Entrance to folk craft area in Lucy Larcom Park
I’m delighted to be working with state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg in Lowell this summer. On the summer solstice, Maggie and I went to visit Jonas Stundzia at his home in Lawrence to learn about Rasos Svente, the Dew Festival, and the ways Lithuanians celebrate the longest day of the year. He will be demonstrating how to make floral head garlands at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. Garlands, or wreaths, are an important part of this solstice festival, also known as the festival of Saint John.
Jonas is a wealth of folklore. When we got to his house, he welcomed us with a traditional Lithuanian greeting. From a decorative ceramic pitcher, he poured water over our hands, and held out a woven Lithuanian cloth to dry them. He then offered us cucumbers dipped in honey and small cups of samagonas (rye moonshine). He said that cucumbers dipped in honey are eaten as a summer treat only in the northeast area of Lithuania.
Jonas showed us his garden blooming with plants native to Lithuania, including wild sorrel, used in making soup; ruta (rue), the national flower; wild onions; and lavender. His garden also had winter rye, used for Christmas decorations; parsley; mint; wild straw; and wild dahlia. He showed us a large oak garland he had made. Oak is considered a male tree and oak garlands are usually reserved for men. We tried it on anyway, and it was heavy! In Lithuania, garlands made of wild flowers, healing herbs, and grasses are used in the solstice festival to adorn the head, decorate the homestead, float candles on the water, and burn in the bonfire.
Jonas had made another large circular garland with linden and yellow flowers which symbolize the sun. Lithuanians consider linden a female plant; this wreath could be worn by a woman, or decorated with lit candles to be floated on the water on the evening of the Rasos Svente festival. The points of light guide the sun back home to earth. Wreaths symbolize the circle of life. Circles and wheels are important in Lithuanian mythology. In one pre-Bronze age myth the sun travels across the sky pulled by a goat. Jonas told us that Lithuanian rituals and language go back to proto Indo-European times. They still survive today because Lithuania was geographically isolated far up north on swampy land that nobody else wanted. Lithuanian is an ancient language, but still living, unlike Sanskrit or Latin.
On the summer solstice, Lithuanians give kupole staffs to friends and neighbors to protect and bless their homes. Jonas showed us a kupole staff he had made with healing herbs: nettle (good for healing arthritis and a relaxation); wormwood (good for the nerves); southern wort (a nerve relaxant used to make absinthe liquor); mountain ash (considered a male plant, used in the celebration of St. John); and belladonna (a medicinal nightshade).
Next, he showed us decorative iron saule, which means “sun.” One had a circle, which represents the sun; branches which represent the tree of life; jagged thunderbolts; curved snakes; and roots representing the earth. In Lithuania, snakes are symbols of life. Gyvate means snake; gyvas means life. The first animals to appear from Mother Earth in the spring are the toad and the snake. Thunderbolts allude to the god of thunder who creates rain, and therefore gives life.
Other saule he showed us had Christian crosses. He said that Roman Catholics had adopted and reinterpreted the form of the saule and used them in cemeteries to decorate gravestones. In the same way, the pre-Christian kupole staff transformed into a similar, but smaller and more compact staff used on Palm Sunday. The rituals of the Rasos Svente festival also were adopted into Saint John’s Day celebrations. We look forward to hearing more of his stories at his demonstration tent at the folk festival in July.
All photos by Maggie Holtzberg.
Colleague and fellow folklorist Millie Rahn brings us this guest blog:
Steve Cole was introduced to cranberry growing through his great uncle, who spent a lifetime in agriculture in southeastern Massachusetts. There, Steve writes, he learned about the local crop “via an irrigation system that needed installation.” He adds, “For some, the cranberry has provided a comfortable living for five generations; for others, only enough money to make it through each winter. When something so dominates the lives of people, it is worth knowing about.”
Steve and his wife, photographer Lindy Gifford, are the authors of The Cranberry: Hard Work and Holiday Sauce, just published by Tilbury House Publishers in Maine. Steve and Lindy did much of their research in the early 1980s, while living in Wareham, near where Steve grew up. The book is based on interviews with cranberry growers in Plymouth County and Cape Cod, as well as extensive historical research. It is illustrated with contemporary and historical photographs and documents drawn, in many cases, from archival collections throughout Massachusetts.
Steve and Lindy recently held a launch party and book signing at the Ansel Gurney House in Marion, and also appeared in the book tent at the Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford, which this year featured discussion of issues shared by fishermen and farmers.
Photo (l to r): Cranberry grower Wilho Harju, author Stephen Cole, Lillian Harju, and author Lindy Gifford at the book launch in Marion in late September. Wilho and Lillian Harju were among those interviewed about Finnish people’s contributions to cranberry growing. Photo by Phoebe Cole.
The authors will be signing their book throughout the fall, including the following dates and locations:
Saturday, October 10, 11 am
Cranberry Harvest Celebration at A.D. Makepeace Co. headquarters
Tihonet Village, Wareham
Saturday afternoon, November 7
Titcomb Books on Route 6A in East Sandwich
Sunday, November 8, Noon-2 pm
Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore on Main Street in Chatham.
More dates will follow at Plimoth Plantation, and in Boston and Concord.
Great weather and great programming! We suggest heading down to New Bedford this weekend for the Working Waterfront Festival. If you haven’t guessed, this year’s theme is surf and turf. In promoting the festival, organizers point out that “Fishermen and farmers share a deep knowledge of, reverence for and dependence upon the natural world. Both groups pass traditional skills and knowledge from one generation to the next, often incorporating new technologies alongside traditional practices. And both communities face many of the same economic, environmental and political challenges.”
In addition to live maritime and ethnic music, there will be an open air market featuring local produce and fresh seafood and cooking demonstrations, occupational demonstrations of fishing and farming skills, tours of fishing boats, author readings, and kid’s activities.
Ever since hearing Grupo Canela at the National Heritage Museum on October 4th and learning that they perform each weekend at their family restaurant in Westfield, I wanted to go. This past Friday, four of us drove out from Boston. We arrived around 5:30 and decided to walk around downtown before going into the restaurant. With its wide streets and empty storefronts scattered in amongst the businesses, Westfield has the feel of a town that has seen some hard economic times.
Upon entering the restaurant, I introduce myself to a young woman behind the counter who turns out to be Alexa Santiago, the oldest daughter of the Santiago family. Welcoming and astonishingly cheery, she ends up doing the lion’s share of waiting tables and serving on this evening. She takes peoples orders like she is hosting a family meal. If someone asks for the restroom, she tells them, “You have to go through the kitchen, just like you’re at home.” Alexa introduces me to Carmen Santiago, Ismael’s wife.
Born and raised in Corozal, Puerto Rico, Carmen and Ismael grew up and went to school together. Soon after graduating high school in 1967, they left Puerto Rico for Hartford, Connecticut in order to find work. After a few years, the Santiagos moved to Holyoke and eventually settled in Westfield. They have been running the restaurant in its current location since 1999. Like many immigrants, they had every intention of going home but with six children and seven grandchildren, they have built a life here. “We thought we’d go back home,” Carmen says, “but the family grows.”
The restaurant’s décor is festive and full of intriguing artifacts – like a Puerto Rican version of Cracker Barrel. Colored glass lanterns and hanging coconuts, guitars, congas, and cuatros, maps of Puerto Rico, vintage beer signs, knick-knacks and figurines, and framed photos of Puerto Rican baseball players. Like many of the storefronts along Elm Street, this one has a pressed tin ceiling. There are only ten tables. A few diners appear to be regulars. Some sit, others do take-out, including a local policeman on his beat.
The kitchen is visible from the dining room and the sounds and smells of cooking are enticing. Ismael has just taken a pork roast out of the oven, its fatty skin crisped to a golden brown. He lifts lids on giant skillets to reveal yellow rice and chicken fricassee. Ismael nods toward the later and inhales, “Ahh . . .that’s like dying and going to Heaven.”
By 6:45pm, Ismael is anxious to start playing. Beatriz grabs a microphone. Josúe is out back somewhere, so a customer from the audience steps up to play bongos. By the next number, Josúe arrives and takes up the congas. They play from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and then take a break. Listen to a live recording here.
This is the place to see this music. The food and music are inextricably linked. Everyone has a role – singing, playing percussion, taking orders, singing, preparing and serving food. The youngest of six, Marcos, is in his early twenties. He sings close harmony with his sister Beatriz, lovingly throws his arms around his mother’s neck, and helps out in the kitchen. Here you see him using a mortar and pestle to crush garlic, lime, and cooked plantain, which is served with a cold seafood salad. I ask Carmen about recipes – Beatriz answers, “They are more of our country, than just our family.”
Santiago’s Family Restaurant is located at 34 Franklin Street in Westfield, Massachusetts. The live music is only on Friday and Saturday evenings. Phone: 413.562.0210
Photographs by Maggie Holtzberg
Ever wonder where your OceanSpray cranberry juice comes from? This is a good time of year to find out. Cold weather ripens the cranberries, to make nice dark fruit. Commercial buyers pay a bonus for dark colored fruit. But for cranberry farmers in southeastern Massachusetts, there is a fine balance between cold weather and frost. So the Cape Cod Growers Association issues a frost report.
Cranberries growing in low lying bogs have to be harvested before the first frost comes. Back in October 2000, we visited the Gilmore Cranberry Company bog in South Carver, just after it had been flooded and picked. Susan Gilmore was our guide bogside, while her husband Ben Gilmore worked along with two day laborers from New Bedford.
The berries had been swept to one side of the bog by the wind and then carrolled with “booms.” A tow line with floatation was hooked to the end of the boom; pulling it “corralled” the berries. A hose sucked the berries up along with some water into the truck. The berries were “detrashed” — washed and separated from the chaff and trash. The latter is used for mulch. The clean berries were then loaded into a truck.
Ben Gilmore has donned his waders to help corral the remaining berries. Once the truck was loaded with berries, Ben drove it to the Oceanspray receiving station a few miles away. A few trucks were in line ahead of us. We got permission from an employee in the control house to observe — this is a restricted area. Once on a lift, the truck tilts up to a 90 degree angle, forcing the berries against the back of the truck. A small opening allows the berries spill out — it sounds like a giant rain stike. Once dumped, the load passes by a blower to remove leaves, then is fed onto a conveyor belt into another bin for a final wash to remove the bad fruit and leaves.
And so goes a “wet” harvest of cranberries. The majority of cranberries are harvested this way and will be used for processed food — the juices and sauces. A dry harvest is used for the fresh fruit market and is much more labor intensive. That market is from November to December; the berries don’t keep.
Photos by Maggie Holtzberg.
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