Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Meet the Sheep: Harriet, Charlotte, and Sybil

By: Allison Shelly, Farm Programs Intern
Have you ever considered a career in sheep smuggling? It probably is not the best of career choices, but a long time ago, sheep smugglers helped to bring one of the most important sheep into our country. Why were sheep being smuggled, you ask? Read on and learn about our very own Merino sheep, why the breed is so important and what smuggling has to do with their introduction to the United States 

Merino sheep originate from Spain and for a long time were known as the Spanish Merino. These sheep were and still are very highly praised for their wool. Unlike the Tunis and the Cheviot, who are considered mostly meat breeds, the wool on the Merino is the breed’s best attribute. Merino wool has many properties that make it highly desirable. The way Merino wool is structured makes it nearly waterproof, since it can hold up to 30 percent of its own weight in water and still not feel wet. Many times people consider wool as itchy and heavy; Merino wool has a different structure that doesn’t irritate the skin as much, feeling less itchy. In addition, it is also fire resistant and tends not to get smelly as quickly as other fabrics. Many modern sportswear companies use Merino wool in their clothing because of all these natural properties.  
One of our Merinos, showing off her mid-summer coat.
While people in the past might not have understood specifically why Merino wool did all these things, there was definitely a high regard for Merinos and their wool. Spain wanted to keep a monopoly on the sheep and taking a sheep out of the country was punishable by death unless the king had given special permission. Even with their strict control of the sheep, the monarchs would gift small flocks to their allies to help them improve their sheep. Through selective breeding the countries were able to improve the local sheep with Merino blood and the monopoly Spain had on Merino wool became challenged.

While those countries in Spain’s favor managed to get a few Merinos out of Spain, the United States did not come into the mix until later. In 1785, a group in South Carolina offered a prize to the person who kept the first Merino flock in the United States. Eight years later, William Foster of Boston, Massachusetts smuggled three Merinos out of Spain and had them shipped to the States. He was called to France shortly after and left these prize sheep with a friend. Unfortunately, his friend did not understand their value and used them for his dinner table, claiming the meat to be excellent. Years later, Foster found his friend at an auction buying a Merino for $1,000. 

Foster’s sheep may very well have been the first Merinos in the United States, but others would continue to introduce the breed. In 1801, a Merino ram, named Don Pedro, was relocated a number of times until landing near Wilmington, Delaware. With the help of Don Pedro and more importations of Merinos, large flocks of pure breed and part breed Merinos could soon be found in Delaware.
The famous ram, Don Pedro.
From: Carman, Ezra A, H.A.Heath, and John Minto, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Animal Industry. Special Report on the History and Present Condition of the Sheep Industry of the United States. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1892.
One man, Robert R Livingston, took special interest in Merinos during his time as minister of France. He imported three Merinos from France to his home in New York State in 1802, believing them to be the first Merinos imported into the country. Shortly afterwards, he wrote a pamphlet entitled Essays on Sheep: Their Varieties- Account of the Merinoes of Spain, France ect. in which he promotes the breed, claiming them to be the “first rank” of all sheep and to have the best wool of all sheep in Europe. With the help of this pamphlet and his continued interest in importing and collecting Merinos, Livingston was able to spread the word about this breed and increase its popularity in New York State. By 1808, the New York State Legislature was offering an award to any person who would import a Merino ram into any county that did not already have one. If the ram lived in that county for a year they would receive a $50 premium. It was with Livingston’s help that Merinos became popular in New York.

One of our Merinos and her lambs. Stop by and visit them!
By 1845, Merinos were cheap enough for any farmer to afford, and would have been a worthwhile investment due to the high quality of their wool. The museum’s very own Merinos, Sybil, Charlotte and Harriet, carry on the proud heritage of Merino sheep. Come out and see them! You’ll recognize them because Merinos have more oils in their wool, which cause the fleece to become dirtier. Also, while the Tunis and Cheviots have bald faces and legs, Merino wool goes down their legs and over their forehead. Charlotte, Harriet, Sybil and their lambs would love for you to visit and admire their beautiful fleeces! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meet the Sheep: Bonnie Jane and Daisy

By: Allison Shelly, Farm Programs Intern
There is a tale from a long time ago that tells of a great naval battle. Homelands are to be protected and invaders to be pushed back. Ships crash against waves and fail to see the rocky shore line, breaking into pieces. The surviving crew swim desperately to shore avoiding the dangerous rocks, finally getting precious land under their legs. They struggle onto shore wet and bedraggled to a new life and a new home, a home that their descendants would grow up in and adapt to.

Who would think that this tale of great ships and shipwrecks would have anything to do with The Farmers’ Museum in the middle of beautiful New York, miles from the dangerous seas, but it does. For it was by the shores of Great Britain that the great Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel to attack England, and it was there that the English successfully turned them away. But what of those wet crew members floundering onto shore? Why they were sheep of course! The might even be great great great ancestors of our very own Cheviot sheep, Daisy and Bonnie Jane.
Our two full grown Cheviot sheep, Bonnie Jane (left) and Daisy (right) relax in the field. 
There has long been speculation that Cheviot sheep could have been descendants of the sheep that may have escaped from ships in the Spanish Armada. The American Cheviot Sheep Society includes a brief history of the breed in one of their Flock books and they mention such a story. But they are not completely convinced, saying, “This tale, however, has also been given in explanation of the origin of yet other breeds, so that coming from the sea, we may accept it as somewhat fishy in flavor and quality.” Instead, they feel that the Cheviot’s had been living in the Cheviot Hills between England and Scotland for a long time and were originally called “long sheep”. Slowly the name changed to Cheviot sheep, after the Cheviot Hills where they lived.

Whether or not the origins of the Cheviot breed began with heroic sheep swimming ashore or by humbler means, the breed’s introduction to the United States is less mysterious. They arrived later than the Tunis, around 1838, and were imported right into the state of New York by Robert Young of Delaware County. More of the breed entered the United States in 1842, brought by George Lowe, and came to live not far from here in Hartwick. The breed spread into the southern counties of New York, especially our very own Otsego County.

Like the Tunis sheep, Cheviots are listed as a meat breed by the American Sheep Industry Association, but this does not mean that their wool is useless. In fact the historic American Cheviot Sheep Society found great pride in Cheviot wool, claiming that it has fewer oils in it than other sheep and, when washed clean, it is the whitest wool on any sheep. In fact even in the field you can identify the Cheviots by their very white wool.
A close up of Daisy (front left) and Bonnie Jane (front right), with our  Tunis sheep in the background.
Next time you visit the Lippitt Farm, see if you can tell the difference between our sheep. The Tunis has red or light brown legs and face with cream colored wool. The Cheviot has white wool and a white face with no wool on the legs. Any sheep that does not look like these two must be the sheep for the next post, the Delaine- Merinos! So come stop by; Bonnie Jane, Daisy and their lambs always love visitors! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

What Did We Do Before Wonder Bread? - Part 2

By: Adrienna Maxwell, Farm Programs Intern

Back in the 1840s, New York State was one of the top producers of wheat in the country.

To first put things into perspective, it is helpful to look at wheat consumption on an individual level. The average family size at this time was six people. It is difficult to know exactly how much bread individuals consumed. In 1875, in calculating how much flour would need to be traded to Sweden, the U.S. Department of State calculated that a person required about .67 lbs of bread per day. Using that number, the average family of six in the 1840s would consume 4 lbs of bread daily, and 1460 lbs (or about 30 bushels) in a year! In 1845 the average acre in Otsego County (which includes Cooperstown, NY) produced 13 bushels of wheat. That means that families would have to grow just over 2.3 acres of wheat every year to feed just one family. That’s not even accounting for saving seed for the following year or selling seed to millers for profit! Thanks to Jenna Peterson, former Farm Programs Intern, for crunching these numbers.
We have a small demonstration plot of wheat behind the hop house here on the Lippitt Farmstead. It was planted by hand, and then furrowed in by our draft horse, Zeb, and the farmers. This plot is only about 1/18th of an acre, which means a family of six would need to grow over 41 times this amount of wheat!
So how did they harvest all this wheat and get it from field to table in the mid 19th century?

Farmers had about ten days at the end of the wheat growing season to harvest the grain before it would separate from the stalk and fall to the ground. They would use a scythe or a grain cradle to cut the stalks and then they would bundle the stalks together into sheaves to take to the barn, where the bundles would be spread out on the threshing floor. Up through the 1800s, threshing (the separation of wheat kernel from stalk and chaff) was done by using a flail to beat the stalks. This allows the grain to separate from the stalks. The winnowing basket would be used to toss the grain into the air, at which point the cross breeze coming through the correctly situated barn would blow the chaff away and leave the kernels. However, with this method some dirt and unwanted debris would still remain and have to be picked out by hand. Another option for threshing grain at this time was to have a team of oxen trample the stalks on the threshing floor, and then use the winnowing basket. Either way, it was hard, time-consuming work.

In this picture, the flail is on the left and the winnowing basket is on the right. These items are hanging in Brooks Barn at The Farmers’ Museum and are used for demonstrations, especially during Harvest Festival (which will be September 15th and 16th in 2012). 
The fanning mill was invented to replace the winnowing basket, sometime between the late 1700s and the early 1800s. This separated the grain from the chaff much more easily than it could be done by hand, and as technology progressed the fanning mill had more sieves added to it and became horse powered and such to make the process even faster.
A view of our fanning mill from the end where the grain and chaff is separated. The grain falls through and the chaff is blown away by the fan blades when the machine is being cranked. 
A full side view of our fanning mill, with a glimpse of the fan blades. This is also resting in Brooks Barn, so stop by and take a look! 
Most of the grain produced in this state in the 1840s was concentrated in the Genesee Valley, as mentioned in the previous post I wrote on this topic; it was then ground into flour in large mills in Rochester and shipped eastward along the Erie Canal, which had opened by 1825.

Wheat was a major product in New York State from the time of early settlement through the creation of the Erie Canal and westward crawling railroads. The Genesee Valley was once known as the “Granary of the Country” and Rochester as “Flour City”. So what happened? Why is wheat no longer a major crop of New York State?

As with the movement of most crops, it was a combination of factors. By the end of the 1700s, farmers were already battling a fungal disease called black stem-rust which was prevalent in any place that wheat had long been cultivated. By 1830 the Hessian fly and the midge fly had both wrought severe destruction on the eastern part of the state’s wheat crop, and production had all but ceased to exist in those regions until about a decade later, when the farmers finally figured out how to fight off these pests. And with the creation of the Erie Canal, it became much easier for farmers from the Midwest to grow wheat and ship flour east.

By the end of 1860, New York and Pennsylvania had fallen from the top production spots, and were replaced by Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The New York State growers held on for awhile because of New York City’s ever increasing demand for grains, but eventually almost all wheat production in the state came to an end. In 2009, New York State was 32nd in the country for wheat production, though there has been some recent movement to grow organic wheat in New York. If you are interested in learning more about that, I suggest plugging “Northeast Organic Wheat Project” into your Google search bar. You might just be surprised!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Meet the Sheep: Louise and Lillian

By: Allison Shelly, Farm Programs Intern
Over the past couple of months I have had the opportuity to be a Farm Programs Intern, and one of my favorite things to do is watch our sheep on the farm. While on hot days they lay in the shade keeping cool, on milder days you’ll find them lazily grazing, the lambs jumping and playing. Look closely and you might notice that the sheep in our flock don’t all look the same. In fact, there are three different breeds of sheep in our flock, and each has very distinctive features as well as a unique history.

The one breed that is perhaps the most obviously different from the others is the Tunis sheep. These sheep have reddish colored heads and legs with cream or white colored wool. When the lambs are young they have a reddish tinge all over, but as they grow their wool changes to the same creamy white color of their mothers. As with many animal breeds the Tunis sheep did not originate in the United States. They were transported from their home country of Tunisia in North Africa when the Consul to Tunisia sent a number of Tunis sheep (also called Barbary or Mountain Tunis sheep)  to the United States in 1799. It was a tough journey for the sheep, and only one pair survived. They were sent to Judge Richard Peters, who resided near Philadelphia. He soon became an advocate for these sheep, and the breed spread quickly through Pennsylvania, and up into New York, though the majority of the breed spread south down to South Carolina.
Lillian (on the right) and Louise (on the left) are the two Tunis sheep on our farmstead. In the middle is Louise's lamb, born this spring. This ewe lamb is a Tunis-Cheviot mix. Learn more about Cheviot's in the next sheep post!
It soon became apparent that the Tunis sheep were an excellent and  well-rounded breed, providing top quality mutton as well as decent wool. Tunis mutton dominated the Philadelphia market, and while Tunis wool was not as high quality as Merino wool, it often used to make blankets. Even Thomas Jefferson had a few Tunis imported and bred them for the quality of the meat as well as for the wool.

Tunis sheep are very hardy and can handle both hot and cold weather relatively well. This was one reason that the Tunis became one of the more popular sheep breeds to raise in southern states. During the Civil War the breed was nearly wiped out, eaten by hungry soliders on both sides. If it wasn’t for the actions of Maynard Spigener from South Carolina the breed may not have survived. He hid the last flock of Tunis sheep on his property by the Congoree River and managed to preserve the breed! Even today the Tunis are listed in the watch list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, meaning that less than 2,500 Tunis sheep are registered in the United States. After the Civil War the breed was mostly found in the northern states, though recently the breed has been making a comeback in the southern states as well.
A close up of Louise and her ewe lamb. 
While the Tunis sheep may not have been one of the most popular sheep breeds to have an upstate New York farm in the 1840’s, it was one of the options a farmer would have had. This is why you can come out this summer to meet our two lovely Tunis ewes, Louise and Lillian as well as their quickly growing lambs! Maybe they’ll wander up to the fence so you can see, and appreciate this historic sheep breed.

Stay tuned for more information about the other sheep in our flock!    

Monday, July 23, 2012

What Did We Do Before Wonder Bread? - Part 1

By: Adrienna Maxwell, Farm Programs Intern
Here at The Farmers’ Museum, we recently finished up our busy school programs season. Museum Quest, our school program during May and June, is an adventure of sorts with a variety of learning stations set up throughout the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum. Topics range from trading and bartering goods to making small bean necklaces to take home. I ran the Farm Chores station for most of May and June and you would be amazed at how many of the children started shouting and cheering when asked if they want to be put to work like they would have been in the 1840s! The activity at this station varied from day to day and week to week, depending on what we needed done around the farmstead. On our busiest June days we had the children grinding wheat kernels into flour.
The line went right out the wood shed door of Lippitt Farmhouse! Look at all of our eager workers!
If we had not wanted to grind our flour by hand, other options would have been available to us in the 1840s. By the 1830s, Otsego County alone had 70 gristmills where local farmers could send their grain to be milled. However, most of the flour used in the 1840s was purchased from the local stores, which would have imported their flour from none other than “Flour City” (Rochester, NY) by sending ox-cart men to meet barges at their stops along the Erie Canal as they passed through on their way to Albany.
I held the mechanical corn grinder in place as all of the kids took turns trying their hand at grinding. It’s harder than it looks! This was our way of simulating the process that steam or water-powered mills of the time would have used to grind wheat into flour.
It is important to mention that there are differences between the type of flour we are making in these pictures and the kind of flour that goes into bread that you might purchase from a grocery store today. The recipe for making bread flour began to change sometime in the early 1800s, primarily due to a cultural shift. Flour made from the whole kernel was used primarily by those of the lower classes who could not afford something better; oftentimes it was mixed in with other grain such as rye or cornmeal. The more affluent preferred more refined “whiter” flour for their baking needs, and there were varying degrees of fineness to select from. To make the flour white it was bolted, a process that separated the bran from the rest of the flour and would produce a whiter flour that would also keep much longer than flour with bran left in it. During the 1840s, millers were still unable to separate all of the germ from the endosperm, but over time the technology of mills improved to the point where this was possible as well.
It took over 700 children to grind up enough flour for just a couple of loaves of bread, which our Lippitt House staff baked the following Saturday on the designated weekly baking day. We think we should have worked the students harder to get more flour – the bread was delicious!
Today, we make white flour from only the endosperm of the wheat kernel, which is the white starchy part with the lowest level of nutrition in the whole kernel. The other two parts of the kernel, the germ and the bran, are very nutrient rich and are often neglected in modern day production of flour. We actually feed those parts of the kernel to our livestock to meet their nutritional needs! Even what we consider to be whole wheat bread today is made of flour with only a small amount of bran and germ put back into the flour after it has been processed.

Although social implications played a significant role in this switch, part of the reason that today’s flour manufacturers only use the endosperm could be because the released oils and nutrients of the processed bran and the germ can cause the flour to go bad in less than a week if not refrigerated or frozen.

Modern day flours and breads compensate for the decrease in nutritional value by enrichment with added vitamins and minerals. It would appear that we have come full circle in our wheat and flour production, or at least attempted to, and in quite a strange way!

Come back later this month for more food for thought and read part two, which will focus on the historical production of wheat in New York State.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pumpkins for All: Part 2

By: Marieanne Coursen, Agricultural Interpreter

In part one I showed the three varieties of pumpkins we grew this year at the Lippitt Farmstead. In addition to making a wonderful pie ingredient, pumpkin is also a great food for our farm animals. To make it easier for them to eat, it is first chopped into bite-sized pieces. 

I offered the freshly chopped pumpkins to several of our animals at Lippitt Farmstead and got mixed results. The pigs of course ate them, but then, they will eat anything!

The turkeys were skeptical...
...the geese gave it a try...
...but in the end they were not interested.

The chickens, however, loved it!

Ollie, our Southdown sheep, remembered eating pumpkin in the past and dug right in.

The rest of the sheep were not impressed, but I have been feeding them pumpkin sprinkled with grain for several days and now they eat it right up. Animals tend to be neophobic and often hesitate to try new foods, but once they sample it with no bad results they are happy to add it to the menu.

Last but not least, Seraphina is a huge fan of pumpkin.
Of course this is only appropriate since you may recall from an earlier blog post, her namesake was also fond of pumpkin!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pumpkins for All: Part 1

By: Marieanne Coursen, Agricultural Interpreter

We grew three varieties of pumpkins on the Lippitt Farmstead this past summer. The New England Pie Pumpkin is an adorable small pumpkin, generally between five and eight pounds. This pumpkin is my personal favorite. 

It has a wonderful sweet flesh that is excellent for pies.

The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is a larger, buff-colored pumpkin also excellent for pies. 
Although it has a pale outer skin, the flesh inside is a deep orange color. 

This pumpkin has a wonderful aroma when we cut it open. Shari, interpreter in the More House, made these beautiful pies with it, and I can attest that they were delicious!

This recipe is from The Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Francis Child, published in 1830.

These pumpkins will keep in a cool place for a few months but not necessarily until late winter or early spring, so some of the pumpkin is dehydrated for future use. One way to do that is to slice the flesh and hang the slices in the kitchen where they will dry from the warmth of the fire. Another way is to stew the pumpkin, then spread it on a pan and leave the pan in a warm oven until the pumpkin becomes leathery and can be lifted off the pan in one piece. Pat, our interpreter in the Lippitt Farmhouse, has been preparing much of our pumpkin this way.

The third pumpkin we grew was the Connecticut Field Pumpkin.
This is the type of pumpkin typically grown nowadays for Halloween. It is a large, nicely-shaped pumpkin, perfect for a jack-o-lantern. While it can be used for cooking, it is rather plain tasting and somewhat watery.

Its real claim to fame is as an animal feed. In part two of this blog post, I'll report the result of my farm animal survey regarding the eating of pumpkin.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shall We Have Christmas?

By: Kajsa Sabatke, Manager of Public Programs

We're introducing a new program at the museum this year. Some of you may have come to our Holiday Lantern Tours in previous years. This year we've moved from the tours to focus even more on the experience of the winter holidays in the nineteenth century. If you're looking for a chance to visit The Farmers' Museum and experience a quieter and more historic atmosphere than Candlelight Evening, I hope that you'll come to the museum on Saturday, December 3, between 4-8pm. (And the week after that, please come and see the entire village aglow for Candlelight Evening.)

Our new program is called Shall We Have Christmas? During the nineteenth century, Christmas was not the major holiday that it is today. It was celebrated in similar, smaller-scale ways, though. Shall We Have Christmas won't be as large of an event as Candlelight Evening, but activities will be taking place in many of the buildings: holiday gift-making in the More House, singing and socializing in the tavern, wagon rides, holiday foods in the Lippitt House, greeting card printing in the printing office, remedies for winter ailments in the pharmacy, and decorations in the church. 

In addition to the staff who'll be talking about the holidays in each building, you'll be able to hear more about the holidays from quotes by people who wrote about their experience of the holidays in the mid-nineteenth century. Susan Fenimore Cooper, daughter of James Fenimore Cooper and also an author, shared many holiday observations in her book, Rural Hours:
The festival is very generally remembered now in this country, though more of a social than a religious holiday, by all those who are opposed to such observances on principle. In large towns it is almost universally kept. In the villages, however, but few shops are closed, and only one or two of the half dozen places of worship are opened for service. Still, everybody recollects that it is Christmas; presents are made in all families; the children go from house to house wishing Merry Christmas; and probably few who call themselves Christians allow the day to pass without giving a thought to the sacred event it commemorates, as they wish their friends a “Merry Christmas.”
Gwen Miner, our Supervisor of Domestic Arts, has also found quotes from historic diaries from the region that related to each of the buildings that will be open.

We hope to see you for at least one of our holiday events in December!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeing the Details, Part 2

By: Christina Ely, Registrar for Plowline: Images of Rural New York

After writing my last blog post titled "Seeing the Details" about a 19th-century photograph in the Plowline: Images of Rural New York Collection, I received an email from Steve Kellogg, Supervisor at the Field Blacksmith Shop at The Farmers' Museum. The email was very enlightening and conveyed some great information regarding pressed hay in the 19th century that I thought I would share with you.

Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene, 1880-1890, by W.H. Bell, F0003.2011.  Plowline: Image of Rural New York.  The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.
As it turns out the two "sleds" that I noted in the foreground (seen in the detail above) are the "bobs" to a farm bobsled. Steve notes in his email that the bobsleds were used in winter for farm hauling and, in this case, were probably used to haul pressed hay.

Most notable from his email is the following information, which really sheds some light on why farmers in the image were pressing hay in the winter months: 
"The hay was cut in mid-summer and had been in the barn for months. Why are they baling it when it clearly was already stored in the haymow loose? Judging by the A-frame, chain, and hay hook the baled hay is very hard to move by hand."
Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene. F0003.2011.

Steve also notes the following about how the pressed hay was used:
"You pressed the hay to ship it by Canal or Train to NYC. Rectangular bales fit efficiently into a rail car. New York City had a lot of livestock, and a voracious appetite for good hay in midwinter. You would make more money selling it in winter than you could selling it in the summer. Therefore pressed hay was an excellent crop to sell in midwinter. The photo not only documents the farm family using expensive equipment, but also producing a high-value export at the same time."
I found this information very helpful in explaining why this type of work would be done in winter as opposed to summer, and I hope you find it an interesting comment on hay pressing and sales in the late 19th century as well.

Many thanks to Steve Kellogg - who also has a blog - for the follow-up email and information!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seeing the Details

By: Christina Ely, Registrar for Plowline: Images of Rural New York

19th Century Farm Scene, 1880-1890, by W.H. Bell, F0003.2011.  Plowline: Image of Rural New York.  The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Recently, I used the photograph above with a group of students to discuss looking at agricultural photographs. It proved to be a fruitful and valuable discussion, better than I could have hoped for. Before the session I had spent quite some time looking at this photograph, discovering the details and thinking about the purpose and background of this 19th century image. Here I will discuss a little bit about what I discovered through looking closely at the details and a little research.

When we added this image to the Plowline: Images of Rural New York Collection last January, I thought I had created a fairly comprehensive description.  It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago, that I found there was a lot more to learn about this photograph.  Let’s take a look!

What do you notice first when you look at the photograph? I noticed the barn, five men, the stack of loose hay, the hay on the wagon that the two men stand on, the team of horses and the sleigh. Those seem to be the main features of the photograph for me. When looking a little closer, I noticed there are two sleds turned upside down in the foreground; bales of hay and of course, snow. Here’s what I didn’t notice or think too much about until I was preparing for the class last month. 

As I was thinking about this photo one night at home, I thought “wait, how did they make those hay bales in the photo?” That thought led me to wonder when the hay baler was invented.

Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene. F0003.2011.
I came into work the next morning and immediately took out the photo. I looked closely at the “wagon” of loose hay the two men are standing on and realized that THAT was how they made those hay bales.

Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene. F0003.2011.
It wasn’t a wagon at all. I immediately started researching when the hay baler was invented, and found that the predecessor to the baler (a term coined in the 1920s or 1930s) was a “hay press” and it was invented around 1870. That was a fairly new machine the men were using. There were different types –horse powered and another type that was invented in 1881 which was controlled by a pressure gauge. I am still not sure which type this is as it is difficult to discern what is in the faded recess behind the hay press, horses and men. It could be the pressure gauge press, but there are also clues that this may be a horse powered press.

This led me to thinking more about something else I had researched when the photo came to us - that prominent sleigh so nicely placed in the foreground.  It looks like a very nice sleigh and with a little research; I discovered it’s a VERY nice sleigh.  The sleigh is an “Albany Cutter.” Not only is it an Albany Cutter, but it’s a four seat Cutter! This was the primo sleigh of the time period. It was the “Cadillac” of the day. Upon further research, I learned that just as cars are updated from year to year, so was the cutter. Paint features upon it let people would know approximately when a person purchased the sleigh. This was a very nice thing to own.

Detail, 19th Century Farm Scene. F0003.2011.

These two objects led me to question: why there was such a nice sleigh and hay press with loose hay upon it (not to mention all the other hay and bales we see) outside in the winter? What was the purpose of this photo? The more I looked at the photo and thought about these details the more I realized that this was not a photograph taken by a photographer who just happened by this nice farm scene during a leisurely drive in the county. This was a photo to show prominence, ownership, success. The nice sleigh, the newly-invented hay press, all that hay suggesting a fair amount of land was owned, the strong team of horses - all these show that the farmers were doing pretty well for themselves at the time and they wanted to have a record to show it. Of course, with all these things discovered – I still have a multitude of questions about what I don’t see in the photo or have knowledge of. What type of farm was this- gentleman or dairy, perhaps otherwise? What did the house look like? Who ARE all these men in the photograph? Where exactly was this farm in Cortland County, New York? When was that barn built? How much land was part of the farm? Did they lumber, sugar, ice harvest in the winter and spring months (maybe that’s what they are alluding to with those two small upside-down sledges)?

When we look closely and think about the details in a photograph, the purpose of the photograph, the photographer’s and subject’s intent, and what we DON’T see in the photo we can learn a lot more than we initially might from a simple quick glance. It can be quite a rewarding experience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stories of Food

By: Sue deBruijn, Visitor Services and Retail Manager

As we continue our focus on foods of New York State to coincide with the Good Eats! New York’s Fabulous Foods exhibit, The Farmers’ Museum Store has become a fabulous resource for cookbooks.

There are so many to choose from, but book buyer Donna Williams has been very selective, procuring several relating to the exhibit; such as Hog Island – Oysters Lovers Cookbook, Ice Cream, the delicious History, Jell-O Classic Recipes.

Most notably is one that we stumbled upon recently, and we’re proud to say that we are one of only 25 stores within New York State that is carrying it so far!  The title is Taste and Tales of New York, by Ann Pieroway.  At first sight we knew it was a perfect fit for the Store.  It is unique in several ways.  Not only does it have 200+ incredible recipes, many of which come from New York State landmarks such as Tavern On The Green and The Otesaga Resort, but it’s also full of delightful facts about New York State.

One of the first things that struck me as I leafed through the cookbook was the thoughtful dedication; “To the brave men, women and children who lost their lives on September 11, 2011, and to the first responders who sacrificed their lives to save others.  Always Remember!”  Also, a portion of the profits from the cookbook are dedicated to selected projects throughout New York State.

From there you turn the page to find interesting short stories and illustrations regarding historical facts and places of New York State.  The Appetizers and Beverage section begins with an illustration of Henry Hudson’s ship, “Half Moon.”  Soups and Salad is adorned by none other than Lady Liberty, Entrees has the Erie Canal in 1825, and so on.

The stories keep you turning pages.  From a half page story about Henry Hudson, to the Search for Mia, an escaped Egyptian Cobra from the Bronx Zoo in 2011, they cover all spectrums.  And be sure not to miss those which relate to The Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum as well!

Many of the foods highlighted in the Good Eats! exhibit have their history described in the pages of this delightful cookbook as well as related recipes, such as Egg Cream for One, Thousand Island Dressing, and Buffalo Chicken Wings.

So far my favorite recipe is Tapenade Dip on page 18, although I leave out the anchovies!

This is truly the quintessential New York State cookbook, and we are delighted to offer autographed copies in The Farmers' Museum Store. It's coming son to our web store as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Thrashin’ Day”

By: Christina Ely, Registrar for Plowline: Images of Rural New York

Recently The Farmers’ Museum purchased three photographs for the Plowline: Images of Rural New York collection which really piqued my interest. The photographs show threshing equipment and the process - something I knew nothing about until these photographs entered my office. As it turns out it is quite a fascinating and somewhat complicated subject. Threshing machines made of wood were used as far back as the Civil War. The greatest advances to the machines took place in the latter part of the 19th century when J.I. Case, the Masseys and McCormick & Deering starting producing and selling the giant machines like those we see in these photographs. Most threshers and threshing companies were located in the “western” part of the country (not necessarily what we think of the West now, however), as that is where the large grain farms were located. However, I was surprised to learn that the thresher in one of the photographs was manufactured by the Pioneer Company, out of Shortsville, New York, located in Ontario County.
Hart Parr Tractor and Pioneer Thresher, by unidentified photographer, 1931, F0017.2011(01). Plowline: Images of Rural New York. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

 Threshing was a large and costly job in which an entire year’s crop was put through the machine in one day. Since the machines took a large capital investment, they were acquired in three different ways. Generally one or two local farmers who owned a machine would assist all the local farmers with the duty of threshing grain and those local farmers would pay the owner(s) a fee for use. Sometimes the neighborhood or town farmers went in together and purchased the thresher, all owning a portion of the equipment (and upkeep). This meant that literally the entire community would help thresh everyone’s crop. Neighborhood threshing was the norm. In the west, custom threshing crews were assembled to run the engine and thresher and the farmer provided the rest of the crew from the neighborhood. The custom threshing crews traveled from farm to farm with the machine, from south to north helping each farmer process his annual crop. The threshing crews were quite large as well, requiring up to twenty to twenty-five men to harvest and transport the crop from the field and to storage, run the machines, pitch the grain into the thresher, bag the grain and heave the straw in a pile or on a wagon, as well as other jobs dependent of the time period. The process of threshing can be seen in the two Plowline photos below.

W.E. Vile’s Thresher and Oliver Tractor, by unidentified photographer, 1930-1940, F0017.2011(02). Plowline: Images of Rural New York. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Threshing, by unidentified photographer, 1942, F0017.2011(03).  Plowline: Images of Rural New York. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.
Another aspect of “Thrashin’ Day” was the community dinner that was served by the farmer’s wife and daughters for whom the work was being done.  This small group of women would cook up a meal for the large group of men and boys completing the job. It was an effort that the women and girls took great pride in (and served as an act of competition among the women as well). The meal preparation started at or before the break of dawn, if not the day before. The meal consisted of sweet summertime drinks, many kinds of roasted meats, vegetables from the farm, fresh baked breads, and an assortment of freshly baked fruit pies, cakes and cookies. As you might assume, the farmer whose wife was an excellent cook and baker had no problem recruiting help the next time he needed it.

Threshing machines vastly increased productivity and the prosperity of the farmer within a few short years by allowing him to expand his crop and harvest.  When using hand tools such as a sickle less than an acre could be harvested per day, the scythe increased this four-fold. (Threshing was then left for the winter months,) With the threshing machine a farmer could process his entire crop in one day with a suitable sized team, and the entire job was complete. 
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