Russia

“Give Us This Day”: Daily Bread and A Home for Every Orphan

This past week brought another opportunity to travel west of the Cascades to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula as Sequim was the site of an amazing organization’s annual meeting. A Family for Every Orphan (AFFEO) has long been endorsed by our families and Palouse Heritage as one of the most consequential non-profit groups focused on strategic solutions for the global orphan crisis. AFFEO is a leader in the concept of “indigenous adoption” through which caring families in other countries are challenged and equipped to promote domestic adoption in places where orphans have traditionally been institutionalized and shunned by mainstream culture. With the cost of Americans adopting children from abroad routinely ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, the expense of indigenous adoption is often less than $1,000 with funds needed for home repair and orientation seminars. In this way, AFFEO has facilitated the placement of thousands of children since it was founded ten years ago by a dedicated group of young people, many of whom have served in America’s armed forces.

German Decorative Plate (c. 1965), Palouse Heritage Collection

German Decorative Plate (c. 1965), Palouse Heritage Collection

AFFEO executive director Micala Siler, a graduate of West Point, is passionate about strategic interventions to place orphans in caring homes in countries where they presently reside. With approximately 10,000,000 orphans presently available for adoption worldwide, she described important AFFEO initiatives underway in eight target countries—Ukraine, Romania, Kyrgystan, Russia, Ghana, Uganda, Bangladesh, and India. As I listened to the various presentations made by Micala and other team members who had come at their own expense from various parts of the country and world, I marveled at how such a group of successful young people could gather with such a spirit of determination to make a positive difference in the lives of children they would never know.  

A Home for Every Orphan Board Meeting Table Spread (October, 2018)

A Home for Every Orphan Board Meeting Table Spread (October, 2018)

In recent years I have traveled to Kiev, Moscow, Singapore, and other places in order to better understand the global orphan crisis and promote adoption. When the AFFEO board first gathered together from their far flung travels in Sequim this past week, I was pleased to see a flavorful spread of artisan breads at their host’s welcoming table. Through mutual friends many on the AFFEO team know about our work with heritage grains, and in this day of war refugees on the Horn of Africa, Mediterranean boat people, Central American immigrant caravans, and other turmoil, I sometimes wonder how children and parents in these circumstances manage to survive. Of course some don’t. While attending the subsequent AFFEO presentations, I found myself drawn to the Fourth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). I recall reading some time ago that the last five words of that verse are a translation of a Greek term unique not only to the Bible, but in all of ancient literature. That we might be part of others’ “day-by-day” provisioning through whatever means available to us seems to be a task of utmost nobility. For these reasons, we are honored to donate a portion of all Palouse Heritage proceeds to AFFEO’s work.

Zane Grey’s The Desert of Wheat (Part 1)

This post is the first of a three-part series about Zane Grey, the father of the modern Western novel, who spent time in Eastern Washington in the early 1900s to write his agrarian-themed novel The Desert of Wheat.


For many years I kept a copy of Zane Grey’s novel, The Desert of Wheat (1919), on my bookshelf. I confess it was mostly there because the title had piqued my hope that the famed Western author might have once turned his attention away from Southwestern cowboys to farmers in the Northwest. A few pages into the book confirmed its setting to be on the Columbia Plateau. But encounters on its opening pages with “motor-cars” and labor organizers led me to set it aside in favor of what I thought might be more interesting reads. Only in recent weeks did I return to the book after realizing that Grey had composed it amidst the convolutions of American involvement in World War one hundred years ago. So I pulled it off the shelf again and this time found myself immersed transported through compelling prose to a remarkable time that I found had high relevance to many issues of our present day.

Best-selling author and conservationist Zane Grey (1872-1939) is considered the father of the modern Western novel. He wrote eighty books with nine selling over 100,000 copies in their year of initial publication, including the quintessential Western classic Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) which became a million-seller. Even today sales of his many works typically reach 500,000 copies annually. Grey’s novels and some 300 short stories were known for idealizing the American frontier spirit with archetypal characters inhabiting moral landscapes who exemplified the Code of the West—integrity, friendship, loyalty. British poet John Masefield and Ernest Hemingway considered his writing praiseworthy and others compared allegorical storylines laden with struggle and mystery to the ancient Beowulf saga and Star Wars science fiction trilogy. Though some critics found Grey’s plots to be formulaic, several of his works ventured beyond worlds inhabited by cowboys and desperados to explore contemporary issues, and human influence on landscapes.

Zane Grey’s  The Desert of Wheat  first appeared in a series of articles published in May and June, 1918, issues of  The Country Gentleman

Zane Grey’s The Desert of Wheat first appeared in a series of articles published in May and June, 1918, issues of The Country Gentleman

Grey and his wife, Dolly, journeyed from their home in Pennsylvania to the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 1917 and traveled through eastern Washington in July. That same tumultuous month Alexander Kerensky was named premier of the Russian provisional government after revolutionaries toppled the Romanov monarchy, and a major German World War I counter-offensive commenced on the Eastern Front in Galicia. Grey closely followed world events through newspaper reports sought to incorporate their impact on American national life into his writing. He had been encouraged by The Country Gentleman editor Benton Currie to compose an agrarian-themed story for serialization the following year.

Davenport Hotel Hall of Doges, Spokane, c. 1915, Washington State Historical Society

Davenport Hotel Hall of Doges, Spokane, c. 1915, Washington State Historical Society

While attending a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in July at Spokane’s opulent Davenport Hotel, Grey and A. Duncan Dunn, regent of the state’s agricultural school in Pullman, discussed the plight of the region’s farmers since Northwest grain markets and labor unrest seemed highly related to unfolding international events. Inspired in part by events in Russia, the Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) sought to organize itinerant harvest laborers throughout the wheatlands in order to hold out for raises from two to three dollars for a customary ten-hour day of intense physical labor tending the annual threshing operations. The Wobblies were strongly opposed by farmers on economic grounds, and many throughout the country considered their socialist leanings a threat the moral and political order. The inland Pacific Northwest was also heavily populated by immigrant farmers of German ancestry from central Europe and Russia. Grey’s story would also explore the tensions within families and communities created by complex relationships between heritage and nationalism.

Zane Grey,  The Desert of Wheat  Manuscript Opening Lines (1917), Library of Congress

Zane Grey, The Desert of Wheat Manuscript Opening Lines (1917), Library of Congress

Grey’s “The Desert of Wheat” would first appear in several installments of The Country Gentleman in the spring of 1918, and Harper’s published the first of numerous printings in book form in 1919.  His earlier works had been known for vivid descriptions of action and environment, as well as respectful inclusion of Native Americans and minority cultures. This new work appealed to both reviewers and the general public, and opened with lines inspired by his summertime journey across the Columbia Plateau’s vast farming district:  “Late in June the vast northwestern desert of wheat began to take on a tinge of gold, lending an austere beauty to that endless, rolling, smooth world of treeless hills…. The beauty of them was austere, as if the hand of man had been held back from making green his home site, as if the immensity of the task had left no time for youth and freshness. Years, long years, were there in the round-hilled, many-furrowed gray old earth.”

Right: W. H. D. Koerner, “The Undulating Sea of Wheat,”  Country Gentleman Magazine  (May 14, 1918)

Right: W. H. D. Koerner, “The Undulating Sea of Wheat,” Country Gentleman Magazine (May 14, 1918)

Through dialogue about Bluestem and Turkey Red wheats and rattling threshers under the hot harvest sun, the story lauds the hard work and struggles of taciturn Kurt Dorn, son of an elderly German immigrant farmer. Young Dorn faces drought, blight, and the elements in order to support his father, and experiences World War I prejudice and rural labor strife. Although Grey’s characters are not typically prone to mystical reflection, Dorn and protagonist love interest, Lenore Anderson, ponder the significance of change in their own relationship, his  enlistment and brutal experience of European battle, and deeper meanings of wartime damage to culture and conviction. As do few other books in Grey’s considerable corpus, The Desert of Wheat exemplifies his lifelong compulsion to express “Love of life, love of youth, [and] love of beauty.” Dorn and Anderson’s dialogue further attest to the wastefulness of war and Grey’s own ambivalence over conceptions of patriotism and heroism. Literary historian Christine Bold characterizes Lenore Anderson as the personification of humanity’s spiritual core—a “Western version of Ceres,” and like waving heads of grain frequently described she symbolizes renewal amidst an odyssey of life, loss, and land.

Landrace Grains and Heirloom Fruit — Palouse Colony Farm and DeLong Ranch

Even after great holiday sales, we remain well supplied with our Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold pastry flour as well as our long awaited Crimson Turkey bread flour, known back in the day as “Turkey Red” though it ancestral homeland is actually south Russia and Ukraine. Until this flavorful grain was introduced to the United States in the 1870s, virtually all bread in the country was made from soft white wheats and other grains more suited for making biscuits, pancakes, and flatbreads. Our crop yielded well and is already being used by several Northwest bakeries including Damsel and Hopper Bakeshop in Seattle, Ethos Bakery in Richland, and Culture Breads in Spokane.

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Palouse Colony Heritage Grain and Transfering from Wheat Truck to Totes

Two venerable elders now in their nineties and familiar with Crimson Turkey were raised on farms near our Palouse Country hometown of Endicott. Don Schmick and Don Reich now reside in neighboring Colfax, and I recently asked them about it. “That’s the grain we saved for our own use!” Don Reich recalled. “There’s nothing in the world that makes a bread so satisfying as flour from that wheat.” Don Schmick related a similar story and said that his immigrant farmer father made a annual trip every fall south of the Palouse River to the Pataha Flour Mill east of Pomeroy where the family’s precious Crimson Turkey wheat was ground into flour for the family’s needs throughout the year. Both men remembered that their mothers especially favored mixing about two-thirds of the wheat flour with one-third rye flour to make a delicious tawny-colored loaf that didn’t last long.

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

Joe navigating through a sea of Palouse Heritage wheat at DeLong Ranch (2017)

This past August we also returned to historic DeLong Ranch located several miles upstream from our Palouse Colony Farm and where we have worked for several years with neighbors Joe and Sarah DeLong to raise heritage grains. Joe’s ancestral connection to this scenic area is singular in significance to regional history as it is not only the oldest farm in the area, but also property that has been continuously farmed by the DeLong family since the late 1860s. Joe’s resourceful ancestor, also named Joseph DeLong, raised grain, extensive gardens, and livestock, and also planted an extensive orchard on fertile bottomland bordered by towering pines along the river. I have long been fascinated by the family’s remarkable saga and have written previously about it in previous blog posts and the book Palouse Country: A Land and Its People.

We’ve long been impressed by Joe and Sarah’s regard for the health of the soil and they have worked hard over the years to raise crops using natural rotation systems with minimum artificial inputs. The farm’s remote location also provides a rare glimpse into the “Palouse primeval.” Substantial virgin sod remains along both sides of the river that abounds with wildflowers in spring and summer and hosts deer, racoons, coyotes, eagles, and occasional meandering moose and elk. In addition to the landrace grains we raised this past year at Palouse Colony Farm, Joe and Sarah grew Red Walla Walla and Sonoran Gold wheats, and famed Purple Egyptian barley. Red Walla Walla is a rare soft red variety actually native to southern England that was traditionally used for biscuits, flatbreads, and for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers. 

An unexpected adventure during this summer’s DeLong harvest was a visit to his family’s ancient grove of plum trees that are clustered at the foot of a grassy bluff close to the river. I had noticed the ripe purplish red fruit while riding the combine with Joe near the fence-line that separates the trees from the field. He informed me that the trees likely harkened back to the senior Joe DeLong’s time and contained four distinct varieties faithfully recorded in old ranch records—Bulgarian, Hungarian, Egg, and Petite.

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

DeLong Heirloom Plum Trees

Grandma’s Plum Delight

Grandma’s Plum Delight

I mentioned seeing the trees at lunch time and Sara and Joe invited me to pick as many as I’d like since there were far more than their family could use. So armed with a large metal bucket from a nearby shed I ventured back to the spot in the hot afternoon and joined a herd of cows meandering through the plum trees. Indeed the trees were loaded with fruit and in no time my bucket was overflowing. I couldn’t tell a Bulgarian from a Petite but found that they all tasted wonderfully sweet. I had been staying in town with my sister and mother, and later that night when I reported on my discovery, Mom proceeded to tell me how to distinguish several kinds. The next day while I returned to the harvest field, she went to work making plum sauce as a topping for pancakes and breads, and also prepared “Plum Delight,” a crispy dessert with crumbly topping I remembered well from my youth. She agreed to provide me with her recipe which we share here with hopes it might grace your table sometime soon.


Plum Delight

Topping

  • ½  cup Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • ½ cup oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup melted margarine

Filling

  • 3 cups sliced plums
  • 1 tablespoon Palouse Heritage Sonora flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine plums, flour, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a bowl and put into ungreased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Combine all topping ingredients in another bowl. Mix until crumbly and distribute over the plums. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until crispy and golden brown on top.

Farmhouse, Statehouse, White House — Agrarian Motifs and American Politics

Most everywhere in small town America local folks can provide names of favorite sons and daughters who left town to make a positive impact on the wider world. Many would like to think that youthful experiences born of rural community experience instill values of cooperation, hard work, and service to others that are evident in the lives of those who remain and others who head off to make lives elsewhere. Those of us raised in places like Endicott and St. John, Washington, heard many times about the exploits of locals raised on area farms who went off to distinguish themselves far beyond the rolling hills of the Palouse Country. I remember taking my E-SJ Middle School students in the 1990s to interview Carl Litzenberger, whose grandfather, Henry, was among the founders of our Palouse Colony Farm in the 1880s. Carl and his brothers were quite the adventuresome spirits and he told us about seeing a biplane fly over the Union Flat wheat field where he was working one day and deciding right then and there that we would do that someday. And so he did—studied blueprints, ordered parts, and built the thing with his brothers in their barn back about 1918 to become a true barnstormer. Carl became acquainted with Emelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, and host of other Roaring Twenties celebrities before another career of training World War II Army Air Corps pilots. He eventually served as a private pilot for political leaders back East before returning to the Northwest.

Endicott Union Elevator Company and Flathouse Railroad Grain Sack Storage (c. 1920);   R. R. Hutchison Photograph Collection, WSU Terrell/Allen Library, Pullman

Endicott Union Elevator Company and Flathouse Railroad Grain Sack Storage (c. 1920); R. R. Hutchison Photograph Collection, WSU Terrell/Allen Library, Pullman

There are many tales like this to share, but one of the most notable individuals to hail from our home was Washington Mike Lowry—born in St. John and a graduate of Endicott, who served in Congress in the 1980s and as Washington’s governor in the 1990s. Mike’s parents were vital members of the community as Bob managed the local grain growers cooperative in the 1950s while Helen taught school in nearby LaCrosse. I remember well when Mike returned to Endicott in 1992 for a downtown rally at which he announced his candidacy from the back of a wheat truck. Not long afterward in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Mike helped in significant ways to facilitate the Operation KareLift project that provided Northwest food and medicine to children’s hospitals and orphanages throughout the Russian Far East. We were saddened to learn of Mike’s passing this past spring and joined in a celebration of his life at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton near Seattle last May. Washington’s former governors were attendance along with other leaders who offered eloquent remarks on Mike’s longstanding commitment to the less fortunate. For me the most memorable reminiscence came from Pastor Kacey Hahn who recalled how last fall she asked for volunteers from the congregation to help with arrangements for a month-long tent city on church property for area homeless. She remembered that Mike had been among those who raised his hand but thought little more about it until coming to work early one weekend and hearing loud whistling from the downstairs laundry room. She investigated and found Mike making music while folding a mountain of clothes from the newcomers. At the memorial service Pastor Hahn asked how many retired politicians, or those from other walks of life, would spend time in such anonymous service, or as volunteer advocates for migrant farmer housing and the host of other humanitarian causes Mike so fervently pursued.  

As I continue to compose my treatise on harvest motifs in agrarian art and literature, my thoughts have turned to their use as political campaign slogans and images. The transformation of America from the land of self-sufficient yeomen to commercial farmers using labor-saving equipment took place throughout the nineteenth century when the rural populace still worked hard and sought land ownership, but depended increasingly on cash crops transported by newly constructed railroads to Eastern and foreign markets. The concurrent advent of improved agricultural mechanization fostered larger farm acreages and greater need for communities with bankers, merchants, grain brokers, equipment dealers, blacksmiths, and workers in other businesses and trades. The time increasingly witnessed a shift in rurality from small-scale farming as an end itself to consolidated land holdings that supported an array of local businesses, and held land value in similar regard to the old attachment to the land itself. Yet the agrarian myth of diligence, honesty, and independence had enduring appeal and remained a powerful symbol of the nation.

John McNevin, engraved by John Rogers,  Washington at Mt. Vernon  (1859);   Steel engraving on paper, 7 x 10 ⅛ inches;   New York Public Library

John McNevin, engraved by John Rogers, Washington at Mt. Vernon (1859); Steel engraving on paper, 7 x 10 ⅛ inches; New York Public Library

Vermont genre artist Junius Brutus Stearns (1810-1885), famed for his series on the American Founders, depicts a harvest scene in George Washington—Farmer (1850) in which the president, a reincarnation of the Roman general Cincinnatus, is clad in formal wear while conversing with his overseer as grain is cut by Mt. Vernon’s slaves. The symbolic scene is inspired by ancient writers like Hesiod, Virgil, and Horace whose writings in praise of husbandry formed the basis of a classical education for American upper classes, but overlooks the brutal realities known to toiling workers deprived of opportunity to own land. Cereal grains were raised in the South to a much lesser extent than cotton and tobacco, but agricultural mechanization came more slowly. The iconography of the benevolent harvester president as national patriarch and gentleman farmer was well established by the early nineteenth century. Popular prints followed Stearns’s painting including the fanciful harvest scenes of Washington at Mt. Vernon by Nathaniel Currier (1852) and by John Rogers (1859). The stereotype of hardworking, noble scythe-wielding agrarian remained a powerful image for nineteenth century politicians who sought to capitalize on public regard for rural rectitude and the patriotic farmer-leader. For this purpose various party organizers designed broadsides with agrarian imagery to promote candidates with campaign prints like William Henry Harrison, the Farmer of North Bend (1840), and Farmer Garfield Cutting a Swath to the White House (1880). The approach apparently reaped the expected benefits as both candidates, and many other seeking other offices, were elected.        

Currier & Ives,  Farmer Garfield Cutting a Swath to the White House  (1880);   Lithograph, 13 x 10 ⅝ inches;   Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Currier & Ives, Farmer Garfield Cutting a Swath to the White House (1880); Lithograph, 13 x 10 ⅝ inches; Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Turkey Red Wheat Harvest 2017

This past week marked the beginning of our Palouse Heritage harvest as our first crop of organic Turkey Red bread wheat was cut at our partner Brad Bailie’s Lenwood Farms near Connell, Washington. We have been raising this legendary hard red bread grain for the past two years in order to carefully increase our seed stock, and finally this year we had enough for several acres of organic production at Brad’s farm since we needed space at our Palouse Colony Farm for the flavorful soft red variety English Squarehead, also known as Red Walla Walla, which historically was used for pastries, biscuits, and other flatbreads as well as for crafting nutritious Old World Hefeweizen cloudy brews.

Harvesting Organic Turkey Red Wheat;   Scene of the Great Yellow Jacket Harvest Battle

Harvesting Organic Turkey Red Wheat; Scene of the Great Yellow Jacket Harvest Battle

Turkey Red is the legendary grain long raised by our German ancestors in Eastern Europe where bread wheats had grown since time immemorial from the Great Hungarian Plain to the steppes of Russia and Ukraine. Prior to the introduction of Turkey Red to the Midwest in the 1870s, a winter variety sown in the fall, and its genetic spring-seeded cousin, Red Fife, an Eastern European relative that came to North American via Scotland, all wheat breads in early America and Canada were made from soft white flour sometimes mixture with low gluten milled rye, barley, or oats, or “thirded” combinations of these grains. The resulting baked goods were rather dense but still flavorful and served as the “staff of life” for countless families in eastern American and on the western frontier. Our elders here in the Northwest told us that their crops of Turkey Red as recent as the 1950s were too precious to sell like modern hybridized grains for national and world markets. Instead they held back sufficient quantities of Turkey Red to be milled at area flour mills in Colfax, St. John, and at tiny Pataha south of the Snake River near Pomeroy where historic Houser Mill has been substantially restored by the Van Vogt family with a portion of the main floor refurbished as a restaurant and museum.


"Our elders here in the Northwest told us that their crops of Turkey Red as recent as the 1950s were too precious to sell like modern hybridized grains for national and world markets."


Unexpected happenings often occur when commencing harvest and this year’s first round provided a couple interesting moments. After going a few dozen yards on our first round in Brad’s combine, I stepped behind the machine to blow on the ground and see if too much grain was being blown behind. Even the most advanced combine in this day of high tech threshing and electronic monitoring betrays some grain loss, but Brad’s John Deere was running very clean. I jumped back on and paused when entering the cab so we could check for any cracked grain going into the bulk tank where the grain is stored before unloading into a truck or in our case, large fabric totes capable of holding a ton. We had no sooner reached our arms back to retrieve a handful of grain that a wild onslaught of very angry yellow-jackets burst forth swirling around our heads! In an instant we received their stinging message of most likely disturbing a nest in the process of putting running augers and dumping grain into the bin, so we retreated back into the safety of the cab.

Marsh Hawk Stubble Nest

Marsh Hawk Stubble Nest

On the next pass around the field I noticed an enormous bird fly from the uncut grain we were approaching as the combine reel flailed along like a rapidly moving ferris-wheel. Brad immediately stopped the machine and said he it was one of several marsh hawks with whom he had shared his property. Brad is an advocate of natural growing systems and seeks to preserve native species, so was concerned that the hawk’s next was likely in the path of the combine’s next round. We descended the ladder and slowly approached the area in the uncut wheat from which the bird had taken flight. Sure enough there we found a trampled area about two feet in diameter with two white eggs resting in the center. Late July seems somewhat late for a hatch, but not being experts on marsh hawk habits we thought the eggs were likely still vital or they would not still be tended. So we returned to the machine and cut in a wide circle all around the next to keep it protected, and hoped no coyotes would find their way to the small golden sanctuary.

Later in the day I took a sample of the Turkey Red to the Connell Grain Growers substantial grain handling facility in Kennewick in order to get it tested for protein and moisture. The place is a massive complex located along the Columbia River and a several tractor-trailers filled with wheat were waiting in line to dump their loads in the elevator grates for storage in the adjacent concrete and metal silos. I was ably assisted by Kara Shibley, Angie Garcia, and Jose Carrea-Moya who shared my interest in heritage grains though our conversation was regularly interrupted by intercom calls and other office traffic attesting the incredible pace of harvest work inside such offices as well as out in the fields. The result came back in moments most satisfactorily, so we did it again with another sample and the numbers were identical—low 9.1% moisture, and very strong 13.5% protein—fully two percent higher than the average of modern hard red wheats then coming to the elevator. With that good news it was back to work and preparations to harvest our stands of soft red English Squarehead (aka Red Russian), Purple Egyptian hulless barley, and other grains scarcely seen in the region for over a century. The flavorful and nutritious adventure continues!

Jose Correa-Moya Testing Turkey Red Wheat for Moisture and Protein;   CHS Elevator; Pasco, Washington

Jose Correa-Moya Testing Turkey Red Wheat for Moisture and Protein; CHS Elevator; Pasco, Washington

 

 

Travels Through European Agrarian Art History

This week my wife, Lois, and I are off to lead a two-week European tour with visits to Germany, St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Scandinavian capitals. Taking such a trip in 2017 has special significance since it marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and the 25th anniversary of our ancestors’ migration from Germany to Russia in the 1760s when the colonized areas of the lower Volga River region. Martin Luther (1483-1546) had often mentioned that he was “a farmer’s son” in his sermons as an Augustinian preaching friar and later as theological champion of the Protestant Reformation, and his extensive Bible commentaries contain much agrarian imagery. The complete Lutherbibel was first published in Wittenberg in 1534 and because of the newly invented printed press copies were widely disseminated and delivered Reformation thought in the vernacular of the laity. Indeed, fully a third of all books printed in German during the first half of the sixteenth century were works by the reformer. Luther had high interest in using artful illumination to facilitate understanding of biblical texts, and had known the Elector of Saxony’s court painter and engraver, Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472-1553), since 1504 as both men had been in Duke Frederick III’s circle of patronage.

Hans Holbein, Ruth and Boaz; Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam (Paris, 1552); Adolf Bartels, Der Bauer in der deutschen Vergangenheit (Leipzig: Eugen Diederichs, 1900)

Hans Holbein, Ruth and Boaz; Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam (Paris, 1552); Adolf Bartels, Der Bauer in der deutschen Vergangenheit (Leipzig: Eugen Diederichs, 1900)

Luther and others from his circle of translator-colleagues like Wittenberg Greek professor Phillip Melanchthon (1497-1560) are known to have participated in the arrangement of text and Cranach’s vividly colored woodcuts of lively depictions for the first complete 1534 version. Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I commissioned Cranach and renowned German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) to illustrate in pen the margins of a parchment Order of St. George Prayer-Book (c. 1515) that included Dürer’s drawing of the Virgin Mary with ears of wheat. Images of Maria im Ährenklied (Mary in [Grain] Ear Dress) date to the late fourteenth century in Milan and cathedral paintings of the graceful Madonna with long blonde hair and clad in dark blue dresses adorned with golden heads of grain were popular until the Reformation. The origins of these depictions have been attributed to early church lore about the Virgin’s girlhood when she was said to have prayed for the Bread of Heaven while she embroidered clothes. In the medieval church tradition, blue represents heavenly grace and ears of grain have symbolized the spiritual nourishment and fertility of the church. 

Albrecht Dürer, “Mary in [Grain] Ear Dress” (c. 1515)   Randzeichnungen zum Gebetbuche des Kaisers Maximilian I (Munich, 1907)

Albrecht Dürer, “Mary in [Grain] Ear Dress” (c. 1515)  
Randzeichnungen zum Gebetbuche des Kaisers Maximilian I (Munich, 1907)

Maria in Ährenkleid (c. 1490), Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Salzburg

Maria in Ährenkleid (c. 1490), Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Salzburg

German artist and printmaker Hans Holbein (c. 1497-1543) also provided woodcut illustrations for early editions of the Lutherbibel as well as commissioned works for Sir Thomas Moore in England and European papal princes. While his ambiguous religious convictions changed over time, Holbein is generally associated with the reformist movement and his art is considered among the supreme examples from the German reformation. As seen in his rendering of Ruth and Boaz for a Vulgate edition of the Bible (c. 1525), Holbein’s art represents a unique aesthetic in the transition from Gothic formalism to the refreshing realism in illustrations and portraiture. German printmaking is also notable for the popular “perspective” (vue d’optique) panoramas by Georg Balthasar Probst (1732-1801) and others artists affiliated in the eighteenth century with Augsburg printers that simulated three-dimensional views of Bible and historical and city scenes.

Among the most important contributors to Hausväterliteratur were the Lutheran pastors Johann Coler (1570-1639) and Franz Phillip Florinus (1649-1699). German writers like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) were also known to moralize on agrarian themes in poems like “As a Man Soweth”:

We must not gather hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe old ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.”

“It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life’s field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.

Works like the Florinus’s widely read Oeconomus Prudens (1702) were beautifully illustrated with technical drawings and engravings of threshing scenes and other field labors. One of Germany’s most acclaimed engravers and lithographers of country scenes was Johann M. Mettenleiter (1765-1853), a native of Baden-Württemberg whose early work included illustrations for Franz Marius Babo’s Paintings from the Life of the People (1784) and Lorenz von Westenrieder’s History of Bavaria (1786).  Mettenleiter became a founding member of the Munich Kunstverein where he improved lithographic processes of the time which led the wider distribution of his workmanship and noble patronage. In 1790 Elector Karl Theodor of Bavaria appointed Mettenleiter as his court engraver, and Russian Tsar Alexander I subsequently commissioned him to complete a series of engravings of his country estates in St. Petersburg and awarded him the Imperial Order of St. Stanislas. Mettenleiter’s distinctive compositions that depict both country labor and aristocratic life are evident in his 1788 woodcut, Lords and Reapers Celebrate Harvest.

Agrarian associations with German Enlightenment thought is also evident in the writings of Augsburg’s Gottlieb Tobias Wilhelm (1758-1811) and poet and pedagogue Christian Felix Weisse (1726-1804) of Leipzig. Wilhelm was a Protestant pastor and natural philosopher who contributed nineteen of twenty-five volumes in the magisterial Discourses in Natural History published from the 1790s to 1810 by his father, Christian Art Wilhelm, with hundreds of hand-colored copperplate engravings by Jacob Xaver Schmutzer (1713-1775) and Balthasar Friedrich Leizelt (1855-1812). Wesse tutored children of the nobility and edited the influential journal Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste (Library of the Beautiful Sciences and Liberal Arts) for three decades beginning in 1759. Weisse criticized extravagance in literature and became a popular children’s author of stories that blended religious piety with regional folklore, and published a pedagogical weekly, Der Kinderfruend (The Children’s Friend), the first periodical for children in German. As in his poem “After the Harvest” (“Nach der Ernte”), many of Weisse’s stories and poems served to impart young and old alike with appreciation for country life throughout Saxony.

The fields around all empty lie,
Our barns are stored with grain,
And joyfully we homeward hie,
And bring our labor’s gain.
Lovely field, when Spring around
Has flung her verdue bright,
When May spreads flowers on the ground,
And trees are blooming white.
But lovelier far the golden wheat
That springeth from the soil,
That bows the head as though to greet
With thankfulness our toil.
On wagons, ‘neath their golden weight
That groan, our maidens ride,
The while, with honest joy elate,
Our reapers march beside.
      

Attributed to Jacob Xaver Schmutzer, “Methods of Threshing and Flailing Grain”
Hand-colored engravings, 3 ¾ x 6 ½ inches
Gottlieb Tobias Wilhelm, Unterhaltungen aus der Naturgeschichte (Augsburg, 1810)

 

Rural themes in Continental literature further developed into the nineteenth century Volksliteratur (folk literature) and Dorfgeschichte (village tales) of Swiss writer Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854), Germans Fritz Reuter (1810-1874) and Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882), and Austrian novelist and poet, Peter Rosegger (1843-1918). Writing in the Low German dialects of country people, these popular writers composed colloquial verse, humorous short stories, and adventuresome Bauernroman novels of local flavor that idealized some aspects of peasant life while presenting frank depictions of the rural poor. Julian Schmidt, a literary critic of the time, observed that these writers keenly conveyed their characters’ personal enjoyments alongside internal dissensions common to village life through the hearty openness of peasant conversation. 

Gotthelf’s Uli der Knecht (Ulrich the Farm Servant, 1841), translated into English by John Ruskin, is the story of a poor farmer who struggles to learn newer methods of cultivation to transform his meagre holdings into a thriving enterprise. He seasonally hires out to more prosperous Bernese neighbors to sharpen scythes and tend livestock. He partakes of harvest feasting where, “Even the most callous [landowners] feel some sentiment of thankfulness towards God, and understand that they owe Him some offering as an expression of their gratitude. …Should not habitual thanksgiving be the result of so much bounty?” Reuter, who was jailed as a young man for political activism, wrote the three-volume novel Ut mine Stromid (1862-1864), published in English as Seedtime and Harvest (1872) and From My Farming Days (1878), which describes with hints of Dickens-like caricature the peasant farmers and villagers of his native Mecklenburg.

One of the most influential Dorfgeschichte writers was the German-Jewish poet and Swabian novelist Berthold Auerbach, author of the immensely popular Schwartzwälder Dorfgeschichten (Black Forest Village Tales, 1843), published in English in 1869 as Black Forest Village Stories. In the eponymous tale “Lauterbach,” Auerbach tells of the young country schoolmaster who finds work patiently tending the youth of Nordstettin. As a result of Lauterbach’s after-school countryside ramblings, readers are shown his “Wisdom of the Fields” notebook that records personal reflections and relates coarse-grained peasant harvest lore and provincial expressions to lessons for life:

     —In cutting grain, the reaper must lay the swath behind him, so as to have nothing before him but the blades still standing. So with the deeds that we have done. They must be out of sight, so that all our attention may be turned to what yet remains to do.
     —When in the distance I see mowers bowing and rising so regularly, it seems as if they were going through some ceremonious ritual of prayer.
     —The weeds in the grain-fields are no man’s property until the poor take them away and convert them into nutritious food. Do you ask, of what use are weeds? Perhaps many other things should be judged by the same rule.
     —Every patch of ground has its history. Could anyone unravel the mutations which transferred it from hand to hand, and the fortunes and sentiments of those who tilled it, he would understand the history of the human race….

    One of the Austria’s most beloved authors, Heimatdichter (homeland poet) Peter Rosegger fashioned lively novels, short stories, and poetry deeply influenced by his experiences as a farm youth and devout country schoolteacher in the rural southeastern Tyrolian highlands. Critics praised such works as Volklieben in Steiermark (Folklife in Styria, 1871), his semi-autobiographical Waldheimat (The Forest Farm, 1877), and epistolary novel Erdsegen (Earth’s Blessing, 1900) for their lyrical yet unsentimental representations of land-folk that combined humor and ill-fortune. Rosegger’s country characters live between worlds ancient and modern and confront challenges of the day in stories rich with rural proverbs, folksongs, traditional remedies, and culinary lore. Europeans who perceived growing urban pretentiousness found in Rosegger’s works meaningful expression of Die Gute Gesellschaft (The Good Society) where dignity and respect for others and nature were informed by tradition and religious belief. Personal autonomy celebrated by avant popular culture offered a choice of risk divorced from the stabilizing, meaningful Volksgeist humus of locale, community, and obligation. By 1905 Rosegger’s books had been translated into twenty-two languages; in 1913 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature and became the most widely read German author of his day. Details of agronomy and nature woven into Rosegger’s prose reflect intimate knowledge of farm life, as evident in the observations of Waldheimat farmer “Jakob der Letzte:”

    Before him the brown fields stretch away, the larks blow their trumpets, and in tender, reddish blades the dead arise and look up to heaven. Then gradually everything begins to grown green, the tiny leaves curl and bend earthwards again as if they are listening for any counsels about life that the Mother may give to them. Then they aspire upwards, rolling themselves into sheaths, out of which, little by little, emerges the stalk and the inmost being of the grain. …And the single blade is now in its full glory. The four-sided ear, in which the still tender grains lie scale-like over each other, hangs its blossom out like tiny flags wherever a grainlet lies in its cradle, which flutter and tremble without ceasing, while the high stalk rocks thoughtfully to and fro.
    …Strong and slender the stalks grow up from joint to joint. The lance-shaped, dark green leaves that lorded it at first, have nearly vanished, the stalks droop their heavy heads, which give back the sown grain thirty or forty-fold, one stalk laying its golden head on the shoulder of another. In the sun’s heat by day, at night in the light of the moon and the stars and the glimmer of glow-worms, they are ripening towards harvest. …When Jacob, always first and last in the heat and burden of the day, rests in late evening beneath a grain-stook in the harvest field, his dreaming begins again. The breath of grass and flowers makes him drowsy: he watches the antics of a jolly grasshopper, hears the chirp of a cricket—then it all fades away. He is looking out over a country where there is no blue forest, no green meadows, no mountain crags, and no clear streams. So far as ever the eye can reach is one great golden sea, an immeasurable field of grain.

    Anthologies of nineteenth century German poetry included works by such authors as Wilhelm von Merckel (1803-1861) and Martin Greif (1839-1911) whose verse attests to their intimacy with rural life. While von Merckel pursued a career in law in Berlin and Greif chiefly resided in Munich, these cities were surrounded by productive farmlands where city dwellers often visited friends and relatives on holiday. Von Merckel’s long poem Ruhe (Rest, 1855) expresses affection for country life and is filled with sensory descriptions of experience well-known to field workers such as the sight of quail weaving down rows of grain, and elders forecasting the weather and estimating crop yields. Grief’s short Hochsommernacht (High Summer Night), featured in Hausbuch Deutscher Lyric (1906) with a woodcut by Munich artist Fritz Schmidt (1876-1935), expresses the fragile serenity of a field of grain under the harvest moon:

The vast world silently rests,
Slumber falls on the moon’s horn,
All is held in the Lord’s safe hands.
Mountain furies seem to beckon—
But those sent to the harvest field
Are angels waving through the grain.

    
The early nineteenth century’s foremost Scandinavian landscape artist was Norwegian Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857), a native of Bergen who studied in Sweden and Denmark, traveled widely in Switzerland and Italy, and created most of his art in Germany. Dahl’s mature oeuvre represented a synthesis of academy training in Copenhagen in the emotional power of the great Dutch Master grand landscapes with the Naturalism for which Dresden had become famous by the 1820s and where Dahl lived continuously from 1818. Throughout his experiences across the continent, however, Dahl returned recurrently in his art to interpretation of the northern landscapes of his native land with dazzling oils and attention to detail as seen in such canvases as The Fortun Valley (1842) and Hjelle in Valdres (1851). Nestled at the head of narrow Lake Oppstynsvatnet one hundred miles northeast of Bergen, scenic Hjelle in late summer offered an ideal setting for the artist to express the beauty and moral virtue of the country in a time of rising Norwegian nationalism. The spectacular Hjelle view rendered in Dahl’s meticulous tiny strokes depicts a golden brown field of upright sheaves that seems to glow between a row of village structures to the right with deep blue lake and emerald-clad mountain slopes in the background. 

Dahl’s most ardent disciple, Thomas Fearnley (1802-1842), met his mentor in 1826 during one of Dahl’s trips to his homeland, and studied with him in Dresden from 1829 to 1830. Unlike Dahl, Fearnley returned to Norway following his studies in Germany to reside there permanently from 1838. Among his many naturalistic rural scenes are Haystacks, Rydal, Cumbria (1838, PLATE 25) and View from Romsdalen (1838) that show harvesters strolling through  rolling fields of ripened grain in the fabled coastal valley northwest of Hjelle. The views express Rousseau’s Enlightenment concept of the intrinsic nobility of country people who live apart from the decadent influences of urban life. The paintings of Norwegian Romanticist Hans Dahl (1849-1937) evoke similar sentiment and reflect the influence of his landscape and portrait studies at the Düsseldorf School in the 1870s and ‘80s. Many of his detailed yet fanciful paintings like Norwegian Girl depict farm maidens returning from the fields in colorful national dress.

After Ferdinand Waldemüller, The Harvest (1847); Lithograph on paper, 7 ½ x 9 inches (1887); Palouse Regional Studies Collection

After Ferdinand Waldemüller, The Harvest (1847); Lithograph on paper, 7 ½ x 9 inches (1887); Palouse Regional Studies Collection

 

 

Winter Sheaves and Celebration

Although holiday decorations and winter cold seem far removed from the affairs of summer harvest, in pre-industrial times life remained busy year-round as families needed to tend livestock and carry on other important chores. Considerable threshing of grain sheaves, for example, took place during winter as the brittle stalks that had been stored in barns since harvest were strewn about the covered threshing floor, or even on ice outside, to be struck with wooden flails in order to separate the golden kernels from the heads. To be sure, the winter time pace of labor was less intense than other seasons, and many agrarian traditions were associated with shortest days of the year.

Scandinavian farmers customarily saved the last harvest cuttings for the ceremonial “Yule Sheaf” (Norwegian Julenek, Swedish Julkarve) of oats or other grain which was suspended from a pole or barn roof during Christmas week and New Year as a blessing to the birds and goodwill offering for a favorable growing season. This tradition continued among some families in eighteenth century America as described in verse by Ohio poet Phoebe Cary’s “The Christmas Sheaf”:  

"And bid the children fetch," he said,
"The last ripe sheaf of wheat,
And set it on the roof o’erhead
That the birds may come and eat.

And this we do for His dear sake,
The Master kind and good,
Who of the loaves He blest and brake
Fed all the multitude."

As children we were always presented with a sack containing peanuts and an orange after the annual church Christmas program in our hometown of Endicott—a tradition that continues to this day. Only later did I learn that in ancient times oranges commonly symbolized the sun while acorns and other nuts were also given during the week of the winter solstice (December 21) to celebrate the return of longer days and life’s renewal. 

Suesspleena    Before and After Flipping

Suesspleena Before and After Flipping

Like families of many cultural backgrounds, ours has also long observed festive Christmas Eve dinners. A favorite entrée is the wide, paper thin Suesspleena egg batter pancakes and accompanying hot Schnitzel fruit soup of raisins, apples, peaches, and other flavorful “pieces” for which it is named, which is mixed with cream just before serving. When our beloved cousin Al first married into our clan many years ago, he led the procession around the holiday buffet and assumed the bowl of steaming brown was gravy, so proceeded to cover his mashed potatoes with it. We’ve never let him forget.

These pancakes remain an important part of Maslenitsa, Eastern Orthodoxy’s “Butter (or Crepe) Week,” celebrated now in the spring during Lent but observed in ancient times during mid-winter. Our German ancestors in Russia were known to stack them into layers spread with jam for a delicious treat, and the “4-3-2-1” recipe handed down to us remains a holiday staple. It calls for 4 eggs, 3 cups of milk, 2 cups of flour, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. We also add a dash of salt and fry them on a hot buttered skillet. Don’t worry if the first one or two are ruined as you gauge the proper temperature and master the flipping technique. After all, there is an old Russian saying that basically translates, “The first blina (pancake) is a disaster”!

We now LOVE making family Suesspleena meals using our Palouse Heritage Sonoran Gold flour. Not only is it more authentic than the modern flour you'd buy in the grocery store today, but it delivers a naturally sweet, nutty-tasting flavor. Delicious!