Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wolcott Mill 2015: Celebrating Harvest Time

Farmer Ken
photo taken by Lenore Jordan
A year ago, we in the 21st Michigan Civil War reenacting unit put on a fall harvest display at the autumn-laden Wolcott Mill event, to great success. So, naturally, we thought we'd try again this year. Now, it seems that many times when anyone tries to repeat a success, it falls flat. And I admit I did have some reservations about doing a repeat performance.
But I am so glad we did.
In fact, it was every bit as successful as last year and even went beyond my expectations.
The 4th Texas (Michigan reenacting group) always does a fine job hosting Wolcott Mill and welcomes our unit's harvest scenario with open arms, which we appreciate.
Putting on a harvest scenario is no easy task; we've been talking about it since last year, and we've held meetings, done research, and tried to come up with ideas to expand on and improve on what we've done previously.
I think it just might have worked, for we had even more of our members take part in cider pressing, corn-husk doll making, basket making, drying of fruits and vegetables, apple history, lots of baking, spinning and dyeing of wool, candle making, farm talk, and numerous other chores and crafts that helped to explain and show life during the harvest in the mid-1800s.
There is also the weather to contend with, and in October in Michigan one must be prepared for sun, snow, rain, wind, cold, warmth, or all of the above in one weekend. What we got was a sunny Saturday with highs in the 60s, and a beautiful sunny Sunday with temps in the 70s. Who could ask for anything more?
Yes, I was there with my camera in hand, attempting (most of the time successfully) to take pictures with little notice from other living historians (and the general visiting public) to serve as a documentation of what occurred over this amazing weekend.
Hope you enjoy them:
Welcome to autumn 1865...

A few of the tents and camps of the 21st Michigan civilians

It's here we find Mrs. Cary making a basket...

...and Miss Goodenow preparing a meal...

...and my wife spinning wool into yarn while enjoying a visit with our neighbor, Miss Lamkin...

...and young master Woodruff churning butter...

...and the littlest Robeck hauling firewood...

...and a little farm boy shelling corn...
...and a farm wife preparing for the thresherman's dinner...

...and kids big and small pressing apples into cider.
The 21st Michigan approved the purchase of a cider press in 2014, and it certainly has been a hit! It really gives an excellent opportunity for reenactors - especially the younger set - to understand the process of acquiring an 1860s treat by hard work: putting the apples into the hopper, turning the crank to grind them up, and pressing the apples tightly to squeeze every last bit of liquid from the fruit. Everyone had a job to do, and did it with the pleasure and the knowledge of soon enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Even some adults helped with the cider fact, six bushels of apples were pressed into cider - enough for everyone to have a glass at the thresherman's dinner!

My wife loves to spin wool into yarn, and very recently she's taken to dyeing her spun wool by way of natural "homespun" dyes. In 2014 she used marigold petals to get a yellow dye for her wool. This year she got some cochineal beetles to dye the wool red.
Farmers in south and central America still make a living harvesting — and smashing — the bugs that go into the dye that turns the color of wool red, though now the red color is used more for food and cosmetics rather than fabric. They're called cochineal insects, and their crushed bodies produce a deep red ink that is used as a natural dye.
Cochineal beetles
Wool waiting to be dyed red
A deep crimson dye is extracted from the female cochineal insects, and will produce a range of scarlet, pink and other red hues from the dye found in the insects.
Red was an expensive color to produce in medieval times and red clothes were an important status symbol, with the result that red dyes commanded high price. Cochineal was introduced from Mexico to Europe following the Spanish expedition to Mexico in 1518. Cochineal produced a deeper and longer lasting red than madder root and therefore the cochineal red dye was very highly valued. The Spanish kept the source of cochineal a secret and cochineal was thought to be a plant seed for nearly 200 years.

Notice the red seeping out of the sack that holds the beetles after it had been placed in water.
Use of the cochineal insects for red dye continued until the late nineteenth century, when artificial dyes were developed. This was when the production of cochineal declined markedly as red became very cheap to produce and was no longer valued.
By the way, the distinctive redcoats of the British Army in the 18th century were dyed with cochineal.
In goes the wool...
Well...not really...but it could be - - - 
Out it comes! Look at that!
After drying on the drying rack for a while, the wool had a more magenta look to it. Not bad for a first try, eh?
We have to thank our very good friends, Larissa and Beckie - who have been dyeing wool in this manner for years while working at historic Greenfield Village - for their help and guidance in this venture, for these two ladies have helped my wife in the dyeing process these past two years and have played no small role in her presentation.
Yes, there are others from the Village to thank as well, but, well, we kinda "hang out" with Larissa and Beckie, so they are right there to answer any questions that may arise.
They're also in our reenacting group.

For me, I tried something a little different this year in my own presentation: apples.
Yes, apples.
But not your average variety of Ida Red, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, or Granny Smith. I, instead, did a presentation of heirloom apples and included a number of 19th-century and earlier varieties in my display. I was able to procure a nice selection of red, green, yellow, and speckled apples to show the public, with the long-forgotten names like Belmont (late 1700s), Ohio Non-Pariel (1850s), Westfield Seek-No-Further (late 1700s), Baldwin (1740),  Roxbury Russet (from before 1649 - possibly America’s oldest apple), Peck’s Pleasant (1830s), and Grimes Golden (1804) - varieties no longer readily available here in the 21st century. They all have different characteristics, flavors, and ultimately were used in different ways, either for sale, or for the family’s own use. With such a large amount of apples, there was a need for storage, and those not carefully packed away in sawdust were made into apple butter, apple sauce, pies, dowdies, dumplings, fritters, and cider.
Here was my quickly thrown-together heirloom apple display.
I wasn't sure how my presentation would go over, but it did great! People were not only surprised to learn of these apples from history, but they learned a bit of really cool American history they had not known before on a subject they had previously given little thought. I had nearly everyone who stepped up comment about how they had never heard of these varieties, and a few commented on how, um...ugly they were in comparison to our modern apples. Of course I explained about each apple's history, its taste, and what they were used for (baking, cider, drying, etc), with great interest.
Something very special happened that I'd like to tell you about: an older woman came to the table of heirloom apples with her granddaughter and got very excited to see them. She asked if it would be alright to smell some of them because they reminded her of those from her grandfather's farm.  Of course we said she could and she carefully picked up the Belmont apple, smelled it, and breathed in the memory of eating these apples at her grandparents' home as a child. She then offered the apple to her granddaughter to smell and told her, "You won't find anything in a store as fresh as this."
Friends, that's what it's all about!

Next up we have something that just might be one of the most anticipated dinners on any 21st Michigan member's list, the Thresherman's Dinner. A thresherman's dinner was the celebration meal in which the ladies of the house prepared a fine serving of food to the farming men, including neighbors who helped with the harvest. Oh! It was a grand spectacle of a meal, and wonderful servings of fresh vegetables and fruits abounded, along with fowl and other meats.
And, for the 2nd year in a row, we had one just the same!
A grace was said, thanking the Lord for the bountiful feast He had given us.
A bountiful feast indeed!
As evening fell, the lanterns gave off a period light that can only be matched by the real deal. This was an almost magical feeling, and we were part of the lantern tour as well.
Many, many thanks must go to all the cooks who participated (yes, including me - - I cooked corn on the cob!) As you can see by the plate of food a couple pictures up, it was quite a feast!
We were in 1865...

Next up - - - - -
A few of the men in the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry.

The local tintype photographer.

Kristen poses for a fine photograph. Yes, this is an actual tintype - not a modern picture that I made to look like an original through computer technology.

Even the littlest ones are part of our reenacting unit!

This is my wife and I, enjoying a Victorian autumn near the gristmill

My wife and I relaxed at the mill. We had just brought in a couple dozen sacks of grain to be made into flour.

My beautiful daughter poses near the mill stream.

An afternoon walk with my friends, Beckie and Larissa.

Taking in the autumn splendor.

This is what we were gazing at. Beautiful, eh?

A few of the lovely ladies of the 21st Michigan.

We take at least two group pictures every year - one at Greenfield Village in May and then one at the end of our season at Wolcott Mill in October. Folks, this is the finest group of people one could ever reenact with. I am proud to not only be among them, but to call them my friends. God bless them, everyone...

And there you have Harvest Home! Celebrating the Fall Harvest at Wolcott Mill 2015. It's definitely one for the record books!
Now...onto preparing for our period Christmas celebrations!
Until next time, see you in time.



The BUTT'RY and BOOK'RY said...

Wonderful!! Happy Harvest time! :-)
Blessings and warmth, Linnie

Unknown said...

excellent read ..

only took a couple of ice tea breaks ..