‘The nearer the bone the sweeter the meat,’ they used to say, and they were getting very near the bone from which their country ancestors had fed. Their children and children’s children would have to depend wholly upon whatever was carved for them from the communal joint, and for their pleasure upon the mass enjoyments of a new era.
—from Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Sometime last summer, probably when I was reading Lark Rise to Candleford or watching the television series of the same name, I got a bee in my bonnet. This bee took the form of a desire to experience, firsthand, the world of mowers, and gleaners, and bobbin lace-makers —to travel back to a time when workers sang their way across the field. Make no mistake: I don’t romanticize the past. Our ancestors worked hard, no doubt harder than I ever will in my whole life. But, was there joy in it, too?
To try and answer that question, I decided to grow some wheat—not a whole field, but just enough to make one loaf of bread. In the fall, we planted one of our 4×8 foot raised beds with hard, red winter wheat, and waited to see what would happen. The wheat sprouted, the snows came, the snows melted, and the wheat began to green in the warm spring sun. Over the next couple of months the wheat grew tall, pushed out spikes, and began to brown in the hot summer sun. As soon as the grains began to swell, the birds and squirrels descended; thankfully, I was able to preserve most the wheat from these interlopers by building an elaborate net cage around it.
Today, at the height of summer, we harvested our wheat. It was labor intensive, but I believe the hardest work is still to come—the threshing and winnowing. For my birthday, my husband’s parents bought me a grain mill, and I’ve been practicing grinding wheat berries in anticipation of the day when I might have an opportunity to grind my own. With such a small harvest, one doesn’t want to leave a single thing to chance! If all goes well, we’ll soon have a fresh loaf of bread made from the wheat we planted, tended, harvested, threshed, winnowed, ground, and baked . . . all by ourselves.
Yes, there is JOY in it![“Among the Leaves So Green O” is a traditional harvest song, arranged by John Byrt and performed by St. Charles Singers.]