A harvest stored

This fictional account illustrates how food storage might have been integrated with other household activities in Ancient Judah. I developed this from my dissertation.

The rain fell heavily now, the wind driving it against the house wall, pushing it through the town streets, turning the dirt into mud. It was the first heavy rain after gentler rains had softened the soil following the dry times of summer. “Let it come now, the rain,” Hamutal thought, as she placed the water jar on the straw ring beside the door, “we have gathered the harvest into the house.” Even the olive oil was pressed and stored in jars in the house. The wheat and barley had long been threshed, winnowed, and sieved. They had paid the tithes to Nathan, the city elder, and kept their portion in the house, together with the seed. Hamutal walked to the small storeroom, just beside the kitchen.

In the corner stood the large wooden grain chest. It was full of wheat. Two grain jars stood in front of it. She used the little one to carry small amounts of wheat to the kitchen. The larger jar was empty. It would soon be full again. After the ploughing, Shemaiah, her husband, would get more grain from Nathan, the city elder. It had always been like this: after the men had worked the fields for the city elder and the seed had been scattered on the land, the city elder would lavish on them the gift of grain. Their own seed for the new season stood in the two jars beside the grain chest. She had put the wheat into an official jar, not because it was a tithe or would be traded, but because the jar was already old and was no longer suitable for liquids. In a smaller jar beside it was the seed barley. They had enough seed for their fields, as long as the mice would not get to it and no mould attacked it.

Hamutal looked around the small storeroom. Yes, they had plenty of food. God had provided and blessed the fields and the storeroom. She prayed that no mice or insects, no war or fire, would threaten what God had given them. There was the jar of raisins and beside it the jar of lentils. A basket of dried figs stood beside it. From the ceiling hung the pomegranates and onions. She had used the old cooking pot to store the sesame seed.

Hamutal turned and went to the kitchen. The bread oven stood near the pillar. Around it she usually kept her implements for baking. The stone for pounding the bread, the wooden sticks, the pillow for the bread, the kneading bowl, the knife and the two cooking pots. Near the bread oven there was also the small jar of flour and a krater of chickpeas. She had used a few jars to partition off this area, so that little Joab couldn’t get to the oven from the back. There was the jar of oil and a jar of barley. She had put the jar of fish sauce between them. She had swapped it for dates with Obadiah’s family, Shemaiah’s cousin. They had received the gifts from Nathan, the city elder. And even though Hamutal was quite partial to dates herself, she knew that Shemaiah was fond of the fish sauce from the coast. It probably fed the family for longer, too.

Against the other wall were the quern and grinder, where she ground flour each morning. The large wheat jar was still half full. “If we don’t use it up by the time we get the wheat from Nathan, I may have to pour the rest into a bowl,” she thought.

Hamutal looked up and glanced over to the loom leaning against the back wall of the room. She had only just started to weave a new cloth. It should be finished by the end of the next month. Atarah, her oldest daughter, would help her with it. Nathan would be pleased. They had good wool this year and she had been able to get some beautiful dye. The cloth she made might even go to the king. Most of the cloth from the city was sent to Jerusalem, to the king, particularly if it was beautiful. And Nathan was usually particularly generous if he liked the cloth. To finish it, Hamutal probably would have to spin some more yarn. She usually did that together with the children in the work area on the other side of the pillars. It was quiet here. In the heat of day, but also now in winter, they sat here and worked with the wool or cleaned the beans. The women also slept here.

Hamutal stepped into the lounge at the back of the house. A large carpet covered part of the room. She had made it a few years ago. Opposite the door stood a jar of wine, from which she mixed a little with water during meal times. The bowls from the meal still stood on the carpet. The jug with thinned wine stood beside them, not yet empty. From the wall niche the mother figure looked over the room, protecting her family.

“Yes, it will be a good year,” Hamutal mumbled as she retraced her step to the front door. They had indeed been blessed. She opened the door to the stable and pushed a few of the sheep to the side. They had stayed inside today, because rain had threatened from early morning and Helah, the younger of her daughters, had begged not to have to go outside on such a day. She still didn’t like looking after the sheep, even though it had been her responsibility for a year now. Before that Obed had done it. But Obed…, Hamutal felt the lump rising in her throat, Obed was dead. Her oldest son had caught a fever after he cut himself with a sickle. She had cared for him, asked the healers for help, even made a solemn vow, but Obed did not live.

The ewe, heavily pregnant, eyed her nervously. Even though Obed no longer looked after them, the flock had prospered. All the ewes were pregnant, the goats with kid. She had talked to Shemaiah several times now about cutting a new door to the back store room and building a narrow wall to keep the sheep in. That way she wouldn’t have to walk through the stable every time she wanted to go to the back storeroom. Pushing a sheep aside, she opened the door to the storeroom.

It was dark here. Hamutal lit a lamp. She always liked the scent of this room, slightly musty with a hint of summer spice. It must be the wine. She cast her eyes on the largest jar they had in the house. They never moved it, leaving it here in this room, instead. It contained the oil. Beside it stood the drip jar with the juglet to take the oil from the large jar. They also used it to remove the oil covering the wine when they started a new jar. She looked at the juglet and had to think of little Joab. “As often as the juglet strikes the rim, Joab gets into trouble.” At least that’s what Atarah, her oldest daughter, always said. And there was some truth to it. Funny how Atarah had picked up so many phrases and proverbs from her grandmother, Hamutal’s mother-in-law.

There were three jars full of wine in the room, all of them official jars, one of them even had a stamp on it. If they had to give any of the jars away, it would be that one. But they kept it here for now. If anything came up, they would give it to Nathan, the city elder, and he would repay them, no doubt. It was always good to have a spare jar of wine in the house. Not that they had much wine this year. No, they would have to be careful and couldn’t use up too much. But it was enough. She still hoped there would be sufficient wine for the wheat harvest. It was always good to have some cool wine after the heat of a summer day. She knew that Shemaiah liked his wine, but he would also be cross if it ran out too soon or there was none available for trading if they really needed it. But she herself had to see to it that he only drank a little, so that the wine would last. Shemaiah might grumble, but he would be even angrier if there was none at all left. And sometimes he even praised her for keeping such a good watch over the wine and food supply.

Hamutal bent down to check the two milk pots. One contained butter, the other sourmilk balls, the last of the milk products from spring. They wouldn’t last much longer, she knew. She needed to use them up soon.

Hamutal opened the door to the stable, pushed the sheep out of the way and walked back to the front door. The rain had nearly stopped. The children would be home any moment, then. They had been with their relatives across the street. It wasn’t far, but they normally avoided the rain. It was certainly time for them to come home. Soon, the day would end and Shemaiah would be hungry after ploughing in the rain all day. And she hadn’t even started cooking yet.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Fiction, Food storage, Household Archaeology, Judah, Visualization and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A harvest stored

  1. profparks says:

    Thanks for this piece about Hamutal and her kitchen. I’ve come back here twice, getting the feel of it and a few specifics.

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