December 30, 2009

Snow and Biscotti

All of our beautiful snow is gone. We had a huge storm on the 19th, just in time for Christmas (over 9 inches of snow.) During the cold my Grandmom and I baked biscotti.

Biscotti has become very popular in recent years especially in posh coffee shops. Biscotti, the plural of Biscotto (although my Grandmom says it like "bih-scoat"), are a twice baked cookie, originally meant to give the cookie a very long shelf life. 

The shelf life of a Biscotto is naturally about 4 months. Biscotti has been served in Italy for centuries and was a staple food in the Roman military. Some historians say that Christopher Columbus is likely the first person to bring biscotti to the New World.

Grandmom's Biscotti Recipe:

1 Cup Sugar
1 stick of Butter (1/2 cup)
2 Eggs
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoons Orange Peel
2 Cups Flour
1 +1/2  teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Powdered Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sift the flour with the baking powder.

Grate the orange peel. Jodi has a trick on her blog, Curious Acorn for this. My Grandmother's tip: use clementines, they are smaller and work out to about 2 teaspoons. 

 In mixing bowl, beat the sugar with the butter. Add eggs, vanilla, and orange peel. Slowly add the flour/baking powder mix, cinnamon and salt. Mix until fully blended, it should form a soft dough.

Grease 2 small cookie sheets or 1 large one. (Yes, my Grandmom is using her hands! She said she would have used the butter wrappers but our butter was already on a butter dish.)

Divide batter in half and form two loaves on the greased baking sheet. Try to make loaves 3 inches wide and 3/4 of an inch high. Bake in oven for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack until it is cool enough to handle (about 10 minutes.)

 Slice loaves on an angle, about an inch wide. Be sure to slice off a little bit on each end so there is no "end" pieces.
Lay peices on their sides on the same cookie sheet. Cook for 12 more minutes (no more.) Remove from oven, flip the peices with tongs and replace back in the oven for another 12 minutes. They will harden out of the oven.
Biscotti Recipe

Let cool on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

December 28, 2009

Harper's Weekly: How to Be Beautiful

This excerpt is from Harper's Weekly in 1861. It has a very beautiful message, especially in a time when luxuries were starting to be impossible to get. A Lady's Toilet was her collection of beautifying agents and also included her clothing and family medicines. Sentiments like the ones in the clipping were common when women had to start to do without luxiouries, men are reported to have complimented the ladies at the time, saying that they were prettier than ever.  

Civil War Reenactor Harper's WeeklyOtto of Rose: The essential oil of rose petals used as a perfume.
Lip-Salve: There were lots of period recipes that contained, wax, oils and fats like many do today; however, Lydia Marie Child, in The American Frugal Housewife suggested earwax for chapped lips!
Sal Volatile: This was ammonium carbonate mixed with ammonia water or alcohol used as smelling salts. Smelling salts were used to relieve headaches and revive the fainted.
Pomade Divine: A cream for bruises, swelling, and chapped skin which commonly used rosewater, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. 
Sticking Plaster: Was silk that had an adhesive brushed on one side, it was used like a modern sticky bandage.
Simple Anodynes: Were sedatives, bromide of
potassium (a salt,) and store-bought medicines (often just alcohol) were commonly used.  

 Many middle class and upper class women had their own "toilets" in their rooms. Toilets as we have today were nonexistent, people still used chamber pots and outdoor toilets. During the war, southern women were asked to save the contents of their chamberpots to produce nitre for gunpowder.  

*Note: Engraving from London Society By James Hogg, Florence Marryat (1860):

December 24, 2009

Colonial Pockets

 My goal this year is to outfit myself with a full Colonial ensemble, I am tired of having to borrow items when I do living histories. I started sewing my shift ( I am attempting to hand sew it--we'll see how long that lasts.) Hopefully, I will get started on a petticoat or two, some stays and a nice shortgown. I will be starting pockets soon.   

Colonial pockets were not sewn into ladies clothing as is done today. In colonial times, pockets were two pouches strung on a waistband and tied around the waist, under the petticoat (skirt) or on top of it. Skirts were sewn with side slits to access the pockets.

Pockets are an easily hand sewn item that give you a reason to show off your embroidering skills. They are also very useful while reenacting or interpreting. (Make sure you always have a few period items in them, because kids will always want to know whats in there.) If you are interested in making your own, I have included a simple pattern below. 

 Cut 2 pieces of fabric out, these measurements are just a suggestion. Pockets were made a range of different sizes. If you wish to embroider the pocket, do so before you cut the pieces out. Patchwork, embroidery and quilted pockets were all common. Look at original pockets for inspiration.  Slit one piece down the middle.

Sew twill tape around the slit.

Place both pocket pieces with the right sides of the fabric together and sew around the  outside edge of the pocket. Turn the pocket inside out, iron it flat and sew thin twill tape to the top. 

Pockets of History is an online exhibit of pockets from the 1700s to the 1800s.
More pockets.

December 21, 2009

Preserving Skills and Knowledge for Future Generations

 Sometimes it may seem that our generation is reinventing the wheel by learning traditional skills and learning from historical sources. Sometimes when I try to learn something, older people will say things like "We used to have to do that," or " Why do you want to do that? We used to do that when we were kids for play." It's hard to explain. Yes, I know other people have learned and done the things I like to learn; but, most of them are older and will not be around forever.

If there is one thing I learned from studying history, it is that you never know what to expect. Not that I think we need to train for apocalyptic war, but I think a few life skills would not hurt us. We never know what to expect. Some "advances" are actually making us stupider and leaving the new generation without critical thinking skills. How many of us know people who can not use a map and must rely on GPS and Mapquest? When I had my first job, I worked with a girl who couldn’t tie her shoes; her mother would tie them for her (at 16!) Only half of the employees there could tell time on an analog clock. My sister's friend repeatedly runs out of gas because she relys on an automatic gauge in her car that says " X miles until empty," and cannot do the math to figure out if she has enough gas to get to a gas station. One time, my sister and her friend called me in the middle of the night to pick them up because they ran out of gas and her father ran out of gas on the way to pick them up. It is unfortunate. I wish more people took an interest in real life skills and not “job” and “society” skills.

We know from history what happens when people do not have the required skills to feed, clothe and protect themselves. At Jamestown, many men did not know how to do anything but be “men of society.” Many of these men died, the others were at the mercy of the Native Americans. The “Pilgrims” had to steal food from the Native Americans and loot graves—a grisly scenario. Could you imagine being hungry enough to dig food and pots out of graves?

I am not saying we should all be crazy survivalists, I only think that working with our hands is the natural way of things. When we get disconnected with directly receiving the fruits of our labor, not important things seem really important when they shouldn’t. Industrial production of goods has made all manufactured goods cheaper than they can be made at home—but is this really a good thing?

An Article on GPS: Steered Wrong
A Death said to Be Caused by GPS: Boy Dies
These People are Very into Real Life Skills(I think this is fascinating although I am not a survivalist) : Primitive Ways 

*Note: The second picture is me learning to blacksmith with leading blacksmith Kelly Smyth. 

December 18, 2009

Hydrochloric Acid--for Cooking?

I was looking for a good housekeeping article and I came across a recipe tucked away under a statement which said that a proper lady only goes into the kitchen once a day, in the morning to write a list for her servants on a large slate. This recipe intrigued me because of the muriatic acid. I do not advise making this recipe but its historical content is fascinating.

An Excerpt from Monday Morning by Barbara Hutton (1863):

"Here are a few good recipes for luncheon-cakes:
            1. One pound of fine flour;
                 Two drachms muriatic acid;
                 Two drachms bicarbonate soda;
                 Three ounces of sugar;
                 Three ounces of butter;
                 Four ounces of currants—the best;
                One pint of fresh milk.
                Mix all together, and bake for one hour in a quick oven."       

Muriatic acid was used in the mid 1800s to add a citrus taste to foods. It is man made by absorbing hydrogen chloride in water and today is known as hydrochloric acid and is used for cleaning and etching concrete!

A drachm is a British unit of measurement that equals 1/8 of an ounce.

Bicarbonate soda is baking soda which also is known to neutralize hydrochloric acid. When used with an alkaline substance, it releases air which helps the food to rise. Today we use baking soda mixed with cream of tartar to make “baking powder.”

Sugar, used to be molded into cones for transport in the 1800s it was called a “sugar loaf.”  “Fine sugar” was regular granulated sugar broken off from the sugar loaf with sugar nippers, and then ground to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle. 

Currants- Being a native plant, Black currants were popular in early America. They remained popular until farming of Black currants became illegal in the United States in the early 1900s. The plants were thought to cause white pine blister rust, a problem to loggers. The plant was widely grown in Great Britain during World War II because of its high vitamin C content. While Britain was at war, it could not get imported fruits such as oranges. Black currants were planted and made into syrups to prevent scurvy.   

Milk- Today we take it for granted but pasteurization was invented in the 1860s by Louis Pasteur. Fresh milk was non pasteurized milk, which can be very harmful. Milk only stays fresh three or four days if not pasteurized. In the 1860s in the cities, milk was delivered to your door on a cart, by the time it came to your door, it would only stay good for one day. 

If you are interested in loaf sugar or old fashioned candies, Deborah's Pantry has a good selection.
A good photograph or an original sugar loaf with a pair of sugar nippers: Loaf.

*Note: Etching by Philippe Galle in the 1600s. It is of a sugar mill, creating sugar loafs.

December 14, 2009

Lives that Could Have Been Ours: One Woman in 1914

Mileva Maric was born in 1875 and was married in 1903 at the age of 28 to a fellow student. The marriage was a small affair with only two witnesses, there was no honeymoon. She had two sons with her husband and a daughter the year before they were married.

Excerpts from a Letter written by her Husband in 1914:

A. You will see to it: (1) That my clothes and linens are kept in order, (2) That I am served three regular meals a day in my room, (3)  That my bedroom and study are always kept in good order And that my desk is not touched by anyone other than me.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me, except when these are required to keep up social appearances. In particular, you will not request: (1) That I sit with you at home. (2) That I go out or travel with you.

C. You will promise explicitly to observe the following points in any contact with me. (1) You will expect no affection from me and you will not reproach me for this. (2) You must answer me at once when I speak to you. (3) You must leave my bedroom or study at once without protesting when I ask you to go.

D. You will promise not to denigrate me in the eyes of the children, either by word or deed.

Her husband eventually had an affair with his cousin, Elsa and demanded a divorce from his wife writing to his cousin "I treat my wife as an employee whom I cannot fire. I have my own bedroom and avoid being alone with her. In this form I can endure the 'living together' quite well." He married Elsa and soon fell in love with the nice of one of his friends. Elsa allowed him to see her twice a week and in return he would keep a low profile. He soon got bored of the niece and moved on.

It's terrible that these abuses had to be accepted by these women because of the pressure of society. If a Mileva led a lifestyle like this she would be remembered as a sinful harlot, it is sad that her husband is remembered for  E=mc2 and his letter written to President Roosevelt in 1939 is far more famous than the one I've included in this post.

Einstein's Letter to President Roosevelt
New letters shed light on Einstein’s love life

December 11, 2009

Cooking with an Italian Grandma

 It was so cold today ("32 degrees, but feels like 22") that my Grandmom cooked my Mother and I a warm Italian meal: Peppers and Eggs.Peppers and Eggs is a popular meatless, Italian meal eaten during lent. It was also popular with Italian immigrants in the 1900s. 
My Grandma is so hardcore, that she uses cast iron pans for everyday cooking-- that are circa 1950. These pans are not like the cast iron of today. They are lighter with soft worn edges. They used to belong to her sister, who was married when she was 16.  (That's my Grandmother in her kitchen with her co-chef, Sparky.) My Grandmom also doesn't use recipes, so it is very hard for me to get one out of her! (Although, when I was little, if I asked her to cook something too often she would threaten me with "I'll give you the recipe and then you can cook it yourself! But she never did.)

Grandmom's "Recipe" for Peppers and Eggs:

-Frying Peppers ( Make sure they are the frying variety)
-4 Eggs
-Sandwich Rolls
-Olive Oil
-Salt and Pepper to taste
-Cheese if wanted

Directions: Chop enough peppers to fill the bottom of your pan. Heat up enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Fry the peppers until soft. Whist eggs in a bowl with a little water. Pour into the fried peppers. Stir
until done. Add cheese to the mixture if desired. Remove from pan and put a few spoonfuls onto sliced sandwich rolls.

*Note: When I was taking these pictures my Grandmom implored that I "wait until she got her hair done!"

More Precise Recipe
The Soprano Family Cookbook  The recipe is surprisingly in this book.

A recipe from Good Things to Eat by Rufus Estes (1911) pg. 55:

Rufus Estes was born in 1857 as a slave in Tennessee. After the Civil War, he moved in with his grandmother, where he only attended one term of school before getting a job in a restaurant at age 16. He eventually became a cook for a prestigious line of railway cars. He cooked for many prominent figures of his time. He wrote "Good Things to Eat" in 1911, as a collection of personal recipes and advice for kitchen help. It was one of the first cookbooks written by an African American in the United States.   

December 9, 2009

Never Stop Playing

"We do not stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing." -George Bernard Shaw

Yes, we are all getting older and yes, it is still important to play. When you get older, why is it you suddenly don't have the time to play the board games you used to love as a child? Or have the time to put together a puzzle? Or put on your galoshes and take a walk in the rain? Do we push ourselves so fast in life that we don't have an hour to feed the birds or snuggle on the sofa with a loved one? We should live life to the fullest, and that may mean slowing down. Don't cram your schedule and waste time worrying over your lack of time to do everything.
To quote the movie Tuck Everlasting "For some time passes slowly, an hour can seem an eternity. For others there's never enough. For the Tucks, it didn't exist...It seemed to Winnie that the Tucks lived in a way the rest of the world had forgotten. They were never in a hurry and did things the slow way. For the first time Winnie felt free to explore, to ask questions, to play."
Playing will keep us from getting angry when we spill a bowl of whipped cream on the floor and replace our angry feelings with laughter. 

An excerpt of "What Shall We Do Now?" (1900):

*Note: The first etching came from the February edition of Godey's Lady's Book (1861.) I think it is really lovely, not only because the boys will soon be enjoying an old-fashioned day of fun but because you can see the book strap carrying the boy's books (which he so wantonly left in the snow) along with the basket lunch that was prepared for him.

December 5, 2009

Waniyetu Wowapi: Lakota Winter Count

 Tonight we had our first snow. For the Lakota Native American tribe in the Northwestern United States, this would mark a new year, and a picture representing the past year would be painted on a communal calender.

The Lakota had no written language. Waniyetu wowapi or "Winter Counts," were pictoral records used in conjunction with extensive oral histories to create a community record. For the Lakota, one year was from the first snowfall to the next first snowfall after a spring, summer and fall. Each year one event, not necessarily the most important event which occurred, but the one that most people of their society would remember and identify with, was chosen to be painted to represent the year. This picture would represent the entire year and any other events which occurred that year would be identified by the event in the picture.

The Lakota are best known for their participation in the winning of the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. 

I think that the first-snow-starts-a-new-year concept is purely magical. It is neat that the new year is unpredictable, it can happen at any time. When it started yesterday, I was knitting with my friends in a cozy atmosphere. What a good way to start off a new year?

I have decided to start my own collection of Winter Counts, in the Lakota tradition. I had hoped to have finished my Winter Count in time for the new year, but I am not done yet. The event I chose is personal and would not represent the best identifiable event to all American people. I concluded that my Winter Counts would only represent my family unit. I have included my unfinished Winter Count and will hopefully finish it soon: it represents the trip to Ireland that Andy and I  took and the new instrument we acquired there. Enjoy the new year!   

The Smithsonian has a lovely online exhibit about Lakota Winter Counts.

What is a Winter Count is a good site that describes Winter Counts much better than I do.

Native American Radio This site offers a station filled with Native American musicans and music (traditional and modern.) It is worth a listen if you like Native American music.

*Note: Turning Bear's death (by train) is being added to a Winter Count in the first picture. The second picture is of Rain-In-The-Face, a Lakota warrior who participated in the Battle at Little Big Horn. Sorry my drawing is blurry, I had to photograph it.

December 4, 2009

Braum Brose: Medieval Vegetable Broth from Ireland

In Ireland, Andy and I went to a Medieval style banquet at a real castle. It was the first castle I had ever seen or been in. Ascending the cold stone spiral staircase was fun but inviting. Everyone was cheerful and there were costumed ladies pressing mead into the hands of the unsuspecting visitors at the top. I naively didn't know what it was and, when told, handed it back instantaneously. The next room had real Medieval tapestries, furniture from Medieval times and costumed performers playing the harp and the fiddle and proposing toasts to the king.

Dinner was held in a banquet room, down the stairs. There were many long heavy wooden tables and benches for us as well as glazed clay plates, bowls and cups. There was no silverware.

In Medieval times, small knives were frequently brought to banquets by the diners to do the work that both the knife and the fork do today, anything eaten with a metal spoon today was drank straight out of a cup or bowl or less commonly, eaten with a wooden or horn spoon. Two-pronged forks were used for cooking but forks for diners did not come into popularity in  Western Europe until the 14th century, starting in Italy.     

At our banquet, vegetable broth (Braum Brose,) chicken, potatoes, honey-glazed ribs and a dessert that couples had to feed to each other was served. The whole experience was not as hokey as we thought it would be. When we saw it on the itinerary, we imagined a "Dixie Stampede" style dinner with bad food and entertainment, geared toward little kids. However, It was a lovely atmosphere with good performers and relatively good food. We especially loved the Braum Brose, which was not quite like any broth we had ever had before. Andy asked the waiter what it was and we searched frantically for a recipe for it when we got home but nothing came up for it. We did a lot of research and ended up recreating it exactly, we were most pleased! Even though we have the food, we would recommend seeing the performance, it was very worthwhile, just disregard the zippers on the performers outfits and you will have a delightful night!

Our Recipe for Medieval, Irish, Braum Brose:


2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Parsnips (peeled and diced)
1 Onion (peeled and diced)
1 Potato  (peeled and diced)
1 Clove Garlic (crushed or minced)
1 teaspoon Curry Powder (add more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1-2 sprigs of Parsley (chopped fine) 
4 cups of hot vegetable broth (cans or cubes)
1/4 cup of Light Cream
2 or 3 dashes of White Pepper

Peel and dice the parsnips, potato and onion. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the parsnips, potato and onion. Cook covered over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic, parsley, curry and cumin and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the hot vegetable stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Puree mixture in a blender until smooth, and return to pot and add the pepper and the cream. Do not allow the soup to boil after the cream is added. Serve and Enjoy!

Recipes for Honey-Glazed Ribs similar to those served at the banquet:
Pork Ribs with Honey
Restaurant Recipes: Pork Ribs

Other Medieval Recipes and Cooking Resources:
Medieval Recipes
Medieval Cookery
Medieval and Renaissance Food
Medieval Cooking Recipes ( A good collection that covers food from all over the world.)

 *Note: Andy took the lovely photo, second from the top. He is also in the picture on the right, enjoying the soup.

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