In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The heritage of the Germans from Russia is an important part of
our northern plains culture. The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
at the NDSU Libraries in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and
former Dakotans. Readers' responses with suggestions and opinions
are encouraged. In this month's column, we focus on spring planting
traditions and memories.
The Village Stork Welcomes Spring
"The clattering of village storks always announced the arrival
of Spring." Storks were attracted to the reed thatched roofs
of older German houses. This Alt-Posttal village memory was cited
by Dr. Joseph Heidt in his book History of Mannheim Heidt Kinship.
Dr. Heidt, well-known to prairie researchers, mentions major field
crops in the German villages of South Russia were potatoes and winter
wheat, with plantings of maize, rye, barley, flax, spring wheat,
millet, oats, hemp, and rape seed. Rape seed, a traditional household
oil, is today's "Canola."
"Among the maize, Alt-Posttal gardeners planted melons, watermelons,
and sunflowers. Garden vegetables, usually found in the family yard
(hof), were lettuce, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions,
red beets, beans, peas, lentils, cucumbers, white cabbage, red cabbage,
garlic, parsley, dill, celery, leeks, hyssop, mint, basil and horseradish.
Vegetables, not eaten fresh, were dried or stored in a root cellar,
packed in damp sand or in salt brine crocks. Pumpkin was used more
as fodder for cows and pigs. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds provide
very nutritious nuts for snacking," as Rachel Gackle Pribbeno
relates in her book, 250 Years of Gackle Family Trails. Alt-Posttal
is a Bessarabian German ancestral villages for many Dakotans.
Aunt Louise's Memories
Deloris Boschee Zimmerman of Wishek, ND, shares her memories of
Aunt Louise Boschee Koepplin and her gardening, "In the early
spring, in the corner of the garden, a window frame was put up and
cabbage seeds were started; so when the weather was warm enough,
these seedlings could be planted in the garden. Sometimes the seedlings
were started in the house. Much cabbage was planted because they
made lots of sauerkraut. The cabbage was shredded on a cabbage shredder
or cut fine by hand. The cabbage was put into a large crock with
salt so it could ferment. Aunt Louise remembers that someone had
to wash their feet and trample the cabbage down so it packed very
tightly. When done, a lid was put on the crock and a large rock
was put on the lid to keep it down tight."
Aunt Louise also remembers that potatoes were left in the cool
cellar until spring. When it was time to plant, these potatoes were
cut into pieces and planted. Each piece had to have an "eye"
or two for a new plant to sprout and grow. They planted many potatoes,
enough to last through the next winter.
Also in the spring, a special plot, not in the garden, was plowed
up. This melon patch (bashtan) was where the vining seeds, such
as watermelon, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, musk melon and citron
melon, were planted. The citron melon was canned with whole cloves
and sugar syrup. The melons had a delicious taste. Some seeds such
as beets, lettuce, carrots and radishes they could not save themselves;
these were bought in the grocery stores.
Philo Pritzkau Remembers
Philo Pritzkau writes, "Most white cabbage raised in the
garden was made into sauerkraut, or kept for borscht soup. Sauerkraut
prepared in crocks or kegs was brown with a spicy flavor.
Bushels of cucumbers were made into sour dill pickles (with much
dill) for our winter diet. Fresh sliced cucumbers with sugar, vinegar,
nutmeg, and sour cream provided an exotic summer salad. Green beans
cooked with cream. Green beans usually were matured for dry beans,
to fix my favorite baked beans (with sweet molasses). Fresh-steamed
sweet corn for summer meals, with popcorn grown for winter snacking."
Such foods were the gardening harvest of mother, Elinor Pritzkau.
Philo Pritzkau remembers, "That the potato cellar was used
for keeping cream cool, storing sauerkraut and pickles, and other
roots as carrots, rutabagas, and turnips. During spring and summer
rains, this wet cellar became home to slimy salamanders. These lizards
would crawl over your hands when reaching for potatoes in the dark."
Philo Pritizkau is 92 and lives near Boston. He grew up in a sodhouse,
on a farm near Burnstad in Logan County, ND. His book, Growing
Up in North Dakota, is available from the Germans from Russia
Planting Oats in the Spring
Jan (Schleuger) Blomberg of Penn Grove, CA, writes by e-mail,
"I'm not at all sure this is a German-Russian custom but it
is a memory of my father planting oats. Every spring he would take
oats from the seed he was going to plant and with great ceremony
they were placed in a special cloth loosely tied and kept moist
in a warm, sunny window sill in the kitchen. Every couple days we
would gather around to watch Dad unwrap the cloth and count the
sprouting seeds. This told him the amount of seed to plan per acre."
"I spent a great deal of my childhood in the garden with
my loving mother, but watching my father tenderly care for that
little bundle of seed helped me see into his soul and understand
and respect the gentle man that lived below the gruff exterior.
My father died this March 12th, the day before his 82nd birthday.
I hope he spent his birthday on a tractor plowing God's fertile
fields in heaven!"
Marie Rudel Portner's 100th Birthday
Marie was born on a farm near Fessenden in Wells County, ND. She
is 100 this month and lives in Las Vegas. Marie has never forgotten
her Bessarabian German roots back home in North Dakota. She has
provided major financial donations to the Germans from Russia Heritage
Collection for the oral history project, traveling exhibits, and
Share Your Memories
We invite readers to share their memories of spring planting and
gardening. Many of these items, including customs, folklore, and
recipes, appear at the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection World
Wide Web homepage at http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc.
For further information, contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries,
PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu).