tart:

Here's another wonderful explanation of cooking over an 18th century hearth:


Of course, the wood pile for winter warmth was of utmost importance!

There was more to the autumn months than harvesting food. There were many other chores that took place.  In 1796, Sarah Bryant scoured the floor on September 15, washed the buttery on September 29, and whitewashed the bedrooms, kitchen, and west room the following week. Once temperatures dipped below freezing inside the house, these chores became impossible.
Upon my own visitation to the Daggett farm I have also witnessed the spinning of wool into yarn as well as the usage of flower peddles, roots and berries for the colorful dyeing process.
The Walking (or Great) Wheel at Daggett farm.
The large walking (or great) wheel was used in the spinning process, and it's here where one can watch as the un-carded wool is carded by use of carding paddles before actually being spun into yarn. As this process is done, the presenter explains every step.
The following video clips were taken at the Daggett House and the presenter explains just how this process is done:





And here's another clip of the walking wheel in action that I took earlier this year.

In New England (where the Dagget farm was originally located), the use of great wheels slowed down greatly, in the 1830s when the technology of the textiles mills had advanced in their ability to process wool. That's not to say they were no longer in use anywhere. One's access to the goods produced by textile mills was influenced greatly by one's location.

And the Saxony wheel
Idle hands are the devil's workshop. There are no idle hands here in the Daggett house!

Outside in the yard a large vat of water is boiled over a fire pit. This is part of the process of having spun wool dyed to a variety of colors. The women of the family would hunt through fields and woods for flowers, leaves, and bark to dye their wool, crushing walnut shells for brown, goldenrod blossoms for yellow, and roots of the madder plant for red.
Plants, roots, and nuts crushed to make dye


Here is a run-down of what the folks at Daggett use for their presentation (from a Daggett Farm presenter):
Brown~black walnuts. The walnuts have to be allowed to rot, the longer they rot the darker brown you will get.

Blue~the best dye for this is Indigo. There is a plant called woad that could be used but it is highly invasive.

Yellow~ The inner bark from the osage orange tree works, but the easiest to find is calendula petals. Some people call the flower a pot marigold as well.

Green~ the best way to get green is an over dye of blue and yellow. Dye the yarn yellow first and then dip it in the blue.

Red~The cochineal beetle gives the best reds. With these a little goes a long way.

Pink~Pokeberry (it's nice that these can be used for something as the seeds of this plant are toxic) Daggett has one of these plants in the garden.

Orange~Madder root. The madder plant needs to be taken out and the root actually broken open (it will appear bright orange) I believe there is also a madder plant at Daggett.

Purple~ Logwood

Black~This is an over dye of logwood and black walnut.

Before dyeing any wool yarn it needs to soak in a mordant; Alum is the one that is used at Daggett.
As with washing the wool one has to use the same temperature water and not stir or agitate it or it will felt.

Also these items get tied up in cheesecloth so that nothing sticks to the yarn.

The ingredients were boiled in water until the liquid becomes the desired shade, then skeins of yarn were simmered in the vat of dye.

Dye preparation


And here one of the Daggett women to explain the 1760s dyeing process:


 The finished product, ready to be made into socks, hat, scarf, or some other cold weather item

Passing away an afternoon in the fall of 1760...
~ ~~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~

 Wife make thine owne candle,
Spare pennie to handle.
Provide for thy tallow, ere frost cometh in.
And make thine owne candle, ere winter begin
(Thomas Tusser - 16th century English poet)

Dipping was the usual procedure for making candles in most families, and it's in this way that a large amount can be made at one time - hopefully enough to cover, at minimum, the rest of the winter season.
Candle-making season was usually in early-to-mid November. It had to be just cold enough for quick hardening, and followed shortly after fall hunting, where the waist fat from the animals was used to make tallow candles. The animal fat was cut into pieces and rendered (melted). The fat was boiled, caked, pressed, sieved, and purified several times. Wicks were made from cotton or, less often. from milkweed. The wicks were dipped repeatedly into a tub of tallow, and with each dip the candles became larger and larger until the desired length and width was had.
It's here that we can quote Susan Blunt, a woman from the early 19th century, who remembered her mother candle dipping:
"Mother used to dip candles in the fall, enough to last all winter. When a beef was killed in the fall, she would use all the tallow for candles. On the evening before, we would help her prepare the wicks. The boys would cut a lot of rods and she would cut the wicks the length of a candle and then string them on the rods."

Ms. Blunt continues, "In the morning she would commence her day's work. (She would) dip each one in the hot tallow and straighten out the wicks so the candles would be straight when they were finished. By raising the candles (out of the kettle) at just the right speed and working on a day with a moderate temperature, the fine quality of the candles would be assured. The candles would be cooled overnight and the bottom ends cut off nearly. The finished candles were packed away in a mouse-proof container for safe storage."
Some scented candles, such as bayberry candles (made during the late autumn when the berries were ripest), burned slowly and gave off a fine incense, particularly when the candle was snuffed out.
Each morning it was the hired girl or one of the children's jobs to clean and fit the candlesticks with new candles long enough to last an evening and then stored in the kitchen, where they would be easy to find when darkness fell.

~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~
~

Now let's jump nearly a hundred years into the future, to the mid-to-late 19th century (roughly 1850s through the 1880s) and see autumn activities from that period in time:

Making apple butter.
Firestone Farm truly takes the visitor back to the 1880's as its sights and smells surround you in a sort of immersion experience. As you step down the rocky dirt road toward the farm all signs of the 21st century melt away and the 19th century comes forth and overtakes your senses. It's here where the fall harvest is in full swing as well.

The corn is all ripe and the reapings begin.
The fruits of the earth, o we gather them in;
At morning so early the reaphooks we grind,
And away to the fields for to reap and to bind.
The foreman goes first in the hot summer glow,
And sings with a laugh, my lads, all of a row!
Then all of a row, Then all of a row,
And tonight we will sing, boys, all of a row.

The large kitchen garden bears the fruit of summer labor.

Here is a monthly run-down of a typical Michigan harvest:

~September: This is when you kick yourself for planting a large garden. EVERYTHING is coming in. You put things down cellar and dehydrate a lot of things in the sun, and if you know how and have the jars you put things up in those fancy new mason jars, which requires HOURS of boiling for some things. (Modern note…if you want to try canning do NOT water bath can anything but fruit and tomatoes-botulism still exists.)
Apples are starting to ripen and so are the peaches. Lots of pie right about now.
September

~October:
The garden season is finally starting to wind down. You still have beans and late ripening squash, but pretty much everything else is put up for the winter. Apple harvest is in full swing although you probably have all the peaches dried or made into jam already. The pumpkins are finishing up as is the squash. Your late corn is ready to pick and your potatoes are ready to dig up…hurry and do this last before the ground freezes. You have fresh apples and dried apples and apple cider. (Or hard cider if that's your preference.)

October

~November: Butchering time is usually around the third week of the month. Those cute little piglets from spring are nasty tempered ugly hogs and you are glad to see the last of them; although processing one pig takes three days if you have lots of help in the kitchen. You also butcher your beef at this time, and the deer hunters go out to get some venison. 
November

The harvesting of the crops that our ancestors cared for over the spring and summer was, perhaps, the most important and arduous job one could have. Similar to what was written under the colonial part of this post, another of the most laborious of the harvest tasks was to thresh the grain. As discussed earlier, up through the the later part of the 18th century and well into the 19th century for many, threshing grain was done by way of flails. As the thresher swung the handle, the flail whipped down and pounded the wheat heads, shaking the seeds (or kernels) free. Soon the kernels and husks (or chaff) lay in heaps on the floor. Now the wheat (kernels) needed to be separated from the chaff (the useless part) by way of winnowing. To remind you what winnowing is, this is where the farmer and his family and hired helpers would use winnowing baskets or trays onto which they would shovel the mixture of kernels and chaff. The filled tray or basket would then be shook up and down and side to side and the light chaff was lifted by the wind and blown away, leaving the grain.
At the end of the day everyone in the barn was choking on dust but the farmer now had clean grain to take to the gristmill.

By the mid-19th century there were threshing machines and by the late 19th century many farmers began to use steam powered threshing machines.

A 'modern' late 19th-century threshing machine

A wonderful description of what it was like during threshing time comes from Alice Grey Emory Wilmer, telling of threshing during her youth in the early 1870's: 
 "The enormous ungainly machine clanked up the lane, pulled into the field by a team of six mules. The steam engine was fired up with a clatter you could hear all of the way up at the big house and seemed to shake the shingles on its roof. Men were feeding the sheaves into its hungry maw, while more men were filling bags with the stream of kernels it disgorged, tying them, loading the wagons and driving them, heavy, to the granary, where still another crew was waiting to unload and stack the bulging sacks.
Harriet recruited women to help her in the kitchen. An enormous breakfast and an equally large noontime dinner had to be produced. I rolled up my sleeves to do my share. The kitchen and summer kitchen throbbed with heat from the cook stoves. Dishes clattered. Hurrying bodies bumped into one another as we carried platters to and fro. By evening every muscle was screaming ‘no-no-more,’ aware the ordeal would have to begin again at dawn the following day.
And then it was over. The threshing crew moved on to the next farm, the extra hands paid off. There was quiet and satisfaction of knowing we had made a good crop."


A visit to the gristmill was necessary to turn wheat kernels into flour, done so by grinding them into meal (a coarse unsifted powder), then sifting the meal to separate the fine white flour from the coarse brown hard shell of the kernel called 'shorts.' The grain that is good enough to be ground into flour is called grist. 
From colonial times into most the nineteenth century, gristmills flourished in America by meeting an important local need in agricultural communities: grinding the farmers' grain into flour with large, circular stones, and levying a toll, usually in kind, for the service.

The Loranger Gristmill, pictured here (built in 1832), uses an undershot waterwheel, its source of power coming from the millpond. Inside, the two grindstones worked together, spinning in opposite directions as they ground and crushed the grain into a powdery substance. The grindstones were connected to the outside waterwheel by a shaft, which turned from the rushing water as it pushed its way through a water channel called the sluice.
(For more on the grist and other mills, please click HERE)

Another farming activity was making bales of hay, and the next few videos will guide you through the process.
Hauling hay to the field for baling:

Out to the field the hay wagon goes:


Baling hay part 1:


Baling hay part 2:


Baling hay part 3:


Now it's time for fall plowing.
Preparing a new field for planting in the spring by plowing in the fall was a very common practice. Working the sod several times by turning it over also puts the nutrients back into the soil with the underturned grasses breaking down into compost.

Also, winter wheat is planted in the fall.

Yes...that's me looking determined to do it right for my first time out plowing behind a team of horses. What a thrill it was to have that opportunity. The Firestone Farm workers told me I didn't do bad at all, especially considering it was something I've never done before. I was even welcomed into the "very small group of people who actually done this" club by one of the hands! Yep---this was a major highlight in my living history 'career.'

The following videos were taken the same day as the photograph above, though it is of the Firestone Farm workers plowing and not me:



~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Your hay it is mow’d and your corn it is reap’d.
Your barns will be full and your hovels heap’d
Come, boys, come.
And merrily roar out our harvest home.


The 1880's Firestones would have used many similar techniques as the 1760's Daggetts to insure their vegetable needs for the winter. Pits and root cellars still played an important role, with the winter vegetables being moved into the cellar or attic, and the evenings were devoted to peeling apples to be preserved by drying or being made into applesauce.

The temperatures of cellars usually ranged from 40 degrees in the winter and upwards of 50 degrees in the summer. To keep dampness out, many cellars had fireplaces.
Sauerkraut from cabbage was an important fall job at the Firestone Farm. A well-made crock of kraut could last the family well into the spring. Simply a combination of salt and shredded cabbage, sauerkraut was a winter staple for many German-American families.

The Firestone cellar will soon be overflowing with the fruits (and vegetables) of the farmer's labor. The apples you see here are all from the heirloom apple orchard.

What's nice about Firestone Farm is that it is self-sufficient, meaning that they grow everything they use during the open season of Greenfield Village.

By the 1850s, the “fruit” canning jar with sealable lids had been perfected and by the period of the 1880s, the Firestones would have made full use of this technology and would have put up a dazzling array of pickles, jellies, jams, sauces, etc.

The pickling season adds the final 'zest' to all of the savory smells of September and October. In our modern times the word pickle brings to mind the Vlassic variety of pickles or what one puts on their hamburger. But the word pickle over a hundred years ago was a verb that referred to the process of preservation. In the old days one pickled beets, tomatoes, corn, and an endless variety of fruits and vegetables. Even eggs.   
         
The Firestone orchard is filled with a number of heirloom apple tree varieties that were popular back in the 19th-century and before, including a selection of red, green, brown, yellow, and speckled apples with names like Rambo, Baldwin, Belmont, Roxbury Russet, and Hubbardston Nonesuch. They all have different characteristics, flavors, and ultimately were used in different ways, either for sale, or for the family’s own use. Those not carefully packed away will be made into apple butter, apple sauce, pies, dowdies, dumplings, fritters, and cider. Both the Firestone and (colonial era) Daggett kitchens would overflow with apples in the fall.
The following three video clips were taken during the heirloom apple tour in the Firestone orchard. Not only did we learn the history of apples no longer common in North America, but we got to taste them. What fun this tour was - - who would have thought that apples had such an interesting history!

Our first heirloom apple is the Rambo:

Next we have the Hubbardson Nonesuch:

 And then we have Maiden's Blush:
There were numerous other heirloom varieties spoken of - and tasted - on the tour. I only wanted to show you an example of what the tour was like.

Gathering apples was great fun for the children, and they most happily took on the job, for payment was at their fingertips!
From Eric Sloane's "Seasons of America Past":

Picking apples was the children's chore. It was always a delight to the children and a blessing to the farmer: "Let your children gather your apples," said the first Farmer's Manual. Children are the farmer's richest blessing, and when trained to habits of industry, they become the best members of society, when they grow into life."
Amen to that! 
"Let them eat apples, too," it continued, "for nothing will strengthen and preserve young teeth more." 



Both the Firestones and Daggetts made cider. The sweet cider we all seek out in the fall was actually only available for a short time when the apples were plentiful. Cider actually refers to the fermented slightly alcoholic drink stored in barrels for use throughout the winter. Cider vinegar, and apple jack brandy was also made from the juice of the crushed apples. The Firestone staff demonstrates the use of a small “home” cider press.
Let's watch as the farm hands at Firestone press cider (five parts):






We do know that Samuel Daggett pressed cider with a larger animal powered machine in the later 1700s and sold cider to the surrounding community.
Other fruits that were commonly grown and used in a variety of ways were pears (fermented pear juice is known as “perry”), peaches, cherries, quince, and grapes. Wine making from grapes was commonly done, especially among German communities. Though not actually a fruit, hops were grown and brewing of small beer was also a fall activity.

Gourds, such as pumpkin, weren't just for pies. Have you ever heard of pumpkin butter?



The harvest of the field crops at Firestone Farm have actually been underway since July as the wheat ripened. The fall is when the field corn was harvested and by the end of September or early October, the corn at Firestone Farm would be standing in neat shocks. Firestone Farm pre-dates the era of the silo, when corn stalks were chopped up and made into a slightly fermented feed known as silage. So instead, corn stalks were chopped and fed as fodder.
Gathering the stalks into shocks had an important purpose. The inside stalks, sheltered from the elements, and retained their nutritional value for quite some time and the actual shock made a handy manageable portion for the farmer to haul from the field for his cattle. The corn was either picked before shocking, or at the time the shock was pulled from the field. Corn then had to be husked, and then thrown into the corn crib for further drying. Firestone barn has an enormous corn crib running the entire side of the barn shed. Once dry it could be shelled, then either fed as shelled corn, or ground into feed or meal. The variety grown at Firestone Farm is called “Reid’s Yellow Dent” and was primarily grown as a feed corn. Hard “flint” corns were best for meal, and the softer “gourd seed” type of corn was also used for animal feed, or for making hominy and grits. Corn harvest related work usually will take place throughout the later part of September.


Inside the house, the cozy warmth of the fireplace roars as the women of the farm prepare the dinnertime (afternoon) meal, and I can tell you first hand just how wonderful the smells of the Firestone farm kitchen can be!
Here, maybe this series of videos can give you a better idea of life in an 1884 farm kitchen during the harvest:






During the fall, the home needed to be prepared for the cool days of fall and the upcoming winter, just as was done in the spring to prepare it for the hot days of summer.
Windows needed to be washed, and if there were summer curtains, these needed to be taken down, washed, and put away, and replaced with the heavy winter sets.
Fireplaces needed to be stripped of the fireboards or vases of greenery that had adorned them all summer, while the hearths were cleaned of animal and vegetable matter that had fallen down the chimney during the summer, the fireplace furniture was polished, and chopped wood was stacked in anticipation of the first cold evening or chilly rainy day. 

One can feel a nip in the air and witness smoke pouring out of the chimneys of the farms and homes as they stroll under the trees of times past with leaves of red, orange, yellow, and even brown and green - colors that one may not find in their own neighborhoods that seem to add that fall flavor.

The changing colors of the leaves are all around, pumpkins seemingly sprout around every corner, and the seasonal food served at the Eagle Tavern let's one know exactly what time of year it is!


The fall harvest would be prominent in the local taverns.  The foods that tavern keepers offered came from local farms and grew wild in the countryside, and tavern menus varied tremendously with the seasons. Certain fresh fruits and vegetables were available beginning in the summer months, but really flourished in the late summer and into fall, with winter meals relying heavily on foods preserved by salting or drying. Since many tavern owners were also farmers, much of the food served might have come from their own farms.



As the leaves changed, so did the daily routine in the shops of town, including the wagon shop. Known where it original stood in Macon, Michigan as the Richart Wagon, Farm Implement, and Repair Shop, the father and sons team of Robert Richart (born 1792), along with his two sons, William (born 1832) and Israel (birthdate unknown) built handcrafted wagons and buggies as the chief product of this carriage shop. They also produced, as stated in its original title, farm implements, and even furniture. Bobsleds were a major product made and sold here as well.
The 1850 Richart Shop

Fall, however, saw summer wagon building and repair slowing down greatly while winter construction and repair of sleds and cutters took precedence. William and Robert would also spend many autumn hours with a file in their hands sharpening saws, as their neighbors needed to cut and store wood for the winter. Barrels of apple cider appear frequently in the books as purchases as well as payments in October and November. In fact, in the years before the Civil War broke out in 1861, most of Macon's 1500 residents rarely dealt in cash. Besides cider, payment transactions included buck wheat, lumber, beef, and other currencies.
The inside of the Richart Shop

Coopers were also especially busy at Harvest time, making barrels to store and transport grain, apples, potatoes, meal, flour, freshly pressed cider, and salted meat.

After the first frost, usually in October, the sorghum season begins. Sorghum cane raised in fields was fed into the shredding and roller-press machinery at the local sorghum mill to extract the juice through a burlap strainer and into a barrel. The juice would then be heated in pans over a fire to be made into syrup. Four gallons of juice equaled about one gallon of syrup. It is estimated that 30 to 40 gallons of syrup could be made in one day. In the time of the 18th and 19th centuries, when most knew sugar only in liquid form, there wasn't any other sweetening like it. Sorghum meant a rich dark-brown molasses, just right for corn bread and unbeatable for hotcakes.

Sorghum Mill
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Come all you lads and lasses, together let us go
Into some pleasant cornfield our courage for to show;
With the reaphook and the sickle so well we clear the land,
The farmer says, “Well done, my lads, here’s liquor at your command.”
 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Late autumn was time for hog butchering. Alice Grey Emory Wilmer recalls that special time of the year, usually in early December:

“We hired nine or ten men, I call them mechanics, who did all the hogs down in the shed. (We) cut up with our own hands 226 pounds of sausage, while Aunt Kitty and Harriet did the lard.  Fortunately, Charlie Fisher is the expert with the sausage chopper and he turned and fed the machine himself. We sold 100 pounds and have it all packed away. After that the worst was over. Harriet still had lard to dry up. She had been wonderful to manage it all and to cook for so many extra men. We also canned rounds of sausages in glass jars over which boiling lard was poured.

Rendering lard

"The women gathered at long tables in the shed, slicing, chopping, rendering lard, which meant boiling the fat down in an enormous kettle until it became liquid.  When it cooled it became cool and white, almost as fine as the cream city ladies put on their faces at night.
Hams were rubbed with saltpeter, smoked over hickory fires several times to cure them. Encased in cloth bags, they hung from the ceiling in the smokehouse, sometimes for years, until an occasion warranted taking one down and preparing it for the table, a process that took days. Other sides of meat were salted down in barrels.


Fresh meat encased in cloth

"It is dirty, greasy work, but somehow there was always a holiday air about hog killing. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Christmas was not too far away or perhaps the thought that for the next few nights everyone would feast on fresh delicacies – pork chops! Brains scrambled with eggs was one of Harriet’s specialties. The colored folk were the ones supposed to favor chitt’lings, though we children loved their crisp, greasy flavor, too.
It was at hog killing that the hands (workers) received their yearly ‘lay ins.’ Which consisted of a pig, a can of lard, and bushel baskets of white and sweet potatoes. Those who worked for us regularly toted empty milk pails each morning and returned home with them full, of course, each evening.
We’d sing as we sat at the long table set up in the shed, joining our voices first in Lizzie’s sweet sad spirituals, ‘Look Down That Lonesome Road,’ followed by (the) lively ‘Frere Jaques’ which (we were) taught to sing in a round. Our hands flew, knives chopped, and the piles of meat, the flesh pink, the fat white grew.
The days following hog killing, there’d be a spell of baking – cakes, pies, and cookies – while the lard was fresh. Apple, cherry, peach all from our own trees. For Christmas, mince meat. The pies were stacked in a poe safe on the back porch and we prayed for a long spell of cold to keep them from spoiling before they were eaten up."

The end of butchering-time was candle-making.
Yes, just like our colonial ancestors, Victorians also made candles. As Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in her fantastic book, Farmer Boy, (which takes place in the fall of 1867):
"Mother scrubbed the big lard-kettles and filled them with bits of beef fat. Beef fat doesn't make lard; it melts into tallow. While it was melting, Almanzo helped string the candle-molds.
A candle-mold was two rows of tin tubes, fastened together and standing straight up on six feet. There were twelve tubes in a mold. They were open at the top, had tapered to a point at the bottom, and in each point there was a tiny hole.
Candle mold, beeswax, and wicking, ready to be used.
Mother cut a length of candle-wicking for each tube. She doubled the wicking across a small stick, and twisted it into a cord. She licked her thumb and finger, and rolled the end of the cord into a sharp point. When she had six cords on the stick, she dropped them into six tubes, and the stick lay on top of the tubes. The points of the cords came through the tiny holes in the points of the tubes, and Almanzo pulled each one tight by sticking a raw potato on the tube's sharp point.
When every tube had its wick, held straight and tight down its middle, Mother carefully poured the hot tallow. She filled every tube to the top. Then Almanzo set the mold outside to cool.
Here is my daughter and I filling the molds with melted beeswax

"When the tallow was hard, he brought the mold in. He pulled off the potatoes. Mother dipped the whole mold quickly into the boiling water, and lifted the sticks. Six candles came up on each stick." I'm not exactly Almonzon's mother, but I followed her way of making candles.

How smoothly the candles came out of the mold when it was dipped in the heated water.

Here we are! Candles to give us light during the dark months of winter.

Then Almanzo cut them off the stick. He trimmed the ends of the wicking off the flat ends, and he left just enough wicking to light, on each pointed end. And he pulled the smooth, straight candles in waxy-white piles. 
All one day Almanzo helped Mother make candles. That night they had made enough candles to last til butchering-time next year."  
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Once the harvesting of crops were completed, the fall work continued. The farmer would work very hard on banking up his home and farm by insulating the north sides of each structure against the coming winter, and preparing his sleigh and its runners to ensure its readiness for travel over hill and dale. Daughters would shine the jingling bells up nicely, and I can just see them glistening in the rare sunlight - or even moonlight - in the up-coming January and February where they would jingle as the lucky travelers would ride along the snow-covered roads. Many folks believe that the jingle bells are a Christmas delight because of the ever-popular song written in the mid-1850's. That is truly not the case: jingle bells were put on sleighs for safety reasons. The horse's clip-clopping usually heard along the roads during the other three seasons are muffled greatly by the snow-covered ground of wintertime, and the head gear folks wear also muffle the sound of the on-coming beasts and carriages, making the pedestrian pert-near deaf. This could be a dangerous situation except for the sounds of the jingle bells warning the pedestrian to move out of the way. Just as horns are required on the modern day motor vehicles, bells were once a must for winter travel on sleighs. "Keeping to the Right" upon hearing the jingling of a sleigh was the rule then as it is for automobiles today.
Lest you think of "Jingle Bells" as strictly a Christmas carol, this little bit of social history should give you a different perspective upon hearing this winter song.

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When you think about it, fall is the most traditional/old time part of the year. This is when city folks, who might normally go to the mall, spend time in front of their TV (watching football!), or sitting at their computer, head out to the the country to the cider mills for apple and pumpkin picking, cider & donuts, haystack climbing, and crisp cool walks through country paths. I suppose this tradition stems from the harvest celebrations in days of old and has just carried on into the 21st century.
Some of my lighting apparatus used to give a glow to our evenings during the fall season

With darkness coming earlier each evening, fall is also my favorite time of year for using 'natural lighting' - this is when we burn candles and oil lamps quite often. Again, it gives off that relaxed, old-time atmosphere that the way-too-bright electric lights simply cannot give...even with a dimmer switch. Many people find the shorter days depressing - some having that "seasonal affective disorder" - and find they need to have the brighter lights on throughout the house.
I'm just the opposite. I love cloudy, dingy fall days with the darkness of twilight time coming in the late afternoon or early evening. And I am still upset that Congress (was it Congress?) has enacted the extension for daylight savings time. In fact, I wish we would get rid of DST altogether! Let's stick with one time all year 'round.
By the way...since we are living historians, there are a couple of fall reenactments that we attend, and, yes, they are among my favorites because of the time of year! More and more we here in southern lower Michigan have opportunities to continue to travel back to the 1860's via living history/reenacting as events increase later into the year.

One of my most favorite of our reenactments takes place in October - Wolcott Mill.

I have tried to make it a point to include much of what I've learned about 19th (and even 18th) century harvest and fall activities in my living history presentations.
For example, when a visitor comes to my tent and asks me a question about my post office, I do my best to answer it. While I remain in my 1st person impression, I also try to carry on conversationally as would have been done during the 1860's. This means, while at a fall event, I could ask my "customers" how their harvest is coming along, how much canning has been done, and maybe speak of the old Widow Jones down the road who still seals her cans by using animal bladders.
People love it!
And in 2014, we, the living historians who make up the civilian portion of the 21st Michigan reenacting unit, took the fall harvest to the extreme by actually creating an entire group effort harvest presentation! (Click HERE to read about that!)
Teaching in a fun and interesting way the importance of this time of year and showing how our ancestors actually celebrated the fall months should become as much a priority as wearing accurate clothing as far as I am concerned, for it was the most important time of year for human kind since the beginning of time. The Bible itself speaks of it multiple times:

Genesis 8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
John 4:35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
eremiah 5:24 Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.

I certainly hope this posting helped you get into the seasonal spirit of Autumn. I do love each season - yes, even winter - but fall just seems to carry more tradition with it than the others.
And I am a traditional guy!
Don't get me wrong, by February, I am more than ready for the natural longer daylight hours and warmer temps. But, come late September, give me the fall feeling of shorter days and longer, cooler nights.
Til next time...

Most outdoor museums tend to celebrate this all important time of year by offering demonstrations of how our forefathers  and mothers reaped what they sowed. Greenfield Village is no different. I believe that it's in autumn that Village truly shines, for that's when the traditions we hold so dear come to the forefront. In fact, they take the fall harvest nearly to the historical limit; most of the structures throughout Greenfield Village are open during the fall season. Although most demonstrate seasonal harvest cooking and the like, the main presentations center on the two farms, Daggett (18th century) and Firestone (19th century), as they prepare for the winter months ahead. And believe me when I say that the presenters at these two farms do it right! The docents can be found harvesting the crops from the fields as well as from the kitchen gardens. A kitchen garden is self-explanatory in that what is grown in this plot of land is what the women of the house use for cooking and canning in the kitchen.
Visitors can also witness seasonal cooking crafts, such as traditional fall baking treats and apple butter making. 
If you are able, please take advantage of these historic opportunities.

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Besides Jim Johnson and the presenters from Greenfield Village, I also got information for this posting from Eric Sloane's Seasons of America Past
A Pioneer Sampler by Barbara Greenwood
Our Own Snug Fireside by Jane C. Nylander
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (this book has more social farm life history packed in its pages than nearly any other book. yes, it may have been written for a child, but I (and many other adults) have found it to be a wonderful account of 1860s farm life.)
Apples of North America by Tom Burford
1888 Farm Cyclopedia (currently unavailable)
and bits and pieces from other books I own.

Also, if you are interested in reading other postings that relate to this subject, please see:
~Early Farming Tools of Days Gone By
~Days of Autumn Past in Photos
~In The Good Old Colony Days


Now our work’s done, thus we feast,
After labor comes our rest;
Joy shall reign in every breast,
and right welcome is each guest;
After harvest merrily,
Merrily, merrily will we sing now,
After the harvest that heaps up the mow.


 
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