Sunday, September 23, 2012


From Julie H., historical interpreter:

This weekend, we are the venue for the very exciting Augusta County Chamber of Commerce festival! In addition to our regular museum farm chores, there are crafstpeople, local ethnic and American food vendors, beer, vineyards, local musicians, and all sorts of neat things set up about the site. We had well over a thousand visitors come out yesterday, and are expecting about as many today.

If you haven't come yet, let me give you another reason to stop by today:


There are two of them, down in our 1850s barn. These little guys are a whopping six days old. One is a full blooded Jersey cow, the other is mostly Jersey. They will eventually be moved across the street to our 1820s farm. So come see the little wobbly fellows, because they don't come much cuter.

 In all my years of old timey adventures, I've never had a calf try to nurse off my apron. The other butted in shortly after this photo was taken, also ate my apron, and then tried to lick my camera a couple times too.

Come and see us soon!! They grow up so fast!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yam Day

From Brad, Historical Interpreter:


This week we've been very busy preparing the West African site for the Good Times, Tastes, and Traditions Festival put on by the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce. We've been reorganizing a bit to make room for all of the local vendors that will be selling their goods this Friday and Saturday, so don't miss out this rare opportunity!

It's certainly a good thing that our yams are in the twilight of their existence here at the museum, seeing as most of our free time has been devoted to setting up, tearing down, reorganizing, and cleaning for the past few days. Each day the yam vines seem to lose a little more of their green, waxy color, giving way to brown, black, shriveled leaves and stems. We took a few pictures to show you their slow deaths, but we decided to stop the part of the experiment where we measure vine growth. All the vines are stagnant or beginning to shrink while they shrivel.

Here's on of the leaves on Yam 1. This particular plant one of the closest to death in its life cycle. Harvesting coming soon!
This next plant is our former botanical Di Ji. If you don't remember, that means "Yam King", typically awarded to the man with the biggest and fullest yam barn in the community. We've used this term to describe the biggest yam vine in our yam experiment. Oh the seasons of life! The Yam King is dead!
 These three leaves fell off in the process of taking the previous photo. You have to be very, very delicate with them when you're training the stems around the supporting stick. It's pretty tricky.
 ...And finally the twins, although you can only see one of them in this picture. Notice how the vine has begun to turn yellow at the tip and the leaves are dying off. We're getting close to harvest!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Celebratory First Fire

From Julie H., historical interpreter:

We're back again to Settlement! Last you saw us, we had daubed up pretty high on the chimney, but hadn't quite finished it yet. When we left off, Andy was still down low enough that I could hand him up globules of mud, while standing on our bench. One rung higher, and I wouldn't be able to reach him. When we started out this past Wednesday morning, we knew that one of us got to be on the ladder. The other would be forced into an uncomfortable and painful position.

As Andy climbs up the ladder, he considers sitting on the roof. But he would have to lean his body too far forward to reach the chimney top. So he sandwiches himself between the house and the chimney. Not comfortable. I climb up and down the ladder to hand him mud, filler sticks, and the wood. Our usual mud stomper isn't there, but another coworker literally jumps in to help.

Our new mud mixer determines that consistency of mud is key, and develops a method of mixing mud together. I won't give away all of his trade secrets, but here is FW making his batch of the "local special."
Hey, what's worse than being caught between a rock and a hard place?
And with that last photo, the chimney is finished! We briefly pause to admire our work, but can barely contain ourselves before dashing inside to celebrate with an appropriate gesture. Andy lights the fire. We've started hundreds upon hundreds of fires at the Frontier Culture Museum, but never with such anticipation, joy, fear, and satisfaction.
 As it starts to catch, a giddy anticipation hangs thick in the air. It is the desperate hope that we aren't going to freeze this winter!
The fire burns, and though it is high 70s outside, we sit around the fire, admiring man's ability to build for himself the most basic of life's necessities: shelter. In an era of modern machines and technology, of computer calculation and laser-guided precision, we can still pick up ax and froe, and use own our body strength to make a home which our ancestors' lives depended upon centuries ago in the wilderness. To us, it is a symbolic celebratory first fire; to our ancestors, it was an essential victory in the name of survival.
Despite the cracks in our daubing and the holes between the shingles of our roof, the fire still spreads a warmth across our humble cabin. (And it didn't catch on fire- a good sign!)

Now, if we can just figure out how to make that front door and keep all that heat in...

We urge you all to come visit us this fall! There are so many other exciting projects around the museum. We'll take a break from Settlement, and in the upcoming posts, we'll check out the thatching in Ireland and see how the flax is doing, see some baking in England, meet some of our animals, check up on our progress with the new American Indian exhibit, and host a grand Oktoberfest in Germany. And don't worry, there'll be plenty of yams too! Until next time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yam Day & Recipe

From Brad, Historical Interpreter:


This week we've had more and more signs that the FCMV harvest time is drawing near (remember, they've already celebrated the New Yam Festival in Nigeria and are now half-way through harvest season). In the meantime, before we harvest, I'll give you a little recipe that you can try at home, and is very popular for Igbo men working on the farm.

How do you know when it's time to harvest? Like potatoes (and many other crops), you should wait for the plant to start dying off. The tips of the vine will turn black, followed by the rest of the vine, and the leaves begin to wilt. Once that has covered most of the vine you should get the yams out of the ground as soon as possible before it completely dies. Yams are best preserved in dry, well-ventilated areas. If your plant has died, then it will begin to rot if there's a lot of moisture in the soil. In next week or two, we'll show you the best technique for harvesting, to prevent the crop from rotting. 

Notice how a lot of our plants are begging to show signs of wilting:

Here's Yam 1, standing at about 33" if you count the dead part, and almost 28" if you don't.  At 33", it's about the same as last week.   
 A closer look at what you should be checking for when you're about to harvest.
 Yam 2 is doing rather well with little sign of wilting, standing at 35".  That's about the same as last week.
 The twins, Yam 3and 4, are doing especially great.  I can't wait to see what their yams look like!
 The twins, about 38" tall:
We have a new yam to report! This is our 9th yam we've been able to sprout out of the dozen that we planted at the museum. They have fought poor soil and cold temperatures, and this one finally made it out of the ground. Better late than never!
So while you're checking your yams, weeding the mounds, or training the vines, it's always helpful if you bring a few yams to eat during a midday break. I'll show you one of the Igbo comfort foods the men often enjoy when on the farm.  Since these yams typically don't grow in the continental US, I'm substituting the yam with a regular ol' russet potato. The taste, color, and consistency are nearly identical. Here's what you need (it's SUPER simple because it's the MEN doing the cooking on the farm, something they don't often take to):

A couple russet potatoes, or any kind of baked potato you enjoy (not red potatoes!)
Dried chili peppers (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
2 c Palm Oil

Since you typically can't pick up palm oil at your local grocery store, try the nearest ethnic food place. It doesn't have to be an African shop; Hispanic food dealers carry it too. Also, get the RED palm oil! NOT the palm kernel oil! It makes a HUGE difference!

Next, wrap the potatoes in tinfoil and bake at 350 for an hour or until they soften. While they are baking you can make the palm oil dressing, which should take about 2 minutes. Pour the palm oil in a bowl and then add the dried chili peppers (make sure they're crushed!) and salt to taste. I like mine pretty spicy, so I'll put in about a half cup of peppers and a few pinches of salt--just about a teaspoon. Stir, and then your done! Now there's lots of time for you to get back to taking care of your yam farm while the food cooks!

After the potatoes are done, halve them lengthwise so the inside of the potato is an oval shape. With a spoon, add the dressing and eat away! It's easy. It's delicious. And next week I'll share an even more delicious recipe with you while we wait for harvest time.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Daubing the Chimney

From Julie H., historical interpreter:

We are working on daubing the chimney at our Settlement cabin. Yesterday, we had hoped to finish it, but the thunderstorms had other ideas!

Last time we talked about the chimney, we showed you the stacking process. You saw the chimney dry stacked to the width and height we wanted. We wondered the best way to daub the chimney up next. After some deliberation, and some good advice, we unstacked the chimney, intending to build it up again and daub it as we go.

We just received a large iron pole from our blacksmith, which we had to set in to the chimney, so earlier that week, we drilled some holes in the bottom two wooden beams. Once we unstacked, we used the opportunity to carefully chip away some mud, lift up the levels above the bottom beams, and shove the iron lug pole tightly in to place. It was easy enough to patch it up with more mud when we finished.

So that brings us to the actual daubing. Before we continue to build up, we need to go inside the chimney and patch up some of the older daubing over the wood. It is crucial that the wood be well covered with mud, because any exposed wood is possible to catch a stray spark from the flame. While we accept that our chimney probably will catch fire one day in the future (as did our ancestors), we don't want to tempt fate by doing a poor job daubing the inside and encourage it to burn down next month instead of years ahead.

Chimney daubing, much like daubing the gables on the cabin, require at least three people. We need one person to climb up the chimney to place the wood and to do the daubing, one person to hand them up mud, sticks, and wood, and one person to be making mud back in the pit. Just like the cabin, we need to place sticks in between the wooden frame of the chimney, in order to give the mud some structural support behind it. We thought about stacking up a couple layers, daubing them, and building up in that manner, but since we have to reach inside and down the chimney, we found it best to work a single layer at a time. 
Most of this effort is me waiting for instructions from Andy on what he needs next. "Back beam!" "Front beam!" "Sticks!" "Mud!" "Chunky mud!" "Inside beam-- no, inside beam." "Runny Mud!" "Okay, more sticks!"

Surprisingly, daubing the chimney is a lot messier than daubing the house. The chimney is an awkward shape, and difficult to put a ladder to sit stably next to it. So we have to climb the chimney. This means our shirts and shifts and knees are leaning up against fresh wet mud. We get caked in mud. It probably didn't help that the weather was wet and drizzly the entire day, so the stuff could never dry on our skins to crumble off. Did you notice we all stripped down to our historic underwear again?
Drew admires all the mud he's made for the chimney.
  Below we have the progress of the chimney at the end of the first day of daubing.
We got pretty far. This was the only full day of daubing we've had thus far, so we were able to get a lot done! There aren't many days the three of us are there at the same time, and ever since that day, we've been plagued with afternoon thunderstorms that cut our efforts short. Yesterday, we managed to squeeze in about two hours of work in the morning before clear skies changed and slammed us with heavy rain and thunder.

Now that the chimney is built up taller, we can actually use the ladder. It and Andy are both light enough, and the chimney is strong enough, that we were able to lean the ladder up against it. This will make it easier for him to daub the top sections of the chimney.
This is where we left off. We have nine rows remaining. Our next issue is figuring out how to get mud up to him when he steps up another rung. I'm standing on tip-toes and stretching as far as I can as is (and still standing on that bench), and can barely reach him. I will probably have to climb part of the chimney next time to get mud up to Andy, which means Drew will have to hand me the mud off the tray so I'm not climbing up and down constantly.

We will hopefully have some time this week with the three of us and NO RAIN so we can finish this chimney! It was 52 degrees F this morning when I woke up, and only going to get colder. I can't start fires in an unfinished chimney!

Of course, a nice warm fire on a cool morning is somewhat useless until we make a front door to keep in the heat. Next time you hear from us folks on the Settlement farm, we should have a finished chimney, and the beginnings of a door. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Yam Day Update

From Brad, Historical Interpreter...

This week we'll close our New Yam Festival commemoration by looking back on our little experiment and seeing how our growing season is fairing for our yams.

Usually, I like to start the Yam Day blog with a little piece about some part of Igbo life that is somehow related to the yam followed by some pictures or a video. This time, I think it would be better to look at the data--i mean pictures--first. Our yams have slowed dramatically in that last two weeks, and I think you should see just how much.

Yam 1:  Standing at 32" short, this yam actually lost 6" this week. Wow. If you look closely at the tip of the vine, you'll see where the tip has begun to wilt.
Yam 2:  Like the previous yam, this one appears to be shorter (by a 1/2"), standing at 37.5". I don't attribute this to wilting, but is more likely human (my own) error. After carefully wrapping the vines around a stick almost daily, the vines take on a "springy" quality that makes it hard to stretch out in a straight fashion without breaking it.
The Twins: Whew! At least these two are still growing. These two measure in at about 40.25", about 4.25" difference from last week. 
The Baby: This one grew about 3.25" this week, topping out at 19.25". 
From a few posts ago, here's our reigning Di Ji, but not for long. The vine has started dying at the tip and it is spreading.
Finally, a stagnant new growth. In one week's time this sprout has not grown at all, but has started forming small leaves on its very small and low-to-the-ground tip:
If you read some of our earliest blogs, you should be able to see the pitiful growth of the vines this week. In one week's time, Yam 5 (the Di Ji) grew 25", more than doubling its size back in early August (8/7-8/13). The biggest problem lately, I believe, is the temperature. Yams generally like a temperature range of 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was during the last week of warm weather that Yam 5 had its most impressive growth.  The last two days of that paricular week (8/12 and 8/13), Staunton had its first low temperatures in the lower 60's. Every day following that week, temperatures were in the lower sixties or upper fifties for the rest of August except for 3 nights when the low temperature was 64 degrees, 1 degree above what I define as "lower 60's". After that week of exceptional growth for Yam 5 (it was Yam 2's fastest growth as well), the yams' growth dropped considerably.

It may or may not be coincidence that September and October highlight the main harvest season for both traditional Igbo and me. Fall is certainly coming waaay too early this year--at least when it comes to growing good, full-sized West African yams. We'll keep you updated on the growth, or lack thereof, and the growing conditions here in Staunton.