Threshing, Part Six:
Feeding the Threshing Crew
Before the days of combines and tractors, Alberta farmers depended on crews of travelling threshers to help bring in the harvest. It would take a crew of about ten or twelve men a week to thresh the grain at each farm.
And it was the farm women who took on the enormous task of feeding these hungry men.
According to historian Pat Myers, these threshers demanded three sit-down meals a day, plus two lunches brought to them in the field.
Breakfast was at 5:30, so the women were up by 4:30; and these were all large, hearty meals - breakfast with porridge, fried eggs, bacon or sausage, often with potatoes and scones or biscuits. Lots of coffee, too.
At noon, again a sit-down meal, with meat and potatoes, vegetables, buttered bread and dessert pies- puddings were quite popular.
At supper, another sit-down meal. Meat pies, maybe, stews, salads, sliced meat, more bread, more cake and rice pudding to finish off the meal.
Now the lunches, which were taken out to the field, were usually a little less elaborate, but still, sandwiches, sweet buns, gingerbread, biscuits with jam, cookies and cream cans full of tea.
Meal planning for these threshing crews required a great deal of organization and advance preparation. And so, the farm press was filled with helpful tips for the busy cooks.
You could get all the cutlery and dishes ready. You could extend your table as far as it would go. You were advised to can vegetables ahead. Things like chicken could be canned ahead and be waiting. In the week before you hoped the threshers got there, you could do some baking, called "keepers" - such as spice cake or fruitcake and oatmeal cookies, that would keep in tins in the root cellar and wait until threshing started.
You were also urged to have large tins of the dry ingredients for biscuits, or pastry, mixed up and waiting, and then only the liquid and shortening had to be added at baking time.
But of course, only so much could be done ahead, and when threshing started, the work began fast and furious, and didn't stop until the traction engine puffed down the lane to the next farm.
There was always something to do in the kitchen - baking, scrubbing pots and preparing the meat and vegetables for the next meal.
But most people knew it was good, hearty food that kept the threshing crew happy and working hard.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.