Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Winter on the Farm/ A Visit to the Sugar Camp

Winter on the Farm/ A Visit to the Sugar Camp

It's almost spring here in New England in the 1790s (that's the Federalist era in America) and that means lots of work to do on the farm. I'm here at Coggeshall Farm in Bristol, Rhode Island. It's a tenant farm, which means my father does not own the land but works it for an absent owner. My father pays rent, usually in the form of onions, to the landlord. 

There's plenty of work to do indoors. I follow my mother and learn how to do household chores.

I hang our clothes, make the bed and prop up my special friend Mehitabel on the bed.

I learn to spin the wool from our sheep into thread and weave the thread on the loom to make warm clothing, like my shawl. It is a very slow process. First I clean the wool, then card the wool with the carding combs before I can begin to spin it into thread. Then I weave it into cloth and knit it into stockings and mittens. The wool will make fine winter clothing for next year.

After a long winter cooped up indoors, it's nice to be able to get outside again, even if it means more hard work. I go out to check on the animals. 

I must feed the chickens. They are more interested in their food than in me.

We have some new lambs. Aren't they sweet? I wish I could keep one for a pet. 

Here are the ram and the ewe keeping an eye on their babies. They are Gulf Coast Native sheep, descended from sheep brought by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. 

We have a donkey to protect the flock. If any wolves or coyotes come, the donkey will kick at them. 

I take a walk to the woods to visit my big brother in the sugar camp. He was feeling restive cooped up in the house all winter so Mother sent my father and brother out to the woods to tap the maple trees for making maple syrup. My brother drilled a hole in the tree with a tool called an auger. Then he put a wooden spout in it to divert the syrup from the maple tree to the log. The days are warming up and the nights are cool so the sap flows forth from our Norway maple trees quickly. 
Then my brother boils the sap over the fire until we have sweet syrup we can use or sell. Though 'tis easier and cheaper to import cane sugar from the West Indies, maple syrup makes a nice treat

. My brother lives here in the camp. He watches over the boiling sap. Later, after the sap starts running, the trees will eventually die and my father will have more farm land. (In YOUR time or any other time after the mid-18th century, the tree keeps on growing! I'm visiting an 18th century farm and if my father or brother makes a hole with an auger the tree will live but my father wants more farm land so he may make a gash in the tree, which is the old-fashioned way to do it.)

The sap is boiled down until it becomes thick and sweet. The air is filled with the smell of wood smoke and sweet syrup.

Back inside, I help my mother in the kitchen. I read a recipe for Johnny Cakes, a type of fried pancake made from Indian corn meal.

 "Scald 1 pint of milk and put to 3 pints of indian meal, and half pint of flower--bake before the fire. Or scald with milk two thirds of the indian meal, or wet two thirds with boiling water, add salt, molasses and shortening, work up with cold water pretty stiff, and bake as above." Mother chooses to add molasses and salt to her Johnny Cakes

 The secret to the best Johnny Cakes is to fry them in butter.

Mother makes the best Johnny Cakes.

I take some spices to grind in the mortar and pestle. We have cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

I take a quick rest 

Our kitchen cat comes in to see if she can find a tit bit of something good to eat. Methinks she would rather have a mouse than a Johnny Cake!

Time to study my lessons with the New England Primer.

I recite while my mother cooks: "Good children must,  
Fear God all day, Love Christ always,
Parents obey, In secret pray,
No false thing say, Mind little play,
By no sin stray, Make no delay,
In doing good."

After lessons, it's time for supper and then bed. Night comes early to the farm in winter but the days are growing light again and soon we will have more work to do. Good-Bye for now!

Take a tour of the rest of the farm or join me next time on another time travel adventure.

I'll have more adventures to share with you soon.