The next time you reach for that canister of cornmeal to throw together a quick batch of bread or muffins to go with your bowl of chili or summer lobster bake, think about this: You didn’t have to grind that. A machine did it for you somewhere far up the agricultural manufacturing line.
Well, not so a few centuries back. Grinding dried corn kernels in a mortar might have taken up the better part of some woman’s (I think we can safely assume that) day. Using something like this specimen, dated to 1676.
This hunk of wood is part of tree with one end scooped out. Old Society files note that we own a mortar that had been used at a garrison in Wells in the 17th century. This is presumed to be the mortar in question (where its pestle ended up is anybody’s guess) and by all accounts it was indeed used for pounding corn.
Congratulations to the several Facebookers who guessed this one in whole or in part!
To see a similar mortar (with its pestle) and learn about the Native American women who used it in the midwest, visit this Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Exhibition Educators Page and scroll down about halfway.
(Thanks to MHS’s collections registrar Holly Hurd-Forsyth for suggesting this unique part of Maine’s past!)