Mary Beekman is a four-year-old ghost who resides in The Beekman Mansion, and considers Brent and Josh her “imaginary friends.” Follow Mary Beekman’s Diary each week to learn what it’s like to be a young child in early 19th century America.

The sun is hot in this early morning.  We have all been moving a bit slowly.  Father says this is good weather for cutting the fields.  Mother and the women who help her, have been heating the big kettles for the wash out of doors.  Their faces are still very pink and glistening from the heat.  Everyone seems a bit cross. Brent and Josh and I are staying out of everyone’s path.  No one can really see Josh or Brent anyway, but I am always VERY visible!

The boys will be out in the field with the other farm workers.  The younger boys will begin by using a sickle. It is not too large or heavy.  It has a wooden handle and Josh said he measures it to be 8 inches.  It is made of wrought iron shaped like a “C”.  The inside of the “C” is very sharp.  Father always cautions the younger boys to be careful their first day in the field.  A side to side motion is used to cut the crop close to the ground.  It is held in one hand.  When the boys have learned this motion,  the next lesson is taught.  A hay crook is held in their other hand. That is a rod of wood about 2 feet long with a hook at the end.  This is used to separate and hold aside a bunch of the crop so they can swing the sickle to cut the crop without cutting their own hand.  Brent thought this would be difficult to get both hands working in a rhythm necessary to accomplish the task.  I think so too.
Josh said it reminded him of an elephant swinging his trunk.  I have never seen an elephant.

The men, who are taller, use a scythe.  That is used with both hands.  The blade is curved  just a bit and is attached to a wooden pole that has been shaped almost like an “S”.  That blade is two feet long.  Father has one that is almost 3 feet long. The willow pole is taller than I am.  Josh thought it was about 5 feet in length.  There are two handles on the pole that can be moved so it will better suit each worker.  The worker swings the scythe back and forth and cuts the crop off close to the ground.  It cuts much more than the sickle.  I am certain by the end of the first morning, they will complain of sore shoulders until they grow stronger and more accustomed to the motion.  Josh was watching from the window upstairs and said the image of all the men working their way across the field seemed like a ballet of summer.

I will take them some cinnamon water quite a few times during the day.  The sun is bright and hot in the fields and Mother worries about all the workers.  I am quite happy to help weed the house garden as I watch the workers on the far field.

Cinnamon Water

Like switchel, Cinnamon Water was offered to farmhands who worked under the hot sun of summer. This drink was also used medicinally for patients suffering from a fever.
This recipe will serve four hardworking farmhands.
2–3 cloves 4, 3-inch cinnamon sticks 2 cups white sugar OR 2-1/4 cups brown sugar
Bring 1 quart water to a boil. Add the cinnamon and cloves, and remove from heat. Cover and let cool. It will look like weak tea.
To make up a pail for one farmhand, take a cup of the cinnamon/clove/water mixture and add to 2 quarts cold water. Dissolve 1/2 cup white sugar OR 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of brown sugar into the mixture.
To make the entire recipe, remove the spices and add 2 gallons of cold water and 2 cups of white sugar OR 2-1/4 cups brown sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Serve from a wooden pail with a tin dipper.

Learn Mary’s recipe for switchel by clicking here

Mark Zanger. The American History Cookbook. (Green- wood Press, 2003) 86.

by Mary Beekman

Reader Comments

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Hello Phyllis. I love to say either word…jook or congee.

"I had a friend with a sick tummie.

And so I made her some nice congee.

She smiled, and she sang and she finished her book.

She danced and exclaimed, 'I shall now call it jook!' "

I am going to give this recipe to Mother. I think I

would like it very much even if I did not feel sick. Thank

you. Your friend, Mary.


I love the picture of the tree and the hay in the field. Are prints of the picture available for sale?


Dear Mary, I have never made cinnamon water, but will soon. This week, one of my friends had an upset stomach, and I decided to make her congee. It is also called jook! I don't know why. You mix one cup of rice with nine cups of water and gently cook it for about three years, (just kidding), about two hours, mashing it around from time to time, until you wind up with creamy rice porridge all over creation! You can put any sort of seasoning on it or nothing. I put butter and salt and pepper.Children like this a lot. 🙂

Love, Phyllis


Growing up on a dairy farm, i have many awesome memories of summer time and hay season 🙂 Loved your story and made some Switchel for my grandson, it was good, thanks for the recipe 🙂


Hello to you Roger. Mother told me a story about

her brother. They were playing on top of a hay stack and

she pushed him down!!! When he finally arrived at the

bottom, his arm was not quite straight. It was broken.

She is still sorry she pushed him before he was ready to

slide down by himself. Hay stacks are fun but they make my skin prickle on hot days.


Hello Mary:

The picture at the top of your post is a beautiful juxtaposition of an old-fashioned sepia tint photo and the modern twentieth-century shapes of spiral rolled hay. In my lifetime I have observed that hay was once stacked in piles by farm workers who used primitive or modern pitch-forks, then in 'bales' which could be stacked like building blocks, and finally in the spiral rolls shown here. I know that dealing with hay in any form is hard work every step of the way, from cutting, to raking, to stacking and for the past century or so — baling into shapes which facilitate transport and storage. Some of these modern spiraled hay rolls are so heavy they can only be picked up and transported by machine.

What a long way things have come and methods of handling hay have changed since 1802.