July 30, 2010

Summer Colonial Cooking: Gingerbread Cake Recipe

It's been so hot recently! The sun has shone bright without a cloud in the sky. What a great day to spend in a Colonial farmhouse, cooking?

I love animals, but the door of the farmhouse has been altered to let smoke out. Unfortunately, it also lets small (and not so small) critters in! Cooking with critters is nearly impossible.

I once heard that cats can contort and fit anywhere their head can fit. I wasn't sure how cats did this until I saw this barn kitty slide in the kitchen under the door.

The rooster has been testing the waters in the kitchen for a while but today he decided to come all the way in and see what crumbs he could scrape from the cracks in the floor.

I was waiting for cat and chicken brawl, but it never came. After the cat was done sticking his nose in all of the whipped cream, the cat and chicken sat down together.

I spent a good while chasing both the cat and the chicken around the kitchen but it was impossible to keep them out.  I tried my best to keep them off the cooking utensils. The chicken was fond of standing on the dutch ovens. There was also a cooked chicken on the table which he didn't seem to mind. 

Here's a period recipe for Gingerbread Cakes if anyone is brave enough to try it. I don't think our modern palates are used to real ginger used in sweets.

The recipe makes a lot of dough! Remember they baked a lot at once and stored it up.  I wrote the recipe up in modern terms and also in modern "sizing."

Ingredients: (Makes a lot.)
-12 Cups Flour
-2 Cups Sugar
-1 pound Butter (4 sticks)
-2 ounces Ginger
-2 teaspoons ground nutmeg or 1 freshly ground nutmeg
-1/2 cup Heavy Cream
-16 ounces of Golden Syrup (Treacle)

 Annotated Ingredients: (Makes 4 small cakes or one 9 inch one.)
- 3 Cups Flour
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 1/4 pound Butter (1 stick)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons Ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
- 1/8 cup Heavy Cream 
- 4 ounces of Golden Syrup (Treacle)

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix Flour, Sugar, and Nutmeg in a large bowl. Cream Butter with the grated Ginger. Mix the Butter and Ginger in with the Flour mixture. Add Golden Syrup and Heavy Cream. Mix until a stiff dough. Roll out to 1/2 inch on a floured surface. Cut out small circles. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 40-45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

July 29, 2010

Civil War Era Knit-Along Instructions

For those of us knitting the sontag, there is a pattern in PieceWork Magazine's March/April 2009 edition. For those of us that do not have that issue, there is a free pattern at Ragged Soldier. The last time I tried the pattern, I used the period sizing, which was way too small for me. I suggest using the medium sizing that's written in.

 Materials needed: 

  • 500 yards of 100% wool in a sport weight or a true DK, but not worsted for MAIN COLOR.
  • 200 yards of  100% wool in a sport weight or a true DK, but not worsted for BORDER COLOR. KnitPicks is a great place to find cheaper, high quality yarn, just make sure that it is sport weight or DK and %100 wool.
  • Size 7 or 8 needles  (7 for DK wool, 8 for sport weight.)
  • This Pattern. I highly suggest printing it. 
  • This Pattern for the border. This is the border suggested in the period directions but few people use this border and opt for a double crocheted border instead.  
  • Stitch markers. You can buy these or make them by cutting a straw into thin rings. 
  • Safety pin. This is used to mark the Right side of the knitting.  
Good luck! It doesn't officially start until August 1st but I wanted to give a little time for everyone to gather their materials. If you don't have a local yarn boutique or don't want to buy online, Joann's Fabrics might have usable yarn, but probably not in a wide range of colors. 

If you want to practice the basket weave stitch that we will be using on some scrap yarn, knit 5 stitches, purl 5 stitches and repeat until the end. On the next row make sure that you purl 5 stitches first and knit the next 5. Keep rotating for five rows and on the 6th row knit 5 first and purl and so on.

July 23, 2010

Nantucket Whaling: The Fate of the Essex

Nantucket, Massachusetts was the heart of the American Whaling industry during the 1820s. Whales were used to produce a multitude of everyday items including oil, candles, meat, corset and crinoline boning and even expensive perfumes.

Whaling was a huge industry. Sailors on whaling vessels not only had to track and find whales but also harpoon them, bring them aboard their ship and process the whales. It was a very dangerous job as many sailors could not swim and there were plenty of chances of falling into the water.

When a whale was spotted, chosen sailors would depart the ship and man small whaling boats. All the small boats would be rowed up to the whale and the harpooner would take a shot at the whale. Ropes attached the harpoons to the small boats so that the boats would not lose the whales. The whales would frequently try to swim away, dragging the boats quickly behind them, sailors referred to this as a "Nantucket sleigh ride." When the whale was too hurt to swim, the whale was hobbled, by cutting the tail (this is similar to cutting an Achilles tendon in an ankle.) The whale was then struck again with a lance to kill the whale. The whale's lungs would fill with blood until blood would shoot out of the whale's blowhole, sailors would call "chimney's afire," when it happened to prepare everyone for a shower of blood.  It was a gruesome job but the only way to get oil in a time before petroleum.

The Essex, a whale ship in the 1820s, was attacked by an abnormally large sperm whale in the South Pacific. The ship was rammed twice and sank and 21 men escaped on their small whaling boats but could not manage to get the necessary supplies. The men eventually landed on a small island with a freshwater spring but soon drained the island of its resources. All but three men decided to leave the island in search of food.

The three men who stayed behind were eventually rescued but the other men, delirious from malnutrition and a lack of fresh water" soon resorted to eating their dead companions. Similarly to many 'last resort' accounts of the time, African Americans "died" first, a true testament to the societal norms of the time. After exhausting those who died of natural causes, the stranded men started to draw lots to decide who would be sacrificed for the group. The Captain's nephew, who was entrusted to his care by his sister, was elected and his good friend was elected to kill him.

When they were rescued, there was only three men left. The First mate soon wrote an account of the incident entitled The Loss of the Ship "Essex" Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats. The account was not published until the 1980s; however, the son of the First mate lent a copy of his father's manuscript to a young Herman Melville while they worked on a ship together. Melville was so inspired by the violence of whales, which was a rare occurrence, that he went on to write Moby Dick. 

The whole whaling industry sends shivers down my back. Can you imagine the time when whale oil would be lighting your homes and your corset would be stiffened with baleen? Those sailors must have been a tough group!

You can see modern whaling on Animal Planet's Whale Wars. It is an interesting show. I am not sure I believe in their methods but they do have a great devotion to saving whales.

July 21, 2010

Sontag it is! Were Sontags Crocheted during the Civil War?

It seems like the Sontag is the winner for the knit-along. I am trying to find a yarn that is affordable and available to most of the knitters. While most of us will be knitting the sontag, others have expressed interest in knitting other Civil War Era items. I am ecstatic and will link to all of the knitted items regardless of what they are.

The sontag pictured is post war--1866, but it is absolutely gorgeous! Many people are interested in crocheting sontags as they don't know how to knit. I have only seen one period reference to crocheted sontags.

The reference is late war--1864 and from Peterson's Magazine:

This pattern produces a sontag that is more like a shawl. It is something period and warm, so if you must crochet, I'm sure it could look very beautiful. If you aren't looking to make something period and just want a sontag to wear around the house indulge yourself with the 1866 sontag at the top.

I will keep you all posted when a suitable yarn for the knit-along is found. The needles will most likely be a common 7US. You will also need a few stitch markers. Stich markers can be bought cheaply or made at home, as a friend taught me, by cutting a drinking straw into 3 mm thick rings. 

July 19, 2010

Civil War Era Knit-Along

These storms keep rolling in! As I write this I could hear a roaring in the distance which soon became large crashes and flashes that shake the house. What crazy weather we've been having, we just had a storm this morning. It is very hot now but forecasters are predicting a very cold winter. All the better to make sure that we have plenty of knitted things to keep ourselves and loved ones toasty.

On August 1, I will be hosting a knit-along for beginners if anyone is interested. Everyone will have a chance to vote on what you'd most like to knit. We will knit a certain amount each week and everyone is invited to post photos of their progress every Saturday, and I will link to them.

 The options are:

* Sontag from Godey's Lady's Book, 1860

 *Opera Hood From Godey's Lady's Book, 1856

* Necktie from Peterson's Magazine 1861

* Lace Collar from The Ladies' Complete Guide, 1859 

Let me know what you would like to knit and if you plan to participate. Once we pick a project, we can figure out the yarn and needles we'll need. I think it will be fun and I feel like I'm more likely to finish it and not discard it for another project if I am knitting along with a group.

July 17, 2010

Anne of Green Gables Entry, The Hazel Dell Sheet Music

I am one of the few who has never seen the Anne of Green Gables movies. Before last month, I had never even read the books. I was inspired to read the book by the pretty photos on Bramblewood Fashion's blog which is hosting an Anne of Green Gables Fashion Week. To celebrate the week, I drew Anne on the roof in one of her "serviceable" dresses.

 I finally read the first book and absolutely loved it! There were a lot of very true and beautiful things written in it.

Some meaningful things said in the book were:

  • " Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed."
  • "...when a man is courting he always has to agree with the girl's mother in religion and her father in politics."
  • "A body can get used to anything, even to being hanged, as the Irishman said."
  • "It is all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it's not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?"

Here is a song to celebrate the week also. Anne mentions that Diana is going to teach her a song called Nelly in the Hazel Dell. This song was written in 1853 and was revived in the early 1900s. A midi version of the song can be heard here at The Music.

I hope everyone has been enjoying Anne of Green Gables Fashion Week and I can't wait to see the rest of everyone's blog posts. Someone will have to tell me if they use this song in the movie.

July 14, 2010

A Recipe from my Great Grandmother

My Grandmother was trying to find a recipe for me from my Great Aunt Ann for Perogies. We couldn't find it today--she has a lot of recipes! She did pull out this recipe for crabcakes and said "This is my mother's handwriting."

I looked at it, scrawled in green pen, her handwriting is much sloppier than my grandmother's. The recipe was nothing special; there was no ingredient list and there were blue ink annotations correcting the measurements.

What I found very fascinating, living in the modern, disposable age, was that the paper it was written on. The recipe was written on the back side of an order form from the "Stork Diaper Service."

"How long ago did you use cloth diapers?"

"Oh, a long long time, now you can use the disposable ones," she said."
She looked at the back of the recipe and said "This must have been when Uncle Freddie used to work there."

" I'm thinking of using cloth diapers, when I have kids," I said with a smile.

She looked at me with horror and said the first curse word I have ever heard from her in my 22 years-- "No, they were horrible! It was just a rag! You had to send them away all S***ty and they'd clean them there and send you back the same number your sent them. They would sanitize them. Don't tell your mother, I still have two of hers."

She went up to her rag drawer and pulled out two white rags.

"I use them for the windows. They soak up a lot more than normal rags."

The cloth diapers would have been from the 1950s and my Grandmother said the recipe was probably from around the same time. She tried to remember how to wrap the diapers.

"The extra fold goes in the back for girls and in the front for boys. That's all I remember. And you had to make sure you didn't pin the baby."

We tried wrapping the cloth diaper on Pinocchio, another relic from the 1950s. We weren't very successful, and she reiterated that I should use disposable ones when the time comes.

"They are very expensive," I said.

"It's well worth it!"

I guess it is true because statistics say that in the 1950s, 92% of babies were toilet trained by the time they were a year and a half old. Today only 4% are toilet trained by that time. There is an interesting article here about this: Cloth Diapers. I am guessing that this would have been true in years before as well. No one wanted to carry around a messy baby. Imagine the ruined clothing!

Diapers seem to have been a thick cloth for the most part in history
The book, Babyhood from 1891, mentions that cheesecloth diapers are better than cotton ones and that you should put one diaper folded up inside of the "wrapping diaper."

Only at Grandma's can you go in looking for a recipe and end up putting a Nappie on Pinocchio.  

 The Crab cake Recipe:
"Fry onions + celery together in [1 TB] Butter until tender then add 1 can Crab Meat stir it good then [1/2 cup] 1 qt. milk bring to a boil, then take it off the stove and stir in [2 TBS] 1 Cup flour, do not dilute the flour, stir it in dry, then a little soy sause, salt + pepper or if you have Chicken Boullion it gives a nice flavor, make This The day before you use it Then its eas-ier to bread you Take a spoonful and roll it in Bread-crumbs."

July 11, 2010

Godey's Lady's Book Opera Hood: Knitting in the Middle of the Summer!

Opera hoods, were also known as traveling hoods. These were worn at night for warmth and modesty. It was better than wearing a bonnet because in carriages, your bonnet or hat is likely to be blown off. They also could be made fancier to add excitement to a dress as most people only had a few dresses and accessories and adornments were used to give an outfit a new feel. 

I knitted this awhile ago but I never posted photos. It took forever to knit the first bit of it at 220 stitches a row! It is not very difficult, I am not a very good knitter and I found that this was simple enough. It is really nice for those cold nights especially when we get to those September and October reenacting events. If you are a slow knitter like me, I  recommend starting you knitting now, in the middle of the summer, so you have the things you want already finished in the winter.

The pattern can be found free at Ephemeral Chaos. It has a lot of great tips especially for beginning knitters. It really helped me a lot. I like wearing this at night, it lets you see more than a bonnet allows and is very toasty!
I couldn't take a picture of the whole thing myself but the two bottoms end in enormous yarn tassels. They give the whole thing a wintery, warm look. I absolutely love it! If you are going to make one try to find a color that matches a few of your dresses so you can mix and match items. People back then weren't as consented with "matching" like we do today. They liked vibrant colors and color combination and fabrics that we think are "gaudy" today.    

Here is another pattern for an opera hood. This one is from Peterson's Magazine from 1858, it is fancier than the one I made and It looks to be a relatively quick knit. I am working on a fancy opera hood now that includes beads. I hope to post a tutorial on it soon. I have to figure out the best way to net with the beads. So far it looks like a knitted dishcloth. I hope the beads will make it look a lot nicer.

July 9, 2010

1860s Dinner Invitations

To help out all of us bored, ladies I am planning to host a tea or a dinner soon at one of the future reenactments. It will most likely be a tea. It will by no means be a fancy engagement but it will serve to give us something to do while the men are drilling. Us ladies from different regiments rarely have any time to meet each other. It would be nice to be able to put names to faces and get to know the people who belong to the same battalion as us. Seeing as my particular company only has two civilians, we decided the only way to get to know everyone is to have everyone over for a small soiree. I am researching all of the particulars because I have never thrown any kind of get together in my life. I will be sure to be asking a lot of people for help.   

Dinners in the 1860s were normally held at 7 or 8 o'clock at night . During the social season (after Easter to August 12 in England, or from Fall to early Spring depending on the weather in the U.S.) it was customary to give out invitations three weeks in advance. For smaller gatherings or dinners during the "slow season" one or two weeks advance notice was considered sufficient. Invitations were written by hand or could be printed up with blanks to fill in with the guests names and the date of the dinner.
Invitations and R.S.V.Ps were a must as dinners could be large affairs with 10 courses as is given in the book The Habits of Good Society from 1865:

This book recommends fill in the blank invitations if you entertain a lot printed as below:

Another book, Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving by Mary Foote Henderson in 1876 suggests  similarly worded but handwritten invitations:
Responding to an invitation was considered polite an necessary for anyone planning a large party, the same book gives examples of polite decline R.S.V.Ps
An example of an accepting R.S.V.P:

Invitations were normally printed or written on cards, roughly 4.5"x 6" with a  matching envelope. Invitations were delivered by servants by hand. Invitations were only mailed if a guest lived far away. An example of an invitation from 1890 can be seen here

I plan to hand out invitations the Friday of the event and hopefully host the soiree on Saturday or Sunday--not up to period etiquette but it will have to do. I plan to do group invitations addressed to "The Ladies of the 44th Mississippi" and the like. For anyone who thinks they would like to be invited, we are pretty sure it will be at a big event in October, which should narrow down the particular event for most of us. If it goes well we will probably be hosting more at more events and encouraging others to do the same. Why should the men have all of the fun? 

July 5, 2010

The Secret Garden

“Where you tend a rose, my lad,

A thistle cannot grow.” 

I just read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was one of my favorite stories as a child. I remember reading a child’s version of it and I really liked the movie although I am pretty sure I saw it only once. I had also seen a theatrical performance of it. Much to my surprise, I remembered a lot of the dialogue word for word. It clearly had an impact on my childhood if I can remember pieces of it more than a decade later. I feel though, as a child, the more interesting and thoughtful parts alluded me such as the very well known quote “Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”

As a child, this was just a fun thing to say, but it really has a lot of weight and meaning to it. Positive aspirations, goals, and positive thinking really do open our eyes to the gifts of life. As we get older, tough classes, hard jobs, fights, tragedy, pain, failure and the bad times in life can cloud our eyes. Everyone has probably felt trapped inside bad thoughts or felt helpless and so buried in deep in despair that they can’t find a way out at all. We all have let “thistles” grow. It is empowering to remember that we can stop thistles from growing by planting the seeds of good and letting good grow in its place. I have found the book to be very meaningful. It is a sweet story with a good message. I definitely recommend revisiting it.           

“Much more surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.” 

“In each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have been discovered. In the last century more amazing things were found out than in any century before. In this new century hundreds of things still more astounding will be brought to light. At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts--just mere thoughts--are as powerful as electric batteries--as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.”

The motif of thoughts being controllable energy in the book is a reflection of the popularity of the notion during the late 19th century and early 20th.  Spiritualism, was at its peak.  Many "new" ideas were coming out of India at the time and both Britain and the U.S. had a decent following. Most spiritualists believed in God but also believed that spirits inhabited the Earth and could be communicated with though mediums. Mediums and Seances became popular and despite the fact that many mediums were proven to be frauds, they still were in demand. There were many prominent believers during middle and late 19th century including Mary Todd Lincoln, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, and many scholars and scientists. The many mediums were prosecuted in court for fraud, and many believers soon rejected Spirituality by the 1920s.   

Cora Hatch: a famous medium in the 1850s. 

What a charming book! I am astounded that it has lost favor in recent times. Alice and Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes and Anne of Green Gables seem to be very popular recently. I'm sure it has to do with movies. I don't think the movie versions of The Secret Garden are anything fantastic. Perhaps its time will come soon and an updated movie will come out, perhaps incorporating the spiritualism of the times.  

July 2, 2010

The Virginia Reel : Instructions and Sheet Music

I have posted a little bit about the Virginia Reel before but it was such a widespread and popular dance, I think that more can be said about it. Many people today would like to learn it.

The Virginia Reel dates back to the 1700s and became very popular in the 1830s. The Virginia Reel was originally danced to a song which was known in England as Sir Roger De Coverley. In America, the song came to be known as The Virginia Reel just because of the popularity of dancing that particular dance to it. The dance could be danced to any reel or hornpipe but Sir Roger De Coverley was the most popular.A collection of other popular "Virginia Reel" songs, collected in 1850 can be read here in PDF.

In A Christmas Carol, one of my favorite stories, when Scrooge is shown Fezziwig's party by the Ghost of Christmas Past, it is mentioned that Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig danced to Sir Roger De Coverley played by a fiddle.

The dance is danced in two lines, one line of gentlemen and one line of ladies. There is a Head Couple (the couple closest to the orchestra) and a Foot Couple (the couple closest to the doors in a traditional dining hall.) There are many versions of the steps due to region.

Some different versions and explanations of the steps and other references:

Phantom Ranch: Basic text explanation, no photos.
 Youtube Virginia Reel: Slightly blurry, danced to The Irish Washerwoman and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Youtube The Virginia Reel: The song The Virginia Reel played on tin whistle.

Remember, dances were learned at home as part of a "proper education" for both gentlemen and ladies. If one was not good at a certain dance, they would try to sit it out. Dances were taught in public dancing schools as well as in private homes. Of course most practice was probably done with members of the same sex at small gatherings. Dances were "called" by someone to guarantee everyone was in unison so you do not have to worry much as long as you know the individual steps being called. 

As many ladies are anxious to learn period dances and many gentleman are far to shy to help them, I must implore to the gentlemen that they take period advice from The Fashionable Dancer's Casket by Charles Durang who states "As ladies are not entitled to the privilege of asking gentlemen to dance, it is the duty of gentlemen to see that ladies shall not sit long waiting for partners, as it is one of the greatest breaches of good manners, that a gentle-man can be guilty of in the ball-room, to stand idling whilst ladies are waiting to be asked." No more Mr. Darcys guys, please, The girls are waiting to dance! Good luck!

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