Rye and Erschmatt
A tradition that remain alive even today
History of rye in Erschmatt
Cereals have been one of the most important food sources for humans and animals for thousands of years. Locals all call the main grain of the region Korn ("corn"). In the mountain villages of the Valais Korn was rye, because it makes little demands on the soil and the climate, and it is very hardy. The history of rye in Valais is almost 2000 years old, and probably also in Erschmatt.
We know that Erschmatt was inhabited more than 2400 years ago. Rye was initially grown in the immediate vicinity of the village. Over the centuries, the number of inhabitants increased, and as a result the cultivated arable land also grew. In 1535, the men of Ersch forming the first peasant guild regulated, among other things, when and how fields were to be ploughed and when they could be grazed after harvesting. The second peasant guild from 1753 then spoke explicitly of the Upper and Lower Zälg (slopes). It set out in detail exact rules for management.
Around 1850, the cultivation of rye in Erschmatt reached its peak.
The village always supplied itself with rye. The rye culture reached its largest extent around 1850. After that, on the one hand, potatoes were cultivated and, on the other, people increasingly turned to livestock farming. Later, villagers could buy flour and bread in the valley. Until the construction of the main road (1956), goods were transported to the village in back baskets or mules (see photo with Gustav Steiner). With the the beginning of industrialization in the valley (Lonza and Alusuisse), these companies needed numerous workers to maintain their shift operations. This was a source of income and Erschmatt families could buy their food and did not have to produce everything themselves. Nevertheless, agriculture has always been an important element, not only for the seasons of the year, but also in villagers' self-image.
With the construction of the road from Leuk to Erschmatt in 1956, transport of basic foodstuffs became easier. Rye cultivation fell sharply. But at the beginning of the 1980s, the Pro Erschmatt Association and the Botanical Reserve launched efforts to preserve rye culture and the traditional Erschmatt variety of the grain. To this day the traditional way of baking rye bread has remained alive in Erschmatt. Village families bake their bread in the communal oven in the Burgerhaus at set times. In the past, this was twice a year to enable them to be self-sufficient - a necessity. Today commmunal baking takes place only once a year to provide a culinary supplement or as a family and social meeting.
Erschmatt's tradition of communal baking still flourishes. At the end of each year, the large oven is heated. Families and groups organize themselves and produce their own rye bread in shifts according to an agreed cycle. Founded in 2003, the association Erlebniswelt Roggen Erschmatt is committed to the preservation of the cultural heritage involving rye. It encourages interested groups and school classes to bake rye bread in the traditional way throughout the year under expert guidance. A cooperative was founded in 2006 with the aim of setting up a bakery in Erschmatt that produces rye bread commercially. A foundation founded in 2012 took over this mission and was able to open a bakery and a restaurant in the Roggen Zentrum in 2017. The hotel opened in 2021.
Things worth seeing related to rye culture
Im ganzen Wallis sind die Terrassenlandschaften, die Stadel und Speicher mit ihren Mäuseplatten, alte Mühlen und Dorfbacköfen sichtbare Zeugen einer früheren Zeit mit Roggenanbau und der Selbstversorgung mit Roggenbrot. In vielen Walliser Orten dienen diese Einrichtungen teils noch ihrem ursprünglichen Zweck, so auch in Erschmatt, wo man den Weg vom Korn zum Brot in allen Etappen noch sehen und kennenlernen kann:
Film series - from grain to bread
In the film series ROGGEN - VOM KORN ZUM BROT, two contemporary villagers, Gregor Schnyder and Peter Locher, recall the years when rye was still part of daily food. Their stories and anecdotes give the visitor an insight into the life of a mountain village of yesteryear and the present. Both grew their own rye until the 1990s. Through them we learn in a vivid and humorous way the process of treating the seed to baking in the old bakery.
The film series is an audiovisual memorial project by Stephan Hermann and Philipp Eyer [Verein LEBENDIGE GESCHICHTE(N)] in cooperation with the association Erlebniswelt Roggen Erschmatt.
Biodiversity in the Valais mountains
If you come to Erschmatt, you will explore the very special habitat of rocky steppe. The dry, warm slopes offer an ecosystem for animals and plants that are more likely to be found in the Mediterranean. Further up, around the village, there are some beautiful flower meadows and many insects (unfortunately not as rich as a few years ago). In between you can hear a hoopoe, a cuckoo or perhaps a wryneck. You may even see a snake eagle making a circle in the sky.
Erschmatt Botanical Reserve
In the Erschmatt Botanical Reserve you can experience something of the Valais biodiversity. You will find traditional varieties of rye, wheat, barley, Vicia faba (horse or field beans), soup beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), a millet (Panicoideae), buckwheat (the source of polenta nera), corn and other crops. Colourful field flowers enliven the garden.Learn more
Organizations supporting rye
Two organizations with different objectives are active in Erschmatt keeping alive rye culture: One association is committed to the care and promotion of the natural and cultural heritage of rye. A separate foundation operates a hotel, a restaurant and a bakery.
Verein Erlebniswelt Roggen Erschmatt
The non-profit association cultivates the natural and cultural heritage related to rye, rye bread and Valais cultivated plants. Taking care of the terraced landscape and the promotion of biological diversity are also among its goals, with the organization of events to provide a rich cultural life in and around Erschmatt.Learn more
Stiftung Roggen Schweiz
This foundation operates a rye centre to increase the recognition of rye as a valuable healthy food in Switzerland, especially in the Leuk region, and aims to inform and sensitize the population about the grain. Its Rye Center contains a bakery, restaurant and hotel.Learn more
Rye events and guided tours
Discover the variety of cultivated plants and their accompanying flora, threshing and kneading rye dough -- and baking bread in a wood oven, village tours. In addition, learn about the life of the past in a Valais mountain village, about its variety, about the tradition of rye bread and much more. Welcome to Erschmatt!
© Bilder von Arnold Steiner