National Geographic : 1941 Jul
In the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cut in late August and early September, tobacco hangs up to dry until December. For the first few days, it is left on outdoor racks; then it goes to sheds which are as common in this county as barns. Some farms have two or three such buildings, often nearly 100 feet long and a third as wide (page 72). During winter months farming families gather in the sheds to strip and prepare the dried leaves for warehouses. Standing at a long wooden bench, one worker will sort the plants; another tears the leaves from the stalks; others size the leaves (page 73). Sizing is important. The quality of the leaf varies with its size. To standardize the process, a wooden frame divided into seven compartments of graduated lengths is used by all tobacco farmers. Leaves of the same length are tied together in sheaves or bundles that a man's hand can reach around at the butt. When these bundles fill a uniform baling box, they are all bound together and wrapped as a single bale in heavy paper. In this shape the tobacco goes to the warehouse for sweating and other processes before shipment to factories that turn it into cigars. Day in and day out through long winter months the farmer and as many of his family as possible work at the tedious task of strip ping and sizing tobacco. But they try to pass the time pleasantly. A wood-burning stove ensures warmth when cold winds howl around the shed and under the crack in the door. If the farmer has a radio, he sets it up in the stripping room. If not, the workers amuse themselves with stories, riddles, jokes, and songs. Pictures decorate the walls; a box of candy remains open on the window sill; a gallon jug of cider or water stays in the middle of the bench. Hard work in the outdoors requires that we eat plenty of food. We plan every detail of the farm to supply the table. Lone trees in our fields bear fruits, shellbarks, or walnuts. Shade trees on lawns are pear, plum, or apple. Every farm has an orchard yielding apples from July to November, with a dozen barrels for the root cellar and winter fireside. No farmer feels respectable unless his farmstead has four or five grape arbors-over the well, over the spring, over the walk to the barn, or trained along the porch banisters. Seven Sweets and Seven Sours Pennsylvania Dutch tables virtually sag with food. A regular dinner calls for seven sweets and seven sours. At the instant I cannot tell which is which. Meat, potatoes, beans, and peas are sweets. Pickles, and pickled beets with hard-boiled eggs in the beet brine, are sours. Pie may be either (page 39). To refuse a second helping is impolite; not to finish your plate is just as bad. It reflects upon the hostess; it suggests you do not con sider the food good. Roast beef, fried ham, bologna, and pork sausage often appear at the same meal. Two kinds of cake with cookies, as well as pie and a pudding, are the dessert. When menfolk gather for a winter evening, it's the "eats" that keep us together-eats and conversation. Fried oysters served on a big platter in the center of the table start things off. And, of course, these are followed by several kinds of prepared sausages, cheeses, pies, jellies and preserves, white and rye bread, apple butter, "smierkase" ("smearcase," or cottage cheese, to some Americans), pickles, pickled cabbage, pickled green tomatoes inter mixed with nasturtium seeds. We empty the dishes, go to bed, sleep, and look for breakfast in the morning! Hard-working and Devout Pennsylvania Dutch folk, especially the women, work hard. Take any Monday. Up at four, they light fires under big iron kettles to heat water for washing. They get break fast and wash the dishes. Then they do the family washing. By ten o'clock the clothes are on the line. After dinner and the usual kitchen clean-up, they "redd up" the rooms and make the beds. The dried clothes are sprinkled and ironed. Supper with after-mealtime routine follows. Now the chicks must be fed and the milk tended. This done, they rest by such light labor as weeding in the garden. The men rest from shocking rye and plowing by build ing a bit of stone fence or digging post holes. We also like our fun, especially in the out doors. But it must be a pastime calling for activity and a gathering of men. We hunt and fish, but find little game and catch few fish. We rather use these as excuses for visit ing our neighbors and enjoying whatever prodigal Nature has spread before us: a patch of luxuriant tobacco, a group of scarlet maples, a Vandyke-brown oak tree, a stand of tall corn, a vine laden with deep-maroon, musky fox grapes-these, one and all, delay the hunt and receive the sportsmen's admiration. We are a religious people. The country church, not a structure of boards and shingles but one of brick and stone, is just as much a part of the landscape as the red of the barns, the crimson of the hilltops, or vermilion of the maples. Our Plain People are preeminent in the degree to which they carry the teachings of their churches into daily practice.