Averni moved Ashlan's arm from around her waist and rose from their straw sleep-place. The sun had not risen, but she knew it would be another hot, dry summer day. She walked out into the predawn light. Everything was smelling crisp and clean, the sun just beginning to light the sky. The birds had begun their morning song. She walked to the fire at the center of the compound where the other women would soon gather. She dropped a handful of twigs on top of the smoldering ashes and soon had the village fire flaming again. She grabbed a branch from the woodpile, broke it into short pieces and added them to the fire.
Averni was thinking about her mother. Treaulee had known nothing about Averni's birth mother. She always talked to Averni as if she were her own daughter, telling her of family traditions and events for Averni to pass down to her own children.
The other women arrived and the village came to life. As they gathered, Averni watched Willow, Twig's daughter, take two of the younger girls to forage for more firewood to replace the stash used over the last few days. Willow looks weak. She has looked that way for a kalen, thought Averni. I need to talk to Deevia about her. She stretched. One more thing to get resolved. By the time Willow and her two helpers returned with a new cache of firewood, the women had heated several of the large clay pots of water.
Averni thought of the chores that lay ahead. They would eat the last of the bread loaves at firstmeal, she realized. More flatbread. She would need several women to get the earthen oven ready and several to crush the wheat grains into flour. Flour, water, a small bit of our precious salt is all we need.A quick bake in the oven and the flatbread for the next several days would be done.
The women went about preparing the meal for the morning as the men and children gathered for firstmeal. They added a little meat and some vegetables to the pot and the morning's stew was ready to eat. Each family ate together, devouring the stew and bread until everything edible was gone. The people then divided into small groups to begin their separate chores.
The majority of men, along with most of the older boys, went to labor in the fields. The rest of the men and boys would herd the goats out beyond the fields. Aided by their dogs, they would spend the next several days well beyond the hill, grazing the animals as they moved southward along the hill's crest, then eastward toward flatter, more open ground. Gascon went to feed and tend the pigs alone.
When the women finished their morning chores, Averni divided the women into groups to restock produce for the village. Some of the women were needed to pick and store sage and mint and herbs to replenish the village's supply. Others needed to go into the uncultivated areas outside the palisade and along the riverbanks to fill baskets with dandelions and other wild plants needed for medicines. And one or two women were needed to check the buried storage jars, taking stock of what was left in them from the spring hunts. Even though the jars kept the food well preserved underground, they needed to eat what was left in the jars before it all spoiled in the summer heat.
They would not store any more big-game meat for the summer, since disease, ticks and other pests make it inedible by this time of year. The men would wait until after winter, when the cold weather had thinned the herds of the weak and frail. However, despite the meager availability of untainted meat, a handful of men had gone out two days before and would not be back for another day or two. The meat would not be worth a hunting expedition, the women argued, but the men wanted to return to the woods to try one last time.
The villagers' diet had changed significantly within Averni's lifetime. Food was always scarce, even though farming meant no one would starve. Farming now seemed so sophisticated to her. The men learned to plant millet in the spring, because it would be ready before the hot, dry summer was upon them. They would sow spelt in the fall for winter harvest because spelt was hearty in cold weather and not prone to fungus. The men grew barley in fields alongside their wheat fields for bread and for making beer.
Averni's generation was giving way to the first generation of women raised on a farm and who would live most or all of their life in a village. New foods were being introduced by the younger women who had not grown up with the old ways of preparing meals.
It was evening, and Ceautee, Teaucha and Livia were preparing the next day's meal at the village cook pot. After they had finished wrapping a large deer hind-joint in burdock leaves and had secured it with nettle string, the three squatted next to the cook pot.
"I want to show you what I found," Livia said to her friends. "We can put the hot rocks from the fire into the pot like we always do," she said. "Then I will show you."
They each used sticks to pick up a red-hot rock, walk it over to the pot and drop it in. Then they each added one more hot rock and waited for the pot to boil. They would be doing this all night to keep the meat cooking until morning. After settling down around the pot for the night, Livia told them her story.
"A kalen ago, I was making bread and a small bit of dough dropped into the cook pot that had deer meat in it. I left it in the pot and finished my bread-making. I came back a little while later and the dough was still in one piece, floating on top. I picked it out of the pot because the other women were coming to add the vegetables and herbs. I put it in my mouth to see what it tasted like. It was soft, not like flatbread, and it tasted like deer meat!"
Ceautee and Teaucha looked at each other.
"A few days later, I dumped a larger bit of dough into the cook pot to see if it would happen again. It did. Now I dump a bit of dough into the pot each time. Sometimes I leave it in a little longer, sometimes I pick it out sooner. I think it is time for me to make you the dough-dump to see if you like the taste."
"Yes!" said Ceautee and Teaucha.
"We will wait until morning, when the deer is almost done, just before it is time for the herbs and vegetables to be added," said Livia.
The excitement of something new kept them awake and chattering. They took out the cooled rocks and added hot ones, keeping the water simmering through the night. Livia prepared a batch of bread dough for her demonstration.
The three women did not want to be in the way when the women came to warm themselves around the campfire at dawn, so they each took a hot rock off the campfire and added it to the cook pot just before the women arrived. As Livia was showing Ceautee and Teaucha what she could make with the dough, several of the women came over to the cook pot to see what she was doing. Ceautee noticed Livia getting nervous as more women arrived to watch the demonstration.
Ceautee said, "You speak the language well now. Hold your head down and look at Teaucha and me. Speak to us like we are the only ones here."
Livia did this and after the demonstration, every woman in the camp wanted to make the dough-dump. After several kalen, when most of the women felt they had this dough-dumping process mastered, they improvised by adding herbs like rosemary, lavender or thyme to the dough.
Excerpted from "Acorns To Wheat: A Chasseen Family Saga" by David William Allman. Copyright © 2016 by David William Allman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.