Farming on the eve of the American Revolution
By 1767, bread was significant contribution by Berks County communities to Philadelphia export trade
In 1766, Benjamin Franklin remarked that the unfavorable balance of trade with Engl a nd was only tolerable by our immense exports to the Colonies and the rest of the world. By 1767, wheat grain, flour, and “bread itself” were significant contributions by Berks County inland communities to the export trade of Philadelphia.
Bread from Pennsylvania, the staff of life, fed other colonies, and surprisingly, the prisons of Europe. However, farmland put under cultivation just cleared from Penn’s virgin forests at first could not grow wheat, but year after year as the sour ground was sweetened with lime burned by local Rhineland immigrants, the soil became very much fertile
At first, only rye was suitable to grow on this deforested land, hence there was an overproduction of rye, and its price dropped significantly. But by their sheer physical energy, Colonists in namely the Oley Valley just 50 miles from Philadelphia cleared land, quarried stone, mined iron ore, and had established a productive agribusiness center by 1765.
Philadelphia’s export trade of wheat and flour, oats, maize, beans, flaxseed, beeswax, and salt beef, together with cheese, butter, and bacon were Colonial goods in great demand by Boston, the Carolina lowlands, Georgia, and the West Indies. Thus, by 1775, farmers of the Oley Valley participated in Philadelphia’s export of goods worth 705,000 pounds sterling with flour accounting for 350,000 pounds and wheat 100,000 pounds. By 1791, [ not coincidentally, the very same year the great migration of Plain Dutch Amish to the Big Valley of Central Pennsylvania], the new Commonwealth of Pennsylvania led all the United States with an aggregate of imports and exports that equaled onethird of the Republic’s total foreign trade!
In those early Colonial days, the vast storm-swept Lancaster Plain was no match for the productively of sheltered Oley Valley farms, located along the Schuylkill River leading to the port City of Philadelphia. By the mid1700s, when immigrant Colonial wagon trains passed through the beautiful Oley Valley from Philadelphia en route to frontier lands northeast of Kempton ( upper part of county), the Germans called this new territory “Allemangel,” meaning all wants, for its lack of fertility and farmable land. A rugged terrain, that was eventually tamed, the land did not match the rich Oley Valley bottomlands or its rate of productivity. The Pennsylvania Dutch, though, were masters at farming wheat, and their over- brimming granaries inspired an excellence at bread- baking that was unequalled in early America.
Home- baked bread, void of modern mechanical and chemical preparation, had a unique texture and moist yeasty taste that enhanced every meal as a culinary delight. Ask any older Dutchman if he can fondly recall eating slices of thick warm bread spread with butter or topped with molasses or apple butter. A simple teaser of appetite, bread eaten this way they might continue has no counterpart among the bland commercial storebought breads of the secular world, but in simpler terms. And any Plain Pennsylvania Dutch woman will tell you that the first step in baking good bread is in the selection of the wheat flour.
For modern Pennsylvania Dutch people, it is very easy for us to recall our nation’s celebrated history for in large part of American civilization, our ethnicity has always been interwoven with the pride that Patriotic citizens have felt. Take for instance the United States flag of this agrarian Republic that was born in Philadelphia, the cradle of Liberty founded by William Penn, who personally invited German Palatines to help found Pennsylvania. Our PA Dutch in the 17th and 18th Century not only flocked to America, but soon outnumbered the Quaker English settlers, who like them, embraced Penn’s idea of beginning a Holy experiment.
Photo captured in the early 1970s of a bakeoven in disrepair and no longer in use since then in the Shimersville area near the eastern Berks County border. Many architectural treasures can still be found and overlooked in the Longswamp area of our county where Oley Valley and rural Kutztown take precedent.
Home- baked bread, void of modern mechanical and chemical preparation, had a unique texture and moist yeasty taste that enhanced every meal as a culinary delight.