Winter Warming

Winter can be an unpredictable season in Iowa. From blue skies to blizzards and everything in between, it can be tough to know just what to wear some days to keep warm.  People can easily change their clothes, though, to match the weather.

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The farm animals at the museum can’t put on a winter jacket and a stocking hat when it’s especially cold or a light sweater when it’s mild, and they certainly can’t come inside the house when it’s just too cold. So, what do they do instead to deal with Iowa’s unpredictable winter weather?

cows

The horses and cows grow long, thick, shaggy winter hair when it starts to cool down in the fall. This hair growth doesn’t actually have anything to do with temperature, though.  It has to do with how many hours of sunlight there are each day, known as a photoperiod.  As the photoperiod shortens, the horses and cows start growing their hair to get ready for cooler temperatures.

horses-in-snow

Horses and cows use this thick winter fur to trap a layer of air against their skin, which is slowly warmed by their body heat. The hair also scatters light, which may help insulate the animals. As long as they have shelter from north winds, they are comfortable outside, and they enjoy sunning themselves whenever possible.

We cut the wool off our sheep (a process called shearing) at the start of each summer. They spend the whole summer and fall growing new wool, instead of waiting for days to get shorter like the horses and cows. By the time they need it in the winter, they have their thick wool coats back to keep them warm until spring.

All of the animals also have to use more energy to keep warm, just like how shivering takes more work than standing still. They all have to eat more food to make up for the extra energy they spend staying warm.

Since the pigs don’t have a thick outer layer of fur, wool, or feathers like the other animals, they have to create a thick inner layer of fat to help insulate their bodies. To create this layer of fat, they have to eat even more food than the other animals.

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The pigs also enjoy being given a few extra whole bales of straw, which they rip up and rearrange to create their own nests inside the hog house. They cuddle up tight against each other in these nests to share body heat. Pigs also enjoy sunning themselves, even on cold sunny days.

Meet the General Store Keeper

Storekeeper Pam is the lead guide at the Greteman General Store and a familiar face to many museum visitors. Let’s get to know her better!

Pam at General Store

Where are you from? I am originally from a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Kids in Iowa grow up learning about the Ioway tribe, pioneers, raising pigs, and harvesting corn. Kids in Massachusetts grow up learning about the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims, and harvesting cranberries and lobster. I have had fun living in and learning about both states, but Iowa has the better State Fair.

When we come to the museum, where can we find you? Most of the time you will find me behind the counter at Greteman’s General Store selling lemon drops, gum drops and sarsaparilla. I think everyone in Iowa likes lemon drops and gum drops because we sure do have lots of people asking for them every summer!

I have also worked at 1700 Ioway Farm and the 1900 Horse-powered Farm. It was fun to help play a small part in putting up one of the new buildings at the new 1700 Ioway site and I was able to learn how to use the cook stove at the 1900 Farm this summer. When I am in our 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, I can sometimes be found at the Flynn Mansion, the Schoolhouse, or making brooms in the Broom Shop.

broom shop

How did you learn how to cook and make brooms and what all of those things in the store are used for? I worked with other guides who could teach me new skills they already knew. In the summer, I also read about, research, and practice those skills every day. Sometimes you have to practice a long time to master a new skill. It took me a few tries to start a fire in the cook stove without making the room all smoky. My first few brooms came out uneven on the sides. I keep trying and eventually the new skill becomes an old skill and it’s on to something new!

The hardest, but most fun part of my job is learning how to do things the way they did in the past. Cooking at 1900 Farm without a microwave or electric appliances took a while to get used to. Every chore takes longer than what you think, so I have learned to start each task early in the day and have guests help as much as possible. Our kid visitors like to help refill the wood, wash dishes, mix biscuits, sweep floors, dust shelves, and put things away. Working as a team with our staff and volunteers also makes any job easier. If I don’t know how to do something, someone else I work with probably does and can talk me through the hard parts. At the end of the day, it is very satisfying to look at a clean, stocked, dusted General Store or a well-fed 1900 Farm.

Pam

Do you like wearing your historic period clothing? I love wearing my period clothing! The dresses for the Flynn Mansion are very fancy, but all the layers make it harder to move around. The dresses for the 1900 Farm are not very fancy, but are comfortable for doing all sorts of cooking and chores. My dresses for the General Store are a good mix of pretty and practical. Each site also has a collection of bonnets and hats for the ladies to wear and it is fun to pick one out that has a ribbon or flower that matches your dress.

General Store

What kinds of things can kids do at the General Store? When kids come visit the General Store the very first thing they can do is pull up a barrel and play a game of checkers! We sometimes have special activities like weighing dry goods, using historical tools or playing typical children’s games set up at the front of the store. Kids are always welcome to ask for a broom and help me sweep the floor. We get a lot of dust and dirt in because of the dirt road outside. Some of the items in the store are sharp or fragile, so if there is something you are interested in, ask me and I will be happy to help you see the item so both it and you are safe.

checkers

Who is your favorite person in history? Favorite person in history……That is a hard question….. I have many people from history that I admire. Esther Forbes is one of them. Even though she had dyslexia, she was able to write an award-winning biography on Paul Revere. She later took all the research she had done to write the biography and turned it into one of my favorite books of all time, Johnny Tremain.

 

Doughnuts in Your Socks!

It is Christmas week and many of our readers are waiting on Santa Claus! Do you put up a stocking or receive gifts under a Christmas tree? Or do you have other traditions for giving gifts in the winter months? There are many holidays Iowans celebrate in December where people give gifts.

a home in the wilderness

Did kids a long time ago wait for Santa? In the 1840s, many Iowa kids were pioneers. They lived with their families in log houses in the country away from town. Most of these children did not put up a Christmas tree in their house. But a lot of them did hang their stockings on the end of their bed for presents on Christmas night. Stockings are long wool socks. In 2015, we sometimes make fancy stockings to put up for Santa. In 1840, Christmas stockings were the same socks kids wore on their feet everyday!

kids stockings 1870

Some of these pioneer kids wrote in their diaries about how their family celebrated Christmas. Mary Miller lived in Clinton, Iowa in 1842. She remembered, “We all hung up our stockings. Next morning we were gleeful at finding in each stocking a nice fat, brown doughnut and some pieces of gaily colored calico. I was happy because I knew that my elder sister would make and dress a rag doll for me, just like the one with which she played.” Would these gifts make you happy today? Can you imagine finding a sticky doughnut in your sock?

doughnut

Doughnuts were a favorite treat for holidays. When pioneers made doughnuts, it didn’t take up a lot of sugar, but it tasted really sweet! You and your family can make these doughnuts too. Pioneers would fry the doughnuts in a kettle over a fire. With an adult’s help, you can fry your doughnuts on top of your stove.

Cooking fire at the 1850 Pioneer Log House

Here is a Pioneer style recipe for this sweet treat. Kids can do the mixing, cutting, and finishing. An adult should do the frying. Always be careful when working around any kind of stove and hot oil!

¼ cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 cups flour

½ tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Vegetable oil to fry

Cinnamon, powdered sugar to finish

Cream (that means mix together really well) butter and sugar. Mix in two eggs and vanilla, set these wet ingredients to one side. In a different bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix half of these dry ingredients into the butter/sugar, then add a bit of the buttermilk. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the buttermilk. Mix together until you have a dough. (Chill this dough for a good half hour, if possible.) Roll dough out on a floured table or counter. Roll the dough out 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut the doughnut shapes using a biscuit or doughnut cutter—the end of a glass works well too. An adult should preheat a heavy pot with vegetable oil in it. Have an adult fry the doughnuts in the hot oil (approximately 375 degrees) until golden brown on both sides. Place on a towel to cool. Sprinkle with either cinnamon or powdered sugar.

We wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season!

Over the River, and Through the Wood

It is Thanksgiving week in the United States. Many people love this holiday because they can spend time with their family and share favorite foods. It is also a time to think of all the things for which we are grateful. Which holidays are your favorite? Do you spend time with friends or family at Thanksgiving? What is your favorite food to eat?

In 1844, Lydia Maria Child wrote a poem for a children’s magazine called Flowers for Children. Lydia Maria Child was one of America’s first well-known women writers. She was a famous for writing cook books and house help books. She also wrote articles and books about why America should not have slavery. Her poem was called, “A New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.” Lydia wrote the poem about the things she remembered when visiting her grandparents as a little girl.

wagon ride

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

snowy woods

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.

snowy barnyard

Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!

ox in snow

Over the river, and through the wood,
to have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, “Ting-a-ling-ding!”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”

pie

Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Lydia’s poem has stayed popular for over one hundred and seventy years. Through the year’s people have changed some of the words and even made a song out of the poem. Some people sing it as, “to Grandmother’s house we go,” instead of Grandfather’s house. Either way, it’s a fun poem to make us think about our own favorite things about Thanksgiving Day.

We hope everyone in your family has a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!

What’s for lunch? Squash!

pumpkinsHave you ever been to a pumpkin patch? Do you visit one in October to grab a jack-o-lantern pumpkin? Maybe someone in your family has a great recipe for homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving? Visiting a pumpkin patch has become a special trip for us now. But in the past, Iowa farmers grew lots and lots of pumpkins in their fields. Iowa’s first farmers, the Ioway Indians, grew pumpkins as one of their three most important crops. Pumpkins and squash were easy to grow and they could grow to large sizes.

Lots of kids today have never tried pumpkins as a food. Many people have never tried squash at all! Pumpkins can be very tasty when cooked just right – even the seeds can make a great snack! In the 1700s, Ioway kids would have pumpkin or squash on their plates (actually, in their bowls) almost every day. And the kids would have to help grow the pumpkins their family ate.Ioway Garden

If you could see the Ioway’s fields, you would see tall stalks of corn with skinny vines wrapped around them. These vines had beans growing on them, climbing up the corn to get some sunlight. All around the ground, colorful pumpkins and squash grew, hiding under their big fat leaves.

Moms were the farmers of the family. But Mom had lots of help from aunts, grandmothers, and especially kids! After the older women had prepared and planted the gardens in the spring, the kids would help to take care of the plants and make sure that the crops were safe from weeds and animals. Of all the crops, pumpkins and squash really came in handy for the kids, because they helped keep animals away and kept the soil from drying out.  plants

Since pumpkins have big leaves, they kept the soil shady. This kept the soil from drying out as quickly. That meant the kids didn’t have to water the plants all the time! Squash vines are also very prickly. Have you felt one of the vines at a pumpkin patch? This helps to keep out small animals that might want to eat the corn and the beans. Can you imagine working very hard every day to have good food to eat, and then waking up to find out animals have snuck in to eat your crops? The pumpkins and squash help to make sure that doesn’t happen.pumpkins

When summer was over, Ioway kids would see that their squash had grown up into all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Some of the squash would be cooked and eaten soon after it came off the vine. But most of it would be saved for eating in the wintertime, when no crops could grow.

squash

The Ioway cut their squash and pumpkins into rings. The rings were hung on big drying racks. The sun and the winds dried the rings out, taking away moisture. The rings became dry, thin, and crispy. Families stored them in a cache pit – like an underground pantry – near the family’s home. When the family wanted to eat their dried squash during the winter, they would put it into soups and stews! cooking

Mom would put the dried squash rings into some boiling water, along with dried corn, dried beans, and whatever meat had been gathered by the father. The Ioway family might have soup and stew all winter, until they could start growing some fresh food again. If you wanted to live like the Ioway, you’d need to like soups and stews! Those were the main dishes that the Ioway had to eat in the wintertime. And hopefully, you’d like pumpkins and squash too, because those were some of the main ingredients in their stews.

stew

The Ioway had to grow all of their own food for hundreds of years. Today some families still grow food in gardens, but we also have grocery stores to help out. And we can buy pumpkin and squash whole or in cans. Next time you go to the store, see if you can find any squash – it is still very tasty after all these years!

pumpkins

Parents and caregivers: The Ioway ate pumpkin and squash in stews, but there are many ways to introduce squash to kids. You can find kid-friendly recipes for squash here!

Fancy Dress for Halloween!

Fall has arrived in Iowa! The leaves are changing colors. It is much cooler out in the mornings. People are pulling out their coats and sweaters. It is the time of year many people pick out our costumes to go Halloween trick-or-treating in our neighborhoods. You might not know, but the idea of going door to door for candy is a pretty recent one.

Halloween Magazine

1920s Halloween Instruction Magazine

In America, it was in the 1920s that kids really started putting on costumes to go out for candy. But, dressing up in costumes to go to a party is a very old tradition! The idea has a long history, although costume choices have changed over time.

Have you ever attended a party where everyone was dressed in a costume? While we may call this a “Halloween party”, people used to call it a “fancy dress” party. Fancy dress is just another way to say that someone is in a costume, a fanciful, dress-up costume. People long ago used to have big parties and all the guests at the party wore some form of costume. These parties were said to begin in Venice, Italy about 500 years ago! That’s before Columbus sailed to America. At first, guests would wear just a very fancy mask to cover their face. This kind of party was called a Masquerade ball.

Venetian Masquerade

As time progressed, masks began to include full costumes. In the 1500s, people in France were the first to turn Masquerades into fancier Fancy Dress parties.

costume

Party guests were encouraged to dress up like famous people in history—like the ancient Greeks, Trojans, and even shepherds. These fancy dress parties were usually just for adults—not kids. Could you imagine your parents dressed in togas like an ancient Greek?

Victorian Costumes

In the 1800s, these fancy dress parties became more for all ages of people. Adults still had fancy dress parties just for adults; but kids began to have parties with costumes too! By the 1870s, which is the time we show in the museum’s town of Walnut Hill, having a costume party was pretty common—at Halloween, and also for New Year’s Eve or even for Spring Holidays! A popular fashion magazine printed this picture of costumes for kids in 1873.

Fancy Dress for Kids

Nowadays we tend to dress up as superheroes or cartoon characters. Long ago, boys usually dressed as military officers or old historical figures and girls were dressed as things found in nature, anything from bees to snowballs.

Bee Halloween Costume Even their dogs were dressed in costume! Look at the small dog at the bottom of this picture from a magazine from 1872; the dog is dressed like a King for Halloween.

 costumes

While today you may buy your costume from a store, kids long ago had to make their costumes at home. People had to be creative and use whatever they could find. If you lived in a big city after 1900, your parents may have bought their costume from a store, but many kids still made costumes at home. This website has several photos of kids and adults dressing up in costumes in the late 19th and 20th century.

trick or treat

The biggest difference between costumes of the past and the ones we wear now is what we do in them once they are on. Today we mainly go trick-or-treating in our costumes so they need to be warm and able to go outside from house to house. Long ago, people wore their costumes inside at a party; the costume could be fancy and light because it didn’t have to travel. One good way to think about this idea is that people in the theater wear costumes for show just like people long ago. Now go out and get some candy this Halloween! Store bought or homemade costuming is fine!

costumes

If you are joining us for the Living History Farms Family Halloween event this week, we hope you will dress up in a “fancy dress” costume! But we do think it should be a warm costume so you can walk around outside and trick-or-treat in Walnut Hill!

From Field to Factory: Broom Making!

broomcornFarmers in Iowa are busy harvesting corn and soybeans from their fields. Nowadays, a lot of Iowa’s corn and crops are grown to feed to animals. In the late 1800s, Iowa farmers sometimes grew a very special plant called broomcorn for a different purpose. Most brooms in the past were made from this plant. Broomcorn is actually not a type of corn at all. It is part of a family of plants called sorghum. Farmers grew broomcorn and sold it to factories, as a way to make some extra money. The harvesting took place in the fall, along with their other crops.

But how did the long broomcorn tassels grown on the farm become a broom? In the late 1800s, brooms were made in big and small factories. Some of the factories in Iowa had only two workers and a couple of factories had over 30 workers. Most factories, like the one we show at Living History Farms, had around 6-10 workers.

broom shop Not every town had a factory, so brooms would be shipped to towns around the state, around the country, and even around the world.

One of the first steps to making a broom was to soak the broomcorn in water.

soaking the broom corn Broomcorn is kind of like spaghetti, it breaks easily when it is dry and bends when it is wet. Once the broomcorn was soaked enough to bend, it was ready to move to the binding machine (also called a kicker). bindingThe person running the binding machine used their foot to make the machine turn and their hands to hold the broomcorn under the working wire that wraps the bristles onto a handle. Brooms are made in layers.setting the wire Each layer was wrapped tight to the handle using twine or metal wire. The wire was hammered down tight around the broomcorn and handle before the next layer was attached.

Some brooms had what are called shoulders – two bundles of broomcorn on each side of the broom – which gave them a curved look at the top. shoulders on a broomThe shoulders had to be put on just right so that they didn’t flatten out. Some brooms used only a small amount of broomcorn, like the laundry/cake tester broom and the hearth broom, while other brooms used a lot of broomcorn, like the house broom. Once a broom had all of the layers on it, which could be three to seven layers, it was ready to be taken out of the first machine to dry.

drying the broomIf the broom was not allowed to dry, it could become moldy inside. At the museum, brooms are hung from the ceiling for at least a day to make sure that all the layers are dry. A laundry/cake tester broom and a hearth broom would have one less step than other brooms. Other brooms like the house broom, children’s broom, and whisk broom were all flat brooms, and in order to make them flat, they had to go into a machine called a sewing vice. sewing vice

This machine smashed the broom flat so that a worker could use string and needles to sew the broom. The sewing is what kept the broom flat once it was taken out of the vice.

All brooms ended at the trimming board. This was a machine with a very sharp blade that cut the ends of the broom to the same length.trimming

Once the broom was trimmed, it was inspected to make sure it was properly made. If it was, the broom was sent to stores to be sold. If workers had made all the broomcorn even around the handle, and if they had sewn it just right, and trimmed everything evenly, the broom would pass the test of being able to stand up straight without being held. Not every broom was made perfect in a factory, so having a broom stand up on its own was a pretty special thing.broom standing

Once the brooms were at the store, it was up to people to buy the right broom for the job they had to do! Brooms were an important part of every household and they were used for many different purposes.whisk, cake tester, hearth broomsA small laundry broom could be dipped in water to sprinkle onto clean clothes before using a hot iron. This would create steam, so wrinkles could be ironed out. A hearth broom was used to sweep ashes back into a fireplace. A whisk broom had the handle cut off, so it could get under places where handles would get in the way. A house broom was used to clean the big rooms in a house. children and house broomsA children’s broom was for the children to help clean the house. Do you have a broom to help with cleaning? If you do, just think of the steps it took to make it for you!