A Remembrance of the Past; Building for the Future." ~ Eve Eckert Koehler

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

Busy Donauschwaben Women


by Anne Dreer
Published DVHH 18 Dec 2007, Jody McKim Pharr.
A special thank you to Hans Kopp for providing the coinciding pictures.


Recently one of the DVHH “Listers” mentioned that sometimes DS women worked in the fields. I have compiled a year’s work in the life of a DS woman. I was born in Bapska Novak (now Croatia) Most of what I wrote is from what I remember of my family, as well as my grandparents and relatives. Compared to today's women, the lives of our mothers were very hard.  By the age of fifty they were old and worn out.


In spite of their hard work they enjoyed the life they lived and reminisced about it.  They overlooked that they had no indoor plumbing or modern appliances, only wood (burning) stoves and the laundry was done by hand and washboard (rubble).  Most still used oil lamps, though some villages. The only days they did not work were Sundays and Holy Days.  I believe the yearning for the good old days was a result of the many years of homelessness, poverty and hardship of the postwar years.


Anne Dreer
Guelph, Ontario CA

Besides preparing (cooking) food and baking all the bread for their families, women had to do a lot of hard work in the fields. This was especially hard if there was no grandmother at home to take care of the children. We were fortunate. My great-aunt lived with us, so my mother didn’t have to take us to the fields. When babies were hungry while their mothers were in the fields a neighbor would nurse them. If there was no one to care for the children, the entire family would go to the field. Some towns had daycare centers especially during the harvest time; but town had no such convenience.

Some women who needed to work in the fields and had no one to take care of the small children or toddlers, made tea from green  poppy seed heads and gave some to their babies so they would sleep all day. (DRUGGED).

There was always the daily chores, like baking bread, doing laundry. On Sundays women wore white underskirts (petticoats) made of four meters of cotton. There was always the daily chores, like baking bread, doing laundry. On Sundays women wore white underskirts (petticoats) made of four meters of cotton. They also had to be washed, starched and ironed, as were the men’s white ‘Sunday’ shirts.


Huge loaves of white bread was baked in outside ovens.


For starching the water from boiled homemade noodles was used (very thrifty).  Part of the water in which noodles were boiled was also used for Wertagssupp (everyday soup or workday soup). A few noodles were left in it, then it was ‘abgschmelzt’ (An onion was finely chopped, sautéed in lard, paprika added to it, then poured into the soup, and served with sour cream. It really tastes quite good!

For Sunday’s main meal (noon) was a chicken that had to be butchered or sometimes beef was bought at the local butcher’s.  It was usually ‘Supp’ un Fleisch’.  The meat was simmered to make a good broth adding carrots, one onion, parsnips and ‘Grienzeich’ (root parsley and leaves) for flavour. The broth was strained and the homemade fine egg noodles or Griesknoedl (cream of wheat dumplings) were added.  This was always referred to as Sunntagssupp’.


The boiled meat was served as second course with horseradish, tomato, Kapr (dill) or garlic sauce. This was considered an easy meal. The soup pot would be put on the wood (burning) stove Sunday morning and left to simmer till the family came home from church.

For Sundays there was always Strudel or some other gangener Kuche (cake made with yeast) later in the afternoon.  We didn’t have meat every day nor dessert, just fruit.  Only for special occasions did they make “feiner Kuche” (fancy cake).

What made it more difficult was that the houses and outbuildings were in the village and the fields in the outlying areas, not all in one place. My father’s fields were in one direction, the vineyard in another.



A grandmother making Peckmeskipfla (jam turnovers)


One of a Donauschwaben housewife's prides was her garden

Spring came early and the women had to get their gardens planted. The Weingarten (vineyard) had to be hoed, which was hard on the back.

Cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes were pickled. Cherries, plums, peaches and apricots were canned in jars, and a lot of jam was made, too. Later when the quince were ripe, they were preserved. Some apples and pears were sliced, strung on strings and hung in the sun to dry. The plums that were not used for jam or brandy (slivovic) were also dried.


Red sweet and hot peppers were also strung and hung to dry. They would later be pounded into powder which was paprika. Some were kept whole to be used in the winter. When the onions and garlic were harvested they were plaited into braids and hung up to dry.

The cows were let out to pasture every morning after they were milked. A cowherder (Kuehhalter) went through the village and took them all to a common pasture (Hutwaad/ Hufweide). When they returned in the evening they were milked again, all women’s work, as was making butter and cheese

One Sunday evening we were late coming home from visiting my grandparents in Lowas. Our hired man (Knecht) had already milked the cow. That was most unusual. We told all our friends about it, -about a MAN milking the cow. (Mother was quite pleased.)  When my grandmother was a still living at home their cow would not give milk in the evening. This went on for a few days, so her parents went to a fortune teller for advice. She told them they had to take the morning milk, put it in a pot on the stove and my grandmother and her sisters had to poke  the milk with forks while it boiled. The next person coming in the door would be the one responsible for the cow not giving milk. The next person was the cowherd. That poor man was in big TROUBLE.

The side walk had to be swept. Die Gass’ kehra.


Girls picking linden blossoms
to be dried for tea.



In preparation for Easter the women had to whitewash the outside of the house (with lime). 

When the corn started to grow in the fields it had to be hoed, row by row (no tractors) and also the bean fields. When the grapevines started to grow they had to be tied to the posts.

Women always took care of the poultry.  Brood hens had to be set on eggs so there would be chicks, ducklings and goslings. (The hens hatched goose, duck and turkey eggs as well).



The down feathers of the geese were pulled off them (they grew back before winter) to be used for pillows and feather ticks. Later the geese that were to be butchered were forced fed to make them extra fat and heavy. That way there was extra fat to supplement the lard for cooking. (Animal rights groups would have been appalled.)


Harvesting the grain was hard work. It was mowed with a scythe, sometimes with a sickle, tied into sheaves (bundles) and piled into Crosses (KREUZE) to dry, then hauled to the Treplatz (Tretplatz singular Tretplätze plural (threshing area), outside the village, where it was threshed (the kernels separated from the chaff and straw (with the threshing machines or as in earlier year by horses tied to a beam and walked in a circle this is from where the name Tretplatz originates).

  Tied into sheaves (bundles)   Crosses (KREUZE)   Strohdriste (straw stack)





Cutting hemp

Loading hemp onto a wagon
to be taken to a pond


It took a lot of people to get all that work done. The grain was filled into large sacks that had to be hauled away with horse drawn wagons back to the village to the farmer’s house and barns (storage bins). It then had to be carried up to the attic where it was stored. The men hauled the grain.

Someone had to cook for all the people and all other girls and women had to help at the threshing, forking sheaves into the threshing machine or taking straw away. That was a very itchy job, especially if it was barley straw.

Many women also worked at harvesting hemp.

It had to be soaked-(retted) (submerged) in water for two weeks, usually in a pond where the women had to stand waist deep in the muddy water. 

The hemp was air-dried and then broken (the dried stalks crushed)


Hemp crushers

Hanfbrechen then hackled (combed hecheln), again a tiring job.

hen came the harvesting of the grapes. That had to be done by hand.  The grapes were picked and put in wicker bushels or wooden buckets which were then dumped into larger containers and taken back to the house with  a wagon. The wine barrels were washed with water drawn from the well with a bucket and fumigated with sulfur.  Some grapes were hung up in the attic where they would keep till Christmas.







Mulberries were also harvested. They made good brandy.


They were shaken off the trees to a spread tarp below.
They were used to make brandy.


The corn was harvested by hand, cob by cob: Kukuruzbrecha.



a wheelbarrow full of sausages, some would be used fresh,
but most would be smoked.


The last big job was the butchering.  Again a lot of water was needed.  It was heated in a big outdoor kettle over a wood fire.

Usually friends came and helped, several men were needed as the pigs sometimes weighed more than 300 pounds. As by that time the weather was quite cold, brandy kept everyone warm and happy.

Pigs were fed till they were very heavy so they would yield a lot of lard. It was always the women’s job to clean the intestines which would be used for sausage casings. It was very hard to get the awful smell off their hands


Women also had to cut all the fat into cubes (there was a lot) which would have to be rendered to lard and put into large lard cans (Schmalzdöse, barrels, stenner).


It would have to last all year as it was all we ever used for cooking, except maybe some goose fat. The fried out fat cubes (Grammla or Grieben = greaves) a good source of protein, were eaten either hot or cold with salt and bread. The hams and bacon sides were put in brine to be smoked  at a later date.  In the evening there would be a big meal and a celebration with singing and drinking.


Making sausages


cutting the fat into cubes





When all the outside work was finished, the women would start spinning and knitting.


The wool from the sheep was spun, as was the hemp.  All stockings and socks were hand knitted. Slippers were crocheted (with patterns) from wool, (erroneously called Strickerschuh = knitted shoes) then taken to a cobbler to have soles sewed on, either rubber or leather. Young girls often did embroidery for their future home (dowry).


When clothing was worn out and beyond repair it was cut into strips, sewed together into strings which would then be woven into Fetzedecke (rag blankets). These were usually put on day beds, sometimes in the summer hung in a doorway to let air in and keep the flies out. Hemp was also spun into yarn.


We had a loom and my mother wove towels, sheets and everyday table cloths.  I still remember those rough homespun towels that almost rubbed your skin off when you dried your face.

Neighbors usually came to visit in the evenings; we called “maye” (pronounced ‘moya’). My husband’s family was from Ruma and they called it ‘uf die prele gehn'.  The women would do their crafts while the men played cards. Often they made popcorn or had boiled and drained corn, the closest in taste that I remember is hominy corn.


Planning a wedding needed a lot of preparation. Women had to prepare the meat for the meals and do a lot of baking. There was never a wedding without a lot of fancy baking. Friends and neighbours always got together to help. The meals had to be the best, otherwise people would talk.


Butchering chickens for the big feast


Torten and cakes for the wedding



When my husband’s family first came to Canada one of his cousins was getting married. True to Donauschwaben customs a lot of preparations were done and word got around ‘Uff dem Ehrntoch gibt’s “plenty” (Ehrentag=wedding). Well die Ahndl (Grandma) thought ‘plenty’ must be something especially Canadian. She hardly ate any of the food. When the meal was over she asked, ‘na wann gibt’s denn die Plenty?’ (when do we get the ‘plenty?’)


Before Christmas there was also a lot of baking done. Cut-out cookies were baked with a thread through them so they could be hung on the Christmas tree.


Christmas tree decorations were quite simple. We did have some shiny glass ball and decorations in the shape of birds and other animals. These were very treasured, but cookies, foil-wrapped walnuts, apples and Katz-im-Sack were more fun. Those were bought candies wrapped in shiny coloured paper with frills at both ends.  Occasionally there would be some missing.


Between Christmas and New Years only minimal housework was done, no laundry. It was believed that the animals in the barn talked on Christmas Eve.


When people came home from midnight mass they usually had Sulz. It was aspic made of pigs knuckles, feet and ears.  The day before Christmas was a day of fast and abstinence of meat, so after midnight meat was allowed.


According to legend if you hung clothes on the line outside between Christmas and Epiphany, wolves would come and tear up the clothes.


My grandfather always told the story of a group of men who didn’t go to midnight Mass with the women, but stayed home to play cards instead. The night watchman with his big black dog was doing the rounds and knew this. He sicked his dog through a pushed open window. The dog jumped in, knocked over the oil lamp and growled at the men. They thought it was the devil and without looking back, ran to church.


At Candlemass (Feb. 2nd) they said, "Maria Lichtmess, spinne vergess, by Tag z'Nacht gess (zu Nacht gegessen=supper)." Candlemass, forget the spinning, have supper by daylight.  It meant winter was over.


It was time to prepare for spring. It came early in Croatia. I remember my mother working in the garden in February and violets were blooming, the Märzeveigla. I asked why they were called Märzeveigla (March Veilchen violets) if they were blooming in February.


Women whose families didn’t have a lot of field work would work for other farmers as Tagloehner (day workers) or they would work as helpers on the construction of houses. Most houses in the villages were made of sun dried mud bricks or stomped clay mixed with straw and chaff (adobe). That involved a lot of manual labour.


  Making mud bricks Carrying soil for the
house wall forms
A ‘stomped’ wall going up, the form being raised as the wall got higher.



The workers having a well deserved rest.


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