Friday, May 20, 2011

The Stube and Futterküche of a Small Farmer's Dwelling

"The Village Street, a Colorful History" by Maria Croon

There are not many librarians who can resist going into the bookstore/stores when on vacation. That has been true on each of my four visits to Saarburg.

On my first visit nearly 30 years ago, I found a children's book about life in neighboring Lorraine.  It was meant for grade school youngsters and the customs and living conditions described were almost identical to life in Kreis Saarburg. I had a fighting chance of understanding it if I had a dictionary - I knew only about 50 words of German then.  Fortunately the book had great illustrations. It eventually taught me a lot about the life of farming families in the previous century.

My favorite bookstore in Saarburg these days is on a side street near the center of the city. Usually I buy at least one or two history books about the small towns of the area, and once I bought a children's book of German songs with beautiful pictures. It seemed to weigh about 20 pounds when I had to carry it home.

In October, 2010, my recent trip to Saarburg, I bought a easy-to-carry memoir book called "Die Dorfstrasse" which means "The Village Street."  There was a difficulty, however. The Trier and Saarburg areas, as I've noted in at least one other post, had a dialect that actually requires translation to German in this 21st century. While almost no one speaks the old Mosel-Frankische dialect now, dialect words turn up regularly in conversations among people in the area and words I struggle to read in this book would be familiar to them.  For me, that is not the case.  But Maria Croon, the author, grew up in Meurich, a farming village not too far from Irsch, Zerf, and Serrig.  She describes exactly what I want to know so I keep struggling.

In the first chapter, I was invited into the Stube and Futterküche in the house of Grandfather Willem, and it would have strongly resembled the small, crowded Stube to which great-great-grandmother Lena came when she disobeyed her father and married into a much poorer family.

The chapter started with a description of a bench.  It seemed to be one of the most important things a Stube held. It was called a Taakbank. Taak is one of those dialect words.  Google Translator and all my dictionaries were no help. So I turned to Ewald Meyer, who is still able to read the old dialect.  My e-mail's subject line read, "Help!" By the next morning I had the knowledge I needed.

The Meyer's Decorative Takenplaten 
Ewald said, "In her books, she (Maria Croon) has narrated her memories and experiences from her childhood. In the old farm houses, there was usually only one fireplace - in the kitchen. The living room or Stube was next to the kitchen. The wall between the fireplace (in the kitchen) and the Stube had an opening which was closed with a cast-iron plate called a Takenplatte. These plates were often decorated with a motif from the Bible or the rural life. However, these plates were called Taakplatten in the Mosel Frankisch dialect. They transferred the heat from the fireplace in the kitchen into the living room. The bench in front of this plate, the Taakbank, was particularly popular as a place to sit in the winter."

The Taakbank is the reserved place for grandfather Willem, smoking his pipe that envelops him in smoke. The Stube where he sits is is a "family room" in the true sense of the words.  Here one could witness almost all the comings and goings of the family during those few hours when they were not engaged in work in the stables, the garden, or the fields. Today we might think of it as a place that functions as a living room, family room, dining room and part of the kitchen.  This is made obvious by the objects that can be found in the Stube of grandfather Willem and his wife, known as Mimi Sus.

To the best of my ability, using my imagination and the descriptions in "Die Dorfstrasse," I determined what objects might have occupied the Johann and Lena Meier's Stube. In addition to the Taakbank, there were shelves for dishes, some Viez mugs  and a Viez jug for pouring.  On the shelves closest to the Taakplatten there were more perishable items such as a container of sliced bread, a saltcellar, bowls of homemade cheeses, marmelade, Kuchen and, in good times, there might be a bag of sugar lumps, much loved by the children.  The proximity to the heat kept these items dry and avoided mold and spoilage.

As in the house of Grandfather Willem, the Meier's Stube had a clock in a dark wood case, often difficult to keep running. A goose feather was used to make adjustments and keep the mechanism oiled when this prized possession was not working well.  The goose quills as well as a few chicken quills were kept in an earthenware jar close at hand for they were often needed to fix the clock or clean the bowl of a smoker's pipe.  The clock stands on a homemade cabinet which holds practical items that should be in easy reach for doing indoor chores; they are not at all decorative.  There is as a whetstone for sharpening knives, the container with quills, the paddles for carding wool, a hackle for readying flax for spinning into linen, to name a few.

The large table in this room served more than one purpose. Each day, the family gathered around it for the daily meal.  But once a week, the top of the table was put aside, revealing the Backmulde, a bread mixing trough, which was hidden underneath.  Many loaves of bread as well as the dough for seasonal Kuchen--apple, plum, pear--were made here in the Stube.

Unlike our kitchens today with its many countertops, drawers, and cabinets, the kitchen in this house was small and dark, known as the Futterküche.  No room to mix and knead bread here.  Many chores related to food were done in the Stube.  The floor of the Futterküche was made of uneven slate pieces.  It occupied what we might call a cubbyhole area in the back corner of the house next to the Stube; its only light came in through the large chimney opening of the fireplace, where ham, bacon and sausages hung as they were smoked.  Sometimes the swallows made a nest at the top of the chimney.  Two buckets filled with water from the village well were kept in the Futterküche, along with the feed kettle used for the scraps that will help fatten the pigs until it is time to "harvest" one or more of the animals for winter food.  The bake oven here, with its heavy iron door is where the bread was baked.  A fire was started in the oven.  When the inside walls of the oven were hot enough, the ashes from the fire were removed and the bread or Kuchen carefully pushed inside by means of a long paddle - to be baked by the thoroughly heated oven walls.

In one corner of the cramped, dark kitchen there were some small sacks of dried Zwetschen plums and pieces of pears.  Above them hung the discolored everyday caps and aprons of the mother, grandmother and daughters.  A cow collar (cows did the work of a horse for a small landowner), tea herbs drying in bunches, onion bundles, and a deflated pig bladder (used for sausage casings) also hung there.

Grandfather Willem's Futterküchen also had mouse droppings - At this point I'm still undecided whether to add them to the contents of the interior of Lena and Johann's abode.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:42 PM

    How interesting! I love all the details... really gives you an insight into how things really looked and felt. Thankyou!