April 27, 2010

Getting Ready for the Neshaminy Event

Civil war Reenactor Gun
There will be a Civil War reenactment at Neshaminy Park in Bensalem, PA this Saturday and Sunday. It is open to the public for free. It starts at 9 and ends at 4. The park is really lovely, there will be a large encampment and battle right along the waterfront. The weather is supposed to be very nice. Don't miss a grand opportunity to see the Civil War come to life. Rugged soldiers, fair belles, cannon and a nice day. It doesn't get any better. :D 

Civil War Reenactor
This is a very fun event for us, even though the water makes it cold at night. We are so excited and can't wait to start the reenacting season off. Our reenacting company got together over the weekend to clean the rifles and to get all of our gear together. Andy got a brush stuck in his rifle, which he had to shoot out. It is always interesting to see something live-fired as we normally never actually shoot a real object out of the rifles.

The gun I cleaned was very rusty. I don't think I got enough of it off. I scrubbed a ton and it still wouldn't come off. I guess it will just stay a rusty rifle. I am really very excited to go. I have gotten my petticoats and dress and corset out of winter storage and have dusted off my shoes. I can't wait to sleep with the crisp night air, the smell of camp fire and the chirps of crickets. It is so relaxing and enjoyable. Hope to see some of you there!

Here are some pictures from the 2009 Neshaminy Reenactment. Look how scenic! 
Civil War Reenactment
Civil War Reenactment
Civil War Reenactor

April 24, 2010

Hints for Servants from 1859: How to address the family

Civil War Reenacting ServantsThe servant class is practically obsolete today, although it was thriving up until the 1900s. We today would not even know how to have a servant. Servants used to help dress, cook and clean in the place of middle and upper class women. Could you imagine having someone dress you? It was only proper for the lady of the house to enter the kitchen once a day, only to tell her servants what to cook. Many immigrant women quickly became servants when they came to America, especially the Irish women in the 1860s. These women were known by common names such as "Maggie" or "Bridget." It was even customary for the Master and Mistress of the house to rename their servants to names that suited the family. It also was not required for families to know the names of their servants.

It is important to remember how vital the servant class was in the past. In the case that you are portraying a servant or a middle class person at a living history or reenactment, you should remember the role of a servant or the amount of work that the upper and middle class people would not be able to do on their own. 

These are some excerpts from the Servant's Behavior Book to get a better idea of how a servant would have to talk to her employing family.

Servant’s Behavior Book; or Hints on Behavior and Dress by Mrs. Motherly (1859):

  • My Dear Girls, Every rule in this book is necessary to a girl entering a gentleman's family. Some of the things I shall tell you will be known to many of you, and some will seem new and strange; but all are equally important, if you wish to be well-behaved and agreeable servants. If you neglect to observe the rules I shall teach you, you will always be awkward, and fit only for common places and low wages; but if you learn and practise them, you will be able to rise higher as your domestic knowledge and abilities improve, (v.)”
  • “Never Speak To A Lady Or Gentleman Without Saying, "sir," " Ma'am," Or "miss," As The Case May Be. I have had several servants who had not been in place before, and in every instance have had much trouble in making them observe this rule. Every young person will say “Sir " or " Ma'am " occasionally; but few do it always, till taught to do so in a regular place. Some, on my telling them several times of this omission, have said, as an excuse, that it seemed awkward to say “Ma’am " so often; but this is quite a mistake. It sounds very awkward to leave it out; and, what is worse, it sounds, and will always be thought, very ill-bred and disrespectful, (32.)”
  • “In some houses, the servants call the lady and gentleman of the house " My master " and " My mistress ;" in others, " Mr. Smith " and " Mrs. Smith," or by whatever may be the surname. I would advise you in this matter to follow the custom of the house you are in. You are most likely to be in families where the first mode of speaking is adopted; but whichever title you may give your master and mistress, in speaking of them, be sure you never address them by a surname; as, “Thank you, Mr. Smith." This would sound very rude. The simple " Sir " and " Ma'am "—of which we have before spoken—is always the right word to use in speaking To a lady or gentleman, (36.)”
  • “If you wish to call your mistress, as it may sometimes chance, in a hurry,—or on going into a dark room, to ask if she is there,—do not call her by name, as, " Mrs. Smith!" but speak in some way that does not need the use of a name ; as, " Are you there, ma'am ?"—" Can I speak to you, ma'am ? (37.)”
  • “I need scarcely tell you that you should never speak of any lady or gentleman, whether friends of your mistress or not, without saying "Mr." or " Mrs." before the name. It is sometimes a habit with tradesmen and others, for quickness, to say, " Up at Green's," " Over at Turner's," &c., in speaking of gentlemen's houses; but this sounds very unbecoming in a servant. If, in speaking of your master's next-door neighbour to him, you say, " The blinds are down at Anderson's," he will naturally suppose that were you speaking of his house to Mr. Anderson, you would say, " They are not down at Taylor's "—or whatever his name may be; so you are guilty of rudeness, in a certain way, to both your master and his neighbour. I should not have thought any girl in service would need to be warned against this mistake, had it not been committed by Rose, who always spoke of my neighbours as " the Browns," " the Millers," &c. There is no harm in speaking thus of tradesmen; as, " Over at Thompson's," " Past Eley's dairy," &c.; but private houses should never be so styled, (39.)
It is kind of sad to read that the best these women could do was to "be a good servant." The promise that if they were a good servant, they could work in a nicer house is sad. Most of the girls lived with the families they worked for and rarely saw their real families. Some families couldn't afford to feed and house their daughters so eagerly sought out servant positions.   

April 20, 2010

Day Trip: Philadelphia Chinatown

My Chinese History class went on a trip to Chinatown. I was very excited to hear that we would be doing something other than lectures (In college! How scandalous!) Our teacher gave us a tour and shared some of the history of Chinatown. It was very fun, Andy and I had never been there before.

The first thing you see in Chinatown is the Friendship Gate, built in 1984 to celebrate an agreement with Tianjin, a city in China, which is considered to be Chinatown's sister city.

There are a lot of street vendors and shops that sell traditional Chinese goods. We visited a fish market, where the fish were very fresh as well as a Chinese grocery store. Something that intrigued us was "Tea Eggs" sold on the street by a vendor. We were told that tea eggs are very popular in China and that they are sold by vendors as well as fast food chains there. They smelled very delicious and the marbling color of the eggs would make a very pretty party dish. A recipe can be found here: Asian-Fusion Recipes. I have yet to try one but they look great.

We saw lots of produce stands, many which included exotic fruits and vegetables including Durian, a spiky fruit that supposedly tastes delicious but smells really bad. It is also said to be the worlds most dangerous fruit. We also saw starfruit, which when you cut it open makes perfect star shaped fruit. This seems like it could have endless uses by a competent cook.    

 There were a lot of traditional Chinese restaurants, we ate Dim Sum, small portions of a lot of different kinds of food which you share with others, at a restaurant called Joy Tsin Lau ( Mansion of the Drunken Immortal.) Everything was very flavorful and the experience of everyone splitting all of the food and trying new things was fantastic. We even went to visit a Fortune Cookie Factory. (Those are boxes of fortunes in the picture.)

This plaque commemorates the beginning of Chinatown in 1845! It is still going strong after 165 years.

The trip was a very fun experience. I would recommend it. We took the train as it is chaotic and expensive to park in Philadelphia. If you do decide to go, be sure to take a map. It is very easy to get turned around and many of the interesting shops are down back alleys. It was a very fun trip.

April 17, 2010

Colonial Receipts : Desserts

Revolutionary War Reenacting
I've been writing a lot about the Civil War Era and I felt a need to write a bit about my first love: the Colonial Era. The Colonial Era was over two hundred years ago, I have found that a lot of people just assume what was eaten back then instead of doing research. I try to shy away from the "old timey" recipes of which  no one knows their origin. I applaud the people I know who want to serve period correct meals instead of what is thought to just be "old fashioned." 

colonial cooking Recipes A lot of "receipts" from the era have been attributed to a famous people but few are traceable to a direct source. In a rarer instant family receipt books have been preserved. This is the case in George Washington's family where two of Martha's Receipts can be read here and the rest of the book, Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery can be bought from Mount Vernon.

colonial cooking Recipes
Another famous family who kept a receipt book was William Penn Jr's. His wife, Gulielma kept the book which has been published as "Penn Family Recipes," but is no longer in print, an excerpt from the receipt book and other period recipes can be read online at: Thirty-five receipts.
colonial cooking Recipes
The receipts that I have included are from the second half of the 18th century. All of them look delicious. I am particularly anxious to try Lemon Honeycomb and Ice Cream in a mold. I am curious how different the ice cream will taste compared to modern ice cream. Apricot Ice Cream sounds delicious today, regardless. I might try it as it doesn't require any kind of cranking machine and is just made in buckets.

colonial cooking Recipescolonial cooking RecipesI am very interested in the whipped cream recipes, too. Today we would add some sugar and vanilla to make whipped cream. These recipes call for egg whites, sugar and sack (a strong dry wine.)The first receipt even suggests adding ambergris, an expensive commodity that would have been imported from the Nantucket area. Ambergris is created in the intestines of sperm whales, and can weigh up to 100 pounds. It is thought that the ambergris helps the whales digest sharp objects without getting cut up from the inside.  It was used in colonial times in expensive perfumes and food flavorings. It was thought to be an aphrodisiac. It is said to have a musky smell and is even  mentioned in Melville's Moby Dick. (What a desert topping! Sweets, dairy, alcohol and whale!) 
colonial cooking Recipes
colonial cooking RecipesFairy Butter is another (less frightening) topping for various cakes and puddings. It was popular in Virgina and was said to be brought to the White House by Dolly Madison. It seems like it would taste yummy with the White Cake receipt.

I hope to make some of these as period as possible just to see what the differences are between period and modern flavors. I am not anxious to try anything with ambergris but I love the flavors and smells of rose water and orange water which can be purchased very cheaply from Middle Eastern Markets or made at home from online recipes. I hope you enjoy!

April 12, 2010

The Ballad of Lady Margaret and William: A Short History with Song Lyrics

Many people have come to love the song Lady Margaret, most recently performed by Cassie Franklin. You might have heard it on the Cold Mountain CD. I absolutely love that version, even though it did not make it into the movie. The song originated in Scotland in the early 1600s. It later was taken to America where it, along with a lot of other songs, was sung in the Appalachian region. The songs were played in the region with very little outside influence until the songs morphed and changed with each performer until the original songs and the Appalachian songs shared only common themes. (If I was an anthropologist, I would call this: Parallel Evolution. :D)

The songs share similar lyrics and themes but most of them are different enough to warrant being completely different songs. The varieties are really interesting to follow and it’s neat because it’s as if the story never ends.
Some Good Versions and Variations of the story of Lady Margaret and Sweet William can be listened to below:

Lady Margaret (Ghost Story) is a good version similar to some of these.
Lady Margaret by Buffy Sainte-Marie, This one is similar to the Cassie Franklin Version, this was recorded in 1966. 
Lady Margaret: by Trees from 1970
Lady Margaret and Sweet William by Shirley Collins
Fair Margaret and Sweet William by June Tabor in 2003

Sweet William's Ghost by Kate Rusby in 2003

Read the Lyrics of Fair Margaret and Sweet William which is most similar to the Cold Mountain Version. This is an excerpt from English and Scottish Ballads, read the rest here.

I hope this song and the stories pull you in as they have me. It is a very grisly-sweet story, a dark romantic one , it has the same kind of feel as Wuthering Heights. I was surprised to see how many newer versions of the song there was. There seemed to be a revival of the song in the 1970s as well as another in 2003 (when Cold Mountain was released.) I'm glad this song has stood the test of time--It has been performed for over 400 years! I hope people continue to record new versions. Are there any other historical songs that entrap you like this one?  

April 9, 2010

19th Century Wash Cloths

There is a lot of curiosity about what types of rags were used to clean dishes and wash faces. The difference between wash-cloths and wash-rags in period writing is that wash rags were not finished while wash-cloths were hemmed.Wash-rags were often just scraps from left over cloth and were not meant to last as long as wash-cloths. Wash-cloths were frequently knitted or crocheted for better cleaning quality and for longevity. Many 19th century books mention cotton as the best material to use for wash-cloths but there is mention of using coarse hemp and even candle wicking for cloths used to scrub dishes and exfoliate the face.

In the South during the Civil War, the blockade prevented the South from getting many daily essentials. Yarn was hard to get during the war because although the South grew a lot of cotton, it sold it to the north and to Europe where it was carded and spun and then sold back to the South as a finished product. The Southern women were said to be and proved very frugal and innovative. The lack of yarn was so huge that a knitted wash-cloth in the South would most likely have been unraveled and knitted into clothing. As nasty as this seems today, it was probably a lot more gross because the South also had a severe shortage of grease and soap. Could you imagine wearing old unraveled dish rags?

This brings to mind the classic scene in Gone With the Wind, when Scarlett parades up to Rhett in her dress made out of curtains. While the dresses in the movie are generally incorrect, many women were noted to have dresses during the war that used to be curtains. It is very grim but some of the ladies recorded in their diaries that they had been okay with the shortages as being innovative and creative gave them no time to brood.

I love being creative, I am not sure how I would fare if I had to be creative. I would probably brood and complain. I look up to those women who had to "make do or do without."  I think about this every time I want a new reenacting dress. They are expensive and I feel most reenactors have a wardrobe unheard of during the war. But with all of those pretty clothes, it is easy to understand why we all have so much. I try to reason with myself that no matter how much I am sick of the dress I have now, they had to wear clothes they were sick of for years. So I am going to wait a while and when I get a new dress, I will appriciate it that much more. Perhaps I will even unravel a worn out dish rags and make trim for it. I wonder if anyone would notice?  :D

April 5, 2010

Qingming Festival (清明节): Chinese Grave Sweeping

Today was the Qingming Festival in China. The Qingming Festival roughly translates as "The Clear and Bright Festival." As the Chinese use a different calendar than we do in the U.S., the festival is always on the 104th day after the Winter Solstice. During this festival many Chinese to pack a picnic lunch, including sweets, and hold a picnic on the graves of their ancestors. They then clean the graves which usually become overgrown during the rest of the year and offer special food to their ancestors. The festival dates back to 732 B.C.E. to stop the practice of wealthy families honoring their ancestors with frequent, extravagant rituals.             
            Many Chinese believe that in the afterlife, their ancestors have 'live' again but  in a new place. They also believe that their ancestors have the ability to interfere in the affairs of the living. To aid their ancestors in their new 'life' and to give their ancestors things that the families feel that they would want in the afterlife, the families burn Joss Paper which originally was money printed especially for the dead and has no value on Earth. Many Joss Paper bank notes are known as Hell Bank Notes—which sounds really funny to us.
            During the 1840s, Christian missionaries in China told the Chinese that non-Christians go to hell. The Chinese misunderstood the missionaries and thought that "hell" meant the neutral afterlife, which is typical of the Chinese beliefs. The money is only good for the dead at the "Bank of Hell." The practice of burning paper goods has grown enormously and now families can burn not only fake paper money but paper checks, paper mache models of sports cars, ipods, credit cards, and an array of modern things. It is considered very unlucky to keep a Joss Paper item in your house.
            It was a homework assignment for me to go home and burn a Joss Note. My sister graciously helped me with the burning of it in the back yard (water standing by.)

           It is an interesting festival. I do like the concept behind the festival: If you do not honor your parents, your children will not honor you. It is one of the most important holidays in China. I think my sister had a lot of fun. I originally wasn't going to burn the Joss Note as it was a neat keepsake to have, but my professor really stressed how disrespectful and vile it is in the Chinese culture to keep it. I hope you enjoyed reading about this unique festival. 

April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from the world's cutest bunny, Boo (okay, I might be a slight bit biased.)
Boo is an advocate for chocolate Easter Bunnies. As a rescue bunny, she highly encourages people to buy their children chocolate bunnies for Easter and not real bunnies. She acknowledges that people buy bunnies because they are cute and they think that they will not be hard to take care of. When the people get bored of their bunnies, a lot just let them go outside, not realizing that a lone, domesticated bunny will die.  You can read more about the "Make Mine Chocolate" bunny campaign. Happy Easter!

April 2, 2010

Trip to Ridley Creek State Park and Making Vegetarian Dumplings

     Yesterday was such a beautiful day. Andy and I went for a walk at Ridley Creek State Park. The park is very beautiful. The area has been inhabited since the late 1600s and stone remnants of the period are scattered throughout the woods. There is a 4.3 mile paved walkway throughout woods and many dirt trails. Some historical structures to look out for include an early 1900s pump house( recently hit by a tree,) an early 1900s swimming pool, and the "Russell Cemetery" (1820-1861, There is an amusing bit of folklore about one occupant of this cemetery: Jesse Russell. Jesse Russell, a fox hunter, died on the 12th of September in1820 when he was 42 years old. It is said that he was buried standing up so as to better hear his hunting hounds after death.   

     We stayed on the paved trail mostly, only going into the woods once or twice to see some of the ruins. We ended up seeing lots of animals, including two snakes.


One time I was jogging in the woods with my mother. I saw a large snake sunbathing across the path. I pointed it out to my mother as "Snake!! Run!!" She took my advise and ran...right past the snake. So we were stuck in the woods with a huge snake in between us. Eventually another jogger convinced me that if I just ran past, it wouldn't eat me--which I was sure it wanted to do. :D I did run past and it didn't eat me.

The one snake Andy and I saw was a cute little garter snake, the other seemed a little bigger, but we didn't get a good look at it. It was a really nice day to walk and the trees create a canopy of shade.

Andy was nice enough to make vegetarian Chinese Dumplings with me yesterday too. Ever since I have become a vegetarian, I have missed the pork dumplings in Chinese restaurants (it's only been about 9 months.I barely have missed meat at all.) We used this recipe from the food network. This was our first time, next time we make these, we plan on using a hot pepper and less cilantro. They did turn out nice looking and were very tasty.

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