Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Harvest of Survival Food

Digging potatoes
picture by dreamstime.com
Gathered cabbage
picture by Burpee.com

With September over, the autumn work on the farms in Kreis Saarburg in the 1800s was about to start. The successful harvest of two very important crops made the difference between a winter of sufficient food or of on-going hunger or even starvation.

The late summer months brought to an end the farmers' work in hay and grain fields. Many of those fields already were harvested and then planted for the next year. Now it is time for the autumn crops to join the hay and grains which are already stored in the barn.  All ages of family members are cutting, digging, picking and gathering. The grapes hang heavy on their vines (I have been told that almost every farm in the Saar River Valley grew grapes for their own wine making), and they will be harvested. The chestnut tree catkins of the spring now have turned a strong rust red inside their spiny covers and can be gathered up for cooking or roasted as a winter treat. The nut also could be ground into a baking flour.  The youngest children gathered the nuts and any fruits like plums and pears that could be dried for use in the cold months.

Some of the hardest work of the autumn is bringing in the potato crop, a labor that calls for rugged days of digging and bending to get that year’s yield into storage in a cool dark place so that the potatoes will last for the entire winter.  All the peasant farmers depended on the potatoes as a major winter food source.

In a good year sacks would stand full and thick throughout the whole field. Parents and the older children worked together in the potato field. Each worker dug the potato stock with a hoe or fork which loosened the plant from the ground.  Next the potato stock was grabbed with the free hand and pulled from the earth, the potatoes mostly hanging tight to it.

 Usually three baskets were used for sorting the newly dug potatoes that were pulled from the stock or picked up from the ground where they had fallen from the stock. The big, thick potatoes went into the first basket, the little ones or those that had been damaged by hoe or fork were thrown in the second basket and used as food for the pigs. The third basket held the medium sized potatoes which would be used as seed potatoes for planting in the spring. The half dry stocks of the potato plants were thrown aside to dry. Landless day workers helped with the harvest for a share of the crop of the larger farms. At noon the housewife or the grandmother prepared a noon meal. Most fields were far from their farmhouse and their meal was carried to the field for them. There was laughter and gossip to make the work more pleasant.  At the end of the day, the sacks were loaded into a wagon and unloaded, usually into the cool dark cellar.

It took about three days to finish the potato harvest. When the potato stocks had dried completely some days later, the young would make a high pile ready to be burned. The roasting of potatoes once the potato stocks were burning was one of the highlights of the year for the the young.  It seems to have been the equivalent of a giant marshmallow roast.  They scraped the potatoes and held them on the fire with pointed sticks. The potatoes roasted to a very white delicate texture inside. They were also very hot. There were many shouts because of slightly burned mouths and fingers during the night of the big potato fires.

Bonfire of potato stocks
In 19th century Germany and for centuries before that, cabbage played a major part in the winter food supply of peasant farmers and craftsmen. Cabbage was their only winter vegetable.  The German word for cabbage is Kohl but in the Saarburg Kreis dialect it was and still is known as Kappes.

Kohl/Kappes is a vegetable that, like the potato, could help keep families from starvation during a long winter. This plant did not require a lot of ground space relative to the size of the head of cabbage that could be harvested from it. Like potatoes, cabbage could be kept all through the winter. Unlike potatoes though, the cabbage had to be sliced into a large barrel and made into Sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage.

The entire family was involved in the process of making sauerkraut. Two of the most important people in preparing sauerkraut were the cabbage cutter and the stomper. The father of the family or, at times, a migrant worker who went from house to house during cabbage season, was usually the cutter. The cutter placed a long board with a cabbage shredder embedded in the center over two stools. He sat on the board and ran the cleaned head of cabbage over the shredder. The finely cut cabbage fell into the tub placed on the floor between the stools.

Krauthobel (cabbage shredder)
When the tub was filled, it was emptied into a well-cleaned barrel, and other ingredients like salt, sugar, herbs, sour apples, and herbs like dill were added. In wine producing areas like Kreis Saarburg, wine was also an important sauerkraut ingredient and made what was called Weinkraut. Each layer of cabbage added to the barrel was stomped, usually by young sons (or daughters) of the family whose feet and legs were washed thoroughly and then covered with stockings called Krauttretensocke (kraut stomping socks). When the last layer of cabbage was in the barrel and stomped, it was covered with a round piece of wood that fit tightly and it was held down by a stone. According to the recipe book, Das Leibgericht, (The Favorite Meal) by Hans Fischer, sauerkraut making began about November 1 and the kraut was ready to eat after about 4 weeks of fermentation.

One interesting side note. I read that in the Hunsruck area, the bridal meal had to include sauerkraut as one of the dishes served because it was considered to be lucky. It is my suspicion that the origin of this story came from necessity since most weddings were celebrated between Christmas and Lent, a time when the workload was light for all the families and when sauerkraut was the only vegetable available on the bride and groom's special day.

Christiane Becker, Die Hunsrücker Küche
Joseph Ollinger, Geschichten und Sagen von Saar und Mosel.
Hans Fischer, Das Leibgericht.
Der Blumenbaum, April, May, June 2002

Sunday, August 02, 2015


The Brautfahrt

If you’ve been reading my blog posts for awhile, you know that I am very fond of the book “Die Dorfstrasse.” (“The Village Street”) by Maria Croon. It is filled with vignettes about the customs in a small German village; customs that have almost completely faded away in our time. But thanks to authors like Frau Croon, we, the descendants of the people of Kreis Saarburg, can learn about the traditions, rituals, unwritten rules, and observances of our ancestors who lived in small farming villages in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Today's post is a short sketch from the chapter "Die Brautfahrt," one of my favorites.  We are introduced to two young people, Veronica and Peter, but better known as Vron and Pitt.  It is the story of a special ride before they were married but already promised to each other.

Custom of the Bridal Ride and the Guardian Angel

As an old woman, Vron, the nickname for Veronica, works at her spinning wheel most evenings. One night her mind goes back to the time 50 years ago when she was a bride-to-be and about to go for the Brautfahrt. Her betrothed, Pitt, had hitched the horses to a small field-wagon and was about to help his Vronchen (little Vron) up to the front seat of the wagon.

Pitt's mother called to him.  He must take the Schutzenengel, (the guardian angel), with them on the journey to protect the reputation of this still unmarried couple.  The mother combed the tousled hair of Pitt's little sister, Resel.  Then she walked the little sister toward the wagon and seated her on the wagon's back seat, just behind the betrothed couple.  In two weeks time,  Resel would be Vronchen's sister in law, but today she had the responsibility of guardian angel.

Once they were underway, Pitt showed Vronchen his land as he held the reins and pointed the short whip this way and that, and directed the horse along narrow paths that ran alongside the fields.  Then they went back to the road and drove from village to village.  Vronchen came from a town some distance away, and this was her first look at the place that was to be her new home.

They had just passed a small village when they saw a stand of birch trees that almost formed a trellis above them. Pitt said it was a special bridal decoration he had created especially for his Vronchen.

 The next field was full of wild primroses, and the guardian angel shouted for them to stop.  She wanted to gather them.  She jumped from the wagon and began to collect an armload of the colorful blossoms.  While she picked the flowers, her brother had his mind on other things. He begged his Vronchen to give him a Schmatz (I think you can guess the meaning of that word).  As he teased and begged, Pitt paid little attention to holding the reins of the horse.  The animal started off, leaving the little guardian angel far behind before Pitt was able to retrieve the narrow straps and control the wagon again.  Little Resel ran after them, shouting for them to stop the wagon and scattering the flowers that she had gathered hither and yon.  The boulders and grass along the way were now graced with the flowers that fell from her arms.

Guardian angel with flowers
After that excitement was over, they drove through a village noted for the shop where especially fine spinning wheels were made.  The almost-bridegroom bought a well-made little spinning wheel for his bride to be and placed it in the back of the wagon next to the guardian angel.

Now it was lunch time, and they stopped at the inn where the Wirtin (woman innkeeper)  met them at the door.  She knew of the upcoming wedding and teased Pitt.  How had Schneiderpitt* managed to find such a special young lady to be his bride?  Veronica blushed bright red but said nothing.  Pitt twirled his mustache and enjoyed the banter and the praise of his Vronchen. Then the Wirtin went to the kitchen and brought out a large goose egg.  Vronchen said nothing as she  stared at it in wonderment. She could think of nothing to say.  The Wirthin told the young Veronica to put the egg in the bag she carried. Pitt explained to Vonchen that this was the custom in the town. If a person cames into the Inn and said nothing, the innkeeper must make a gift of a goose egg in order to please the guest enough to start the business transaction - the cost of either a meal or a place to stay for the night

goose egg
Vronchen had one glass of wine, her wagon driver two or three, and because of the guardian angel's important duty, she was given only a glass of raspberry water.  The innkeeper then served them a plate of bread and ham slices.  The horse, Braune, gladly ate his oats before they all left for home.

As they drove toward Pitt's home where his mother and the mother of Veronica were making wedding arrangements, Resel decorated Vronchhen's new spinning wheel with the primroses she had picked; then used the rest of the flowers to make a crown for her sister-in-law to be.  The movement of the wagon along the road eventually lulled the guardian angel to sleep.  Pitt put one arm around Vronchen's shoulder, and they rode home watching the stars and listening to the song of a cuckoo.

Fifty years later, Vron experienced the bridal ride as if it was yesterday while she sat spinning on the little spinning wheel purchased some 50 years before.

*Note for Clarifying Nicknames

It is necessary to know that in Kreis Trier and Saarburg, generation after generation of babies were named in honor of their godparents. It was the custom. Naturally there would soon be a surfeit of boys in a village who were named Peter or Johann or Michael or Nikolaus, etc. There would also be an abundance of girls named Anna Maria or Barbara or Susanna and so forth.  At first using nicknames to distinguish one child from another could solve the problem of duplicate names. But at the time Maria Croon writes about, nicknames were not definitive enough. In the case of the bridegroom Peter, his nickname Pitt was shared by many other boys.  When a father called for Pitt to stop playing and come home, there was a lot of confusion about which Pitt was being summoned.  One way to solve that problem was to say the surname first and then the nickname. It was necessary for the Papa to shout,”Schneiderpitt, come home at once; you are late for supper.”

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Spinnstubenfest in Kreis Saarburg

18th Century Flax Spinning Wheel 

In some areas of Germany, especially those close to the French border, there is a celebration known as Karnival, the equivalent of Mardi Gras. Now and also in the past, the week before Ash Wednesday had many special "fests" during the Karnival time. One of them, to the best of my knowledge, is no longer celebrated. Because of changing times and industrialization this fest is only remembered because of a narrative in memoirs or history books or examples at open air museum celebrations. This Fest took place on the Thursday evening before the beginning of Lent. It was known as Spinnstubenfest or, roughly translated, the Spinning-Wheel-Stube Celebration.  Fortunately, Maria Croon called my attention to this festivity in her book, Die Dorfstrasse (The Village Street).

Little is written about the many winter evenings that Kreis Saarburg women spent spinning. However, like a quilting bee in this country, the Spinnstubenfest could be a time for getting together with other village woman.  As they worked, they talked while spinning the thread for the family's clothes, sheets, or anything else that needed weaving.

Frau Croon describes one such night that was very special. On the evening of the Thursday before Lent, called Fettendonnerstag (Fat Thursday), the sound of women's shoes were heard tapping on the streets in her little town as evening fell. Every woman was dressed in Sunday best from head to toe.  The young women wore colored ribbons in their hair and most had shiny buckles on their shoes. Each woman carried a spinning wheel that was decorated with red and blue ribbons. The spinning wheels were freshly polished until they fairly gleamed.  Fettendonnerstag was the time for the spinning wheel celebration, the Spinnstubenfest.

A Spinnstubenfest was held in a home with a large Stube.  It lasted at least three hours.  In the first hour every Frau and Fraulein did her spinning, creating thread from wool or flax while they gossiped and told stories of current or older times.

In the second hour, the spinning wheels were put aside in another room and tables were set for coffee and eating such things as crumb cake or pear bread, made with the dried pears that were harvested in the summer.  I picture them in smaller groups: the older women exchanging recipes and laughing about the foibles of their husbands and children; the young women gossiping about any new romances in the village, including their own.

As the third hour arrived, tables were pushed back against the walls, and the men, single or married, were invited to come in for dancing.  Some of the men brought accordions, harmonicas or Teufelgei.   No German dictionary in my collection or on the internet has that last word, but I will make a guess that this was a dialect word for some kind of fiddle (Geiger) played fast as the devil (Teufel). A favorite dance tune was "Herr Schmidt, Herr Schmidt, What Brings the Maiden With" (exact word order of the German)

Late that evening, when the music and dancing was over,  the men "played the cavalier" and carried the spinning wheels for the ladies. While the very old and the very young slept, the rest of the village folk made their way home in the dark. The streets rang with their voices singing the old songs until one by one doors closed behind them and the streets were dark again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Farmer's Coat of Arms

Village of Irsch, Kreis Saarburg, Hausmarken

Does your family have a coat of arms? Royal families had magnificent coats of arms since the middle ages and took great pride in them. Books on Heraldry can be studied to find out if you have an ancestor with a coat of arms and your family genealogy indicates royal blood.  Heraldry, according to the American Heritage Dictionary is "the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms." For many years I believed that my ancestors, basically of the farming and laboring classes, would not have had a coat of arms and therefore could not be genealogically traced.

 It was only after I read the best-selling book "Roots" by Alex Haley, a black man descended from slaves, that showed that no matter how unknown and poor one's ancestors might be, there were ways to trace back to earlier ancestors.  People like me with peasant ancestry finally understood that there was a great difference between searching in a book about heraldry for a coat of arms or using books and old records to find the history of a family.  Everyone has genealogical roots.  Not too many people find that their ancestors also had a coat of arms.

However, the chart of figures above could be called the farmer's coat of arms. After tracing my ancestry to peasant farmers in the Rhineland, I was surprised that some landowning farmer did have a picture code that bore a resemblance to the heraldic coat of arms.  These coats of arms were without the colorful figures used by the aristocracy--bears, stallions, tigers, crowns, jeweled swords, etc.   In Kreis Saarburg, the farmers coat of arm's had nothing to do with royal blood, but everything to do with a type of land sharing known as the Gehöfershaft.

What is the meaning of Gehöfershaft? With my limited German, I still do not fully understand all the ins and outs of this complicated term which represents a manner of sharing a very large amount of land held in common. According to my research, in a Gehöfershaft, only small areas of land were privately owned, mostly valley meadows, which ensured the farmers a crop even in dry years. The rest of the land, especially land with hedges and oak trees was owned in common.  Gehöfershaft is a rare word that cannot be found in German dictionaries of today or even going as far back as the last century's dictionaries.  My American second cousin with whom I share Bavarian ancestry and who speaks fluent German, told me he had never heard this word and had no idea what it was.  Puzzling indeed, because if you go to a Kreis Saarburg village and visit their museum of historic objects like tools or cooking utensils, you may also be shown (if it has survived the years) the village's Rosenkranz (rosary) and given an explanation of what it was. And yes, the word "Gehöfershaft" will be used over and over in that explanation.

However, the Gehöferschaft method of land sharing exists in only a few areas of Germany, including Kreis Trier and Saarburg and also much of the Saarland. If your ancestors, like mine, were landowning farmers in these regions where the Gehöferschaft land system existed, they would have a specific house mark (Hausmark) for the farm.  The mark that identified their "Haus" (house and barn were in one building) was rather like the coat of arms used by royalty.  It plainly meant, "this possession is mine and here is its unique symbol that proves its descent."

In his book on the history of Irsch in Kreis Saarburg, Ewald Meyer writes that a basis for the long existence of the Gehöferschaft land-sharing system in Kreis Saarburg (until almost the 20th century) might just be the lingering survival of the house marks. In 1853 there were still a multitude of house marks, 137 in Irsch alone as shown in the chart above.  This means that 137 landed farmers had shares in (belonged to) the Gehöferschaft.

Originally Gehöferschafts rights were assigned to a farmer and identified by the Hausmark.  Research shows that these Hausmark identifiers are ancient kinship characters and were passed from father to oldest son.  After Napoleon changed the inheritance laws when he brought Kreis Saarburg into the French Republic, all the children of a family now were allowed to inherit an equal share of the family's possessions.  This law remained in force under Prussian rule.  It also complicated the Gehöfershaft/Hausmark system.  Originally, the shares of the Gehöfer land were equal in size/value.  With the introduction of the French law, the Gehöferschaft shares had to be sized into smaller sections and it was not always possible to keep the land share sizes completely equal.  Also new Hausmark symbols had to be created.

The Hausmark was not only used to show land boundaries.  It was also a property mark carved or painted on possessions or branded on animals.  The unique mark sometimes decorated a house's door lintel. They could be used on contracts and documents when the signers were illiterate.  Most of the marks consist of rune-like images. Letters are in the minority as you can see on the Gehöferschaft chart of Irsch in the illustration above.
Rosenkranz for the village of Schoden

The Gehöferschaft land shared in common were allocated by drawing lots. The lot numbers were engraved on wood-drilled beads, cubes, or tablets, which could be strung on a strap of leather and tied in a circular "Rosenkranz" in the same way as the beads on a rosary were strung and used for prayer (Rosenkranz is the word for rosary).  When it was time for a reallocation of the land shares, usually after about five years use by a farmer, the administrator of the Gehöferschaft would unstring the old Rosenkranz, drop the loose cubes or tablets into a hat or some other container, and the new division of land would again be drawn by lot.  As each land section cube was drawn from the hat, the new Hausmark was added by painting over or carving away the old symbol and painting on the new Hausmark.  Then the Rosenkranz was restrung. The Gehöferschaft community's administrator preserved the "Rosenkranz" until it was time for the next draw.

It was typical that any newly created house marks would show a strong resemblance to the original Hausmark of the family. It was usually a slight addition to the lines or characters of the first house mark in that family. Look at the each Hausmark in the chart above and see if you can find relationships among them. For instance, could there be a set of related family marks in row 5 where there is only one difference between square 2 and square 3. As you keep looking, you will see more possible linked house marks.

Unfortunately, emigrants lost their Hausmark when they sold their Gehöferschaft land before leaving for America so I don't know what the rune-like characters for the farmers Meier or Hauser or Rauls might have been.  But since I come from a family of hearty eaters, I think at least one of the Hausmarks might have resembled No. 87 above - a fork!

Meyer, Ewald.  Irsch/Saar: Geschichte eines Dorfes.  2004

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Disappearing Time

One of my writing corners

A Word of Explanation:
During the almost 10 years that I have been writing posts for this blog, I have also been working on a novel about one family, my Rauls ancestors.  Based on the genealogical and historical records I have found, and also German books on the cultural history of the farming class in the 1800s, I have let my imagination fill in the blank spaces and done my best to create living, breathing people who worked, celebrated, loved, and sorrowed in Kreis Saarburg Germany.

As I went along, I shared much of my research with you in blog post form on a monthly bias.  I suspect that during the time I have been writing the posts for "Village Life in Kreis Saarburg," I have gathered enough information for a fair-sized cultural history.  Sometimes I considered forgetting about the novel, especially when I was going through a period of that thing called "writer's block."  However I kept going, using background from this blog for the novel which is now finished - at least in first draft form.  That is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

However, published authors tell me that my work has just begun and I see that they are right.  I am editing the draft now, approximately 400 pages, and also choosing a title.  Then I will have some volunteer readers give me their opinions of what is good and what is not so good in the story I have written - and where it didn't make sense at all.  (I hope there aren't too many of those parts).  The novel will be published as an e-book and also in paperback - and I will be making decisions there too.

This means I will be changing my blog posts somewhat.   My posts may become shorter and somewhat sporadic for the next few months as I struggle toward book publication (the lateness of this post shows it is already happening).  But I will keep sharing any interesting information about Kreis Saarburg that all of us with German immigrant ancestry might want to know about, and I will try to keep the posts coming on a nearly monthly basis.

I thank all of you who have been regular readers of this blog and assure you there is still lots more to know about our part of Germany.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Railroad Travel Then and Now

This year I was granted my wish to spend Christmas together with my sister and cousin.  Our Christmas day was spent in an exciting location, Rouen, France.  The three of us had booked a Christmas cruise on the Seine River from Paris to Rouen.  During our trip, we also allowed time for a special day in Germany.  We took a train to the German Christmas market in Saarbrucken, Germany.

Saarbrucken is about 300 miles from Paris.  By taking the fast (200 mph) French TVG train, we could go one way in less than two hours.  It was our first experience with Europe's high speed rail service, and we came away impressed by this experience.  Nothing like it is readily available in the United States.  We had comfort, convenience and amazing speed, all available at a reasonable price.

A Train Trip in 2014
Why am I writing a post about my Christmas vacation and trains?  Because the railroads played such a major part in the emigration of all of my ancestors - and probably yours.  I was traveling back along part of a train route which my great-great grandparents also traveled as they left Europe for a new life in Wisconsin.  I was returning to their former homeland area - and in great comfort.  I had no luggage to carry and barely felt the motion from the train wheels which seemed to almost ride above the rails.  It was as easy to walk down an aisle of the train as it had been to walk down the aisle flying to Paris in perfect weather. The return trip to Paris again took less than two hours.  We sat relaxed in well-padded, adjustable seats and also had a table to hold our snacks and drinks.  Some other passengers used their tables for laptops or to play cards. In what seemed like no time at all we were back in the Paris train station.

An early passenger train

A Train Trip in the 19th Century
This was not the way my 2nd great grandparents, Johann and Magdalena Meier, made the trip by train.  Almost certainly they had brought a large trunk with them, and I'm guessing that they carried sacks or baskets filled with necessities such as food to be eaten during the trip.  They had to keep track of four children ages 10 years to 18 months.  The train was coal fed, and I have read that the locomotives belched coal smoke back into the passenger cars.  The seats were of wood and every movement of the train on the track could be felt, rocking their bodies and even landing them on the floor if the train had to come to an unanticipated stop.  Still, the train that carried them was as impressive to them as was the one on which the three of us traveled last month.

Some train history:  By March 1861, my ancestors' emigration month, the railroads already were crisscrossing Germany. In 1852, the completion of a rail line from Forbach (very near Saarbrucken) to Paris made it much easier for emigrants from parts of Bavaria, southern Germany, and Switzerland to reach the French port of Le Havre by rail.

On May 25, 1860, the railroad line connecting Trier with Saarbrucken was officially opened, reaching as far as Forbach. The emigrants from the Trier/Saarburg area could, for the first time, get to the port of Le Havre in France entirely by rail. Prior to that time, the usual route was by land and barge to Antwerp.  The difficulty of traveling to America obviously started long before the emigrants set sail on the ocean.  By the time they reached their port of emigration in Le Havre, Johann and Magdalena Meier and their four young children had ridden on three different but intersecting rail lines: Saarburg to Forbach line, Forbach to Paris line, and Paris to Le Havre line.

Gare de l'Est, 20 December 2015

Gare Saint Lazare by Monet, 1877

The transfer between the train from Forbach to Paris and then from Paris to Le Havre was the most intimidating.  The emigrants had to navigate the city streets of Paris.  Travelers from Forbach arrived at the Gare de l'Est station.  However that was only one of several railroad stations in the city.  To this day Paris has no central rail station.  Even in our age of high speed rail travel, passengers who arrive at Gare de l'Est (the station for trains to and from the east) trundle their luggage from the Gare de l'Est to Gare Saint Lazare in order to get to the train that will take them to their vacation spot on the Normandy coast.

Johann and Magdalena and emigrants like them had to have some means to get their trunks and other possessions (including children) through the Paris streets to that second railroad station.  I have not found any information on how that process was actually handled.  The most likely scenario I can imagine would be that the emigrants had to pay to hire a wagon to take their trunks for them.  Did they know about this difficulty when they bought their train tickets?  I have not found such information.

Most of the emigrants arriving in Paris had never been in such a huge city. They must have gazed in awe at the Paris of 1861, which was still being reconstructed into the Paris of today using the dramatic plan of Georges-Eugène Haussmann who was tearing down much of old Paris with the permission of Emperor Napoleon III.  Some emigrants probably traveled through a construction zone of some kind.  Upon finding the Gare Saint Lazare, another trip of approximately five hours awaited them before Le Havre harbor was reached.

It took my sister, cousin, and me one hour and 50 minutes to travel from Paris to Saarbrucken. A very rough estimate of the time it took my ancestors to complete that same part of that trip is about 10 hours of actual time when the train was moving and not stopped in a station.  How many stops were involved could change that calculation considerably.  A second estimate of their total time from Saarburg to Le Havre, using my less-than-ideal manner of calculating, would be at least 18 hours and does not take into consideration any time spent waiting for the next train connection or crossing a part of the city of Paris.

The French website developed by the Historical Association of Triel has a chart that shows a train schedule from Paris to Le Havre in 1849 and a multitude of stops.  Another quote from the website: "The advent of the railway in the early nineteenth century has revolutionized communications between people by reducing an unimaginable journey time. For example, to get from Paris to Le Havre, it took more than 30 hours in 1814 and only 5 hours by train forty years later."

It just goes to show that the term "high speed" is in the mind of the one who experiences it, whether traveling in 1849 or in 2014.

Hammaecher, Klaus, SERRIG: LANDSCHAFT, GESCHICHTE & GESCHICHTEN, Saarburger Satz & Druck GmbH, Saarburg, 2002)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christkind Decorates the Christmas Tree

The Christkind Brings the Ice Apples to decorate the Christmas Tree
Wreath made with ice apples (Eisapëfl)

I've written on a Christmas topic ever since I began my blog posts. There are things that I am rather unsure about, especially the arrival of the Christmas tree in my ancestors' homes. It is almost like searching a genealogy. Just where was the original Christmas tree conceived and, over the centuries, when did that tree's descendants move to other countries, then cross the oceans and emigrate from Germany to the rest if the world?  Progress equals brick wall - I still have no idea if my great-great grandparents had a Christmas tree in the years before they emigrated. I like to think they did.

Some sources say that the Christmas tree developed from a pagan tradition which was adopted by Christians as a holy symbol. The custom does seem to have started in northern Germany and then spread south, having been a matter of contention between Lutherans and Catholics for a time.  That's not very specific, is it.

This year the book, "Inventing the Christmas Tree" came to my attention.  It didn't solve the puzzle for me, but I have chosen a few interesting facts about the Christmas tree and its decoration, although I'm no closer to knowing the exact date of the Christmas tree custom in Kreis Saarburg.

The Tree

Many of thee common folk, I read, had no separate parlor room for a Christmas tree and in 17th and 18th century many hung the tree from the rafters although it was hard to light the candles if the tree was hung upside down. This custom seems to have originated in Slavic countries, such as Poland.

For those Christmas trees that that were placed on the floor, a tree stand of some kind was needed. Some of the methods used for this were: a wooden cross painted green or covered with moss or stones where a hole had been drilled into the center of the cross pieces, a stool with a hole in it, a tub of water or a bucket with wet sand, In times of adversity.  Some wedged the trunk into the hub of a cartwheel or cut a rutabaga in half and drilled a hole to accommodate the tree. In the 1860s, cast iron stands became more common, shaped to resemble gnarled roots.

Decorating the Tree 

According to a story from the Lorraine region of France, a variety of apple is cultivated in France in the Alsace and Lorraine regions as well as in the Rhineland area of my ancestors. It is known as the Christ's apple (Christapfel) or ice apple (Eisapfel), and this fruit traditionally was used to decorate the Christmas tree since it was red and lasted well through the winter.

In 1858 a drought in the Alsace region caused the ice apple harvest to be lost. The famous glass blowers of the 18th and 19th century from Meisenthal in Lorraine took the opportunity to make red glass spheres of the same size that could be used on a tree instead of the apples.

It is also possible that the origin of such ornaments can be found in the Thuringian forest. There the craft of blown glass can be traced to the beginning of the seventeenth century, when immigrants from Bohemia built their first huts."

The Red Eisapfel

Origin: very old, widespread apple type from Germany
Other names: Heart apple, Christ apple, ice apple, red warrior
Uses: Eating, cooking, dried.
Fruit: Midsize to large, color gold-green, turning a dark red if left on the tree long enough. 
The taste is sweet as the apple ripens from October to January 

Whether you have a fresh tree covered in red glass balls or some other beloved decoration in your home this year, it is my wish that your Christmas is as filled with pleasure as those of old when the Christkind brought the Christmas tree and decorated it with red apples.

Inventing the Christmas Tree by Bernd Brunner, 2011
Christmas in Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and photos by Christophe Hamm
Christmas in Alsace by Jean-Claude Colin and photos by Christophe Hamm

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Pig Herder

Bremen square gives a tribute to the pig herder

To try to hang on to my German vocabulary when I haven't had a chance to speak it or review a practice tape for some time, I picked up a book that is at least somewhat close to my reading level, Geschichten und Sagen von Saar und Mosel by Josef Ollinger. Once again, I learned something new and I wanted to share it with you.

The chapter I chose to read was full of facts about a job that Olinger says was considered one of the four most useful occupations in any Rhineland village. This is the order of their worth: Pastor, teacher, mayor, herder. The first three did not surprise me, but I had not known that a sheep, pig, goat or cow herder held such an important post. If you discovered that your ancestor was a pig herder, you might make the mistake of thinking his was a lowly position. To the contrary, herders were valuable and respected for what they did.  They were the farmers' insurance that their animals were cared for in a way that assured these assets would thrive. All of them depended on the herders to find good foraging spots for their animals and guarded them from any form of danger.  So important were these herders that they were entitled to special rent-free dwellings, "Hertenhaüsern" (herder houses), for themselves and their families. They were also provided with a small piece of land for a garden.

In the 19th century, especially the first half, all but very tiny villages had a herder for each kind of animal. Hence the occupation "sheep herder, goat herder, cow herder, pig herder" can be found in the pages of church baptismal records which usually list the occupation of the father of a newly baptized child. The occupation of herder was one that was often passed from father to son.

The work of the herder was seasonal. It was not unusual for the village teacher to take over the job of herder when school ended in March and the children went to work in the fields. The herder of pigs might supplement his income by doing the fall slaughtering for farmers who had raised a pig for a winter supply of smoked ham and sausage. For this service, the herder received a piece of the meat from each pig he slaughtered.

Many of the herders were gone by the late 1800s, choosing to migrate to the industries in nearby cities. But in the little town of Tunsdorf, which is in Saargau area near Kreis Saarburg, Nikolaus Adler, the son of the former pig herder, kept his job until 1959, when he retired. He felt great pride in the work he had done, especially because, in all the years he worked, he had never lost a pig.

Each year Adler started his work as a herder on March 17, the feast of St. Gertrude,  called St. Gertraud in most of Germany. This saint's' feast day was often associated with the coming of spring. Some examples of Gertraud lore: "A sunny Gertraud's day will bring the farmer happiness. If Gertraud's day is sunny, it is the gardener's delight. If it freezes on the Gertraud day, the land will need 40 more days to warm it enough for planting. If it freezes on Gertraud's day, all summer will be cool."  St. Gertraud's day somewhat resembles groundhog day in U.S.

In his book, Josef Olinger described this last herder of Tunsdorf as a daily presence, walking the village road with a horn he tied around his neck with a piece of rope. There were three different notes that he blew. One was used to signal the pigs to come out to him. At that horn note, pigs left their pens without coaxing and came through the farm yard into the road. From one end of the village to the other, new pigs joined those which had been called out earlier. If a farmer neglected to open their stall, his pigs would push and might break the pen's latch at the sound of that horn call. A different horn note alerted the farmers whose pigs were still in the stable. They knew it was time to open the pen latch rather than risk a broken stall. The third note was one that seemed to calm the pigs as they walked, assuring them that the herder was looking out for their well being.

Male pigs and boars did not leave their pens. They were fed a diet of table scraps and garden root vegetables, fattened as much as possible for the slaughter in the fall.  The sows and the young pigs ate from the meadows and woodlands. They could use their snouts to dig for food in the fields chosen by the herder. There was enough vegetation to sustain them during the summer months. A successful herder like Nikolaus Adler knew the best places for forage.  On hot days, he would look for a spot in the shade to keep the pigs tender skin from the burning sun.  He would try to get permission from the village forester who protected the government's woodland to allow the pigs to search for acorns and beechnuts that had dropped to the ground, a gourmet treat that the pigs loved.

Since pigs are not easy to keep together in a herd, Adler had two dogs that helped him round up a sow or young pig that went astray.  His dogs were rough mongrel types but devoted to their master and to the job for which he had trained them. Even a huge sow with formidable strength did not deter the dogs. One sharp bite to a sow's rump or leg, and the animal hurried to regain the safety of the herd.

In the evening, the herder brought the pigs back to their pens. The older pigs recognized the barn and stable which they had left that morning and trotted to it willingly without any help from the herder.  The very young pigs sometimes wanted to stray into the wrong farmer's pen.  Nikolaus Adler knew his pigs so well that there was never any mixup.  If a piglet strayed in the wrong direction, Adler would call to his dog, "Kastor, get me the little one" and the dog would sort the piglet out and bring it back for delivery to the proper barn. The number of pigs grew smaller until each was back in the pen where it belonged.

On Fetten Donnerstag, (Fat Thursday), which was the Thursday before the beginning of Lent,  Nikolaus Adler was paid, mostly in foodstuffs like meat, grain, sausage, and lard.  Each house that paid him also served him a glass of Schnaps.  I can only assume that the herder had a significant hangover, perhaps lasting until Ash Wednesday.

Photo: http://shannon313.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/img_3287.jpg

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Surprising Village Residents

Johann Nepomuk
Government Worker

Regine Braconnier
Photo from Kommern Open Air Museum Website

The open air Museum in Kommern, with its costumed interpreters, allows one to step back into the lives of ancestors who lived in the northern part of the Rhineland. While the farm buildings are somewhat different from those in Kreis Saarburg in the lower Rhineland, many of the customs and living conditions would be very similar to those of the people of Kreis Saarburg's villages and small cities. 

In addition to interpreters who take on the identity of farmers, craftsmen, day laborers, etc., three of the historical figures described in detail on the museum's website were such interesting inhabitants of the area that I have translated their stories to share them you. The interpreters at the museum dress in the costume of their time as you can see in the two pictures above.  

The Government Man

Johann Nepomuk lived in Schwerz, a village in the upper Rhineland. He was a government worker commissioned by the Prussian government in 1816 to describe the agriculture of the Rhineland. For this purpose he spent three years creating records of Rhenish lands, coming in contact with many people and documenting the land they owned and the outlook for agriculture in a part of Prussia far removed from Berlin. At the open-air museum, visitors can look over his shoulder as he works with maps and writes down his observations about the farms for his reports to Berlin.

The actor who plays Nepomuk says, "It is exciting to see how we make a journey into history possible." The young and the old can observe the clothing of that time or watch a letter being written by the writing instruments of the past, using a font that some of the oldest visitors still know from their school days and that the young ones have never seen. They "can touch history."

The Upper Middle Class Frau

In 1892 Sybilla Schmitz was living in Poppelsdorf near Bonn, and her story is interpreted for visitors by a woman dressed as a visitor just arrived in her home village.  Sybilla was born in 1833 in Ruppenrod in the Westerwald, the daughter of wealthy farmer and mayor August Mungenast. In 1847 she moved to Bonn to live with her godmother, whose husband "had achieved something." As a trained cabinetmaker he ran a thriving furniture manufacturing business. In Bonn Sybilla attended a girls' school where she received lessons in music, handicrafts, painting and French. There she met her future husband Hermann, who worked as an administrative lawyer at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University and later held a senior position in the direction of the Agricultural Academy in Poppelsdorf. Thanks to the elevated position of her husband, Sybilla Schmitz lived in a spacious house with front garden and there was a servant to take care of the house and its cleaning. Ladies of the house in those circumstances had spare time, and this was the case for Sybilla. She had activities like a Reading Society weekday visits to her friends, and opportunities to travel.

The invention of modern transport such as horse-drawn trams and the steam train made it easier for people of Sybilla's class to travel longer distances. It was possible to visit her family in Ruppenrod, the village of her birth and perhaps stay for a few days.

 The Traveling Trader and Mousetrap Maker

Regine (Jien) Michels was born in 1833, the daughter of a poor farmer in Kirchweiler in the Eifel. It was a place that was shrinking, partly on account of the bad harvests from 1843 to 1845. In 1858, Regine married Hans Braconnier, a trader, who owned a farm in Neroth which was only 5 5 kilometers away. Like almost all others in Neroth. Braconnier, in addition to his farm needed a trade route to survive. A third pursuit to earn money was the production and sale of mousetraps.

For Regine this marriage with Hans was an economic improvement. The butter and eggs which the farm produced earned money for the couple or could be exchanged for other goods. Regine ran the farm while her husband was working his trading route and with the additional money, they were able to buy sheep, lease some more land, and send their sons Robert and Francis to school. With the help of her ​​mother, sister and the Braconnier children, Regine was able to keep making the mousetraps when her husband was traveling, sending them to him in the mail. In 1872 Hans Braconnier had increasing discomfort in his knees, so that Regine had to become the traveling trader for the family. She enjoyed the change and tells visitors, (through the interpreter who plays her role at the Kommern museum), "Working as a peddler, I made money and saw something of the world!"

When any one of these three people entered a farming village to visit it, children probably stared and followed after them. For their parents, it made for a bit of excitement in their long day. For this blog, it adds one more lively view of the colorful Rhineland village life.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

From Moselle to the Port of Le Havre

Covered wagon similar to those used to travel from Moselle to Le Havre
(Roscheiderhof Open Air Museum)

Department of the Moselle

Some time ago, I wrote, with a great deal of help from my sister Marilyn, a blog post about the port of Le Havre. She has an excellent command of the French language and was willing to do some research for me using French sources. That post has proved to be one of the most popular posts I have ever written. For those of us focused on finding out about the lives of our Rhineland, Bavarian, or Swiss emigrant ancestors, Le Havre is obviously a much more important emigration port than the usual genealogy texts or expert speakers at German genealogical conferences recognize. 

My sister, to help me with research for my novel, compiled and translated some other information on Le Havre-related subjects. These articles are in my files but also translated in full on her own blog, "Californie en français." Since you may not have found them there, let me give you a summary of one of them. I think that after I whet your appetite for further details, you will want to read the full article (right column, bottom of column) written by two descendants of an emigrant family from the French 
Department of Moselle in the Lorraine (Lothringen) region of France. It is called "Leaving for America" by Philippe and Giles Houdry. 

Thanks to Europedia, I learned that the Moselle is a department of the Lorraine region, and owes its name to the river of the same name. Moselle has a population of 1,024,000 inhabitants, and is divided into nine administrative districts (Arrondissements in French) for a total of 51 Cantons and 730 municipalities. It borders (clockwise from the North) the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, as well as the French departments of the Bas-Rhin, and Meurthe-et-Moselle. This area, with its combination of residents with French or German ancestry - sometimes both - still today speak a language that is a close cousin of Luxembourgish, especially in the northern part of the Moselle.

The Houdrys write that Pierre BREM and his family emigrated to New York, in the United States of America. These were ancestors of the Houdrys. Pierre and his wife Elisabeth (Boutter) Brem and their children, came from their village of Hargarten-aux-Mines. This zone in the north of Lorraine was German-speaking. The notaries of the region would record their documents in French which was the official language, and they were also required to indicate that said documents had been read in German by both the participants and witnesses.

The Houdry article goes on to spell out the many reasons why so many people, including those from the Moselle, emigrated to America. It is an excellent list. What the Germans called America letters; that is, the letters from friends and relatives already in America, exerted influence in the Moselle as well. America was considered as a country of liberty and of democracy, where the recognition of the individual was based on his competence and not his birth, things which many in the Moselle felt was not true of their homeland.

Pierre BREM left in 1844 to scout the United States, leaving his family in safety at Hargarten-aux-Mines. In 1846, Elisabeth and her two children, Anne Marie and Michel, left from Le Havre to join him. On that occasion that Elisabeth received power of attorney from her husband, sent from New York, to sell their possessions and thereby pay the voyage for the three of them. The sale occurred in Hargarten-aux-Mines, in the family house itself, the 13 March 1846. Piere Brem must have had great confidence in his wife who had a difficult road ahead of her, both in their selling the possessions which were still in the village of Hargarten-aux-Mines and in making the trip to Le Havre with two young children. Not only did she have to sell all of their land and personal property, converting everything into the money to take with her; she also had to obtain two passports; one for permission to leave France for America and another to allow her to move freely from her own Canton to any others she might cross in and out of on her trip to Le Havre. Making arrangements for the trip with some kind of travel company or service also was required.

The majority of immigrants made the voyage in wagons up to the port of embarkation at Le Havre. The Houdry's conjecture is that Pierre in 1844 and Elisabeth and the two children in 1846, would certainly have traveled to the coast by wagon so as not to waste the precious savings scraped together in Lorraine. It is also likely, as is often the case, that they would have joined a convoy of other Lorraine emigrants, which made the trip much safer, especially for a woman with two children and no husband. In addition to the safety factor, it also maintained a familiar environment in foreign surroundings. On bad roads, the convoys moved slowly. For a trip of approximately three weeks, most travelers would have placed canvas or sail-cloth over the arches of the wagons to protect the passengers from bad weather and to more comfortably spend the night. What did the wagon look like? The wagon picture above, taken at the German open-air museum in Roscheid, would be very similar. With more than one such wagon, the travelers would have resembled Hollywood movies about wagon trains headed west.

The wagon trip from Moselle to Le Havre took about 3 weeks. The railroad line Metz-Nancy did not open until 1850, that of Nancy-Paris not until 1852. The line Paris-Le Havre itself was only slightly older; it opened in 1847.

Many of the emigrants, when they reached the port, especially before 1850, were not able to embark right away. In bad weather, the ships were clustered close alongside and prevented from departing because of the direction of the winds. Sometimes it was necessary to wait for the arrival of the ship. The travelers often had to stay one or more weeks in one of the auberges of the city.  The money that Elizabeth carried with her could have easily been depleted by the need to eat, to buy provisions for the long ocean voyage, and to pay for shelter in an auberge/Gasthaus until the day of departure.

The auberges, especially those which were cheapest, gave a foretaste of the steerage section where the emigrants were going to huddle during the roughly one-and-a-half-month length of the crossing.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Biedermeyer Style for Saarburg's Middle Class

The Invention of Simplicity (Public Domaine)

This is an unusual subject for my blog which usually has focused on peasant life. However not every person in Kreis Saarburg was part of the peasantry or lower classes, In Saarburg, the largest city of the Kreis, there were houses designed for the upper and middle classes, like Nikolaus Valdenaire who had both an estate near Konz and a fine home in Saarburg called the Kuno Tower. These upper and middle classes interacted with the lower classes - buying their produce, hiring their children as servants and the adults as workers in the taneries or the bell factory, to name a few. To the people of the surrounding villages, Saarburg was an extraordinary place. This was where people who did not have to struggle just to feed their family lived in houses that seemed like palaces. Here you would find the doctors, the chemists, the government officials, the owners of factories. Their homes would be far different than the little farmhouses most of our own ancestors lived in, but they would also be nothing like the fine interiors of the dwellings of the nobles in cities like Bonn or Cologne. 

In Germany and Austria, the 19th Century saw the development of what is often called the Biedermeier period.  It was the time when the middle class began to grow and gain importance.  These were the years that started with Prussian rule in areas formerly French or independent city states.  It faded after the German revolution of 1848. This Biedermeier period influenced literature, music, and visual arts but especially interior design. The middle class enjoyed this humorous character, Biedermeier, in a period of strict government control. "Papa Biedermeier," a worthy, bourgeois-minded fellow was a humorous character featured in a running series of verses written by a country doctor and a lawyer. Gradually the name Biedermeyer came to represent the period when artists of all kinds, including architects and talented craftsmen, moved toward simplicity and moderation in their work. It was a mood rather than a strict period of time, says an article from Wikipedia. 

A Biedermeier style room for coffee or card playing 

Compared with the Empire furniture style of the nobility before and during the time of Napoleon, the rising middle class chose a new direction. The furniture used a style that emphasized the grain of the wood rather than having elaborate carving and curlicues. Pale woods like pear, birch or cherry woods were preferred over the darker woods like mahogany. 

The comparative emptiness of furniture in this room is also typical of the middle-class Biedermeier style although sometimes there was imitation of the costly techniques that were used for the furniture and floors of the upper class. Expensive inlay work, for instance, could be imitated very easily by using a stencil of the pattern to stain floors or furniture.

This library table's legs have a somewhat extreme curve

The Biedermeyer period can be applied to many fields - literature, music, and visual arts. A library where books could be kept and read by members of a middle class family tended toward the writings of the Biedermeyer writers. Biedermeier designs were simplified forms of the French Empire, Directoire  and some 18th-century English styles, and were often elegant in their utilitarian simplicity. Chairs and sofas show curved lines, frequently graceful, but sometimes exaggerated into swellings and contortions. Light-colored native fruitwoods were once again used in this library, with contrasting bands of black lacquer which often effectively substituted for the costly ebony of Empire pieces. 

Lamp and artwork are 21st century Biedermeier

Biedermeier designs could be quite simple.  At their best, cabinets and other large pieces were handsome and severe in line and surface.

The typical Biedermeier high bedposts are imitated in this modern day design

I am certain that my Kreis Saarburg ancestors never lived in a house furnished in the Biedermeier style.  But since middle class families often had enough money for servants, my 2nd great grandmother or one of her sisters or one of your ancestors could have worked in a Biedermeier dwelling for the time before their marriage, helping them to afford to buy more modestly made chests and cabinets filled with the things needed for their simple dowry.  They would have dusted and polished the Biedermeier curves of the pear wood furniture, the like of which they knew they would never own.

"Biedermeier." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2013.
Freilichtmuseum Roscheider Hof Konz Museum Guide.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Family Table

Hunsruck garden at Roscheider Hof Open Air Museum


Mauseohr Plant


When I decided to write a novel about peasant life in a small village in the Saarburg region, I didn't expect to have trouble describing food. It didn't occur to me that I would have to figure out what might be on the table for each meal of the day and how it was prepared. What did the cupboards, pots and kettles hold? As it turned out, preparing the daily meals was one of the most difficult of daily tasks about which to find information. Recipes were an oral process, passed on from generation to generation.  Although I grew up on a small dairy farm, conditions in the United States in the 1950s bore little similariety to those in 1850 Kreis Saarburg, the year my ancestors lived on their farms. There was meat on our table almost every day, there were recipe books, there were grocery stores, and our garden was just a few steps from the back door.

How different it was for our ancestors. Meat, so much a part of our daily diet was a rarity for the peasant farmer. It was seldom seen when the family sat down to their daily meal. For the Kleinbauer (small farmer) and Taglohner (day worker), there would only be such a luxury on very special holidays such as Christmas and Easter. For the farmer who was a bit better off, meat might be eaten on other holidays or for an important celebration such as a wedding or a reunion of more distant relatives.  Pork or goose was usually served on those occasions - any leftover meat could be chopped and added to dishes that were usually meatless.

Other than holidays and weddings, what was on the table on ordinary days? As one book put it "It was the duty of the married woman to take care of the house, to look after the children, to help with work in the field, to milk the cow and feed the small animals each day. In addition she was responsible for putting three meals a day on the table for the hungry mouths of her family. This could be the most difficult obligation of all, especially because most farms were small, the farmers poor, and crop failures common." How did the Hausfrau manage to feed a hungry, hardworking family?

Even though meat was rarely seen on the table, animals provided food in other ways. Geese might end up in roasting pans at Christmas; but before that happened, they produced eggs for main dishes when cooked, one of the ingredients in a kettle with many other parts or in a dough to be baked, when raw.

Peasant farmers with land of their own would own one or more cows since farmers rarely had horses for field work. They used their cows as draft animals to pull wagons and plows. At the same time, the cows provided valuable food while working the fields. There was milk for the cooking kettle, baking pan and the drinking mug. (Bit of trivia - in Germany mugs used for daily meals had no handles until the late 1800s).  Given their use as draft animals to pull plows and wagons, a cow's milk production would be much more limited than the dairy cows of today's farmer, but even so, milk was one of the most valuable of foods. Cow's milk provided a nutritious drink, cream for baking, or was mixed with vinegar and sugar (honey was the poor man's sugar) and used as a dressing for fresh greens. What was left after a day's use became a homemade cheese.

In the book "Essens-Zeiten" which can be translated as "Of EatingTimes," one hundred years of table scenes are pictured and explained. In the text for one of those pictures I found several paragraphs that summarize the work of a peasant woman who was also responsible for growing, gathering, preserving and preparing the food from the garden as well as knowing how to supplement it with wild greens and berries from the woodlands and fruit from the trees of the village apple orchard or the plum, pear, and peach trees that were part of some farms. The mild climate also meant that grape vines grew easily.

The garden was the place where the farmer's family turned in good times and bad. Field harvest times when the wife's help was needed in the fields was also the time that the produce of the garden was ripening. The children and those older relatives who no longer could labor in the farm fields were still able to work in the garden and teach the younger children how to plant, hoe, weed, and gather produce. Often the elderly grandmother and grandfather, with the help of the children, were responsible for the majority of the garden work.

Contrary to my American perception, the Kreis Saarburg gardens were not always close to the barnhouse. It might be a mile or more walk to care for and gather this food. Getting to and from the garden took time away from the other work that had to be done. Those lucky enough to have their garden on the barnhouse property would place it on the sunny side of the house. A good location was a matter of concern. The first land that a day worker or craftsman would buy, when he earned enough money to own a piece property, was chosen with the understanding that there must be a good place for a garden which would hold plants that could be wintered: cabbage, bush beans, turnips, carrots, onions, leeks, peas, and lentils. Every little corner of the garden was used.  Potatoes were not planted in the garden; they were a field crop, feeding both humans and animals.

The planting and harvesting of root vegetables from the garden saved many families during famine years. In 1790, according to one writer of the time, in Germany the potato was eaten every day in some kind of recipe. Even the poor had their daily potatoes, some with a bit of meat and most without. Steckruben or turnips were another staple, especially in the Eifel region of the Rhineland. In the book "Essens Zeiten which I mentioned above, an elderly resident says "Oh my, turnips, always turnips" for the meals.  Often all the peasants had to sustain them were potatoes or turnips. Soup was made with some flour, water, broth, and salt. Other root vegetables that saw families through harsh winters were beets, and carrots.

Herbs for seasoning and healing plants were common in the gardens. Even though space for growing food was of primary importance, most village families understood that ornamental plants like wallflowers, pansies, larkspur and field roses should be planted for the color and happiness they brought and planted those as well to have something for the soul.

Although it may seem that our ancestors in the Rhineland area had very poor nutrition, they did their best to vary their diets when spring and summer arrived. After a long winter of only root vegetables, it must have been a delight for them to have freshly picked food on the table. There were just-gathered vegetables, greens, and fruit in those summer months. It seems they were also somewhat aware of the health value of uncooked field greens because, as one book told me, they believed the dandelion leaves helped to fight off the fatigue of winter. The best months for gathering dandelion greens were April and May. One picked the dandelion if possible in the outermost edges of meadows, being sure that the heart of the plant was still looking yellowish. The taste of the leaves is somewhat bitter but savory in much the way radicchio is in our own summer salads. The leaves of certain other field plants added additional taste and volume to the spring and summer season's dinner. Another popular field green was the Mauseohrsalad (mouse ear salad), also called field salad.  It is still eaten in Germany today.

As soon as they were able, the children took on a share of the work. The girls learned how to cook at an early age by "doing." Recipe books would have been laughed at and they were far off in the future. These women and girls knew when they had added enough water or stirred the batter long enough to have it "look right."  Most cooks measured with their eyes, not with measuring cups.

Sugar was not readily available to peasant farmers but honey was. When a villager was in possession of a woven basket and some broom flower branches as a cover, he possessed his very own sugar factory. A bee shed could be made by pushing four long stakes into the ground, and a slanted roof covered with Ginster (yellow broom) placed on top; woven straw baskets were used as hives underneath. Broom grows wild all over Kreis Saarburg to a height of 3 to 5 feet and produces numerous long, straight, slender bright green branches, tough and very flexible. The bright yellow fragrant flowers are large, in bloom from April to July, attracting the bees.

Some Popular Recipes for the Tables of Kreis Saarburg 
(The dialect recipe's name comes first; then the more common German name)

I found these recipes in the book "Die Hunsrücker Küche" by Christiane Becker who inherited them from her grandmother. The book uses many dialect words in the instructions so I have done my best to give you an idea of the dish, at least listing the ingredients in popular recipes of the Hunsrück and Saar Valley of Kreis Saarburg.

Dibbelabbes or Schales (potato dish) This is a traditional dish of potatoes and onions in both the Saarland and the Rhineland. Dibbelabbes made of 4 lbs of potato, two or three eggs, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of flour, 3-4 onions and bacon striped with fat. Nadia Hassani (in her cookbook "Spoonfuls of Germany") has this piece of information on the origin of this interesting dish: "...a potato dish known as Dibbelabbes in Saarland is known as Schales or Scholet in the Rhineland Palatinate. Its origin she says, goes back to the Jewish Sabbath dish Cholent, a stew that was prepared on a Friday and remained on the stove during the Sabbath, when Jewish religious law forbids food preparation."  This was a recipe that held well and could also be taken to the field for a noon lunch.

Löwenzahn Salat (Dandelion Salad) was made using some sour milk, 2 hard boiled eggs, one small onion, one bunch of chives, 6 tablespoons of vinegar, 3 of cooking oil, and be sprinkled with salt, pepper and grated garlic.

Mauseohr salat (Mouse ear field salad, )  Field greens, often those shaped like mouse ears with a dressing of sour cream, salt, pepper, one onion, a bunch of chive, six tablespoons of vinegar and 3 tablespons of oil.

Kappessupp or Kohlsuppe (cabbage soup) The first ingredient was a legume, like peas or beans or lentils, cooked for one and a half hours and then set aside. Then green cabbage was cut in small strips and cooked in meat broth with peeled potatoes. Meat was added only for a special day or if the work of the day was to be very strenuous. The mixtures of the legumes and cabbage together in soup was a typical midday meal.

Rappsupp (No translation from dialect found) This soup could be made quickly and could be found on the table when the women of the house were helping with the harvest or on a busy washday. Vegetable or meat broth was cooked with finely grated raw potatoes and cream or egg yolk. Rapp is one of the dialect words no dictionary or Google translator could define.

Käsjer, Quark or Handkäse (homemade cheese)  The cows' milk could be used as a light cream, skimmed for the rest of the liquid, and used to make butter, a sauce for the fresh greens or an whipped cream for desserts. The rest of the milk, minus the cream that had been skimmed could be used to made hand cheese or Quark by separating the thickening milk from the whey. Both were used to feed the family. Quark, when finished, is a soft cheese that tastes like a mix of cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream. Since it's very mild, it takes on the flavors of the other ingredients you use it with and can be either sweet or savory.  The Molke or whey was a drink full of vitamins and minerals and could be compared to drinking buttermilk.

Leckschmier, Zwetschgenmus or Latwerge (plum or pear preserves)
.  I needed some translation help for this Hunsrück and Saar favorite   One recipe in English on the web called for 5 kg plums or pears; 1 kg sugar; cinnamon; anis; pounded cloves; and a little ginger.  The washed, pitted fruits are gradually added in a cast-iron pot and boiled together with the spices. It is important that mass with a wooden spoon to stir constantly to the bottom of the pot so that the Leckschmier does not burn. After 4-5 hours of cooking, the mass has become stiff and thick. It is filled in a well pre-heated stone pot after cooling, with a cloth cover and stored in a cool place. On freshly baked bread, thick coated with good butter, Leckschmier tastes especially good.

Einsäuern im Spezialgärtopf was a version of what we know as Sauerkraut.  It was and is common in the United States and recipes abound on the internet so I have not included the ingredients.  Crocks of this long lasting sour cabbage could be found in the barnhouse each winter.

Gefillte Krummbeere or Gefüllte Kartoffeln (Potato Pancakes) One recipe that made its way from the Rhineland to my family's table and is still a favorite is potato pancakes.   My mother never measured anything - I confess I need a recipe to feel secure about the amount of grated potato to be mixed with onion, flour, and egg.   My mother's were always the best.

There are many more recipes in the little cookbook I have been trying to decipher, but I have made a small start at painting a word picture of the family table, and it has been challenging but also enlightening.

If your ancestry is German, do you have a favorite recipe from the family table of yesteryear?

German Foods.org
Christiane Becker, Die Hunsrücker Küche, 1992
Jean Morette, Landleben im Jahreslauf, 1983
Freilichtmuseum Roscheider Hof Konz Museum Guide, 2001
"Essens-Zeiten," eifeler Tisch-Szenen aus 100 Jahren 2002