May 29, 2010

Rue, an Herb of Days Passed

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts. There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end..." Ophelia in Hamlet

Common Rue is a small shrub native to Europe. It is a strong, bitter, herb and has been used for culinary and medicinal uses for hundreds of years. In Medieval times it was thought to ward off the plague, witches and lice and was used to treat snakebites. Later it was said to improve eyesight and creativity; it is said that many famous Renaissance artists ate it to improve their skills.Too much rue can poison a person but in the 1600s it was used as an antidote for poison. It was also used to cure arthritis. If you are cut, and touch it, blisters will form. It used to be used sparely in Middle Eastern foods and is currently used in Ethiopian dishes. It currently seen in European gardens as it creates neat hedgerows and is cropped easily.           

I am writing about rue today because, while at the living history farm a few weeks ago, someone handed a bunch of it to us ladies in the kitchen. He told us to hang it to deter mosquitoes.We both smelled it and touched it, wondering what it was and we hung it without a second thought. Later that day, one of our friends said "What is this doing in here where people can touch it?" in a surprised tone. He told us what it was and we ladies looked at each other in fear as we remembered all of the handling and smelling of the rue. None of us were harmed. It is said that some people are more apt to be affected by it than others. It's good to know we are a relatively hardy pack of women.

May 26, 2010

Currant Ice Cream Recipe from 1819

It was so hot today that Andy and I happily made some homemade ice cream. We made two kinds: a currant ice cream made from a recipe from 1819 and a modern coconut ice cream that we plan to serve in miniature pie shells.

In the 1800s, ice cream was typically served at parties in the form of an intricate mold. These molds were frequently in the shape of vegetables and bouquets of flowers. There were tons of different flavors, most using fruit flavors and mixes of fruit flavors. Can you imagine digging into ice cream that was molded so perfectly? During the Regency period, ice cream was put into small, shallow glasses and licked out like modern day edible cones. Some period intricate molds can be seen here.  

-1 pint pureed currants
-1 pint heavy cream
-1 cup powdered sugar

We decided to take a modern shortcut on "pass them through a sieve" and decided to put them in a blender. What happens when we take modern short cuts? It doesn't work. :D For some reason the currants would not blend. After prodding at them enough and trying to blend them for a while, we noticed we had crushed them to a pulp anyway and used them as they were.  

We mixed the currants, sugar and cream and put it into our modern ice cream maker which works exactly like an 1800s model in practice, the only difference is that the maker is not hand cranked but uses electricity--thank goodness you'd have to have a lot of willing helpers to hand crank that long!

We waited until the ice cream couldn't mix anymore and then poured the ice cream in a plastic container and put it in the freezer.

This was the end result. It doesn't look as good in the photo but it tastes very sweet and is similar in taste to raisins. Now tomorrow I will put scoops of this ice cream into little glass dishes and I shall sit on the patio and pretend I'm Jane Austen. I would recommend this recipe because it is very simple. It only has three ingredients and doesn't require you to cook anything. Who wants to cook when its so hot out? 

We came across a really good ice cream recipe from 1855 if anyone wants to begin to make ice cream. It is more detailed than most period directions and offers alternative flavorings.
 We also came across a few flavors that we weren't anxious to try:

I hope you all stay cool tomorrow, it is supposed to be another hot, lazy day. I encourage some period ice cream desserts to help prevent heat stroke. :D

May 24, 2010

The Ugly Girl Papers, 1870s Beauty Advice

I came across the depressingly titled “Ugly-Girl Papers” This seems like something my mother would have given an awkward, gangly, thirteen year old me if we lived in the 1870s. I assume this book would be given as a gift because I can’t see any girl picking this up in a bookshop and not feeling a rush of embarrassment. She would then keep it, not on a bookshelf but wrapped up in a rag, tucked under her bed or hidden in a pantry, only to sneak peaks at it when her family is out. Most of the recipes and suggestions in this book include toxic chemicals such as ammonia, nitrate of mercury, sulfurous acid (a chemical found in acid rain,) and borax.

As much as this book tries to reassure the “ugly reader” that there is hope for her, it perpetuates a lie that is all too familiar to us today: “you are ugly and need products to fix you.” Makeup is fun and that is all it ever should be- no one should feel that they are not able to leave the house without caking pounds of makeup on their face. It really is upsetting to read this book; you can imagine the ladies of low self-esteem who heard enough lies that they put numerous poisons on themselves.  

It reminds me of the poem by Marge Piercy entitled “A Work of Artifice":

“The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch”

Some of excerpts from Ugly Girl Papers, some are sad to read, others are interesting to see how they used items:

May 22, 2010

How to Preserve Antique Books

Books are unlike other antiques. Many people think that just because a book is old, that it is “worth something.” While I am one of those people who think books are always “worth something,” to collectors and potential buyers of your book, being old does not make it more desirable. Unlike other antiques such as furniture, toys, and clothing, which are used a lot over the years, the majority of books only get read a few times over the years and spend most of their time unharmed on a bookshelf. Books from the 1700s and before are prized by collectors, as well as 1st editions of books and books signed by the author. Many of us wish to preserve our books for their information and beauty, despite their lack of collector value.  

If you have a historical book or book of importance, it's best to leave this to a professional. (I mean it.)

Before you start preserving your book, decide if it is a book that you want to read a lot or not. If it is a book you will want to read a lot, consider making a digital copy of the book. You can photograph each page with a digital camera or use a photocopy machine that is designed for old books (the ones that have 2 panels to scan instead of one flat one, these can be found in large research libraries.) Once you have a digital book, you can keep it digital or print it out and put the pages into a binder.   

Before you touch your book, wash your hands and make sure they are very dry. The oils on our hands can break down the paper and inks. Some people like to wear white cotton gloves but I think that it is harder to turn pages and you are more likely to cause damage to your book.

Open your book carefully. Find two spare books and lay towels on them to hold your book slightly closed so you don’t put stress on or break the spine or binding of the book.

Go through the book and remove anything that should not be in there such as book marks, newspaper clippings, bugs, dust and dirt. You can very carefully vacuum the dust and dirt out but I find that a clean feather or never before used paint brush work very well. Be careful when turning fragile pages. You can use a loose leaf of paper to turn the pages if your book is too delicate.  

Unfold any folded pages; this can be very tedious because sometimes a lot of pages are “dog eared.” If you leave these pages bent, the bent part will weaken the paper and eventually fall off. You may see some of the page corners in your book already broken off.

Decide how often you will need the information in your book. If you will be using your book often and did not want to make a digital copy, wrap your book like you would a school “book cover” only make sure you use acid free, archival paper. This can be bought at craft stores in the scrap booking section or from an office supply store.

If you will not be using the book much, wrap your book like a present; again use acid free, archival paper. Be sure to label your book cover in pencil. I write the title and copyright information on an index card and tape it to the front of it to avoid ruining the book cover while pressing to hard on it with a pencil. Your book can then be placed in a zip-lock bag.

If your book is very important (diaries, family bibles, a book with high collector value), make a box for it, out of archival cardboard; make sure the book is a tight fit. If your books aren’t very important, like mine, I place three or four books in a shoe box.

Store the books or boxes, lying flat on a surface in a dry dark place. Inside drawers or on bookshelves are good places. Make sure that bugs will not eat your books by putting bug traps on top of and behind your shelf.

Some other problems you may have:

Mildew Stains-- The greenish brown stains in books are not mildew but what is left behind after mildew has been there. There really is no cost effective way to remove these stains. There is not danger of the mold returning if it is only stains. 

Mold or Mildew—If your book has mold or mildew currently, you may wish to make a digital copy (outside) and discard the book. Books with mold or mildew can infect other books. It is very hard to remove mold and mildew because touching them only spreads the spores. A good rule is to never buy books with mildew on them in the first place, no matter how cheap.   
Oxidation or "Foxing"—Rusty looking stains in books. These can only be removed by a conservationist but will not hurt the book.     

Crinkling of the pages or Tears—These can only be repaired with great care. Try to flatten out crinkles the best you can. Do not tape tears; it only leads to more problems in the future. If you need to repair a tear learn how to repair it the proper way with Japanese rice paper and a rice based glue. I will probably post a short tutorial on fixing tears sometime in the future.  

*Note: Look at the Godey's Lady's Book Lithograph at the beginning. There are two children using an umbrella in the snow. :D I hope you all enjoyed and can make use of this information.

May 18, 2010

A Mutiny in 1916 -- Over Hardtack and Pie

I came across this article in the New York Times Archive Database. I was originally looking for a recipe for naval hardbread. I was unsuccessful in finding the recipe but I came across a fun little article: I think the subheading says it all "Kitchen Ga-ley Resounded with Death Threat Over Slice of Pie." The article tells of what was probably a small incident but it is covered it as though it were a romanticized, full fledged Mutiny. The article is charming and picturesque, it gives images of angry sailors storming the deck with belaying pins (those wooden clubs on the inside edge of old ships, used to tie the ropes to,) and sailors chanting the old sea shanty "Leave Her, Johnny," while the captain stands aloft with his pretty daughter.  It's so rainy today, grab a cup of hot chocolate and a cozy blanket and read a newspaper clipping, that is probably older than your grandma.
This article was so cute I couldn't help but post on it, and since the article is really hard to read a typed version can be read below:

Fued Rages Between Fidor, the Cook and Seamen as the Mashona Reaches Port.
Magistrate Told How Kitchen Ga-ley Resounded with Death Threat Over Slice of Pie.

Four able seamen, Anton Vaneik, Alexander Lemberg, John Andersen, and John Paulton, were arrested yester-day afternoon on board the four-masted bark Mashona. Incoming from Buenos Aires. They were locked up in the Stapleton Police station on warrants sworn out by Ernest W. Fidor, the cook, who charged that they had threatened him with bodily harm after the vessel had arrived inside the three-mile limit and was under the jurisdiction of the United States. The seamen said they were glad to be brought ashore and in-carcerated, because they would have a chance to get some food fit to eat, which they had not experienced for the last seventy-five days, they told the Police Lieutenant.
            When the Mashona arrived in Quar-antine yesterday forenon with 3,4000 tons of linseed from Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Captain Gunderson told the Health Officer that four of his crew were mutinous and had given him a great deal of trouble on the voyage. He wanted a police boat to come and take them off, he said. After the bark had anchored off Stapleton a police patrol boat went alongside and two of the Harbor Squad went on board to look the situation over. The vessel was flying the Uruguay flag and had a Scandinavian crew of twenty men for-ward nad [sic] a Captain, two mates, car-penter, sail maker, and cook aft.
            When the police officers climbed on deck they found that the Mashona was in a state of siege, but there was no signs of violence. The Captain and his mates stood on the poop shouting to the men that they were “a bunch of beachcombers” and other unkind things, while the crew stood in a group around the capstan on the foc’sle head growling out the old sailor chant, “It’s Time for Us to Leave Her.” With the Captain on the poop stood his fair-haired, tall daughter, Ggatha.
            The sailors told the police that they all had their certificates for ability in their duties. What they complained of, they said, was bad food. Fidor, the man who was doing the cooking, they declared, did not know how to cook salt water. The beans were so mouldy, they added, and the biscuits were so full of weevils, the seamen said, that they had to be nailed down to prevent them running all over the deck. Weevil steeplechasing was their only sport the men said.  The bark was seventy-five days on the voyage, and they did not get any meat fit to eat until the vessel was within four days of Sandy Hook.
            Captain Gunderson said the men had not attempted any violence, but that they had threatened him at various times, and Earnest Fidor, the cook, who said he hailed from Milwaukee, declared that one of the able seamen had threat-ened to slice his liver out if he did not give him a piece of pie. After listening to both sides the police told Captain Gunderson they could not take any action and suggested that he should go on shore and search New York City to find the Consul for Uraguay.
            When the Captain and his daughter had gone ashore, Fidor, the cook, took a boat and landed at Stapleton, where he went to the police station and asked for a warrant for four of the crew, who had threatened him. He said that these men had pretended to be ill a month ago, and when the Captain and his mates went forward with the carpenter and sailmaker to carry them to the hospital, where they could give them more attention, the rest of the crew, armed with belaying pins and sheath knives had showed fight, and forced the captain and his officers to retreat aft.
            Fidor was taken to Ninth Branch Detective Bureau at St. George’s Ferry House, after  swearing before Magistrate Hanry at Stapleton that the four seamen had threatened to kill him after the bark had passed inside Sandy Hook. The detectives said goodbye to their families and looked well to their revol-vers, expecting to have to deal with a piratical crew, on board the Mashona, but they have had no trouble in taking the men ashore.
            The cook said that even when the Captain had three pigs killed on Sunday, the crew had complained that the porkers were too fat to eat. He told the reporters that he was the only American on board and that in 1900, for a wager, he had rowed alone in a lifebzoat [sic] from Galveston to San Juan, Porto Rico, which took him three months, but he would not allow that to appear in the uapers [papers.] He disliked publicity, the cook said.
            Fidor told the Magistrate that he would hace Captain Gunderson in court this morning to appear against the four seamen. The skipper and his daughter were reported to still be looking for the Consul to Uruguay when the sun sank below the horizon last night. The men cannot sue the Captain under Uruguay’s laws for giving them bad food, as they could if the vessel was sailing under the American Flag."       
I love the song that is mentioned in the article, Leave Her Johnny. I actually love sea shanties and naval music. A few really good "sailor music" cd's are Roast Beef of Old England (Traditional Sailor Songs), Irish Pirate Ballads and Other Songs of the Sea, and Shanties & Songs of the Sea. The last cd is sung by a man named Johnny Collins who is 70+ and still singing! He has a very unique voice that is perfect for his music. It is worth looking into. Thanks for reading! 

May 16, 2010

Revolutionary War Reenactment at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation

This weekend was the Revolutionary War Reenactment at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation. You may ask, if I ever spend time in the 21st century, unfortunately I do. But today, I put on my petticoat and, jacket and shift and was ready for a warm May day in 1776. A day in 1776 for me, an indentured servant, involved getting wood to keep the fires in the kitchen going, helping out with the cooking, cleaning the dishes, getting more wood, cooking some more, getting more wood, and listening to the battle that was being fought off in the distance and cooking yet again. Then I got to the fun part of the day: cleaning. :D It may seem bleak but I would rather be a weekend indentured servant than pretty much anything else.

Somehow, cooking and cleaning the old fashioned way is much more suited to me. Maybe it's the fact that the standard of "clean" was much different then than it is today. I think more likely it is the fact that everything is done by old fashioned hard work- no washing machine, no dishwasher, no microwave. There is something very satisfying about a good day's hard work and then collapsing for a nap at the end of the day.
I also like the fact that work is done together and that everyone's work benefits all others. I do not mind work when work is also time spent with family or friends- not like the 21st century where members of the family all go off to separate jobs and barely see each other.  

Some specialty reenactors came out to the battle:

A physician and his lovely wife, also a physician.  These two were full of information about Colonial medicine. They had lots of period medicines and instruments, including that scary instrument pictured. They talked about the healing properties of honey and how honey was used in the colonial times to heal wounds and was only recently rediscovered by medical professionals within the last 5 or so years.  

A British physician and his son: These two were knowledgeable, especially the son who is only 12 or 13. He is learning colonial medicine the same way doctors really did back in those days. It is surprisingly effective!

A Hessian Soldier: ( I talked to this man's fiancee. I asked her if she knew she knew her fiancee was a "Hessian Soldier" while they were dating. She said "Yes, he told me--but I didn't know what that meant." :D ) Now she's all dressed up and being dragged to reenactments, they are even thinking about colonial dancing at their wedding reception. (Sometimes I don't think people know what they are in for.) I am lucky that Andy and I are equally interested, crazy, *insane* about history and reenacting.

I hope you all have escaped into the 18th century for the few minutes that you read this post. I hope it makes you all want to gather your siblings or children and do the laundry in a basin in the back yard during this lovely weather we have been having or gives you an ache to make dinner in the hearth tonight.  

May 14, 2010

Our New Arrival: Coal, the Kitty

Andy and I have long been searching for the perfect kitty. Some cats are friendly, others want nothing to do with you, but this one likes to play and cuddle and purrs nonstop. Coal is mostly black, he has the slightest bit of white on his chest and on the tip of his tail.

  Coal runs to the sound of anything jingling and likes to take a few playful swipes at it to see what it is. He also likes to climb up on you while you are sleeping and curl up on your chest. He's such a tiny, little guy that you'd hardly notice him curled up beside you- accept that he purrs like a little motorboat for hours. He really is the cutest thing and he seems really happy.

We adopted him from a loving family who catch and fix/neuter strays. You can tell they were very affectionate; Coal loves people.    
We are glad that this cute, lovable guy was born in modern times as there were many time periods and places where it was hard to be a black cat. After the Malleus Maleficarum, the famous medieval, witch-hunting treatise was written in 1486, it was generally accepted that  witches could turn into black cats nine times in their lifetime. In later periods, people thought that cats were "witches" in disguise or were "the familiars" of "witches" and that they strutted around town doing "witches'" dirty work --not this little guy, he's brought nothing but happiness. 

May 11, 2010

My New Colonial Outfit

Revolutionary War Reenactor
I have been working on hand-sewing a new Colonial jacket, shift and petticoat. It has been moving very slow. The shift is completely sewn other than the two armbands at the bottom of the sleeves and my jacket is about halfway done. The jacket is taking a long time because the fabric and the lining are sewn separately so it is like sewing two jackets and putting them together. I am still not sure what color petticoat I should make. I originally thought that a nice checkered linen pattern would be pretty, but I ended up having blue and white linen fabric for my jacket, I now need a plainer petticoat. Above is a sketch of what I hope the finished dress will look like. (Sorry it is really not a good drawing, I was really just trying to see how it looked all put together. You'd never know I was an artist!) I am not sure about the maroon skirt, yet.

My shift is very plain, there is a diagram for a shift on A Stitch in Time at Home that is very easy to use. Linen wrinkles like crazy, sorry about the picture.

Revolutionary War Reenactor sewing pattern
This is the the detail of the hand sewing on my shift. I very much like the look of hand-sewing. It is definitely not the best but it does make a prettier looking garment. I used to be afraid of hand-sewing. It really isn't that hard and you have a larger selection of stitches to choose from.

This is my jacket fabric. It is linen but was too thin so I have been lining it with a linen tablecloth. The fabric is pretty, but I think I will feel like a china plate wearing it. It was the only stamped, linen I could find, though.

So, will the maroon petticoat look nice or will it look to "old timesy patriotic?" The other option I have been thinking about is possible blue and white stripes (run vertically.) Any other ideas? I am hoping to finish the outfit in time for reenacting season.

May 7, 2010

How to Date Old Books: How to Read Roman Numerals

 I love old books. There's a smell to old books and the worn in, well read feel that you just can't get from a modern book. Great care used to go into making books, many were even hand bound, today machines manufacture the whole books. 
Many of us have old books but have no idea what year they are from. Many 18th and 19th century books have no publication date and leave us to research for ourselves to determine their origins. 

The first thing to look at is the front pages of the book to see if there is any publisher’s information. If there is publisher’s information, you can do some research online to find out between what years a publisher was in business. You may also be able to find lists of when they published certain titles.

Also, look to see if there is a forward in the book. Sometimes forwards include the date of publication so it is unnecessary to include it in the publishers notes. Another thing to look at is if there are any advertisements in the book. These are more common in older books than you would think. Try to research a little on any advertisements in the book as other books advertised are likely to have been published in the same year.
If nothing else, you can try to date a book by the style of binding or printing as well as any etchings or photographs included. Book printed on rag paper, were normally printed during the 1600s and 1700s. Books printed on wood pulp paper normally date after 1840.

If an illustrator created images especially for the book, try researching the illustrator as well as some of the artwork. Woodcut illustrations (usually only one) were used in books in the 18th century. Woodcut designs are normally thicker and less detailed than "etchings" which were used from the 1800s to the early 1900s.  

The date may also be included with the publisher’s information as Roman numerals. Roman numerals are one of those things that many people half-learned. Most of us learned enough to read a clock, but nothing else.  Roman numerals take a bit of work to figure out but it is well worth it to learn how just to know if your copy of Walden is from 1854 or 1910. The practice of using roman numerals was more prevalent in Britain but can still be found in a lot of old American books.

  • Roman numerals are written with the largest numerically equivalent letter to the left and the smallest numerically equivalent letters to the right in largest to smallest order.
                  Ex. MDCLX = 1660
  • Each letter’s value is added together.
                  Ex. MMC = 1,000 + 1,000 + 100 = 2,100
  • Each letter is normally only used three times in each number (this is sometimes four but it is rare.)
                  Ex. VIII
  • To make sure that each letter is only used three times, there is a “subtraction rule” which is if a numerically smaller letter is before a larger one, it is subtracted from the larger letter’s numeric value.
                  Ex. MCMXLII = 1,000 + (1,000-100) + (50-10) + 2 =1942

Some Roman Numeral Dates to try:
Answers: 1. 1854, 2. 1862, 3. 1861, 4. 1843 

I hope this helped and that many of you can now date your antique books. This is eventually leading up to a post on how to care and preserve your old books.  

*Note: The woodcut design was drawn by Paul Revere in the 1770s, the etching is from Godey's Lady's Book 1860.

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