More from McSorley’s book; this time “THE SPUD.”
“Potatoes were the main food supply for man and beast [and remained so well into the 1900s]. The hard work began when ‘father’ decided to have the best potatoes hand picked and put in bags. These were called ‘seed potatoes’. Bags containing the seed were taken into the comfort of the kitchen, where helpers at the cutting stood like nurses in the theatre. Full ‘butts’ of cuts had to be left outside in a shed. Butts of rejects were washed and put in a big boiler…[and] were boiled and fed to the pigs. Little sharp knives were bandaged with a piece of cotton rag, just below the handle, to protect the forefinger from pressure when cutting.
“The attendants washed and cleaned the dust from off the floor after each cutting session. Cutting could last up to two or three weeks. [Attendants, bandages – what the heck? Patricia McSorely was trained as a nurse!]
“Drills were opened with a horse plough and farmyard manure was spread evenly in each drill. Little mounds of manure had been dropped at intervals up to the drills by the men and the family scattered these using graips.
“The back breaking job of dropping the potatoes followed. Each ‘cut’ had to be dropped eye side up and freshly cut side facing downwards and evenly spaced. This was important as father followed the droppers with his bucket of bone manure. With his hand he spread a fine covering of this artificial manure on top of the cuts. Should he find a cut turned the wrong way up, the culprit was reprimanded because the bone manure could burn the upturned spud.
“Drills were closed and you anxiously awaited the growth of the new potatoes, which brought a flourishing crop of unwanted weeds. The children had to weed these, up one drill and down the next, acre after acre. The top of each drill had to be lowered, thus aiding the young shoot. This was done using a hoe and was called ‘Topping the Drills’.
“Before spraying time, a crop of turnips, carrots, mangols and cabbage had to be thinned and kept free of weeds. At spaying time a big wooden ‘Porter Barrel” was filled with water and mixed with correct proportions of blue stone and washing soda; 7 lbs. blue stone and 9 lbs. washing soda for the 40 gallon barrel. This mixture was carried to the farmer by the children. He carried a sprayer on his back and it held about four gallons…
“Potato gathering ‘holidays’ came in October, as children were needed to do the hard work of gathering the crop. [The drills] were ploughed open and the lovely new potatoes would roll out and were gathered… They were stored in big clay pits scattered throughout the field and well covered with rushes and soil to protect them from frost.
“During the winter months, big boilers were filled with potatoes, hand picked from the pit, washed and boiled. The fire under the boiler had to be replenished all the time and those who weren’t helping at the pits were off in the fields finding brosnaigh, or cutting branches with a cross cut saw. Brosnaigh was the dead sticks lying around the hedges.”
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