Thursday, April 2, 2015

Chapter 5: Memoirs/”Home Dem”

Following Chapter 5 is information about the “home dem” and Vermont Extension programs that have helped Cavendish farm families from 1913 right up to present day. To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont(Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann.

To get back to our first summer: Then we began to get fresh green peas from the garden we felt as if we had struck it rich. I can't think of anything nicer. They were always easy to sell, too, when there was a surplus. As other vegetables became available it increased the variety of our table in a most welcome manner. Disappointingly, there wee very little sweet corn that year. We tried eating field corn but even when young it was tough and of poor flavor. There was a large planting of Potatoes and we began to dig them while still on the small side but delicious. We supposed they were intended as a "money" crop and only later learned that they were an important staple of diet with all the farm people (probably accounting for some common ills.)

The children brought in the first early apples in mid-August:- not very good. There were numerous trees on the place: some a vestige of bygone orchards and occasionally prolific: but following long neglect the fruit was small and poor (yet most attractive to deer and bear.) A few trees were worth some trouble and these I worked on enough so that we enjoyed a good supply most winters (all tree fruit has "off" years.). An old Snow Apple south of the house still provides the best apples for cooking: altho a good Macintosh graft on another tree out back is still bearings and there is an excellent semi-dwarf Mac which I planted on the side terrace.

A few scrubby plum trees behind the house were the only other cultivated fruit. However we soon learned that near our eastern boundary (another road) there was a very fine blackberry patch. The bushes had come in densely on the site of a former maple grove. The trees had been cut and the logs sold to a mill then in the village - to make bobbins and tool handles, I think-after (perhaps because) the sugarhouse burned. Until overshadowed by new growth the berries were prolific). A woods road leading to it from the pasture was easy to follow: and when the berries ripened we all went over there and picked. Animals . including our cow - had broken trails thru the tall and thorny bushes, and for a number of years we were able to gather a good supply for eating and jam.
As a matter of necessity we had to "put up" as much garden surplus ;-,s possible: and this kept Isabel and the children busy picking and cann­ing. This was long before the freezing process had been developed, and many vegetables were preserved 'in glass jars requiring laborious pre­paration and cooking.

Carrots and other root crops could be stored in with hard shells, and pumpkins, lasted pretty well on shelves. Cucum­ber pickles were made in vinegar in large crocks. Apples were left in the bushel baskets into which they had been picked. All this produce had to be checked from time to time for spoilage, of which there was an increasing amount after the first of the new year. This was why the so-called canned goods were very important, as they generally would keep well much longer, perhaps two or three years.

Of other products only potatoes could be depended upon to last into and beyond March, as they could be used even after they' had sprouted. A not unusual hazard was freezing, and I remember carrying pails of hot coals taken from the stoves to set beside the bins. You knew the cellar was dangerously cold when frost began to sparkle on the interior walls. - Incidentally, the sprouts from the potatoes were supposed to be bad for the animals; we never experimented, so I can't say for sure.

Field crops consisted of about an acre each of corn, oats, and millet, not a great deal, actually, but to me it looked like a lot to harvest. To mow the oats I had a horse-drawn machine, which required a team, so I borrowed a little brown mare from next door to go with my big white Dan, an odd-looking combination if ever there was one. But they got along fairly well once they were hitched, which sometimes required per­suasion.

The oats were nicely headed out, and when I got the feel of it, it was a pleasure to ride back and forth laying down a broad yellow swath each way. One or two places gave trouble where the thick growth had "lodged," that is, been flattened and tangled by wind and rain, and these areas needed to be gone over with a scythe. Oats are heavier than hay, and the following afternoon I had to shake out the rows with a fork so the straw would be well dried by sun and breeze.

Next morning there was no sun and I was worried, for oats rained on at this point would be in poor shape. Fortunately it cleared, and I then used the horse (or "dump") rake (only one horse for this) and forked the raked rows into tumbles. When after lunch I said "Come on, Wy" and we hitched up the lumber wagon and got the oats to the barn in several loads. They had to go up on the high scaffolds above) the hay, so it was late when we finished, but you stay with this kind of job as long as you can see. - Hot end dusty, we then had the compensation of ducking in the brook, the refreshing qualities of which must be enjoyed to be appreciated.

The corn came next, Some of it I traded in payment for wood, but kept enough to feed the cow for a while is chopped fodder. We had inherited a hand-chopper (a waist-high wooden stand with a square iron form and a heavy knife,- a small bundle of stalks was pushed thru the form and sliced into about two-inch lengths.) Field corn is harvested later than sweet corn; it takes longer to mature. The ears will keep only if the kernels have hardened. The farmer will often take the risk of the stalks being frozen in order to have better ears, and it not infrequently happens,- perhaps due to the short growing season but more apt to be because of late planting. ("Plant corn when the maple sprouts are the size of a mouse’s ear", and it should be "knee high by the Fourth of July.") - Of course if there is a silo, which I did not have, corn may be harvested without regard for ripeness, whenever convenient. Our method was old-fashioned and, like other things about which I write, has been superseded by far better practices.

My own corn that year I got in only slightly frosted. Crouching along the rows I slashed off the clusters of stalks close to the ground with a corn knife (somewhat like a sickle but with an almost-straight blade) and left them lying in small convenient piles. These were then bound with heavy twine and then stacked against each other in "stooks." Later as I had time these were carted down to the buildings and put under cover. I picked the ears and stored them in bins, but not before the energetic mice had worked them. Unfortunately, some of the ears not, being thoroly [Tiemann’s spelling] dry became moldy. I filled a number of grain bags with good ears and carted them down to the local grist mill (two miles on the way to the village) where they were ground into corn-and-cob meal, a fairish feed. The stalks I put thin the chopper as needed.

I was glad to have a neighbor take the millet standing, in exchange for labor, but. felt badly as he had a miserable time getting it in,-slightly frosted and then some of it rained on, and it took forever to cure.

A few days were spent helping another neighbor get in his corn. He had a big silo. We cut the stalks by hands but instead of being tied in bundles they were loaded loose into a wagons driven to the barn, and fed into a machine which chopped them into short lengths and blew the so-called ensilage thru a long upright pipe into the top of the silo. Being green and heavy, this product settled (with the aid of some tramping down as the silo got full) into a dense mass. The sides of the silo were narrow tightly fitted vertical boards bound with iron straps, which could be taken up with a turn-buckle to keep the boards tight, On top of the ensilage was placed
tarps weighted with boards; the theory being that the green feed would keep without spoilage until shoveled out of the bottom for the cows' daily ration. It worked well, but when it had settled down in the spring to the last few feet it got pretty potent: from fermentation.

Digging the potatoes seemed an endless jobs with little incentive. They had been, planted in the damp area north of the barns between the vegetable garden and the back swamps and had not done too well. Usually in nice loamy soil potatoes can easily be tumbled out of their hills with a potato fork, which is like a bent-over spading fork. Not so with these. Most had really to be dug, and then put under shelter to dry off, - it was a wearisome effort. With a bushel of potatoes bringing 75c in the village (if they could be sold at all) it seemed like love's labor lost. Later they were only $1. for a 100-pound bag. As we were not, great potato eaters, after filling the bin in the cellar I managed to dispose of a few hundred pounds by taking groceries in trade.

“Home Dem”: With the decline of the Grange movement during the early part of the twentieth century, new ways were needed to sustain the vitality of Vermont’s agricultural community. Chief among these was the University of Vermont Extension, that started on February 15, 1913, when the Vermont Legislature passed an act that appropriated funds "solely for the work in agricultural extension." Monies were channeled into three broad program areas, each to be administered by the Extension Service:
• Promote extensive agricultural experimentation
• Sponsor “home demonstrations” across the state to acquaint farm families with innovations in “scientific” farming
• Organize boys’ and girls’ clubs to “teach them how to manage, grow, and prepare market crops and animals and to demonstrate how to save surplus products by home canning.”  (4-H head, heart, health and hands)

Interestingly, while Granges were slowing down in other parts of the state, Cavendish’s Grange purchased its own building in 1931 (corner of Twenty Mile Stream and Route 131), which survived into the first decade of the 21st century.

Home demonstrations, or “Home Dem” parties as they were more apt to be called, were great ways for farm families to not only socialize but to learn new skills. Popular programs for farmer’s wives would have included cooking, canning and sewing. In 1935, a statewide manure conservation program taught farmers how to make the most of their manure. During WWII, there were a variety of “home dem” programs to help with the war effort.
Crystal Radio Kit

The radio ushered in a new way to reach farm families. In 1927, radio became available in Cavendish, when WLAK started broadcasting from Bellows Falls. Many farmers made their own “crystal radios, and would use their car batteries to power them. Morning, when a farmer often listened to his radio during milking, was prime time for farm radio programs. 

With the arrival of the television age, Across the Fence, a 15 minute program produced by the Extension Service was started. It is the longest running daily farm and home television program in the country and can be seen weekdays at 12:10 pm on WCAX TV or on-line. Programs change daily.

The Cavendish Home Workers Club, which hosted “home dem” parties that farmer’s wives like Mrs. Tiemann would have attended, still exists.

The Tiemanns and their neighbors lived by the motto of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” To help present day Cavendish residents “live within their means,” Cavendish Connects has launched the Pinterest board Yankee Thrift,  that includes a variety of ways to help save money as well as be a friend to the environment.

For more information about the history of the VT Extension service, check out 100 Years of UVM Extension 1913-2013 

No comments:

Post a Comment