Part 32: Work In The Countryside

The first post-war harvest had been collected, and the winter potatoes were stored in the cellar.

In the fields, the sugar beets waited in long windrows for frosty weather, because when the muddy field paths were frozen, it was easier to transport the beets to the sugar factory.

Field guards with clubs and dogs kept thieves away at night, because beet juice was an important and popular foodstuff in those days. However, it took a lot of strength and stamina to produce it in the laundry at home. On our farm, too, father had unloaded about eight hundredweight of the sweet root crop, a part of his deputation wages. It was now waiting to be turned into delicious syrup. The beets had been lying next to the manure pile for several days, but none of us were enthusiastic beet juice boilers. 

Then mother blew up a storm. In the cold, wet November weather, we scrubbed the hairy beets in the yard with a scrubbing brush until they landed in a wooden trough, freed from the topsoil, shiny white and hard as bones. Here, a razor-sharp tamper powered by muscle power chopped them into the smallest possible pieces. The very worst was done. Off with the beet pieces into the washhouse kettle, some water on it and proper fire under the tub. While the second batch was boiling, the first one was squeezed over the wash tub with partly antediluvian presses until it no longer yielded any brown liquid.

After the last press, the black-brown broth returned to the wash kettle, and after hours of vigorous firing and boiling, so much water had evaporated that the first light-brown foam formed, which tasted pleasantly sweet. Until then I had fire watch, which lasted until about midnight. Mother relieved me, because gradually the water-thin broth became syrup. Now we had to be careful.

The syrup had to be stirred constantly, not allowed to boil over and, above all, to burn. When that happened, all the effort was in vain. The juice then took on a dreadfully bitter taste and became undrinkable. If everything went well, by the morning of the following day the eight hundredweight of beets had turned into a bucket of syrup. To anyone who has ever boiled beet juice under the conditions described, the monthly big wash without a modern washing machine seems like a relaxing vacation.

Father also did challenging work. Driving manure was the order of the day. The unpleasant smell was not the worst thing, but the barn litter, soaked and caked with cow dung and manure, weighed heavily when loading it onto the wagon. In the field, the manure had to be spread as evenly as possible with a fork. A back-breaking job. Now father was plowing the manure under with his red-brown oxen. Mother sent me to the field with a pot of warm soup. Cold northwesterly winds drove low-hanging, dark rain clouds before them. The first wet snowflakes danced in the fine drizzle. Father reached the edge of the field with his team and tipped the plow to the side. The plowshare, scoured bare by earth, shone like silver.

The huge oxen, each weighing more than a ton, stood still and motionless, only their bodies rising and falling. With each breath, white steam poured from their nostrils. In the lee, we leaned against the steaming, warm bodies of the animals. Father spooned his soup standing up, all around dripping with wetness. After a few puffs from his stubby pipe, he grabbed the lead line that ended in the nose ring of the hand ox and straightened the plow. Without prompting, the animals lowered their massive necks, the chains on the brow yoke tightened, and the plow blade cut into the ground. Tenaciously and persistently the team pulled fresh furrows in the earth until the falling darkness ended the day’s work. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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