Friday, September 3, 2010

A Season of Fulfillment and a Time of Rejoicing - Harvest Time

 (For an update on this harvest time posting, please click HERE)

We've had a majorly hot and muggy summer this year - and it ain't over yet! I am certain there are more sticky days on the way - possibly even hitting 90+ degrees a few more times.
And, because of this, I am more than ready for autumn. Our modern calendar states that fall begins September 23 this year, although the Celtic calendar of old says that we are already into fall. Either way, we can all agree that the season of fulfillment and a time of rejoicing - harvest time - has begun.
Maybe I'm rushing it a bit, but this last quarter of the year is my favorite time. I will miss the reenactments - I absolutely will miss them! - but, more and more, I am having the opportunity to continue to travel back to the 1860's as events increase later into the year. I have two events in September and three in October, one in November, and two Christmas Civil War events in December! That's not so bad, eh?
Anyhow, because I am excited about this fall time of year I thought I would take this opportunity to offer here, in part, what I wrote last year about how autumn is presented at Greenfield Village. It's a wonderful history lesson.
I hope you enjoy it:

Summertime may be an exciting time at Greenfield Village, but I believe that it's in the Autumn time of year that the Village truly shines, for that's when the traditions we hold so dear come to the forefront.

Let's begin the tour with the sights: witness smoke pouring out of the chimneys of the farms and homes as you stroll under the trees 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 as you stroll through the streets of the past.

Most of the structures throughout the Village are open during the fall season, however, once again the main presentations concentrate on the two farms, Firestone (19th century), and Daggett (18th 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!
We'll begin with Daggett - - - -

To give a bit of background here, I shall quote from Senior Manager of Creative Programs Jim Johnson, as I feel I cannot explain any better than what Mr. Johnson has written (this comes from The Henry Ford blog
(all photos, by the way, were taken by me except the 2nd to last, which was taken by Fred Priebe):

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, 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.

Upon my own visitation to the Daggett farm I have also witnessed the spinning of wool into yarn as well as the usage of roots and berries for the colorful dyeing process.
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.
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

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

The Walking (or Great) Wheel at Daggett farm

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

Inside the house, in the great hall of the Daggett house, sits a loom, an exact replica of one built in the 18th century. The very talented presenters often demonstrate the process of using this fly-shuttle loom where around a foot of fabric an hour can be produced.

A hundred years later, at the Firestone Farm, the fall harvest is in full swing as well. Once again, I will present here the words of Senior Manager of Creative Programs Jim Johnson, as he has written it best:
The Firestones would have used many similar techniques (as the Daggetts) to insure their vegetable needs for the winter. Pits and root cellars still played an important role. 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.

Storage for the winter months in the cellar of Firestone Farm
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 Firestone orchard is filled with a number of 19th-century and earlier apple varieties, and visitors will be able to see a wide selection of red, green, brown, yellow, and speckled apples on the trees. Names like Rambo, Baldwin, Belmont, Roxbury Russet, and Hubbardston Nonesuch can be found there. 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 Daggett kitchens will overflow with apples in the fall.
Apple Butter making at Firestone farm
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. We do know that Samuel Daggett pressed cider with a larger animal powered machine, 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 are grown in the Daggett garden, and brewing of small beer was also a fall activity.
The harvest of the field crops at Firestone Farm has 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 will 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 we grow 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 will take place throughout the ladder part of September at Firestone Farm.
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!

Elsewhere in the Village a farmer's market is set up where one can purchase local grains and baking mixes, produce, honey, apples, and much more. Also, new this year (2010), they are going to be presenting a new autunm program called Fall Flavor Weekends where, in their own words: The focus is food for three ”tasty” weekends in Greenfield Village Celebrate the glories of American food with us. For three weekends, food will be everywhere you look in Greenfield Village; daily cooking demonstrations, an authentic farmers market, harvest dinners, wine and beer tastings, Look around and you’ll find dozens of opportunities to share in Michigan’s abundant and varied harvest.
Presenters in our historic homes will be hard at work preparing recipes lifted from the pages of history.
  • At Firestone Farm, men press cider from heirloom apples as ladies cook buttermilk bread, custard pies and apple butter.
  • At Mattox House, Scuppernong grapes are prepped for wine making, grape jelly is put up and okra gumbo is simmering.
  • At Daggett Farmhouse, beer is brewing and the table is laden with a harvest feast of a pupton of apples, grateful pudding and boiled cod.
  • Edison Homestead’s fall menu including squash soup and sweet sugar beet comes from Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.
  • The ladies at the Ford Home cook up Concord grape jelly and sweet apple pudding dishes from Della Lutes’ Home Grown.
  • At Susquehanna Plantation, the open hearth is fired up for Baltimore oyster pie and stuffed squash.
  • Check out the bubble and squeak and pork and apple pie at Adams House.

This is a great improvement over what the Village has presented over the last few years where next to nothing occured this time of year (sans Daggett and Firestone farms). It used to be that one could find a number of different activities throughout the village, including corn shucking, threshing, the process of winnowing, as well as live old-time music, hayrides, and hot cider & doughnuts. A real old-time shindig!
So what Greenfield Village is presenting this year is a step in the right direction.
Maybe, if this presentation is a success, we will one day soon see a full fall-harvest weekend, with a combination of all of the many different fall activities together. How cool would that be?

In the 1990's Greenfield Village had musicians performing old-time music during the Fall Harvest Weekend.

Teaching, in a fun and interesting way, the importance of the autumn/harvest time of year and showing how our ancestors actually celebrated the fall months should become a priority as far as I am concerned. I make it a point, by the way, to use what I have learned when I am participating in a Civil War living history presentation at the fall events. 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. But, while making the attempt to remain in 1st person, I also try to carry on a conversation as if we really were living in the 1860's, as would have been done during that time period. Which means, while at a fall event, I could ask my "customers" how the canning of their harvest is coming along, and maybe speak of the old Widow Jones down the road who still seals her cans by using animal bladders.
People love it!
I certainly hope this little blog helped you get into the seasonal mood of this wonderful time of year.
Til next time...



Mama Linda said...

I always like ready your blogs about Greenfield Village and the trip into the past. I too am looking forward to the Fall as it is my favorite time of year.

Historical Ken said...

Well, Miss Linda, I have enjoyed your writings as well, but you need to write more! I know you have a lot of wonderful ideas and knowledge of the past and living history to share!

Victoria said...

I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your postings and discussions of civilian reenacting. Your insights and descriptions and pictures are all inspiring to me, a rather new member of the reenacting community. Thank you for showing that this hobby really can be all that I hoped it would be, at least in the best case scenarios :)


Historical Ken said...

Thank very much Victoria. I appreciate your comments.
I love living history, and having the opportunity to share as well as to learn from others via the internet is means almost as much to me as reenacting!