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.
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.
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
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
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,
special occasions did they make “feiner Kuche” (fancy cake).
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.
making Peckmeskipfla (jam turnovers)
One of a
Donauschwaben housewife's prides was her
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
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
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
walk had to be swept. Die Gass’ kehra.
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.
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
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
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)
Strohdriste (straw stack)
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.
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.
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.
was air-dried and then broken (the dried stalks crushed)
then hackled (combed hecheln), again a tiring job.
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
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.
big job was the butchering. Again a lot of water was
needed. It was heated in a big outdoor kettle over a
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).
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.
cutting the fat into
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.
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?’)
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
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.
Christmas and New Years only minimal housework was done, no laundry. It
was believed that the animals in the barn talked on Christmas Eve.
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
According to legend if you hung clothes on the line outside between
Christmas and Epiphany, wolves would come and tear up the clothes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
house wall forms
wall going up, the form being raised as the wall got higher.
The workers having a well deserved rest.