by Paula McKibben Christmas at the Swiss Homestead lived up to the experience of Christmases past. Rachel Friesen was baking gingerbread in a dutch oven pot with coals underneath it and on top of it. Jason Althaus was in charge of candlemaking and was using the fireplace to melt the wax for candles. Martina Cucchiara and Ivan Friesen were in charge of breadmaking – big, beautiful, tasty round loaves. In the living room, the dulcimers had just finished and the Bluffton High School strings were beginning their Christmas serenade. In the attic, artemesia, a bug repellant, yarrow and beans were being dried. According to Gary Wetherill, president of the Swiss Historical Society, the beans dried in this manner were known as leather britches and were reconstituted to eat. In the summer kitchen, Kaye Phillips was helping people to make popcorn strings. Keith Sommer, curator and blacksmith, was master of the tool house that he described as the 19th century man cave. Sommer was demonstrating the schnitzelbank, a tool that worked as a clamp so that pieces of wood could be planed or drawn. Since this tool house has pine siding, Sommer said that it was built after 1870 because pine siding had to be brought in by rail. The railroad came to Bluffton in the 1870s. He also pointed out that the home itself was insulated with stave and dob when it was built. The staves were put up and then dob, a mixture of wet clay and straw, was filled in between by hand. It would have taken about a year for this mixture to dry. There’s always something new to learn at any of the Swiss Homestead open houses.