Worked in the Field

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, August 16, 1912:  Was out in the field a while this forenoon. Didn’t fancy my job any too well. They had a lot of things to do today.

gathering potatoes

Early 20th century picture of harvesting potatoes. (The farm in the picture looks like it was much larger than the Muffly farm.) Photo source: Wikipedia.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What was Grandma doing out in the field? . . . and why didn’t she like her job?

Maybe she was still leading horses that were pulling a roller over a recently plowed field.

. . . or maybe she was helping harvest the third cutting of hay.

. . . or maybe she was helping to dig and gather potatoes.

(I vote  that she was helping harvest potatoes. It would have been dirty, backbreaking wok. It those days families raised lots of potatoes—both for eating and for selling — so the Muffly’s probably had an entire field of potatoes. I’m guessing that potato harvesting was not very mechanized in 1912, and that a lot of labor was needed to turn the soil over,  sort through the dirt to find the potatoes, and then gather them .)

20 Responses

  1. You brought back an interesting memory. I remember visiting my Grandpa when I was a little kid and watching them use a plow to turn the soil over in a row of potatoes. They still had to sort them all out by hand though. They were really good when Grandma cooked some of them up.

  2. Oh dear! Harvesting potatoes as a young person certainly remembered with reading your publication. And then there was that frightening cellar. And all that potato peeling in the days afterward. Good post.

    • When we were preparing for family gatherings at Christmas and other holidays, I can remember peeling potatoes. . . and then more. . and still more. . .

  3. Man can I ever relate to your post, last fall I tried to help a neighbour who is was planting ‘Rhodiola’. It was all by hand, row after row. Extremely labour intensive. She had three daughters who were fun to work with, but I new I wouldn’t go back, I couldn’t move the next day. HA

  4. Ahh, our Helena dinna “fancy” that work. I think I would have like to have known Helena, what with her “fancy”s, the cows and her sister.

  5. Hi, Sheryl, My potatoes aren’t ready yet… looks like another month at least. Maybe I’m growing later potatoes??? I know my Dad was raised on potatoes and had to have them with every dinner. My Mom loved to cook all kinds of food and no matter how wonderful my Mom’s spaghetti sauce was, Dad was grumpy without his potatoes. He used to make a huge “potato pie”… which was nothing more than a mound of them on his plate, buttered and salt/peppered …
    This and his salt cod… two staples of his diet he never lost.

    • We also ate lots of potatoes when I was a child. My memory is that we dug potatoes in mid-August. The harvest date probably probably varies depending upon the variety. We raised relatively few potatoes, but my father talks about how farmers had fields of potatoes when he was young.

  6. PS I’m growing my potatoes in containers… it won’t be much work for me to dig them out at all.

  7. I suppose there was always the job to pick out the weeds.

  8. I used to grow some potatoes in my garden. Not enough to be a drag to harvest. One year they got something and blech, they were just mushy, disgusting. ugh!

    • My father talks about how farmers in central Pennsylvania quit raising potatoes for sale because the potatoes started getting some disease.

  9. This makes me think of my great grandmother Irene, who grew up on a farm, and during the Great Depression she had to work in Cotton fields picking cotton. I can still remember the expression on her face while describing the experience, which she didn’t care for at all. My great grandmother was always an indoors person and so when she had to do this, she wrapped her arms and legs in cloth so bugs, dirt, or anything else would get on her. :)

    • Picking cotton sounds unpleasant. People worked really hard on farms (especially in the days before many of the more monotonous tasks became mechanized).

  10. My guess would have been picking tomatoes, corn or pole beans. This would have been canning season for those items. Cucumbers, peppers and cole vegetables would have started to come about the end of the month for pickling. In those days they did not plant cucumbers until the first day of summer so they would come in at the right time. I remember being told that as a kid. My grandmother in SW Pa always did that.

    • You might be right–this would have been the peak of the canning season. I can remember that when I was a child that Grandma made pickles in crocks.

  11. […] Helping in the Fields   […]

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