by the week

Category : Farm
Date : July 31, 2015

Last week, we harvested the bulbous bulbs of garlic in our garden, and now they are laid out on old window screens to dry before cleaning and storing. Planting garlic in the fall is one of the easiest chores—each clove is put into its own 6-inch hole and, covered, and there they sit all winter long. The shoot emerges in the spring, the scape is harvested and made into pesto, and the bulb continues to grow. Finally, around the last week of July, (give or take a week), each bulb is coaxed gently from the earth.

Week by week the garden yields new treasures from the first peas, to asparagus and then to strawberries, and ramps up as the summer proceeds. Just as one harvests, one must tend the garden as well. Leaving the ground alone for too long provides an opportunity for weeds to settle in, thus depleting the soil, and causing extra work for the gardener. As you know, dear reader, I adore weeds, but not so much in the vegetable patch.

Around the Year in the Garden by Frederick Frye Rockwell (1884-1976) provides one with weekly guidance. “July: Fifth Week” is right on target with sage advice:

“As fast as a strip of ground is cleared, even if it is a but a single row, it should be sown to a cover crop to be spaded under next spring. Besides adding humus and making conditions favorable to the development of bacteria, there are several advantages in having a growing crop on the ground throughout the winter. Such a crop forages the lower layers of the soil for food that most of the vegetable plants cannot reach, and brings it to the surface; it captures remnants of plant food that would leach away during the winter, and holds them in storage until they are required again next summer.”


He recommends both rye and vetch as green manures, as well as Essex rape and buckwheat.

“If bees are kept, or there are chickens to be fed, a small patch of buckwheat should be put in. For the honey bees, a few rows through the garden will answer. For mature grain it should be sown at once; for a winter mulch, sown with crimson clover, or for spading under this fall, it may be sown at any time during the next two or three weeks.”

Indeed, the rye seeds are in the ground along with a few rows of buckwheat for any foraging bees. Added to the chore list for the first week of August–order fall bulbs, both garlic and flowers, from Fedco.

Frederick Frye Rockwell, Around the Year in the Garden, (MacMillan Company, 1917), pgs. 189, 191.

new day, new year

Category : Farm
Date : January 2, 2015

Happy new day and year to all.

First a thank you to you, dear Reader for journeying along with me this year–I so appreciate your comments and feedback.

Time to sharpen one’s pencils, wipe the slate clean, sweep out the old and begin afresh on the first day of this new year.

Furthermore, make those resolutions and to-do lists. Superstition keeps me from revealing my resolutions, but I don’t mind sharing a few of the items on my to-do list.

——Start an embroidery sampler. Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches will be my guide. As she states, “Stitches are the “scales and exercises” of embroidery and a good working knowledge of these is the first essential foundation of the art.”

——Enhance the fodder for the bees and continue with our efforts to ensure that we have plants for them throughout the entire growing season. First off, plant a few witch hazel bushes.

——Plant a dye garden with woad, indigo, coreopsis, marigold, St. John’s Wort, just to name a few. Time to place that Fedco order.

——Conquer the indigo pot and fully understand the correlation between pH, temperature and fabric. Thankfully, I will use the pH chart and information from Gosta Sandberg, Indigo Textiles Technique and History (Lark Books, 1999), pp.126-127.

——Learn to make ink from natural materials, as well as make a quill pen and learn how to write with it. Search for a recipe for the ancient Oak-Gall ink.

——Venture forth to the research library in Pittsfield; locate and examine the probate records of the residents of our house.


First on my list, though, is to dye the book covers and subsequently bind the books for my collaboration with the poet Dara Mandle and the non-profit Norte Maar. Tobacco Hour will be published in the Spring.

Time to stoke up the dye pot and get started.

All the best to you in 2015, dear Reader.

Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches, (William Morrow, 1935), preface.



Category : Farm
Date : December 5, 2014

Last week, snow fell as forecast. A heavy wet whiteness outlined every branch and covered every surface. Trees laden with dense snow could not bear the load, and fractured limbs blocked roadways and downed power lines. We experienced a power ‘interruption’, as our utility termed it, for 36 hours.


Luckily dinner was on the table when the lights went out. The candles illuminated our plates (heaped with warm, soothing polenta and greens), but not much beyond that. Looking outside, I could no longer see the neighbor’s lights far in the distance. Our world was quickly shrouded in darkness.

Over the next day and a half, there was time to contemplate and consider, as we inhabited a world without electricity and modern conveniences and connections it affords. No heat or running water; these two became the most missed and needed. No stereo nor internet; while it was refreshing to step away from instant access, the quiet became more accentuated and appreciated. Our old-fashioned rotary phone, stationary at that, plugged in; no more walking and talking or otherwise multi-tasking.

Being inside a true colonial home, these hours allowed me time to contemplate the following:

Weather forecasting—What range of natural signs did our early inhabitants rely upon? Thickening clouds, changes in wind direction and speed, the moistening of air, the up-turning of leaves, or changes in the feel of one’s body? No NOAA weather advisories to harken a blizzard. Almanacs would serve as a reference, as well as handwritten daily weather diaries kept in some households.

Time telling—Perhaps they could not afford a clock, but the sun’s position relative to the western mountain range provided a constant reference–a large sundial, if you will. Furthermore, if they had a flock of chickens, the light sensitive rooster heralds the coming of dawn and gathers his hens in the coop at dusk.

Water—Where was the water source in relation to the keeping room? And how did they stop it from freezing? How much water did they take in knowing a storm was imminent, and how did they decide the duration in which they might not be able to access the water before conditions improved?

 Entertainments—Quiet descended on us, both outside and inside. M’s returning from feeding the chickens was announced by his beautiful whistling underscoring the stillness. No wonder Laura Ingall’s family rejoiced when Pa brought out his fiddle, breaking the silence and bringing in felicity. I wonder about what other entertainments they may have engaged in.

Chores—-All outdoor work was done in a timely manner and at the right hour of the day. One would take advantage of the natural light, for when darkness arrives without flashlights and headlamps, it would be onerous, if not impossible, to work. No wonder the harvest moon was so appreciated, not only allowing extra time and more illumination.

Light sourcingCandles and a few flashlights became more treasured on the second night of the ‘interruption.’ At first, I could barely discern what was in the bottom of the pot on the stove. Soon I grew accustomed to the dimness, and realized how hard it was to read, sew, knit, whittle, write or sew or do anything at night.


I attempt to envisage what it was like to inhabit this house over 200 years ago, and being without power for an extended but certainly endurable period allowed me a glimpse into the quiet, strenuous past. It is often difficult to step out of the modern and try to feel and see days of yore. Visiting historic sites and reading well-written biographies or first hand accounts and history books gives one another peek into a past world, as often does a transporting film; one may be brought closer to this past, however, when one “loses” our modern conveniences, whether by choice or by circumstances.

NOTE: The harsh realities depicted in the new movie “The Homesman” offer a glimpse of unrelenting Nature and human striving. We are with Mary Bee Cutter, the heroine of the film, and her moral and physical dilemmas of the 19th century American prairie.


Category : Farm
Date : November 5, 2014

Our beloved CSA comes to an end this week, at least for this season. Since June, we have made weekly pilgrimages to Indian Line Farm, which is situated in a verdant valley below the Taconic Mountain range. Once your feet hit the earth here, and you look up at the mountains, stress seems to wash away and your mouth begins to water as you glance at the current week’s offerings. Most of the produce is picked and ready for us, but we also go out into the field to pick green beans, cherry tomatoes and husk cherries, as well as stunning bouquets of flowers. At the farm, and then when we sit down at our dining room table, we give thanks to Elizabeth and her crew for their efforts.

Our summer subscription starts off with many delightful greens, and we eagerly await the almost ripe tomatoes grown in the long tunneled hoop house. We mark the season with the farm, embracing zucchinis and eggplants, and now we appreciate root vegetables and hardier greens.

Eating seasonal food in the season it is produced is nothing new, for prior to modern methods of canning and freezing, one either ate food directly from the garden or from the stored vegetables in the root cellar. Though one can purchase Asparagus officinalis and Fragaria x ananassa at the grocery and consume these all year along, we instead cherish the long fresh spikes of asparagus in May and the plump red strawberries in June.

my collection of Ambrose Heath books

my collection of Ambrose Heath books

Persephone Books has just published Ambrose Heath’s The Country Life Cookery Book with illustrations by Eric Ravilious. Heath (1891-1969), a much renowned British journalist, wrote over 70 cookbooks as well as countless newspaper columns on food. In his preface to this new edtion, Simon Hopkinson notes:

“Seasonal is simply how it was. Those of my grandparents’ generation, as well as that of Mr. Heath, knew nothing else other than, say, the purchase of a pound of leeks from the greengrocer in winter; followed by no leeks at all, all summer long……seasonal cookery writing is all the rage, now, but this was not always so. “

Already we look forward to next year’s progression of vegetables with Indian Line Farm, and for now, we will turn to our hoop house for winter greens and lettuces. Now on our trips to the grocers, I try hard not to eat out of season.

 The Persephone Biannually, No 16 Autumn/Winter 2014-15, pg.4

NOTE: Persephone Books publishes “reprints of neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers.” Each of their 110 books is a delight to hold in your hand with its elegant “dove-grey jacket, fabric endpaper” and matching bookmark. I adore those bookmarks and cherish them. If you are in London, a visit to their store at 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street is a must.


“tag sale time”

Category : Farm
Date : July 8, 2014

It is summer, and so tag sales abound. In our favorite weekly, The Shopper’s Guide, we scour the tag sale listings, circling ones that seem to have potential. We search for older items, not necessarily antiques, but objects that might fill a purpose for the farm chores, or something that can be useful in the studio–old linens ripe to be invigorated by natural dyes, old pots for their immersion and wooden drying racks for curing. Occasionally, we get fooled by the descriptions and find ourselves amidst puffy pink and purple plastic; from such, we leave posthaste.

A few weeks ago, this advertisement caught my eye:

BARN SALE:  100 years of stuff must go.  Antique farm implements, spinning wheel and looms, old tools, old sewing machine table, single bed frame and new futons, books, wooden chairs, textiles, knick-knacks and crazy stuff.”

Off we set on a spectacular morning–vivid blue skies, a gentle breeze and no humidity. We arrived shortly after 8 am, the start of the sale. The aged barn was filled with boxes and bins, looms, tools, indeed everything as described, but one thing was not listed: a feeling, an aura. By going to a tag sale, one receives a glimpse, an image, an impression of the person through the items that person kept. Being in this particular barn, surrounded by a collection of used tools, implements, and collections, was not time traveling but essence-gathering. What a pleasure it would have been to share with the former resident a cup of tea, wind some yarn, and learn about some of the natural cures and remedies, and solutions to particular challenges, that some of these objects signified. I found myself just stopping and soaking it all in. Being in her barn was a gift, and one could tell that she lived by her principles, of and off the land. She had not been swept up in the never-ending morass of consumerism, but instead sought ways to live a simple and direct life.

From talking with the organizers, I learned who this extraordinary woman was and recalled having met her. Whenever she came into the Library, I noted her, especially for her beautifully woven, textured and layered garments. And so it was that the looms in the barn were used to weave the fabric she wore, and the sewing patterns that I perused at the sale had formed the basis for her clothes. Indeed, it seems that she made her life, through a true, homemade, thoughtful existence.

Ever since this tag sale morning, I find myself periodically taking a deep breath, closing my eyes and walking back into that barn, trying to squeeze one more drop out of the memory. Not only that, but I am attempting to start walking a bit differently, shedding and paring, and looking a bit more closely, and questioning how one chooses to live one’s life.

In his book, Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of the Shelter, Howard Mansfield walks one through centuries of houses, exploring the nooks and crannies and the whys and wherefores of dwelling, both in the physical and in the metaphorical.

“All houses are houses of dreams, said Gaston Bachelard, the philosopher-poet of dwelling.  We live in houses and so we dream houses.  We daydream there and daydream about them.  They give us the shelter to enlarge ourselves.  They are the vessel in which we go forth into the universe.  A good house is a good daydreaming space.  It is the universe, he says.”

Howard Mansfield , Dwelling in Possibility Searching for the Soul of the Shelter, (Bauhan Publishing, 2013), pg. 17.

on a warm winter’s day

Category : Farm
Date : January 16, 2014

Just a few weeks ago, the hills were covered in snow and it was bitterly cold.  Yesterday dawned chilly with the thermometer reading 26.  The world was shrouded in white; not snow, but a chalky fog and all surfaces thinly coated with glistening ice.  The sun burned away the fog and ice, and the mercury quickly rose to the mid-40s.

M has been worried about the bees with the odd weather –hot, cold, hot; wet, and more wet—the sudden damp shifts are quite difficult for a hive as it makes it more difficult to regulate interior temperatures.  In the winter months, the bees stay inside and do not venture out, but rather cluster around the Queen to keep her warm.  Having said that, bees like to do housekeeping, and on a warm day in January, one can see them leaving the hive, carrying out waste.  Around noon, with the sun shining directly on the hive, M and I wandered over to see if there was any activity.  The hive was all abuzz with many bees flying around the entrance.  One of the bees even buzzed by our heads, perhaps to give us a greeting.  Hooray!  A very welcome sign to see the bees alive and hard at work, taking advantage of the warm winter’s day.  Thank you, Mother Nature, for rendering a perfect day for us to check in on the bees.

Today, however, snow flurries and a very gray sky are on hand, and the hive from the outside is quiet, but we now know that it is humming with activity inside.



Category : Farm
Date : October 18, 2013

Before the snows set in and the historic houses in our region close for the long winter nights, we have been trying to visit as many of these structures as possible in western Massachusetts.  At the same time, we are preparing for our long winter’s nights, by completing fall chores that include putting the gardens to bed, making applesauce and apple butter, and most importantly, stockpiling wood to keep the house warm.

A few weeks ago, we headed out to Historic Deerfield, a village filled with a variety of period buildings.  As we stood in the main room of the Williams House, our guide directed our attention to the fireplace, and asked us if we knew why the fireplace opening was completely covered by a screen.  While we thought it was to keep out drafts when the fireplace was not in use, in fact the screen was placed to keep out critters (birds, bats, the occasional raccoon).  He then reported that this house took between 40-50 cords of wood to heat it in the winter.  Did we hear him correctly, I wondered?  Indeed: 40-50 cords. [A cord of wood:  four feet high, eight feet long and four feet deep.]


We use 14-15 cords to heat our 1753 house and, granted, it has more modern insulation, better windows, and a new roof to boot.  And our exterior wood furnace is much more efficient, but 50 cords!  Egads!  M primarily takes advantage of the modern tools of chain saw and log splitter (but still enjoys splitting many of the logs by hand with a maul, thus being warmed twice).  Imagine how many hours of labor it took to accumulate 50 cords of wood—felling each tree, hitching it to a mule and dragging it, bucking it up (fireplace sized pieces), splitting the wood, and finally hauling it into the house.  No wonder it was a sin to let the home fire burn out.

Our guide next directed our attention to brilliantly colored and stenciled floor cloth, explaining that these were much easier to clean, for they were made from canvas and painted with many layers of oil paint.  He then asked us to imagine the street scene of yore—muddy and much dirtier.  Jill Lepore gives us a sensory glimpse of this world, albeit she is describing colonial Boston.  I suspect this describes any colonial street:

Pigs rutted in the streets; horses clattered on the cobbles; the blood of butchered chickens dripped to the floor. The house smelled of soap and tallow and leather and smoke, and it smelled, too, of sweat. Each cord of wood had to be ported and stacked. Every bucket of water had to be hauled from one of the city’s wells. Every pot of night soil had to be lugged out the door and dumped into the privy in the yard. Soap had to be boiled and linens scrubbed.

When we start up the wood furnace, I’ll again reflect on the challenges colonial families faced and imagine the women of this house huddled by the wood fire, appreciating its warmth.

Jill Lepore, Book of Ages:  the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), pg. 66

NOTE:  This Satuday, October 19th, there are many events at Historic Deerfield:   Archaeology Day, including a tour with Dr. Robert Paynter; Stoneware with Mark Shapiro; Works on the Wheel with Stephen Wary; a lecture—The Pocumtuck Fort Site; Open Hearth Cooking; and From Nature to Color:  Fun with Natural Dyes. Please see their website for full details:

‘family cow’

Category : Farm
Date : October 16, 2013

For the past four years, we have been privileged to be part of a raw milk buying club.  A milk club does sound peculiar, but in order to avoid the stringent and misguided rules imposed by our state, we joined the ‘club’ and therefore circumnavigate some of the rules.  Raw milk is thought by some (agribusiness dairy farmers?) to be the cause of many ills, and some people are frightened off drinking it.  However, one recent study published in the Journal of Food Protection demonstrates that there are deaths due to “leafy green vegetables” and prescription drugs and none due to raw milk.

Our beloved farmer, after taking care of cows for more than thirty-two years, is moving and selling his 6 cows (a Jersey, three brown Swiss, and two rescued Holsteins).  M has always wanted a milking cow, recently attending a one-day workshop on the family cow, and saw this as an opportunity to purchase a cow to insure that we will continue to have good quality milk.  However, we don’t have the fences, the milking room, or other requirements at the moment to care for a cow.  And a single milking cow produces up to three gallons of milk a day.  While we love our fresh, raw milk, what in the world would we do with that much milk on a weekly basis?

If only I had been born three hundred years ago, my dowry might have included a cow, as Allegra di Bonaventura reports:

“……..eleven-year-old Molly Hempstead had probably dressed before light and tripped sleepily along the path from her father’s house to the barn to take the morning’s milk.  Although men could milk in a pinch, the English viewed this ancient rite, repeated every dawn and dusk as quintessential woman’s work.  Familiar female hands and tones soothe the cows, encouraging milk to flow.  English fathers typically included a healthy milking cow with a daughter’s marriage “portion” so that a young bride could provide milk and cheese for her family.  Although her own wedding day was years away, Molly was already adept at the work. The child had been trotting up and down the same path to milk for as along as she could remember. “

Allegra di Bonaventura, For Adam’s Sake:  a family saga in colonial New England, (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), pg. 236.

Note:  For a tried and true reference, please refer to Dirk van Loon, The Family Cow, Garden Way Publishing, 1976.

black walnut wednesday

Category : Farm
Date : October 10, 2013

When I was twelve my father moved us from the suburbs of Washington, DC to a very small town, Delaplane, VA.  Our house was situated at the end of a two-mile curvy dirt road.  We came to know every twist and turn and every tree that lined that road.  In the fall, strange smelling nuts littered the road right next to the McCarty’s hay barn.  My mother tried to explain that these black walnuts had many purposes—both used for dyeing and for eating–but it did not interest me then.  The nuts would mysteriously disappear, and we learned that Mrs. Williams, wise to all things natural, would gather them and use them for cooking.  They tasted especially divine in her homemade fudge—a yearly Christmas gift along with her dandelion wine.  Perhaps Mrs. Williams had a dye pot at the ready as well.

We have yet to locate any black walnuts or butternut trees on our property.  Now I scavenge for them in the fall, carrying pails and bags in my car to gather them.  On the pavement, one can easily see the long dark streaks that the squashed hulls make, like a natural drawing, and sure enough the side of the road is littered with the green hulls.


Black walnuts (Juglans nigra) are “one of the oldest home dyes” according to the 1973 Brooklyn Botanic Garden publication, Dye Plants and Dyeing—a handbook.  “The nuts are collected while the hulls are still green.  Remove the hulls (see directions for butternut hulls), cover them with water, and store away from the light until ready to use.”  When dyeing with black walnuts, one does not need to use a mordant (French for ‘to bite’), an addition to the dyebath that allows the color to bind/bite the fiber.

Yesterday was the perfect fall day for processing the foraged black walnuts.  Today, dyeing.


Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record Plants & Gardens, Dye Plants and Dyeing—a handbook, (PLANTS & GARDENS, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1973), pg. 29.

NOTE:  Thanks to India Flint for alerting me to the beauty of black walnut dye bath, as well as the merits of natural dyes learned from her at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.


Category : Farm
Date : September 10, 2013

Summers spent with Nannie, my grandmother, were a treat; however, they were not spent idly.  We traveled the back county roads of Catawba County picking up the best peaches and blackberries. This was the easy part and we worked ‘putting them up” in the form of jellies, jams and frozen for winter breakfasts.  Nannie and Papa also had a huge garden and we were enlisted to help pick the summer crops, and then worked hours and hours helping her preserve them.

windfall apples

windfall apples

Here on the farm, the beautiful gnarled apple trees are beginning to drop their fruits, and the deer will eat them if we don’t gather them.  If I did not use the apples, I would surely let my grandmother’s spirit down.  So, as I have done for years, I make applesauce and relish it on my husband’s homemade granola on cold winter mornings.  Usually, I would spend hours at the stove stirring the pot, but this year, I tried something new–the slow cooker.  It works like a charm—filled to the brim with quartered apples and a tidge of water, started right before bed time, and, come morning – applesauce.  Tomatoes are also in season and once again, I have turned to the slow cooker, inspired by a fellow blogger.

In contrast, the colonial women that tended the hearth in this home were not graced with either electricity or the slow cooker.  They would have pickled or dried food for winter and, as well, set aside root crops.  If one is looking for instruction on the methods of colonial food preservation, make your way to Historic Deerfield on Saturday September 14, 21 or 28 from 10am until 4pm for “Open Hearth Cooking” demonstrations. For double fun, go on September 14 and attend a natural dyeing workshop.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a recipe for Tomata Catsup* from Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-Wife.

Gather a peck of tomatas, pick out the stems, and wash them; put them on the fire without water, sprinkle on a few spoonsful of salt, let them boil steadily an hour, stirring them frequently, strain them through a colander, and then through a sieve; put the liquid on the fire with half a pint of chopped onions, a quarter of an ounce of mace broke into small pieces, and if not sufficiently salt, add a little more, one tablespoonful of whole black pepper, boil all together until just enough to fill two bottles; cork it tight.  Make it in August. 

*spelling is as published by Randolph.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-Wife,with Historical Notes and Commentaries by Karen Hess (University of South Carolina Press, republished in 1984), pg. 201. Randolph’s book was originally published in 1824 by Davis and Force, Washington.

seasonal rhythms

Category : Farm
Date : September 1, 2013

Where does the time go, and how in the world did we arrive so quickly to the new month of September, I wonder.

Short answer—chores.  Around the farm, we are enmeshed in the seasonal tasks that must be accomplished in a timely manner.  It is the time for harvesting and setting aside for the winter months to come.

A few weeks ago, I harvested the numerous heads of garlic and set them on screens to cure. Now, they must be cleaned and stored.  Similarly, the first crop of onions must be stored and the next variety harvested.  We gathered the basil, made and froze it as pesto, and in the cold winter will relish this reminder of summer. The time is ripe to plant the next crop of fall greens and lettuces, and to prep the hoop house for the sowing of winter greens.  Even though I gather the spent morning glory flowers every morning for future use in the studio, there has not been much time to work there as of late.

morning glories for textile and paper dyeing

morning glories for textile and paper dyeing

In her book, The Needle’s Eye Women and Work in the Age of Revolution, Marla R. Miller discusses “the rhythms of the agricultural year” and this gives me comfort and camaraderie, for I realize that the women of this farm and other colonial artisans divided their time between indoor and outdoor chores according to the seasons.

“Tabitha Smith’s work for Elizabeth Phelps suggests that rural women turned attention to their wardrobes most often during the summer months once the fields were sown and the gardens planted, but before the late summer and fall harvests would set them to other tasks.  While some activity occurred in every month, most of Phelp’s gown acquisition and alteration took place in June and July, with somewhat less activity in May and August.”

As I look towards the next chore—apple harvest and subsequent making of applesauce and applebutter— I realize that there is a time and place for everything, and I will enjoy the outdoors now, just as much as I will cherish the indoor studio time this winter.

Marla Miller, The Needle’s Eye Women and Work in the Age of Revolution, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), pgs. 76.

NOTEMarla R. Miller recently published a new book, Rebecca Dickinson (Independence for a New England Woman 1738-1815) for the series “Lives of American Women” edited by Carol Berkin.




Category : Farm
Date : July 9, 2013

On the farm, we are in the midst of seasonal chores—weeding the garden; freezing herbs for winter; making and freezing garlic scape pesto; tending the chickens and selling their eggs. We just finished harvesting the strawberries, and the asparagus, now gone to flower, is buzzing with honeybees foraging for pollen.  These chores, in theory, are not different than the ones undertaken by the women of the Chandler family in the frontier settlement of New Roxbury, CT in the 1690s (now Woodstock, CT).

“Elizabeth and her daughters would have attended to the countless chores and responsibilities of the family’s day-to-day survival:  looking after the livestock and the kitchen and medicinal gardens; foraging in the fields and forest for plants and fruit; making soap, candles and cloth; tending fires; washing clothes; cooking meals; and cleaning house.”

Of course, we have the luxury of electricity and modern purveyors to aid us in our chores and provision gathering.

A recent story on NPR tells of the return of the butter churn and its elevated status as an artisanal food. Families gather to ‘churn butter’ and find that it is not as easy at it would seem.  Alice Morse Earle in her book Home Life in Colonial Days states that “few New England families in the seventeenth century owned churns.”  However, “As cattle increased the duties of the dairy grew, and soon were never-ceasing and ever-tiring.  The care of cream and making of butter was in the eighteenth century the duty of every good wife and dame in the country, and usually in the town.”

butter churns

butter churns

As of yet, we don’t have the backyard family cow and the associated chores of twice a day milking and  butter to churn, but we’ve been researching and contemplating this addition.

Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, One Colonial Woman’s World The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), p.21-24.

[NOTE:  This Thursday July 11th, Coughlin is the first speaker for the 2013 Summer Lecture Series, “Through Her Eyes, In Her Words: The Lives and Writings of Three Colonial Women” held at Garonzik Auditorium, Koch Science Center, Deerfield Academy at 7:30.  The lecture series is free.]

Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days (Grosset and Dunlap, 1898), p. 139.

[NOTE: University of Massachusetts Press recently published, Alice Morse Earle and the Domestic History of Early America, by Susan Reynolds Williams.]

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