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.
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.