Grinding Wheat for The Long Winter

The Long Winter

 

The Long Winter was so long, I barely blogged through it.

 

OK, maybe I didn’t blog at all.

I have several posts in the drafts, but didn’t get around to it.

All ten of my homeschool blog readers are missing me, I’m pretty sure.

It was a long, long, long winter. Maybe I didn’t like this book very much because I lived about half my life in North Dakota, where every winter was a long winter.

(My friend, Tandis, is having a Long Winter in Wisconsin.  You can read her funny blog at Life as We Ski It.)

When I had five kids and my husband was a Road Warrior (traveling for business),  I spent the Longest Winter ever on a farmstead out in the country.  We had a record of 117 inches of snow, the interstates shut down 14 times, a record of two days of early spring melting, followed by two days of harsh rain, followed by another freeze, and another thaw, followed by the Red River flood of a lifetime.  The trees and telephone poles were so laden with snow, they snapped off all the way across the eastern border of the state like a stack of dominoes.

At the time, I really didn’t mind.  I was young, strong, loved adventure, and loved being home with my five kids.  Even the weeks when I was stormed in for days alone. As long as we had milk and diapers, we were good. We baked a lot to keep the house toasty and cozy, we read and played. We built forts inside with the extra sheets.  When it warmed up to zero degrees, the kids were allowed to play outside.


(More of Wisconsin snow. I have to tease Tandis, that’s nothing to brag about, they can still see the swing set!)

The snow piled up higher than our swing set, the old-fashioned, big and dangerous kind from a public school.  The kids would climb to the top of the half-circle Quonset, the metal buildings you store combines and tractors in, and slide down the rippled sides. Sometimes I would bundle up, go outside with my kids and sit on this special branch that was high above the swing set and perfectly shaped to sit on.  I’d lean back against the main branch and talk on my cell phone to my homeschooling momma-of-many friend, Kirsti, who lived in town. When the snow melted, my  branch was so high in the air, I couldn’t dream of reaching it with any of the ladders we owned.

Looking back now, I’m amazed at what we survived.

So, reading The Long Winter wasn’t that fun, I don’t see blizzards and starvation as exciting adventures, like I did when I was younger.

The Ingalls, like everyone else in town, were running out of food.  Because they had no flour, they were grinding it in their coffee mill.

I sprang to action.  You know that Amazing Homeschool Mommy moment when the stars line up just right and you have the time, ambition and elements to do something wonderful for school? 

We had one of those moments. It was a rare moment, but we had one.

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I had some hard red spring wheat from North Dakota farmers, Michelle and Matt.  I was visiting my wonderful, amazing and talented sister in law, Susan,  a few summers ago and shared my desire to go all domestic and healthy again, and make my own bread and grind my own flax. She drove me to a friend’s house.  Michelle gave me coffee, welcomed me like a relative, then she and her husband filled an 18 gallon Rubbermaid with wheat. “Cuz that’s just how people from North Dakota are.

I’m on my last smidgeon, I’ve been saving it for something special.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

The Ingalls were experiencing their Long Winter.  The people and the stores were almost out of food. Ma had no flour to bake with, and Banker Ruth bought the last sack of flour for $50.  Pa had the last bag of wheat from the wilder boys’ stock.

p. 193, “It’s a pity there isn’t a grist mill in town,” Pa said.

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p. 194, “We have a mill,” Ma replied.  She reached to the top of the cupboard and took down the coffee mill.

Ma set the little brown wooden box on the table.  The black iron hopper in the top of the mill held half a cupful of the grain.

 

This antique coffee grinder was a gift from another SIL, Nita.  She is the amazing, talented one that knits and tats and once made a baby sweater with one arm.  Seriously!  But I can’t tease too much, because I can’t knit at all.  Check out her blog and see the beautiful sweaters she knit with two arms. She also sells her creations on Etsy.

 

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“The mill gave out its grinding noise.”

It was a hard start, but the adventure was on.  We pretended we were starving.

I’ve really learned that school is more fun and the lessons last in their heart when you DO instead of just READ.  It was a blast trying to grind wheat.

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“Wheat will grind just like coffee,” Ma said.

My grandson loves this coffee grinder, but he puts all kinds of amazing things in it. Read about Bubba’s Coffee Bean Business if ya’ wanna’ see his adorable Pirate Face.

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She looked into the little drawer.  The broken bits of wheat were crushed out flat.

 

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“Can you make bread of that?” Pa asked.

“Of course I can,” Ma replied. “But we must keep the mill grinding if I’m to have enough to make a loaf for dinner.”

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We didn’t have all day to grind with the coffee grinder, so we switched over to the Nutrimill. I bought it from Urban Homemaker. 

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Lame Wheat Grinding Video

Do you hate hearing your own voice?  Listening to this video I was not happy to hear that I STILL sound like I grew up in the Midwest. Oh, fur shur, ya’ know, I’m trying hard tu talk like du dickshunaree, ya’ know, fur Pete’s sake.

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p. 196, The brown bread that Ma had made from the ground wheat was very good. It had a fresh, nutty flavor that seemed almost to take the place of butter.

Coffee grinder on the left.  Electric mill on the right. Not bad for a vintage coffee grinder that isn’t used to grind coffee anymore, huh?

 

 

When the stars line up again for a perfect homeschool day, we plan to make bread from this book by Melissa K. Norris. She has a tutorial on her blog sidebar for a bread you can make in 5 minutes per day.  She also offers some freebies. I’m not Ma Ingalls.  I can’t grind wheat AND make bread all in the same week, let alone the same day.

But for now, we’re just thankful that The Long Winter is over.

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A Good Ol’ Fashioned Thrashing

 

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 8

Not only was Pa lucky enough to buy his dugout and a sowed field from a very clean, handsome Norwegian, Mr. Hanson, he works for another wonderful, good-looking Norwegian, Mr. Nelson. Pa retraces the history of their moves by recalling they lived with Swedes and Germans in Wisconsin, Indians in Kansas and now Norwegians in Minnesota.  But he magnanimously admits, “They’re good neighbours.” Oh, wasn’t that kind of him?  His next comment makes me wonder what he really thought about my people. He says to Ma, ”But I guess our kind of folks is pretty scarce.”  (p. 44) What did he mean by OUR kind of people?

Apparently, Caroline is Scottish, but with Dutch nobility. Charles had a grandmother from the famed Delano family, but I never heard of them until I read Wikipedia, and traced English family back to the Mayflower.  Oh, they were those kind of people.  But, how kind of them to consent to living with Norwegians.Oh, wait, is that why Laura insisted on the old English spellings in her books instead of the new American spellings published by Webster in 1828?

It’s now harvest time, 1874, and Pa can’t start his field until he’s cut Mr. Nelson’s wheat.  He cuts it by hand with a scythe, binds it in bundles and stacks it to dry in the sunshine.  Over and over he swung the blade, cut the wheat, tied it up and stacked it.

 

He worked so hard, he was too tired to fiddle.  For Pa, that’s tired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you watch this video of a teenage girl using a scythe, you’ll wonder why Pa was so tired.  After all, he was a pretty strong pioneer man.

 

Anyhoo, when Pa is done cutting, three men come with a threshing-machine. For a little girl who loves adventure, I can’t believe Laura only described this amazing occasion only by saying she heard “harsh machinery noises” and “when the sun rose chaff flew golden in the wind.” (p. 53.)  Wanna’ hear those noises?  Watch this video from an 1870 thresher. It only had two owners and is now a museum piece.

 

But, that’s it?  That’s all she has to say?  He Pa cuts the fields by hand and instead of thumping on the stalks of wheat by hand to separate the kernels of grain, he has a high tech piece of equipment that saves him days of work.  She wasn’t impressed, but I was.  I love farming.  I dug ya’ up some history and some family pics.

 

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Here’s a pic from my cousin Dean’s family, also of good Norwegian blood.  His mom came from the Peterson family who homesteaded near Bisbee, ND.

 

You wanna see how these old steam threshers work?  Western MN Steam Threshers has their own YouTube channel.  Every year they have a Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, MN where you can ride an old steam train, and watch old tractors and threshers in action and watch other pioneer demonstrations. 

 

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It’s an annual Labor Day pilgrimage for many, including my cousin Blaine, who provided the great pictures. He also has that good Norwegian blood coursing through his veins.  He works hard and  keeps his house and yard clean, so I’m pretty sure Pa Ingalls wouldn’t mind having him for a neighbor. Wait, neighbour.

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People camp there in the primitive fields, listening to days of “harsh machinery noises.”

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The homesteaders were diligent to make history, these men and women are diligent in preserving history.

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Naughty, naughty Laura.  After the threshers are gone, there’s a huge pile of golden straw.  That’s the stuff left after you cut the grain off, in case ya’ don’t speak farmer.  If you scroll back up to see the old picture and notice the straw stack in the background, you’ll know why Laura was enticed.

Laura and Mary go to that huge pile and slide down over and over until “there was hardly any stack left in the middle of loose heaps of straw.” (p. 53)  Then Laura, like many sneaky kids I’ve known, went into the house and was very, very good.  I learned too late in life, when a child is being exceptionally good, it’s probably bad.  If they’re being very kind, helpful and waiting on you hand and foot, they might be atoning for sins you’ve yet to discover.  Pa fixes the stack, like a good Pa, probably remembering his own childhood shenanigans.

He sternly warns them to not slide down the hay stack again.

Laura obeys.

She just goes to smell the straw. Pa didn’t tell her not to smell.

Then, she climbs the straw.  Pa didn’t tell her not to climb.

She flies down the straw.

She bounces down the straw.

She rolls down the straw.

She even convinces Mary to join in the fun.  After all, Pa only forbid sliding down.

 

When Pa approached the girls after the second day of trampling down his hay stack, Laura describes his attitude as dreadful, stern and terrible.  He raises his voice.  We know that because Laura writes it in all caps.  “DID YOU SLIDE DOWN THE STRAW-STACK?”

According to her childish brain, Laura answers honestly.  “We did not slide, Pa. But we did roll down it.”

 

I was expecting Laura to get a big ol’ fashioned spanking.  She feared a spanking just for fidgeting on the Sabbath.  But this time, she was really, really, really naughty.

 

Instead of thrashing Laura and Mary for flattening what was left after threshing, Pa turns his back to the girls and quakes in the threshold.

 

The girls were thankful to not be throttled, so were thoroughly through with their hay stack thrills.

 

 

More Farming Research:

Southest Old Threshers’ Reunion

National Threshers Association

Midwest Old Threshers Reunion

Introduction to Pioneer Farming

Minnesota History of Agriculture and Farming

Stages of Wheat Growth  (Technical page, but scroll down for a chart with drawing of wheat at each stage.  Also a description of kernel dryness water, milk, soft dough, and hard dough stages.)

 

So, head out and get thrashing on your farming homework.