Living life on the prairie

PALMER – One of the biggest virgin prairie areas in Iowa had a little something extra to celebrate Sunday.

It was the 30th annual Fall Fest at the Wiegert Prairie, located just a few miles southeast of Palmer in Pocahontas County.

“Since it was our 30th, we had a tour of the buildings, and some displays of what we’ve done before,” said Corinne Peterson, Pocahontas County naturalist.

Guests could tour the barn, corn crib, church, farmhouse and schoolhouse on the old grounds, which had originally belonged to a family of German immigrants who settled there in the 1860s.

Even in the modern era, the family never had electricity or a telephone, she said. The property was passed on to the county Conservation Board in the 1980s.

There was a display on corn in the corn crib, like Wiegert had a few years ago. It showed different drying racks and methods for picking corn before the invention of modern machinery.

The north side of the corn crib was a display of quilts, while the south held a toy farm for the younger ones to play with. In the middle, spinners and weavers gave demonstrations with spinning wheels.

David Welander showed how to make apple cider by hand.

“We were commenting how kids these days don’t even seem to know that apple juice comes from apples. They’re having great fun squeezing it,” he said.

The kids would chop apples into pieces, he said, then crank them through a grinder that turns them into mush – cores, skins and all. Then the apples get pressed by another hand-cranked machine into cider.

“Cider is apple juice right out of the press,” Welander said. “Juice is cider after it’s been filtered and pasteurized. It looks clear. The cider is cloudy.”

That cloudiness is apple pulp that gives the cider extra flavor, he said. You can freeze cider and then drink it in winter, and it doesn’t seem to lose too much of that flavor.

However, he brought two types of cider to the fall fest. One was a little less traditional.

“This one has 7-Up, to make it a little sweeter,” he said. “The summer apples are green, and pretty tart, and the fall apples are not ready yet.”

Peterson thought about 300 people came through the little prairie homestead that day to see the old demonstrations, look at the livestock, and take horse-drawn rides through the prairie.

Kids could dip string into hot beeswax at one end of the property, making candles like would have been used to light a house on the prairie. A metal washer at the end of the string helped the string go straight into the pot.

Marcia Leu staffed the schoolhouse, dressed in period clothing. During the summer, she teaches at the school for Iowa History day when fifth-graders spend a whole day at the farm.

“They practice penmanship in the air, because paper is too expensive,” Leu said. “And there were no left-handers. If you were left-handed, you had to change.”