Harvests from the Past
Reporter in Residence
My morning stroll in the MCHA garden made me think about this time of year and the work of farmers. Of course, discovering a corn stalk laden with ears of corn in the middle of the compost pile helped my thought process. The corn by now had dried, but for me it was a treat. I nibbled away and conjured up memories of harvests of the past.
Farmers long ago, with all members of their families, would gather fruits and vegetables just as local gardeners do today. A favorite fruit through the winter months was the apple. Many of the same apple products that are found on store shelves today were prepared at home: cider, vinegar and applesauce. The early farmer stored the freshly picked apples in a cold cellar for his family to enjoy throughout the winter or to be eaten as is or baked into delicious pies and dumplings. Some of the apples were cut in narrow strips and hung before the fire to dry thus making another sweet treat to munch on.
Corn, my favorite treat, was dried for winter storage. Porridge was made for breakfast with warm kernels of corn covered with milk. Popcorn was made over the fire from dry kernels heated until they popped. Early settlers were very frugal and a good example of this is how they used corn.
In addition to food for the table, corn cobs were fed to the pigs, mattresses were stuffed with husks, rugs were woven from husks and children played with dolls made from husks. A portion of the corn harvest was taken to one of the local gristmills (a millstone can be seen along the Ninth Street wall of the Stroud Mansion) to be ground into cornmeal. In earlier times, the farmer often paid the miller with a portion of the cornmeal for this service. Other crops grown on Monroe County farms were flax, wheat, peas, beans, potatoes and buckwheat.
A testimony to the pride of the farmer in the quality of his crops was an agricultural fair. The Monroe County Agricultural Fair began in 1860 and was held on the site where the Stroudsburg High School is now located. The fair was moved to Gilbert in 1920 and is known today as the West End Fair.
I was delighted to find that the Monroe County Historical Association‘s archives have many of the fairs‘ premium books including ones from 1896 and 1889. Although many of the agricultural entries today are entered by home gardeners, the variety reflects similar entries from the mid 1800s and the early 1900s. It is nice to know some things do remain the same.