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Thursday, February 5, 2009

In My Grandfather's House - Part 2

This is part two.. A big thanks to my oldest 'chick' for help typing!

In My Grandfather’s House...Part 2
By: Amie Johnson 1976
Girls in the family always helped, thus learning these skills at an early age. Since we were a family of boys, Mother had a hired-girl helping her. Together they made dough and rolled it out on the table in the main building. What was the recipe? Oats and peas, ripe and carefully dried over the iron plates in the firehouse, then stone-ground at our mill by the river. The women just added water and some salt, stirring the dough until it was just right to roll out.
Bread-baking took several days to a week- depending on the number of mouths to feed. What an aroma drifted over the country-side. And tasty! I don’t think a hungry boy ever enjoyed anything more than I did Mother’s flatbread. I helped by keeping the fire going and carrying the bread to the storage loft in the main house. There it was stacked on special wide benches that were raised from the floor so that the cat could run underneath. He would take care of any mouse that dared nibble! When the stack reached the rafters, another pile was started until there was enough bread for six months. Usually bread was baked in fall after harvest, and in spring before planting time.
Bins for barley, oats and peas were built into one wall of this firehouse. These were the grains that meant abundance or a meager existence, for porridge and bread were the staff of life for people in our valley. Only once in Grandmother Engel’s memory did they face winter with the bins nearly empty. That was the year the crops froze in July. But that is another story!
Cheese was made in the firehouse, also. Here Grandmother kept the huge copper kettle in which buttermilk accumulated. When it was full, it was time to make cheese. I liked the young cottage cheese and the sweet preme ost; but I never could see how the older folks could eat gammel ost. How could they stand the smell? It wasn’t until years later that I appreciated the sharp tang of gammel ost.
I remember seeing tallow stored here also. This was used for making candles and soap as they were needed. You can see that the firehouse was in use at all times of the year.
Not so with the main house. During our brief summers we lived, worked, ate and sometimes even slept out-of-door. Grandmother Engel and I at the saeter in the mountains often feasted on wild berries to supplement our usual lunch of flatbread and slices of dried meat. Summers to me meant sleeping in the hayloft, running barefoot, tending the sheep in the mountains, fishing, swimming, boating and swinging the scythe with Grandfather Daniel.
Bit when winter came, the main house was our refuge. It was also a workshop, a living room, a place for cooking, eating, spinning, weaving, making shoes and furniture—all in one large room.
The entrance hall, or gung, was quite dark in the winter. You could hardly find the pegs to hang your coat and cap, or see to wash your hands in the wooden wash dish there on the bench. The water bucket, made of pine boards bound together with roots, stood on the floor in the corner with a wooden dipper in it. This bucket was carried daily to the spring and filled with cold fresh water. Any washing that had to be done—whether clothes, kettles or bathing—was done at the spring or in inclement weather here in the gung. There was no indoor toilet. When nature called, one followed the well-worn path to the privy back of the house.
Grandfather’s house measured about twenty-six by twenty-four feet on the inside. It was one huge living and work room that always smelled of new pine lumber and tanned leather, mixed with wood and candle smoke and savory meat cooking over the fire.
The huge stone fireplace, usually swept clean and not used during the brief summer, was the center of activity all the rest of the year. Near the top of the large opening were three stationary iron rods running parallel with each other, one lower than the others. On these rods there were movable hooks where Grandmother hung kettles for cooking or warming water. When the breakfast oatmeal was cooked, the kettle was moved along the rod to one side, where it could simmer or keep warm. After breakfast she began to prepare the meat or fish and the vegetables were added to the meat, making delicious soups and stews. I remember seeing three kettles of food over the fire at one time, but this was only when guests were expected.
Low one-person benches were placed before the fire on the stone hearth. When you sat before the hearth, you could see the long benches against the walls on both sides of the fireplace. These, covered with woven blankets, served as sofas or beds for the children. One was moved to the table when more seating –room was needed.
To the right, near the fireplace, stood the two spinning wheels. Most of the spinning was done by Grandmother Engel and my mother. I know the room was not very warm for they worked with fingerless wool knit gloves and sheepskin jackets.
Beyond the spinning wheels, at the far end of the room, stood the table. The top was made from a twenty-four inch hewn plank, now worn a smooth as glass and it rested firmly on saw-horse type legs. Using the movable benches, there was no problem in seating all of Grandfather’s eight grown children and their families when they came to visit.
Serving meals was a simple matter in those days. Much of the food was dried, and we used our fingers. When a kettle of hot food was placed upon the table, each person took his own wooden bowl and spoon from the beam above and helped himself. After the meal was finished and the bowls were scraped clean, each person put his own away, and the table was clear!

Link to pictue of Alhus.
Just for reference: saeter is a mountainside meadow used for summer grazing, also may refer to a hut in grazing meadow.
Gammel ost is 'old cheese' -supposedly a dessert cheese and that would make preme ost 'young cheese' I guess-I could find no google references.


fullfreezer said...

What a great story! And a great job typing! Imagine enough bread to last for 6 months! That just blows my mind!

Stephany said...

What a wonderful story to be able to share.
I am full of all sorts of questions though. How on earth did they keep the bread from going bad?

hickchick said...

Judy and Stephany -thanks for reading. I really don't know how the bread didn't get moldy. I have all kinds of ?? too. I have to remember this is a story told by an old man fondly remembering his childhood. I'm sure there are many hard realities which have been glossed over. i have to remember this when I wish I could have been born two hundred years ago! Kris