Aunt Eunice here. I have been enjoying this snowy weather we’ve been having, but I do wish it would learn to snow everywhere except on the roads and walkways! That sure is a lot of plowing and shoveling! It is so pretty though and looks much closer to the winters of my youth.
We are happy to say this weekend Quiet Valley is holding a traditional Ice Harvest which is a special event for our membership. We will be using the horses and sleds to bring the ice blocks in from the pond to be stacked in the ice house. There each layer will be covered with saw dust. Folks new to the process are always surprised that there is no electric refrigeration involved. Our ice house is a wooden building with a vent ridge along the top. As a layer of blocks are put down a layer of saw dust is put over them. My best explanation is to tell visitors to think about an Igloo cooler. It is an insulated box that can keep things cold if you add ice to it. The ice blocks are the ice packs or ice cubes and the insulation is the saw dust. If the ice is not used up we will still have it to use at our October Harvest Festival to keep the birch beer kegs cold. My father, who was born in 1911, told me a story about hitching a ride on the ice wagon. At that time people still used ice boxes as we do our modern refrigerator. They were wooden and lined with zinc or tin. The ice man would come by and deliver a block which would be put into a compartment of the ice box and it would keep your food cold. The older boys in town would steal rides on the ice wagon all the time, but my father was only five and really too young for this adventure. The boys helped him up into the wagon. Now they all knew to jump off the wagon before it went over the bridge between the two towns. My father didn’t know it and besides he was having a good time. He got a very long ride and the iceman got a surprise at the end of his route. He kindly took my father back. I am sure by then my grandparents were starting to worry. The ice box was originally referred to as a refrigerator until the electric refrigerator came into being. Then the less used term ice box became the new expression. Since Quiet Valley’s ice is from a pond it isn’t something I would want to put into a glass of ice tea! It is useful in wash tubs to chill bottles of water or to use in a hand crank ice cream machine.
National Museum of American History says the natural ice harvesting industry in America began to take off in the early 1800s. The process of ice harvesting looked somewhat similar to crop harvesting, with horses pulling plow-like ice cutters across frozen lakes and ponds. Before ice could be cut, snow had to be cleared from the surface. The ice was also measured to ensure that it was thick enough—anything less than eight inches would melt too quickly during transportation to far-flung locations. By the end of the 1800s, many American households stored their perishable food in an insulated “icebox” that was usually made of wood and lined with tin or zinc. A large block of ice was stored inside to keep these early refrigerators chilly. By this point, cold had become the clear choice among food preservation methods, proving less labor-intensive and more effective at preventing spoilage.
When members come out to Ice Harvest on Saturday they are welcome to bring ice skates along. According to Wikipedia ice skating has been around a very long time though the exact time and process by which humans first learned to ice skate is unknown. Primitive animal bone ice skates have been found in Scandinavia and Russia, some dating back to about 3000 BC.
The earliest clear, written mention of ice skating is found in a book written in the 12th century by William Fitzstephen, a monk in Canterbury. In the work, centered on Thomas Becket, he describes a scene taking place below the northern city walls of Canterbury during the winter:
…if the moors in Finsbury and Moorfield freeze over, children from London play. Some of the children have attached bones to their ankles, and carry well-worn sticks. They fly across the ice like birds, or well-fired arrows. Suddenly, two children will run at each other, sticks held high in the air. They then attack each other until one falls down. Often, the children injure their heads or break their arms or legs…
Well, Aunt Eunice won’t be ice skating this weekend, but I may take a sleigh ride down that nice long hill in the pasture. If you want to come out this Saturday February 13 call the office at 570-992-6161 and join as a member. There are a lot of other benefits to being part of Quiet Valley than attending the Ice Harvest. Hope to see you at the farm. Thanks for checking in and take care. Aunt Eunice