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Country Sleighing

by Edmund Clarence Stedman

In January, when down the dairy
The cream and clabber freeze,
When snow-drifts cover the fences over,
We farmers take our ease.
At night we rig the team,
And bring the cutter out;
Then fill it, fill it, fill it, fill it,
And heap the furs about.

Here friends and cousins dash up by dozens,
And sleighs at least a score;
There John and Molly, behind, are jolly,
Nell rides with me, before.
All down the village street
We range us in a row:
Now jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle,
And over the crispy snow!

The windows glisten, the old folks listen
To hear the sleigh-bells pass;
The fields grow whiter, the stars are brighter,
The road is smooth as glass.
Our muffled faces burn,
The clear north-wind blows cold,
The girls all nestle, nestle, nestle,
Each in her lover's hold.

Through bridge and gateway we're shooting straightway,
Their tollman was too slow!
He'll listen after our song and laughter
As over the hill we go.
The girls cry, "Fie! for shame!"
Their cheeks and lips are red,
And so, with kisses, kisses, kisses,
They take the toll instead.

Still follow, follow! across the hollow
The tavern fronts the road.
Whoa, now! all steady! the host is ready,—
He knows the country mode!
The irons are in the fire,
The hissing flip is got;
So pour and sip it, sip it, sip it,
And sip it while 't is hot.

Push back the tables, and from the stables
Bring Tom, the fiddler, in;
All take your places, and make your graces,
And let the dance begin.
The girls are beating time
To hear the music sound;
Now foot it, foot it, foot it, foot it,
And swing your partners round.

Last couple toward the left! all forward!
Cotillons through, let 's wheel:
First tune the fiddle, then down the middle
In old Virginia Reel.
Play Money Musk to close,
Then take the "long chassé,"
While in to supper, supper, supper,
The landlord leads the way.

The bells are ringing, the ostlers bringing
The cutters up anew;
The beasts are neighing; too long we 're staying,
The night is half-way through.
Wrap close the buffalo-robes,
We 're all aboard once more;
Now jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle,
Away from the tavern-door.

So follow, follow, by hill and hollow,
And swiftly homeward glide.
What midnight splendor! how warm and tender
The maiden by your side!
The sleighs drop far apart,
Her words are soft and low;
Now, if you love her, love her, love her,
'T is safe to tell her so.

Folk Ways

The arrival of snow marked the begining of the social season for the rural American of times past. With fewer outdoor chores needing to be done, and the sudden presence of a smoother and quicker method of transporation by sleigh, snowy wintertime was the ideal season for visiting friends and neighbors and having social gatherings.

Contrary to modern America where ice and snow are viewed as a danger and an inconvenience for travel - something to be removed as quickly as possible - in pre-automobile America, snow was actually seen as a welcome boon for travel. Instead of shoveling snow off the streets, large rollers were used to compact the snow onto the roadways in order to make it last as long as possible. Snow was actually shoveled into covered bridges to allow sleigh travel through them.[1]

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"In January, when down the dairy
The cream and clabber freeze,"

What is "clabber?"

Clabber (or bonnyclabber) is raw milk that has naturally fermented (or soured) and thickened. The term is derived from the Irish Gaelic term bainne clabair, which means "thickened milk."

You might be wondering why Edmund Clarence Stedman would be waxing poetic about sour milk. To many modern ears, sour milk sounds like a bad thing. Foul smelling pasteurized supermarket milk that went a little past its expiration date might come to mind. However, naturally soured (clabbered) raw milk is a very different thing from soured pasteurized milk.

In pasteurized milk, all of the beneficial bacteria naturally present has been intentionally killed with high temperatures. With the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria killed off during the pasteurization process, sour pasturized milk is in fact spoiled milk. In the absence of good bacteria, mold spores and other contaminates multiply and eventually caused the milk to go "off."

Raw milk with its beneficial bacteria still intact, however, goes through a very different souring process. Over the course of a few days, clean raw milk left out at room temperature will turn into clabber, a fermented product similar to yogurt or kefir. The acidity from the beneficial lactic acid bacteria naturally present in the milk prevents harmful microbes from multiplying during the process.

Fermented raw dairy has been a staple of country folk diet for centuries. It has been called a "fountain of health" as it has long been understood to bestow numerous health benefits.



"The irons are in the fire,
The hissing flip is got;
So pour and sip it, sip it, sip it,
And sip it while 't is hot."

What is "hissing flip?" And what "irons" are in the fire?

"Hissing flip" was a drink that was popular before the 20th century. The flip was "hissing" because of the way it was heated up: by dipping hot irons from the fire directly into the drink until it was sufficiently hot.


Did You Know?

"Through bridge and gateway we're shooting straightway,
Their tollman was too slow!
He'll listen after our song and laughter
As over the hill we go."

Toll roads and toll bridges were once a ubiquitous part of the old American landscape. Roads were badly needed in rural parts of the country, and to remedy the problem, local private investors would often pool resources to construct a road or a bridge. Upon completion of the project, a toll collector would be stationed there to collect a toll from travelers.

There sometimes existed a rocky relationship between toll collector and town folk. One bridge in Ohio earned the appellation "Old Meaney's Bridge" from the local children. The bridge was apparantly manned by an exeptionally cranky old toll collector.[2]


  1. Sloane, Eric. The Sound of Bells. Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966, pp. 22-24
  2. Sloane, Eric. American Barns and Covered Bridges. Wilfred Funk, Inc., 1954, p. 87

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