Mennonite Heritage and
FEEDING A THRESHING CREW
by Bertha (Mrs. Herb) Schroeder (lifelong Goessel area resident)
Women played a huge role during wheat harvest too.
Let's take a Look into the Past
Memories shared by Bertha (Mrs. Herb) Schroeder about how her family experienced wheat harvest. During this time there were neighborhood or family threshing crews that did not have a cook shack crew, and so the farm family was responsible for feeding these threshers.
In describing the threshing days of my youth - I'm now 79 - perhaps I should begin with the harvesting of the wheat.
The wheat was cut when it was ripe, but not "dead-ripe" as it is for combining today. We used 2 binders to cut the wheat. One was a 6-foot machine pulled by horses. The other was a 6-foort machine pulled by a Fordson tractor.
Workdays were long. Usually we tried to be in the field by 7 a.m. - by 7:30 at the latest. (This is before Daylight Saving Time). By then the milking and other chores were done, breakfast eaten and the horses harnessed.
After the wheat was cut, it had to be shocked-the bundles set up so the wheat could dry. Dad and we children-my sister, brothers and I-spent several days at this. Sometimes Mom helped also. She was the fastest worker of us all, and her shocks never sagged or fell down.
We always ate faspa in the field, trying to find some shade close to the wagon in which we'd ridden to the field. Of course, by then the coffee was lukewarm. But to us, hot and thirsty, it was delicious.
When the actual threshing days arrived, we children stood in the yard watching that big, black steam engine, belching black coal smoke, lumber up our driveway (we lived on a hill), pulling the separator (threshing machine). Sure enough, just as the engineer drove in front of us, he tooted the steam whistle. We knew he would do this, but what a thrill ! That's when I was young. When I was older, there was no time to stand and gawk.
A sample of what threshing days were like. The first order of the day, of course as I already mentioned was chores. My sister and I milked the cows, separated the milk (from the cream) and fed the calves. The boys did the hog chores, and Dad got the horses ready. Mother, meanwhile, was preparing breakfast for 2 or 3 field pitchers who stayed overnight. All together we were eight people.
A sample of what we might have for breakfast: fried potatoes that had been cooked in their jackets and peeled the previous evening, fried home-cured ham, fried eggs, home-churned butter, (no one had ever heard of cholesterol then), homemade jelly and home-baked bread and perhaps some home-canned peaches.
As soon as breakfast was over, dishes and the cream separator had to be washed--this job fell to my sister and me. Meanwhile, Mom had already started to pack "kjleene freestikj" (little breakfast) that had to be served in the field promptly at 9 a.m. to 10 men and sometimes as many as 14. They had been working since 7 a.m. The " little breakfast" menu usually included homemade cinnamon rolls or bologna sandwiches made with homemade buns, two or three kinds of cookies ("boughten" we called them, purchased by the boxful; usually coconut bars, sugar cookies and marshmallow puffs), sugar cubes and two teakettles full of hot coffee. There were no picnic baskets then, so the food and big china cups were all packed in big round dishpans lined with a clean white dish towel and a bigger dish towel tied over the top. It was my job to take this to the field and serve the men as they took turns coming to eat.
The threshing crew included the engineer, the separator tender, the "water monkey" (the man who hauled the water for the steam engine), four men running the racks of wheat bundles, four field pitchers (who filled the racks with wheat bundles) and the farmer for whom the threshing was being done. He took care of the grain wagons (lumber wagons, we called them), holding 50-52 bushels of wheat. If oats, were being threshed, the wagon filled up faster. Also, one of the farmer's sons was in the grain wagon at the separator to evenly distribute the wheat.
Meanwhile, my sister had gone to town to buy the beef and ice for dinner. We didn't roast the beef as we do today. The meat was cut into 2-by-2-by-3-inch chunks, but in a big kettle with a big, dripping spoon of lard, some water, salt and pepper and slowly stewed until it was fork tender.
Mom also had pies (crusts also made with lard) by dinner time (dinner was the main noon meal). Other foods that might be on the dinner menu were: potatoes and gravy, cole slaw, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes fixed with sugar, pickled beets, genuine lemonade, pie, coffee and of course, homemade bread, butter and jelly. My sister and I waited on the table, which was set up in the front room, seating 12 men - every chair was occupied.
After the men had eated and were outside, the rest of the family ate. Then it was time to wash dishes and bake the zwieback which Mom had put on the pans during dinner-sometime in the forenoon she had taken time to mix the dough. She also baked a cake after the zwieback were done.
Faspa was taken to the field in midafternoon. The menu included fresh baked zwieback, sugar cubes, cake and 2 kettles of hot coffee (Red Wolf brand), all of which were served in the field. After faspa, we took home the burlap-wrapped crock water jugs to refill with fresh water and soak the burlap again to keep the jugs cool. The jugs were sent back to the field with the next wheat wagon.
Then it was time to do the evening chores.
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and Agricultural Museum
Created by Fern Bartel nee Schmidt
The supper menu might include, "fresh" fried potatoes, fried ham or salmon (out of a can) patties, a cabbage-pineapple salad made with cooked dressing and whipped cream and of course bread. For supper Mon had to prepare food for only 10 or 11 people instead of 18.
After supper and dishes were done, Mom, my sister and I dressed the roosters, that would be the main dish of the next day's dinner. And then to bed to start all over again at 4:30 or 5 a.m.
All of these meals were prepared on a wood range in the middle of hot Kansas summers. At that time, there was no electricity, no running water and no refrigeration.
And we call those "the good ond days" ?
By Bertha (Mrs. Herb) Schroeder