Saturday, April 20, 2013

Making Bread Old School: Hands-on Learning

The following was the first installment, January 22, 2012, of a project begun last year. The project progressed until August, 2012, and, recently, with the impending Spring here in Maine, and in conjunction with the The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum in Orrington, ME, the plan is to put in a crop of grain or grains on my shy-of-an-acre property with the intention of processing it and producing a loaf of bread.

The project has already moved forward from just an idea in September when I spoke with Jeff and Adina Bialas of J @ A Farm in Goshen, NY at the time of this writing. The Bialases and I had discussed the possibility of turning over some sod at Museum Village in Monroe, NY and planting some crops that would connect with the 19th century living history component of the museum, make use of a working collection of real agricultural tools and equipment from the past, and offer visitors to the museum an opportunity to experience early farming techniques first hand.

The conversation with the Bialas family actually occurred shortly after Hurricane Irene had destroyed much of their crop on their modest black dirt farm. Many local farmers had been devastated by the storm. The fact that Jeff and Adina were at the museum with the family during the museum's annual Civil War Re-enactment when we first spoke of the potential enterprise was because the work that they would otherwise have been engaged in at this time of year had they a crop was basically cancelled until preparations for the next growing season would resume.

During that conversation we talked about opportunities to present to the public demonstrations that would over the course of Spring, Summer, and Fall offer the public insight into crop cycles----planting, growing, harvesting, processing, and eating. Not only would we prepare the soil, plant, and harvest, but we ultimately wanted to process our crop and offer a final product. One of the crops we spoke of was broom corn. The museum had always had a broom making scenario, but the broom corn had always been purchased from an out-of-state supplier. Growing broom corn, harvesting it, drying it, and making brooms from it was pretty straight forward in theory.

The other crop we spoke of was wheat or some type of grain. We actually spoke at that time about looking into heritage strains of wheat. Orange County, NY had during its earliest chapter of agriculture been the site of small farm wheat production. Even after this waned there were always farmers who grew grains for their work horses well into the 20th century.

In addition to growing wheat we thought that the processing of wheat would be a wonderful activity to present at the museum. Harvesting wheat with scythes and scythes fitted with cradles would get a lot attention. Threshing the wheat could also be an activity that we would present, as the museum had hand threshing tools as well as the machinery to present the story of the beginnings of mechanized agriculture and wheat processing.

So the thought arose that if we could harvest and thresh, we would need to grind the wheat into flour. The question of how to grind the wheat into flour would be answered by what historical period we would choose to present. This answer was seemingly answered by the fact that the site of this enterprise was to be a museum that presented the time period 1860-1910, but during this half century there were monumental changes in how agricultural products were planted, cultivated, harvested and processed. We saved some thoughts for the next time we would meet.

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