Cornish in Wisconsin

A Delicious Celebration in the Classroom

 

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Plankroad-0062As mentioned in the previous post, after reading Plank Road Summer, students in Burlington, Wisconsin, shared their knowledge of Midwestern history at the “1852 6th Grade Fair” held on Grandparents’ Day.  No fair is complete without food, of course.  Plankroad-9999In addition to building plank roads, coloring quilt blocks, and learning about the Underground Railroad, the visitors baked scones and drank freshly-squeezed lemonade.  Inspired by pioneer girls Katie and Florence in Plank Road Summer, one student even provided a taste test of strawberry preserves.

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Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography.

 

 

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Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, county fair, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Brigid’s Day!

Today is Brigid’s Day, also known as St. Bridget’s Day, but many readers may not realize the significance of that name in the Plank Road books.

In Plank Road Summer, Gran Mather’s given name appears only twice.  At the Yorkville smithy, Old Man Caswell calls Gran by her first name, and at the Ives Grove store, Gran introduces herself to Marshal Carter: “I’m Brigid Mather.”

I chose “Brigid” as Florence’s grandmother’s name because of its connection with the ancient Celtic world.  Gran Mather is a healer in the pioneer community who speaks the old Cornish language and cherishes the traditions of her native Cornwall.

The Celtic Brigid, or Brighid, triple goddess of fire–the fire of inspiration, the fire of the hearth, and the fire of the forge–was Christianized as St. Brigid, or Bridget, patron saint of poets, midwives, blacksmiths, travelers, and fugitives.

Readers of Plank Road Summer will surely recognize the significance of those occupations to our story.

And careful readers of Plank Road Winter may realize that little Birdie is named after her great-grandmother–when the schoolmaster calls the roll, she responds to the name “Brigid Caswell.”

Interestingly,  Saint Bridget is also the patron saint of milkmaids.

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Here We Come a-Wassailing”

wassail bowl printOn this twelfth day of Christmas I will stir up my last batch of wassail for the season and carry this traditional winter drink to a gathering of friends. Maybe at our hosts’ door I can convince my husband to sing “Here we come a-wassailing” with me as the Banvards did in Plank Road Winter when they arrived at the Mather Inn on Twelfth Night.

Most often my kettle of wassail simmers on the stove at home, a fragrant reminder of this season of hospitality.  I make the first batch for our winter solstice party, and while my family-friendly recipe, a mixture of fruit juices and cinnamon and cloves, is admittedly tamer than those that call for ale or wine as the base, many of our guests top off their wassail cups with something stronger.

You can learn more about the fascinating history of wassailing along with other Cornish winter holiday customs at the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies website.

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“On the Feast of Stephen”

Whether you think of December 26 as Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day or simply the day after Christmas, we hope you enjoy making music and sharing family traditions during the winter holidays. Here’s a timely excerpt from Plank Road Winter:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

Father’s voice in the familiar carol woke Sophie as it did
every year on the second day of Christmas. In her opinion, he
might be one of the finest singers in Yorkville, but the break of
day was hardly the ideal time to share that fact.
She and Linnie groaned and pulled the quilt up over their
heads. But Birdie sat right up in her trundle bed. After Father
boomed out the saintly king’s verse, she chimed right in with
the little page’s response. Sophie and Linnie had no choice but
to swell the chorus:


good king wenceslas

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.


By the time they sang about the little page treading in his
master’s footsteps, John Alton joined them from the next room:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing!

Sophie was still humming the carol when she made her way
down the back stairs to the kitchen, where Mother was serving
up breakfast. While Sophie was not fond of many of the
old-timers’ traditions in Yorkville, she thoroughly approved of
the way the Caswells ended the Christmas season. Back in the
plank road days the Cornish settlers would go a-wassailing on
Twelfth Night. All the wassailers came last to the Mather Inn,
where they stayed on for dancing to see Christmas out.

(from Chapter 25: Boxing Day)

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Midsummer Eve: Keeping the Fires of Cornwall

During my Valparaiso University semester abroad, in Cornwall I enjoyed reading by the hearth in the youth hostel, hiking along the cliffs, and watching the sea.  I remember standing at Land’s End looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, thinking about the many emigrants who had watched their homeland fade into a gray haze of sea and sky.

I did not know then that my sister Emily and I would write about the Cornish settlers of our own Wisconsin community.  In the tree-shaded Yorkville Methodist cemetery, the pale weathered stones of the pioneers are scattered among the sharp granite markers of their descendants.

In the Plank Road days, Cornish settlers must have sought ways to connect the old ways with the new.  Along with telling stories of the old country, they shared the tastes of home–pasties every day and saffron cake on special occasions–and worshiped together at the Methodist “mud chapel,” singing hymns and carols known for generations.

Other traditions must have persisted as well.  There are no cliffs in Yorkville, so on Midsummer Eve the Cornish pioneers were never to see “a chain of fires on the clifftops stretching all along the seacoast,”  as Gran Mather described the custom to Florence.  Yet lighting a bonfire on June 23 and sharing a ritual for prosperity in the coming year would be one way of honoring the old ways and helping the young people to appreciate the place they knew “only through stories and songs, the land where others shared in the keeping of the fires.”

By the end of the nineteenth century, such Midsummer traditions had died out even in Cornwall, but in the 1920s various organizations were formed to preserve the Cornish heritage.  The motto of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies is “Cuntelleugh an brewyon us gesys na vo kellys travyth” (Gather up the fragments that are left that nothing be lost).  You can learn more about Midsummer Eve fires and other Cornish customs at the Federation website: <http://www.oldcornwall.org/&gt;

The Plank Road Summer Resources for Teachers include materials related to immigration and Cornish traditions provided by the Wisconsin historic site of Pendarvis.


Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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