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endive, gardening, frogs, rain, bears, superstitions, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect
A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Endive - "der Ondiffy!", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated June 15, 1953. Within, Dieffenbach details the cultivation methods his family employed as a child to successfully grow endive.
Packet 577-213-3 to 577-213-8
Endive - “der Ondiffy!”
Endive belongs to the chicory family, which is often called wild endive.
If it is sowed in the garden very early it can be used in the same manner as garden lettuce. Once it gets too old for using in this manner, it can be transplanted, and there raised singly, so as to form big plants. Most farm-women preferred to make a later sowing of seed for these transplants, as the left-overs from the earlier crop usually get to be too tough once they mature.
Grandma would sow her endive seed when she pulled up her onions. When the plants were quite small she would transplant them so as to be about two feet apart each way. She would hoe the tiny plants and keep it free from weeds. Every few weeks she would scatter a few handfuls of finely pulverized chicken-droppings - (hinka-mish) around the plants or some wood-ashes or soot. Or you might catch her unawares, making a hole with the heel of her shoe or the end of the hoe-handle and then drop in a ball of horse manure - “en giles-gnuttel” and cover it up. And did she have endive? By the time it was fully matured you could hardly find a bare spot to step in between the big sprawling plants; if it didn’t rain for a week then we carried in water and poured it around the plants. I had a little bucket holding a few quarts and I’d have kept on carrying water for that endive until I dropped; but Granny stopped me. She said - “Harrich! Husht sell kairt?” (Listen! Did you hear that?)
I nodded my head; I had heard a faint squeak up somewhere in the old plum-tree.
“Sell waur en laub-frush; er gookt feet wo en glainer bull-frog, un er woont druwa im lawb - im da bletter fuur bawm - mer con Ihn sheer net finna. Won seller greisht no gebts roya eb luug. Meer doona rimmy mainer wosser drawga!“ (That was a tree-frog; he looks much like a small bull-frog and he lives up in a tree in the leaves where one can hardly find him. When he cries it will rain before long. We don’t carry anymore water today!)
That night it started to rain and it didn’t stop for almost a week. When it had dried off then we tied up the endive so it would get blanched and crisp. Grandma would tear old clothes into narrow strips; I would kneel and gather all the leaves of one plant and hold them up, and she would wrap a string around the plant and then tie it; later in the Fall when we would fetch it in to use, it would be all a nice golden yellow.
One fall when it was time to tie-up the endive, Grandma was sick; she could not get out to help me and no one seemed to care to help. So I went to work by myself. I could see where the wind had blown leaves from the apple-tree over a few plants and they were already beginning to color. So I took a big basket and I carried leaves in from the orchard and covered all the endive. Then I put brush - “hecka” on top, to keep them from blowing off. I did not tell anybody of what I had done.
When Grandma had somewhat recovered she one day announced that she was going out into the garden.
“Meer missa eppes do mitt unserm ondiffy udder er ferfreert un bleibt gree!“ (We must do something to our endive or it will freeze while it is still green!) When she came into the garden and saw how nicely all the plants were covered she almost cried.
"Waar hut don oll des gadoo?" (Who did all this?) she asked. I told her but she would not at first believe me.
"Waar hut deer pawdt we 's tsu do?” (Who told you how to do it?)
Nobody - I thought it would keep it from freezing and perhaps it would also help to turn it yellow, I replied.
“Liever Gott! We husht 's gewisst? Woo husht do so eppes haar?" (Dear God! How did you know it? Where did you get such an idea?)
“Well Granny, wos iss letts mitt?” (Well Granny, what is wrong with it?) I said.
“'S iss nix letts - 's iss olles oll recht; Usht so hen meer 's ols gadoo we Ich nuch en glay may del waur!” (Nothing is wrong - all of it is right; but so we used to do it when I was a little girl.) Then she told me fetch some more leaves and brush; then we piled fresh brush over some of the biggest plants and put a pile of leaves on them; these were left out over Winter. When these were brought late in the Spring it was a joy to behold one of them. They were as big as a big dishpan, crisp and curly, and looked like a pile of gold. From that time on she would not care and if it didn’t get tied, as covering it meant a lot less stooping and the finished product was much nicer and crisper.
I have since then come to believe that Grandma’s belief in the super-natural went much deeper than I then knew; she repeated time and again that it seemed as if some one of the old-timers had come back and had in some manner informed me of this old-fashioned way of doing things. She explained that when she was young the clothes were so scarce that by the time they were discarded they were unfit to use for tying endive - they would tear if one just looked at them - much less stand the stress of tying; so leaves and brush were used, both being plentiful and readily available.
When Dad heard her one night when she re-iterated her statement about some supernatural power prompting me, he said - “Well, con niemaum ollauile deutar udder do, wos de oldta heu? Er iss usht en schpew ous em oldta glutz!” (Well, can nobody at present think or do what the old folks used to do? He is only a chip from the old block!)
“Ya, un wos en schpew!“ (Yes, and what a chip!) she said.
Sometimes in the Fall she would put some endive in the pit - “des grout-luch”. But it never looked like what we covered deep with dry litter and left it out.
Grandma would tell of how a big bear came along one night and dug some of their endive out from under the snow. He also stole a shoat and carried it off into the forest and there devoured it. The men tracked it and killed it; and it furnished a lot more meat than the poor piggy would have done. Bear-meat is good, tasting very much like pork.
June 15th. 1953 Der Aldt Bauer.
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach on Endive, June 15, 1953" (1953). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 164.
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Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).