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"September, the month of autumn, has 30 days. The day is 12 hours and 40 minutes long. And the sun runs in the west, and is therein from the 14th day of September till the 14th day of October." - The Peasant Practice
Until the end of the last century, the common people in Sweden lived almost exclusively on what Swedish nature could provide. The Nordic peoples were largely self-sufficient farmers, naturfolk as Vilhelm Moberg called the Swedes, who lived off the land and the forest.
In thousands of years, hundreds generations, the Norse myllan has put food on the table for our ancestors. Generation after generation. But what did their struggle for survival look like through the days and seasons of the year? With these words, the old Farmer's Prayer begins September, the month of autumn:
Now the farmer will thresh out his barley,
And the fisherman catches the herring fresh,
Pork I may eat,
Sheep's milk and goat's milk too.
In the autumn month, well is an ulcerative, and then sheep's milk and goat's milk should be used, which is a peculiarly good cure. Watch out for warm baths. You may also use herbs and fruit, it is not harmful. In Wigten is good to wander, to cut off hair, to make weddings, to put on new clothes and so and plant.
In Vilhelm Moberg's book The Year of the Farmer the beginning of autumn is set for the day of St Bartholomew, August 24, and lasts, according to an old calculation, until the day of St Clement, November 23. Moberg describes September as a busy month for the Nordic public:
September is overshadowed for the farmer by two pressing tasks: harvesting the spring seed and then the autumn seed. And even more than in other seasons, the weather regulates his work, this weather of the Lord, which he alternately blesses and curses, as it benefits or harms him.
The nights are lengthened and the days shortened, and on the 21st of the month an important point is reached: then the day and the night divide between them; they share fairly and equally as brothers, as the common people say. The stubble fields lie barren and empty, and the autumn ploughing begins. It is indeed an urgent time for the farmer."
Moberg also mentions the "potato week" at the Mickelsmäss - the end of September - when potato picking requires all available hands. After the potatoes, it was the turn of the turnips and fodder beets to be pulled out of the ground.
From my own homestead in Ångermanland, County Governor Olof Nyberg says in a note from 1764, that when September comes, the harvest is over in the fields, and then it is time to harvest the swede's breath. It is also a busy time to thresh the grain that was harvested in August. Even flax, a major export commodity in Ångermanland in the past, would begin to be prepared after being soaked in water and retted (Norrland working life in the 18th century).
In Alfred Kämpes The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens from 1919 you can read more about the activities of the allmog in September in the 18th century, taken from the book of the provost Reinerus Broocman A Complete Swedish House-Hole Book from 1736. (Alfred Kämpe, The Freedom Struggles of the Swedish Allmog, volume 2, p 205)
Broocman wrote down these points based mainly on larger farm households, but probably also to a lesser extent on smaller households, and has certainly been relevant not only in the 18th century but for many centuries, if not millennia.
§ 1. Wheat is sown, meadows are cleared, hunted, shot and ditched.
§ 2. Now turnips and roots are taken up, the cabbage is chopped up below.
§ 3. Apples and pears are picked at the fullmen. When the combs blacken, it is high time for that. Soon after full growth, young trees are replanted.
§ 5. Now the cattle are set and tied up, but the fattening cattle separately, the sheep are washed and sheared. Both young and old pigs are put on the manure heap. The paddock must be tended for the goats.
§ 6. Foals shall not be released in dry weather. As soon as it is freezing, the cattle shall not be allowed to go out any longer, for then they get throat diseases.
§ 7. Chickens, geese and turkeys are turned into money; "those one does not want to lie on over the winter are put on the goose pen to be fattened.
§ 8. No more crayfish are caught, the net is lengthened and lowered, as the fish return to the depths.
§ 9. At home, flax and hemp are roasted, threshed and chopped, the hop yard is trimmed, the barn houses are covered, people are played with, the hives are treasured, wax is melted, etc. Evenings and mornings are threshed.
Tar-burning was also an important activity in September, producing tar from the stumps and roots of resinous pine, known as 'tôrrve'. Tar was used to lubricate wagons, tar doors, knuckleheads and outbuildings, and not least church roofs, steeples and bell towers. In the book From the happy days of self-sufficiency (1933), J.L. Saxon writes further about the work on a farm in Närke in the 1850-60s that September was the time for harvesting peas, oats, beans, but also fruit and berries.
Of the forest berries, no one really cared for them except the lingonberries. They formed large teams from different farms in the village, mostly women and children. They did not want young men with them, for then nothing would be done, they said. Lingonberry picking was considered a pleasure. Good food was brought along. The ling was cooked in a malt pot to mash, which was stored in wooden tubs. When the "lingemose" was to be consumed, syrup - if one could have it - and creamed milk were added. It was mostly eaten with potatoes.
Pears and apples were dried and used in fruit soup along with dried cherries, raisins and prunes. Cherries were made into juice. Plums, gooseberries and currants were eaten fresh. Strawberries and cloudberries, on the other hand, 'were the exclusive privilege of the children'. Blueberries were not preserved, but used only for their medicinal properties.
"If someone had a bad stomach, he was instructed to eat a quart of fresh blueberries daily on an empty stomach. More than one person assured me that he had been cured of his stomach ailment by such a cure."
According to Saxon, the fruiting season was a time of cure in the old peasant society. Not much of the harvest was used, but it was eaten fresh during this short time of the year.
"It was like an annual well-cure, which sometimes produced a beneficial cleansing in the form of 'excrement' (diarrhoea) - this was particularly the case with the plums - and always gave to the whole organism the refreshment which the fruit can give better than anything else. Nothing was then known about the minerals and vitamins of fruits and berries, but they were known to be beneficial to consume."
Herbs, medicinal and household plants
"In those days nature was not a hidden book to those who dwelt in it, as is now the case with most city dwellers. One knew in a number of cases the names of the plants and, still more, their uses. Nature was then an open book, which spoke and promised.
The collection of spices, medicinal, household and colouring plants took place at the times when the plant was best suited for this purpose, and this was well known to all.
Cumin was a common bread spice.
The silky meadow wool was gathered into pillowcases, if not for anyone else, at least for the little one in the cradle.
On plants as medicines, as mentioned, I have written a more detailed work. I therefore omit them here, only recalling that a number of herbs were known and much used medicines.
Valerian root or lavender was added to the clothes to give them a pleasant scent.
At weekends the floor of the cottage was strewn with juniper or, failing that, spruce. This gave not only the appearance of a weekend but also a pleasant smell. And it was also a disinfectant.
If you had a contagious disease in a house, you went through all the rooms with a burning one-way rush. That was contagion control." - J.L. Saxon, From the happy days of self-reliance, p 128
In addition to medicinal plants, moss was also brought in from the forests of Närke. "Brown moss" was used to seal the walls and "white moss" was used as a drying agent for scrubbing. The moss was taken in the autumn before it was frozen, dried and stored to be used as needed. The ability of the dried white moss to absorb moisture is described by Saxon as 'phenomenal'. After scrubbing, it was thrown onto the dung heap. Reindeer moss was also collected:
"Clean moss was taken and dried to be used as an inlay between outer and inner windows in winter. The red lava calyxes were then sought after as ornaments. Some used dried marigolds in addition."
Important days in September
In the old farming community, the mickelsmäss was one of the biggest weekends of the year. This was due to the fact that the harvest was harvested at this time. Mickelsmäss, originally a Catholic day of homage to the Archangel Michael, occurred when the stores were filled with more food than at any other time of the year. It was also customary for candles of various kinds to be lit after this weekend, and then burned during the winter months. During the week that followed, servants also had a number of rights, such as leave of absence and the right to terminate their contract and take up employment on another farm.
The period of service for servants used to extend from Mickelsmäss to Mickelsmäss, with the exception of this free week, which has an ancient tradition: "seven nights between the day of the meeting may mercenaries be free, but no longer", it says here, "then they shall go into service", one can read in The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens, volume 1, p 174.
Kämpe, Alfred, The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens, volume 1, 1918
Kämpe, Alfred, The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens, volume 2, 1919
Moberg, Vilhelm, The Year of the Farmer, 1966
Saxon, J.L., From the happy days of subsistence : the work of a farm in Närke from 1 January to 31 December in the 1850-60s, 1933
Wichman, Holger, Working life in Norrland in the 18th century, Nordic Museum documents
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