Early Bog Cultivation
Slash and Burn Cultivation in the Bogs and Buckwheat
Slash and burn is the oldest form of farming and was of great importance in making the bogs agriculturally viable. The wet and nutrient poor bogs were difficult to cultivate, but the use of slash and burn techniques produced harvests. Buckwheat, a relatively undemanding plant variety, was planted in the warm ashes and grew despite the unfavourable conditions in the bogs. This plant quickly became critical for survival both as a staple as well as a product for sale and hence secured the existence of the rural population.
Buckwheat is no longer considered a dietary staple but it is still a popular food choice. In eastern German cooking, sweet or savoury buckwheat is often served as a side dish. In different regions of Italy, polenta is still made out of buckwheat instead of the more typical corn. Japanese soba noodles are also made out of buckwheat. And in Germany, gluten free buckwheat flour is now a standard supermarket product. Buckwheat flour is an even more popular choice for making pancakes than for polenta or noodles. In Brittany, the ‘galette’ made with cheese, scrambled eggs, and ham is a hearty alternative to a sweet crepe. The Dutch dish ‘poffertjes’ are coin-sized pancakes that are served with powdered sugar and treacle. While in North America, buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup are a staple of a country breakfast. You may also like to taste buckwheat cake. We added a recipe at the end of this web page..
Good to know: The museum café at the Emsland Moormuseum offers buckwheat cake as well as buckwheat pancakes. The Emsland Moormuseum hosts the traditional Buckwheat Blossom Festival on the last Sunday in July. In the open-air village museum in Cloppenburg you can try your hand at making historical recipes, including buckwheat pancakes, at the hearth fire of an old farmhouse. All information is available online.
Fen cultivation was developed in the Netherlands but was also used in northern Germany to work the bogs. Settling the region was always a focus along with income generated from cutting the peat and the creation of land. Many of the fen colonies that sprang up at that time still exist today as villages and towns. The oldest and by far the largest of these German fen colonies is Papenburg – although fen cultivation stretched all the way to the joint community of Nordhümmling (like the municipality of Surwold).
Did you know? The expression, ‘fen’ comes from the Netherlands and refers to the bogs. Many villages and towns that end in ‘-fehn’ are typical fen settlements, like Elisabethfehn or Rhauderfehn.
Papenburg was founded in 1631, when the nobleman Diedrich von Velen bought a bog area from the bishop of Münster in order to start a fen colony. It was located on the right side of the Ems River and on the border to Ostfriesland. Settlers were brought from Velen and by 1639 a canal had been dug to the Ems through which the bogs were drained and the cut peat could be transported away for sale. Papenburg became independent in 1657 and paid no further duties. These favourable conditions let the number of settlers and the amount of peat cutting grow quickly in the 17th century.
In the middle of the 18th century the first settlers started to get involved with commercial shipping so that the peat didn’t have to be transported by shipping agents. Incidently, many Papeburgers also worked as contract shippers. In the 19th century, when Papenburg received its town charter, it had already moved ahead of traditional ship building cities like Lübeck, Hamburg or Bremen.
Perhaps the most impressive testament to this change from agriculture to service industry is the Meyer Shipyard in Papenburg. The shipyard was established in 1795 to build wooden ships. It now has 2500 employees as one of the largest companies in the northern part of Emsland and is one of the most important employers in the region. It has been market leader in the construction of cruise ships for decades.
However, even the very beginnings of Papenburg are astonishing to look at. On the historic Von-Velen-site, exhibitions range from the ‘plaggenhütten’, the peat huts of the early settlers, over ‘moorkaten’ - small cottages with fireproof gables - all the way up to the typical peat digger houses made out of bricks. The restored cottages and houses show the living conditions of settlers in the past centuries and tell the history of Papenburg.
Good to know: Bicyclists can experience fen cultivation directly on the Bog Experience Route. . This loop takes you past a number of communities including: Rhauderfehn, Ostrhauderfehn and Elisabethfehn. On the almost 200 km trail there are beautiful landscapes, the open space of the bogs, thematically connected museums, and historical sights to discover.
Raised bog cultivation replaced slash and burn agriculture at the start of the 20th century. The latter was no longer justifiable from an ecological and economic perspective. This new type of technique was developed in the Prussian bog test station in Bremen that was scientifically focussed on the possibility of a permanent agriculture use of the bog areas. The use of the bog areas as permanent pastures without peat removal was almost entirely the effect of mineral fertilisers like: potash, phosphoric acid, limestone and nitrogen. The extensive pasture areas led to an increase in cattle grazing in the cultivated areas.
www.moormuseum.de | Website of the Emsland bog museum with information about opening times, tours, special exhibitions, exhibits and the museum café.
www.museumsdorf.de | Website of the museum village Cloppenburg with information about opening times, tours, special exhibitions, and other events.
www.meyerwerft.de | Website of the Meyer shipyards in Papenburg with information about opening times, tours, and company information.
www.von-velen-anlage.de | Website of the historic Von-Velen site with information regarding opening times, prices, and vacations-in-historic homes.
www.moorerlebnisroute.de | Website with information and special offers on the moor experience route.
- Bersin, Modesta: Backen mit Buchweizen. Aarau (2012), ISBN: 978-3038006787
- Schwerdtner, Nils: 25 Jahre Kreuzfahrtschiffe der Meyer Werft. Hamburg (2011), ISBN: 978-3782209243
- Wagener, Christoph: Papenburg: Neue Bilder aus alter Zeit. Erfurt (2012), ISBN: 978-3954001088
- Werner, Franke; Grave, Josef; Schüpp, Heiner; Steinwascher, Gerd (Hrsg.): Der Landkreis Emsland: Geographie Geschichte Gegenwart. Eine Kreisbeschreibung. Meppen (2002), ISBN: 3-930365-13-8
Angela Willenborg from Esterwegen baked the deliciously tasting buckwheat cake you see on the photo above. Try it yourself with the following recipe:
Ingredients for the sponge mixture:
- 6 eggs
- 200 g white sugar
- 100 g buckwheat flour
- 10 g cornflour
- 2 tsp baking powder
Ingredients for the cake decoration:
- 600ml cream
- 750g cranberries
- chocolate sprinkles
1.) Whisk up the eggs und the sugar while adding a tablespoon of hot water.
2.) Add buckwheat flour, cornflour, and baking powder. Mix it with the other ingredients.
3.) Bake the dough for 45 minutes with recirculating heat at 150 ºC and let it get cold.
4.) Cut the cake base in the middle and garnish it with the whipped cream, the cranberries and chocolate sprinkles.
Good to know: You may use a springform baking tin with a diameter of 28cm. Bake the cake base and let it stand for a day before you garnish it.