Apples ripening on the tree outside my office window serve as a reminder that the calendar pages are turning and harvest season is underway. Of course, “farming” is big business today with huge tractors, high-tech drones surveying fields for computer-aided crop management and myriad ways to process what has been grown. It’s all necessary to feed the millions who no-longer produce their own food. Yet there is a certain nostalgia associated with the remnants of farming of days gone by.
Some county fairs continue to showcase individual success in farming with prize ribbons for the best home-grown vegetables, or the most attractive fruits and vegetables “canned” in glass jars. Youngsters continue to show their animals under the demanding eyes of volunteer judges. The “farm kids” may go on to other careers or become part of the high-tech agri-business that feeds our country and beyond. But for several days in late summer, there is a reminder of the very basics of what it takes to produce food for the table.
We’ve often attended the agricultural fair at the Genesee Country Village and Museum near Mumford, NY, where hobbyists show heirloom fruits and vegetables and old-fashioned pies and other examples of kitchen craft are on display. The Village is mostly set in the early 1800s when subsistence farming prevailed. It’s easy to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the fair of the era. We don’t have to think about the hardship caused by crop failures or the difficulties of preserving food for the winter.
Our “miscellaneous” collection includes a few farm- and garden-related items. Some of them fell into the “what is it” category while others were typical things that would have been found in a kitchen or barn of the 1800s. We’ve always been drawn of “useful” antiques rather than the decorative. The variety of antiques related to the production, preservation and transportation of food is vast and serve as a roadmap of how our society changed in the 1800s.
Looking at the heirloom apple tree out my window, improperly pruned over the years, reminds me of how inept I am at things agriculture. Still, I may try making some quince preserves again sometime. Then I’ll thank the successful farmers and accept that modern technology is what puts food on our tables. Nostalgia isn’t very nutritious!