A Look Back in History: Interesting Folk Days rooted in Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers (pun intended)

Submitted photo
Here, George Adam and son butcher a hog. The meat that wasnít eaten fresh was also cooked and stored in lard be it cans and once, crocks. Other meat was smoked or salted for preservation. The dead hog was hung inverted as such for easy removal of intestines and organs during first cut.
Submitted photo Here, George Adam and son butcher a hog. The meat that wasnít eaten fresh was also cooked and stored in lard be it cans and once, crocks. Other meat was smoked or salted for preservation. The dead hog was hung inverted as such for easy removal of intestines and organs during first cut.

Pennsylvania Dutch rural folklore was important in providing Rhineland peasants with knowledge of becoming successful American farmers. Although most PA Deitsch folklore revolved around their religion, it is dubious that Grundsau Day (Groundhog Day) was purely an American idea. Perhaps it was a wise trick of a minister or public citizens in wanting to make local peasants aware they should be checking their farm equipment for the current spring planting. This myth about the hibernating groundhog may have been invented or at least perpetuated for lazy farmers as a reminder for upcoming spring season, and the wise notion of preparedness to check their farming tools and harness should spring be early that year.

As an additional motivator, on February 2nd (Groundhog Day) while most farmers mended and prepared their farming tools for spring planting, many of the PA Dutch housewives made Fasnaughts on Shrove Tuesday, this being the day before Ash Wednesday. Housewives usually fried dozens and dozens of them to eat in the cold mornings before Easter and to use up their cans of lard in the pantry, because lard could not be eaten in the Easter fasting season. However, astute PA Dutch farmers took any leftover Fashnaght frying lard to grease their iron tools and machinery or even the barn door or wagon shed hinges to facilitate use in the early spring planting season; another folkway in which a prudent individual made sure his equipment was ready for spring planting.

Nonetheless, the groundhog myth was a folkway in which ardent farmers and intelligent citizens encouraged individuals and one another to prepare for spring planting once the winter season was over, so these immigrants could afford themselves a longer growing season when frost was no longer a problem. In maintenance, intelligent farmers were actually ready for spring planting well in advance of a climatic break in the winter weather, because February 2nd- Groundhog Day, gave farmers a head start to prepare their plows. Much like Saint Patrick’s Day was the folk day in which the PA Dutch believed in planting their onions and sweet peas in order to take advantage of a longer growing season in North America.

One cannot describe what it was like to live in an old-time PA Dutch family without relating to the rural agrarian culture of our innate pioneer ancestry. Additionally, skilled seamstress women turning cloth scraps into ingenious patchwork and appliqué quilts to enliven farm bedrooms, but more importantly, keep their large families warm in the wintertime was something of the past but still done by Grandma. Or busy farm housewives canning fruits and vegetables to sustain their extended families throughout the year, as well as homemade butchered meat dishes, smoked or pickled to feed family and friends in the warmth of a once commonly used cast iron kitchen stove as they sat back on custom crafted PA Dutch plank chairs.

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Agrarian individuals, male or female, who shared in taking turns tilling the earth and hauling loads of hay for their farm livestock had a better fulfillment of their own net worth, as they partook in the fruits and labor ultimately in which they had achieved their own rural paradise. Following age-old farming and domestic practices, the local PA Dutch families fortunate enough to still farm native acreage and live in a family homestead are very rare in this age of technology and modern living, and have been fortunate to have survived with family heirlooms and portraits of their “Freinshaft” (family relatives).