May 30, 2011

Civil War Era Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Macaroni and cheese is a new receipt that my Civil War reenacting group is considering trying this year. We try to find something decent that I can eat as many period meals are meat heavy and I am a vegetarian. 

Most recipes for "Maccaroni Cheese" from the period call for "pipe maccaroni" and Parmesan cheese. The closest thing to "pipe maccaroni" today is Bucatini. Ziti or Penne Rigate are more widely available but a bit thicker.  In the Hand-book of the Useful Arts published in 1852, "MACARONI is a dough made of the flour of superfine wheat made into a pipe form, as thick as a goose-quill." In a pinch, the noodles from packaged macaroni and cheese today will work, just discard the cheese packet.

Period recipes recommend that the macaroni be boiled in water, milk or a meat broth and the spices for the dish frequently include white pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, mace, and mustard  It could also be made in a puff paste and baked or mixed with bits of cooked ham or bacon. It is different from modern "mac and cheese" because it was more of a seasoned butter cream sauce with cheese added instead of the entire noodle being saturated in cheese.

"Maccaroni and Cheese" Recipe from Godey's Lady's Book, 1861


- 6 ounces Bucatini / Perciatelli Noodles ect.(2 Cups)
- 1/4 Pound of Parmesan Cheese ( 1 Cup)
- 1/2 Cup Milk or Cream
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
- Salt to taste
- 2 dashes White Pepper

Boil your noodles in water with a pinch of salt according to the directions on the box. It normally takes about 9-12 minutes. Once the noodles are soft, strain them in a colander and cut the noodles into pieces about 1 inch long. Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of a small casserole dish. Add  layers of cheese and  layers of noodles making sure that you end with layer of cheese on top. Add salt and pepper to milk. Pour milk mixture over the noodles, cut up the butter in small pieces and place over the noodles. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. If you want you can add breadcrumbs over the top before baking.     

**Note: White pepper was not included in the recipe from the book but is included in a similar recipe in The United States Cook Book which was published in 1856. Also keep in mind that macaroni was an imported good then and definitely not army fare.

There is a receipt for it in Mary and John Spaulding's Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey's Lady's Book which dates the recipe to 1861. The recipe is for "Maccaroni Cheese" and reads as follows "Boil the maccaroni in milk; put in the stewpan butter, cheese, and seasoning; when melted, pour into the maccaroni, putting breadcrums over, which brown before the fire all together."

I have not found the recipe in the 1861 magazine but have found  it in the October issue of 1863. This doesn't mean it was not in the 1861 magazine, because sometimes receipts in the magazine were repeated after a few years. I did find a different recipe for "Maccaroni Cheese" in the 1861 issue which I will include here.

This is the recipe I used above.

Why is this distinction important? Because the recipe has hit the internet for the "150 anniversary" and has been cloned and promoted on other sites as being from 1861. (This recipe is so popular it even has its own facebook page.) :D This is a good example how an error in a secondary source can become multiple errors in the history field. Does this mean that the book is horrible and no one should read it? No. It's a great book that brings a lot of great recipes together for people who can't access the real thing. It is one of my favorite books. But it does point out that you should always check your secondary sources against the real thing before you label something as fact. Everyone makes mistakes, just check to make sure you aren't amplifying a mistake.

Does it mean that the online recipe is not good? Not at all and the recipe clearly states that the author took it directly from the book implying that they did not check an actual copy of Godey's Lady's Book. Their intent was clearly to provide a period recipe for the masses to make and they succeeded. It's a recipe I would make in my kitchen but not in the field. We have to be careful: stating that they "had Mac and Cheese" during the Civil War may mislead the public or new reenactors into thinking it was the same as is today.

May 27, 2011

Watermelon, Yum!

The watermelon in the local produce stores is now fully ripe and delicious! 

Watermelon is native to Africa and appears to have reached America in the 1600s. The plants were grown by Native Americans and grew wild. A French explorer in the Louisiana territory described watermelon to the people of France: "The space within that is filled with a light and sparkling substance, that may be called for its properties a rose-coloured snow. It melts in the mouth as if it were actually snow, and leaves a relish like that of the water prepared for sick people from gooseberry jelly."

Not many people eat the rind, but in the mid 1800s, the rinds were flavored and preserved. The rind is actually much more nutritious than the pink flesh but the flavor is so bitter, many people are put off by it. The leaves in the recipes are to dye the rind a yellowish-green color. The preserved rinds were used to decorate the tops of baked goods. 

In China, salted watermelon seeds are a yummy treat. They prefer watermelons with seeds much larger than we import into the states. They are available commercially in bags much like sunflower seeds and are eaten much the same way: The seeds are opened with the teeth, and spit out and the inside seed is eaten. They are a popular snack to eat during movies. (If you want to watch some Chinese movies while you eat these, "Blind Shaft" and "Raise the Red Lanterns" are the movies we watched while being adopted Chinese for a weekend.) 

It really makes you think about how much is really edible that we don't eat and how cultural influences really have a strong impact on what people deem food.I've been enjoying my favorite watermelon dish "watermelon balls" which is just watermelon scooped in little balls. 

May 23, 2011

Civil War Era Crochet Purse Pattern

If I could crochet, this is one of the first things I would make. I have seen similar originals and they are absolutely gorgeous. These types of purses are made with thin "purse silk" which isn't sold much anymore. You can buy it as "beading silk" but they sell it in short lengths. A fair substitution is crocheting cotton. You can buy it inexpensively and although it lacks the feel and luster of silk, it still makes for pretty items.

Some period examples:
  • Australian Purse circa 1860 :This one looks knitted to me but the style is similar and the striped pattern is pretty. 
  • Striped Purse mid to late 1800s from from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Until I learn to crochet, I'll have to leave this pretty purse to the readers who can. If you do end up making this purse, please let me know. I would love to post some photos.

May 19, 2011

Enough is Enough!

I have been thinking lately on what it means to have "enough." I feel very bored when I am out shopping because I feel like I have hit the point where I have "enough." All of my needs are taken care of and many or most of my wants have been met. I'll find myself looking in a shop and thinking that an item might be nice to have but I'll think more about it and figure that I already have something similar, will not really have a place to put it or that it's cool but I don't need it to be happy. Sure, I like the occasional new toy but I've really been considering the total price of a new item before I get it. Does the price justify the amount of joy I will get from owning an item? For example, my Kindle was expensive but I use it constantly and get copious amount of joy from it but sometimes I will see a cake pan or some other thing that I like and see that it is only a few dollars then realize that the joy the cake pan will bring me really wouldn't be worth the few dollars. As Lydia Maria Child says in her 1835 home manual "Nothing is cheap that we do not want." I could not have said it better. 

My mom and I were watching the show "Extreme Couponing" in which people systematically collect coupons to drastically reduce the prices of the things they buy in supermarkets. At first, I was interested in the show. I am a very frugal person and thought we would be seeing frugal shoppers. Instead we saw greedy people, many who were taking advantage of cashiers, stores and companies.  These people did not just buy 10 identical items that they might need in the future, but hundreds! One woman bought a whole basket full of headache medicine. That is more medicine than 10 families could use in a lifetime! Many other purchases were just as puzzling. If you reasonably do the math, these people were buying more than their families would ever need in 20 years. Many items would expire before a year or two anyway.
Many of them had "stashes" of stockpiled goods. I do believe that stockpiling is a good thing, but the degree to which they did this was appalling. Many of them had stockpiles so large that rooms of their houses were unusable and one little girl even had her bedroom holding a collection of salad dressing. One family's stockpile was insured for thousands of dollars, (which to me defeats the purpose of getting the items on sale.)

Many of them bought things that they did not need because they were "free." One lady bought a bunch of large bags of cat food and another a large collection of diapers. The first lady did not have a cat and the second said that she might have a baby someday. Almost all of the people on the show mentioned that they donate some of the stuff to charities. I believe everyone should donate to charities, but I do not believe in ripping off someone in order to donate something to someone else.  One woman is under investigation for coupon fraud.

One lady said that she started couponing because she couldn't feed her children. That struck me as mismanagement as they lived in a rather expensive house. I believe whole-heartily in living within your means. Some of these people spent upwards of 30 hours a week on clipping coupons and pay lots of money for coupon services. The husband and children of one wife on the show admitted that she didn't spend much time with them as she was always couponing. If these items were really invaluable to these families, they should be willing to pay a price for them. It's very nice to get things that you want or need inexpensively but what of the things that they don't want or need? It was nice to get my Kindle free as a birthday present, but if it broke, I would be willing to pay $500 for a new one if I had to: it is that valuable to me. I think their joy comes from "beating the system" and not from their ability to care for their families which is unfortunate.

I believe the people on this show put an unhealthy focus on something that is not important and ignore things that are important. Every person has a different level of comfort of what "enough" is. To me enough is comfortable plus a little. I try to keep moderation in mind. There are a lot of people who work constantly and live beyond their means. I am not one of those people who work a lot now in order to ensure happiness in the future. Happiness is not a destination.    

May 17, 2011

New Market Battle Reenactment 2011

Some Lovely Ladies
New Market has a reputation of being a wet event--so much so that it is generally referred to as "Mud Market." With a forecast of  thunderstorms all weekend we suffered the five hour trek with the intention of trying to have as much fun as possible.

The first night we encountered only drizzles and the morning was lovely. In the middle of the day, the men said their last goodbyes and tramped off into the distance. With clouds overhead, the entire area seemed to start baking. Steam rolled off the  grass and we were left with humidity so high that it felt degrees hotter than in really was. I went on an expedition to find some ice. None could be found, which left me stumbling back to my tent, where I took a nap until after the battle to escape the high heat of midday.Many times it is to hot to want to cook or to even think about food.

The battle of New Market is most well known for the VMI cadets that fought along with the Confederate Army. This reenactment is on the original battlefield and the modern VMI cadets play a big part in hosting the event. After the actual battle, the field was dubbed the "Field of Lost Shoes," due to the large percentage of men who lost their shoes in the mud there while fighting. We escaped this muddy existence that is characteristic of New Market until we were packing up to leave and the rain fell in buckets.

It really is a fun event and its beautiful scenery gets overshadowed by the messy mud that the reenactment is known for. There is a house on the property that was used at the time for a hospital. There is also a blacksmith shop with a working blacksmith and other interesting buildings. The field also is host to a museum which displays weapons, uniforms and dioramas depicting the battle. It is nice getting a chance to see period uniforms up close.

Pictures from the Event:

Note*- I wish I could identify these ladies in the photo at the top. I don't like posting close-up photos of people without their permission. In the reenacting community it is normal for us to end up on the internet and in publications from spectators and other reenactors. The photo on the top was just too picturesque not to use.

May 10, 2011

Mother's Day Hike with my Mum

For Mother's Day me and my mum went for a walk in Okenhocking Preserve, a nature reserve in Southeast Pennsylvania
The 180 acre park has a mixture of grassland, woods and water. The park is deceiving as it is right off of a busy highway and looks a lot smaller than it actually is.

We saw tadpoles, ducks with ducklings, vultures, red-winged blackbirds, barn swallows, gold finches. The park was created due to the building up of the area. I hate when areas get built up unnecessarily: there is a shopping center going in nearby that is right next to a shopping center that they can never keep businesses in.

It is cheaper for contractors to build  new structures than it is to fix old ones. Unfortunately what you end up with is a lot of dilapidated, abandoned structures. 

Even knocking down buildings and building new ones in their place has become wasteful. It has always killed me to watch a buildings get knocked down and see all of the materials piled in a dumpster, even when perfectly reusable. It is cheaper and less effort for people to buy new products than to sift through old ones. I feel that this is such a waste of the Earth's resources. I love seeing recycled structures in history. Many structures in ancient Egypt were dismantled after a pharaoh's reign and reused to make other structures.

Up north, I have seen little shops that sell antique fixtures from old houses but I've never seen recycled stone or wood around here. I was very excited to read about a man in Texas who builds affordable homes for the homeless out of recycled materials. While it is nice that he offers these homes to homeless people, I realize that giving a homeless person a home is treating the symptoms but not the disease. I do hope that this becomes popular among homeowners.

If you would like to read more about his project:

May 8, 2011

10 Ways to Interest Spectators at Reenactments

Ignoring spectators has been a big problem in the reenacting/ living history community. Lately many reenactors have been trying to think of ways to interact with the public. It is increasingly important that we keep the public interested with new budget cuts and park closings.

One of the biggest barriers to interacting the public is finding a way to call them over. Frequently, visitors will walk on pathways through the camps but won't come up to you directly or they will approach only to take a photo and then scurry off.

Here is a list of ways to interest or engage spectators:

1. If you have some bored men in camp, you can establish a picket to stop all trespassers and invite them to talk for a bit.

2. Ask them for help. We ask for help when doing dishes, baking bread, ect. Make sure it is a safe activity; we are insured, they are not.

3. "You might not want to go that way, I hear there are some Yankees/Rebels nearby and you know how they treat young ladies/men/women ect." Tell them all of the nasty things that Yankees/Rebels are known for.

4. If they are taking a picture you can ask what they are doing. Make sure to tell them that they surely can't be done yet and that the picture will just be a blur and that you wished they hadn't of taken a picture of you in this ugly dress and that you had such pretty dresses before the war. :D Just give them something to work with. If you have a tintype or CDV of yourself, you could show it to them.

5. If you have two ladies you can comment to each other that the people in this city are "practically naked" or as naked the people of India of which you saw a stereograph of at your neighbor's house. If you are teenage girls, you can giggle and act embarrassed.

6. Ask the spectator if they have any news from where they came.  Tell them that you heard cannon in the morning and fear that there might be a skirmish sometime this week.

7. Have interesting items in view of the spectators. I've seen a group bring out a period still. Would it have really been possible in the Army? No, but it does give spectators an insight into an aspect of Civil War Era life that they otherwise would not have been able to see and helped interest spectators. Try to keep these things period and plausible.

8. Some reenactors create scenes and have a set script that they follow to interest spectators. We don't do this but I think it is a good tool as it involves numerous reenactors and all can participate and not have to worry about improvisational speaking.

9. Simply greet them and invite them to join you in whatever you are doing. If I do get a chance to take a peak at a battle, I will catch up to some spectators on the way. They usually ask what side you are on, where you are from and how long you've been reenacting. It's a good chance to tell spectators if there is anything going on after the battle as many spectators leave thinking that there is nothing after that.

10. This is my personal favorite, so don't steal it. :D If I see a woman with a man or a mom with her boy I'll ask the lady if she's trying to get rid of her man. I'll then inform her that it was the best $11 I've ever made and that the Confederate army even takes the little ones as musicians.    

The more I thought about this the more I realized that it is much easier for men to call over spectators. Women tend to have the added but justified fear of "creepers." Some men are so lonely that if a pretty girl smiles at him, he thinks that she is partial to him, even if she is just doing her job. I believe this is a big reason that women tend to ignore spectators.

I had a man stalk me for a while. He was a Civil War spectator but a WWII reenactor. He found out my IM, showed up at both of my jobs and even sent me a photo of himself with an  underage reenactor (who I think I know in the blogging community.) This is a very real danger. I do not recommend inviting spectators to talk when you are all alone. Remember to be careful.

Library of Congress
 If you are a reenactor, please add some ideas in the comments. If you are a spectator, please tell us what you would like to see.

May 5, 2011

Rockahominie, Hominy and Grits

Grits is one of those American foods that people don't think about when trying to identify "American Cuisine." Grits is essentially parched, ground corn porridge and was introduced to the settlers at Jamestown as Rocahominie.

 The name "grits" comes from the terms used to define the grain size of sand and grain particles. In the early 1800s it was known as "grits," "groats" or "fine hominy." Fine Hominy seems to be the most common term but don't confuse it with what we know as hominy today, which is hominy before it is ground. 

Today it is seen as a Southern food but it was eaten by the Shawnee in modern-day West Virginia and the European colonists in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. Foreigners commented that it was a popular food in all regions of the United States. It was popular all through the 19th and 20th centuries but today the majority of grits is sold in the South.

I was originally researching this as part of a short study on Civil War Era foods that do not have to be refrigerated. We have an event next week where I will be the only lady present in my group and I am considering giving the men period rations. :D It would never be allowed with the other ladies but the men have fun with it sometimes. I'll eventually write up a post of period food that does not have to be refrigerated and how modern inventions can help with the things some people have to have (coffee creamer, eggs, meat ect.)

We are going to be down south and it looks like grits are on the menu. In her diary, Sarah Morgan, a wealthy Southern refugee during the war noted on March 21st, "To be hungry is there an every day occurrence. For ten days, mother writes, they have lived off just hominy enough to keep their bodies and souls from parting, without being able to procure another article-- not even a potato."

Grits is one of those foods that we just never thought to cook at a reenactment but is a good food as it doesn't have to be refrigerated, can be kept in a period container without risking the integrity of it and a small amount makes a lot of food. 

You can also tell the spectators how sick you are of hominy. 

P.S. I am using "grits" in the singular as in "a bowl of grits." There are no set grammar rules for grits.

May 2, 2011

Neshaminy Civil War Reenactment 2011

This weekend was the Neshaminy Civil War Reenactment. The weather was very nice and it didn't rain! It almost always rains at Neshaminy and we end up moist all weekend. The park does not charge an admittance fee for the public and the park is very pretty, located right on the water.

While it is not an actual battle site, all of the proceeds go towards preservation efforts. We were surprised by getting to meet David Kincaid, who our whole group *LOVES.* He performs Civil War Irish music that is absolutely stellar. I think I have written about him on here before. I wish I would have thought to take a picture, I have my camera with me and just didn't think about it.

We bought his newest CD, which is a live album. Sometimes live albums are terrible but we were pleasantly surprised at how good this album was. There is no fiddle on this one but the fiddle parts are played on Uilleann pipes!
I don't know if any of you know this, but Andy and I live an hour away from each other. On our first date, I gave Andy my David Kincaid CD, The Irish Volunteer to listen to on the way home.

He had never heard of Irish music before but was instantly in love with it and it was that CD that led to Irish fiddling, bagpipes and Gaeilge. (At least I can pretend that his Irish music obsession reminds him of me. :D)  

The event was very fun. They did have to stop the battle for a real-life casualty which we heard was a broken eardrum from taking a hit. Ouch!

Photos from the Event:

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