Wednesday, September 30, 2009

'Tis Autumn in Greenfield Village

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, are were taken by me):

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! The coziness of the home surrounds one while visiting during the dreary, cool fall days, for besides the roaring fire one may find the oil lamps lit as well.
And there are few things more homier than this!

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.

At times (mostly in previous years) one can/could find a number of different activities occurring throughout the Village including corn shucking, threshing, the process of winnowing, and numerous others.
Spending the time at the two main farms is a thrilling, learning experience which we enjoy immensely. However, there was a time when the Village would have a full fall-harvest weekend, with so many different activities going on besides what I mentioned in the paragraph above: live music, hayrides, and hot cider & doughnuts. A real old-time shindig! And a wonderful opportunity to teach young and old - in a fun way - about harvest time in America 19th century.

My advice? Carry on in the historical way that Greenfield Village used to do - bring the full fall harvest weekend back. The Food Tasting Weekends are a great first step. Maybe opening up the cider mill and have cider and doughnuts can accent this weekend as well. With all one can experience inside the Village, these suggestions would make for a much better and have much more of a total family immersion fall experience than one could get visiting a cider mill! It would be far more fun and cheaper, too!

In the 1990's Greenfield Village had musicians performing old-time music during the Fall Harvest Weekend.
Maybe one day they will bring this event back...


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In the Good Old Summertime at Greenfield Village

Summertime and the livin' is easy...

There aren't too many places one can enjoy summers of days gone by like they can at Greenfield Village. The atmosphere alone will allow the visitor to time-travel to a summer from a hundred years or more into the past. And, if the opportunity arises to visit the Village during a balmy weekday - away from the weekend crowds - one can immerse themselves even deeper into another time and place.
A visit to the 1880's Firestone Farm is always a good place to begin. This is where the visitor can see that the heat and humidity of summer does not - can-not - prevent the daily chores from being done. To fully appreciate how our ancestors lived without air-conditioning is to see the women of the house prepare and cook a hearty meal on a wood-burning stove: weeding and picking the vegetables from the kitchen garden, slicing and dicing them on the kitchen table, heading to the cellar for meat, retrieving water from the hand-pump near the dairy shed, all the while keeping the stove in the kitchen good and hot.
No, that's not pretend sweat you see above their brow.

And, depending on the day of the week, you'll also see the ladies washing clothes, ironing, mending, doing dishes, feeding the chickens, cleaning...on top of the chore of meal making.
And let's not forget the most important job they have: to speak with the visitors!

That's not to say the men had it any easier: taking care of the livestock, tilling, plowing, harvesting, raking, digging, spreading manure collected from the livestock, repairing fences and equipment...

Over at the 18th century Daggett Farmhouse one will also see the ladies of the house hard at work: cooking meals made from scratch over an open hearth, spinning wool into yarn on the large walking wheel, and, my particular favorite, allowing visitors to dip their own beeswax candles.

My daughter and I have dipped nearly a dozen between us over the summer season and wait until fall and especially the Christmas Season to light them.
Late summer will find the Daggett House workers using the giant loom to make rugs.

The Susquehanna Plantation gives the appearance of living in the 1860's and, again, food is being prepared over an open hearth while the story of the Carroll family is told.

The Village has hired actors to perform vignettes in numerous locations throughout the historic structures: an African-American man and woman explain their lives as slaves at the Susquehanna plantation. They also put on a wonderful skit of "Br'er Rabbit";

see how the proprietor deals with a "difficult customer" at the J.R. Jones General Store;

19th century school days are relived in the Scotch Settlement School;

Huckleberry Finn tells his own tales with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher; Thomas Edison, over at the The Menlo Park Laboratory, tells of how he and his men worked on their inventions; and, at the Wright Brothers Home, Orville and Wilbur, along with their sister Katherine, speak of that day in December when man, for the first time, flew an airplane.
There are also the Village Singers performing tunes mainly from the turn of the 20th century.

Along Main Street, which has more of a decidedly early 20th century feel, the sounds of the Herschell-Spillman Carousel can be heard for quite a ways...

...and the La-De-Dahs, Greenfield Village's own 1860's baseball team, play a rousing game of 1860's baseball against numerous other period teams from the Detroit area down in the Walnut Grove area.

One of the highlights of the entire summer at Greenfield Village is the 4th of July Celebration Spectacular - -
...armed with chairs, a blanket, and a cooler with sandwiches for a picnic, the mass of eight thousand plus patriots swarm into the Village at the six o'clock hour to find there "spot" on the grassy area in and around Walnut Grove where a massive stage is set up for the evenings concert performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
But, before the DSO takes the stage, people-watching during the festival atmosphere ensues: men riding the old-time high bicycles, strolling singers with Captain Banjo, and tents for food and drink with vendors yelling out their wares. The 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps march up and down the sidewalk, performing Revolutionary War music.
The DSO will then take the stage and, after a two-hour performance, completes their show with what is now a standard at most 4th of July musical celebrations - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Of course, real cannons are used for the BOOMS at the end of the piece. To complete the evening, a beautiful fireworks display, accompanied by the DSO, gives everyone for miles around that very American thrill.
Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed for this particular extravaganza, so I have no shots to show.

I visit Greenfield Village quite often throughout the year, but the summertime seems to bring out more excitement than the other seasons. I especially enjoy the presenters bringing to life the everyday lives of our ancestors - rural and urban.