Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Presenting A Victorian Harvest - A 2017 Civilian Event

The harvest through a window
For the past few years the Civil War civilians of the unit I belong to, the 21st Michigan, has put on a fall harvest demonstration we call "Harvest Home" at one of the best reenactments of the year, Wolcott Mill. Unfortunately, for varying reasons (or so I've heard), Wolcott was not to take place this year.  And that truly was unfortunate, for we have put so much time and effort into showing the visiting public snippets of harvest time of the 1860s, and I didn't want to see that go the wayside; it to be a real shame to let it go. So, with Wolcott Mill unfortunately out of the picture, at least for this year, I thought I'd try to keep our presentation alive by attempting a civilian event. I spoke with the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, those wonderful folks who care for Detroit's ancient citadel from the 1840s, to see if we could bring our harvest presentation there, and they were very accommodating (as they always are!).
For a first time event, I didn't think we did too bad, though I believe it could have been much better if more reenactors had turned out. Ah, but, that's okay. Their loss. We still had a fine time, as you shall see in the following pictures:
Here is my camp.
Harvest time was perhaps the most important time of the year for nearly everyone, but most especially the farmer, for if his crop took a devastating hit from nature, he and his family had nowhere to turn for help.
And that's one of the very important reasons for this sort of presentation: to teach of the importance of what too many today take for granted.
I brought a few of my period farm tools, our own
dipped candles and beeswax bricks (which some kids
thought were cheese!), and heirloom apples.

My display of apples from the past was a pretty big hit. This all-American fruit (which is not native to American soil) played such an important role in our ancestor's survival here in the 17th through the 19th centuries.
I am frequently asked where I get these ancient varieties. There are numerous places on the internet where they can be purchased - just type into your favorite search engine "heirloom apples for sale." The internet, in so many ways, has been my time-tunnel to the past.
The best part? Once our presentation was done, these apples from days of old became part of a pie!

Yours truly...
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Long

It always surprises me how so few reenactors actually portray this time of year. Our purpose as living historians goes way beyond the historic clothing aspect. And the response we receive from visitors is positive - very positive. They absolutely love learning some of these details of the past rarely spoken about anymore.
(This is the Paladino camp)

Over at Jennifer and Amy's camp, we find the ladies preparing for the upcoming winter by sewing warm clothing for family members.

Here's a bit of interesting Michigan history:  
Anastasia “Eliza” Truckey served as lighthouse keeper of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse in Marquette, Michigan, while her husband was away for war. Nelson Truckey left Eliza and their 4 children for three years to fight with the 27th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. During that time, Eliza kept the light burning without an assistant to help her.
Sandy Krueger as Eliza Truckey

The 21st Michigan purchased a cider press a few years back, and a couple of the apple orchards in our general area have been gracious enough to donate (or sell very cheaply) apples for us to make the finest fall drink since the 1860s!

Making baskets for collecting the picked fruits and vegetables.

The Woodruffs, 21st Michigan members from from Ohio, always have one of the best displays with period activities...

...especially for the kids!
The young man on the right is using a butter churn to make butter for our thresherman's dinner. Yes, it was some of the best butter, in all honesty, I have ever had! And it was made by a thirteen year old boy.
The corn stalks, gourds, pumpkins, butter churn...and the barrel filled with cider.
Fall is definitely my favorite time of year

Cutting up squash for our evening Thanksgiving meal celebration.
Yes, I said Thanksgiving.
It wasn't until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the 4th Thursday in November be a National Thanksgiving Holiday that the majority of the country began to celebrate as one, and even after that many states (and even individual towns or families) would have their own harvest feast, which is what we had here, for actual harvests would usually be celebrated at varying times of the fall months.

Drying plants, fruits, and vegetables was very common in the days before refrigeration, and that is another aspect of the harvest we also try to show.

~Everything but the beak~
Chickens gave us eggs and meat to eat, gizzards to cook with, and feathers for our pillows and beds.
Everything but the beak indeed!

Visiting with friends~~~
I very much appreciate those who participated in our little event, for some fine conversation ensued. And later in the afternoon, Larissa came up with a very fun sort of charades memory game that had us laughing so hard we were in tears.
(Photo courtesy of Fahr Realm Creations)
A tale of two wives?
Ah! Don't tell my wife (lol)!!
Oh, and there's Paul Anka, too.

In case you haven't met him yet, Paul Anka is the newest member of our family. He's a chocolate lab and, as of this writing, is nearly six months old.
(Photo courtesy of Fahr Realm Creations)
Many folks don't get the reference of our pup's name (hint: a television show).
Neat and true story: my cousin's young son took a liking to our dog and spent quite a bit of time playing with him while at the reenactment. Later in the day, at another location, there was a balloon man making balloon animals. When the man asked my cousin's son what animal he would like him to make, the boy said, "Paul Anka!"
Yeah, Lorelei would be proud! 
(Photo courtesy of Fahr Realm Creations)

The line of harvest celebrators.

After a muggy hot September and a too warm early October, it was finally beginning to feel like fall here in southern Michigan.

A sampling of the what autumn has to offer: fruit leather, dried apples, raisins/grapes, summer squash, mushrooms, honey, and pickled vegetables.

The apples being peeled became a pie and fritters.

Mrs. Paladino's pumpkin pie was delicious!

To keep their homes in good operation, a farmer in the 1860s might use 30 cords of wood. This would be for heat as well as cooking.
In colonial times, before the efficiency of the wood stove, a farmer might go through upwards of 40 cords.

For our thresherman's dinner, 

Apple desserts

Since there was only one fire, the ladies shared the duties and took turns cooking the meal. And let me tell you, there is nothing like a period meal cooked over an open flame.

Yes, we did have chicken and mac n cheese as our main dish (and mac n cheese is period correct!)
But we also had....
...bread rolls and eggs...

....pies, beets...

...corn, ham, beans, mashed potatoes...

...more pies, plus breads, cookies, and squash.

The room we had our thresherman's dinner in was originally either a kitchen or a dining area for the men of the fort. It has been restored back to the era of the Civil War, so it was perfect for us.

The reenactors all brought their own period-appropriate dinner ware, including lanterns for light.

Imagine looking out the window and seeing this!

Having our meal in this beautifully restored room really topped off the day. However, I think if we do it again at Historic Fort Wayne next year we can maybe plan to have our dinner a little later for a better candle-lit ambiance.

I repeatedly say that in order for the past to come alive we
must use all of our senses. This includes taste. And to enjoy 
a meal from days gone by in such a setting is just about
as wonderful as living history can get.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Long

And to end this week's post:

I just had to include this picture taken by Jennifer Long,
for it is almost like a painting!
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Long

Did you notice that everyone had some sort of a presentation? There were no camp-sitters...I repeatedly say here in Passion for the Past that reenacting is much more than walking around and looking period, which is why my hat is off to the wonderful civilians of the 21st Michigan, for I have not found another group who so willingly and so authentically enjoys bringing the past back to life.
Yeah...the 21st Michigan is a pretty unusual group.

Until next time, see you in time.

If you are interested in learning more about the fall harvest of long ago, please click HERE
And if you'd like to know a bit more about apples in America's past, click HERE
Click HERE to see even more pictures from this event taken by Fahr Realm Creations

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