September 30, 2011

I Miss Fall

Fall is my favorite time of year, I love going up north and taking photos of all of the leaves in their brilliant glory. The reds, the oranges and the greens look like they just flowed out of the paintbrush of a master artist. I love the clear air, apple cider and the wood burning stove smoke that rustles in the leaves up above. It is cool enough for fuzzy sweaters but not so cold that you can't enjoy yourself outside. It is the perfect time for stargazing. The skies are clear and there are two meteor showers this October. Unfortunately, like last year, Fall has been so rainy that the leaves may all fall of the trees before they get a chance to change.

I thought I'd post some of my favorite photos from falls in the past. A virtual fall, if you will.

 I hope this season is just as beautiful as past seasons. I've bought myself a new palette for my paints and I plan to document it this year. I just love looking at it; it is pretty and white. My others are stained from pigments being left too long and bad cleaning practices. I almost don't want to dirty it. Of course I will. :D  

September 26, 2011

Facebook :(

I will no longer be checking my facebook. I have hated facebook since its inception and was hoping it would fizzle out before I had to make one. Unfortunately, I did end up having to make one so people without blogger could follow my blog. It was fun for a while and I made a lot of new friends, mostly reenactors from units I would never have met in person and for that I am happy I signed up. 

However, it’s just getting annoying now. This site enables superficial relationships. You are in everyone’s lives without being in anyone’s life. It provides human interaction on your terms, friendships without any real investment. It lets you feel connected while not really being connected at all. The experience is more important than documenting it in detail so your friends will think you have such an interesting life. (I’m betting you know people who do this.)   

I want to keep my relationships meaningful and my activities meaningful and there is nothing meaningful about scrolling through 1,000 photos of someone’s vacation, especially if you are not involved enough in their life for them to even tell you they are going away.

I will check out people’s photos but only if they mention them to me personally. You know my phone number, you know my e-mail, you know my blog; you know how to get in contact with me other than through facebook. 
I’d really appreciate it if you would.  I know everyone is busy. I am busy, which is why I want to make my relationships as meaningful as possible. I’d rather spend an hour with friends than 1,000 hours on facebook. I know this means that I won’t know what you are doing every hour of the day. I’m looking forward to not knowing, so we’ll have lots to talk about when we see each other!   

I’m not deleting my facebook account, but I will only be checking it once or twice a month. I much prefer blogs because they give an overview of your activities, not a micro detailed timeline of your life. I get to see your photos and hear your thoughts and feelings. I love reading my friend's opinions, beliefs and ideas. It's much more stimulating than "[Insert vague status update here that will prompt people to ask about something you're dying to tell everyone.]"      

September 23, 2011

Civil War Shetland Wool Shawl

I am currently working on a fun knitting project that uses a very simple pattern but a pretty complex stitch. It's not that the stitch is particularly hard, but if I mess up once, the whole pattern is ruined and it's really difficult to figure out where I messed up. Once I find the offending stitch, it is almost impossible to rip out the other stitches and get them back on the needle in the correct places.

It's getting to be that time of year where wool on your lap is a toasty welcomed companion. My knitting list is growing. I should stop looking at everyone's beautiful knitted things before my hands fall off.
 I love the Civil War era wraps that I have but now I'm starting to eye up some pretty shawls. I normally walk around my house in the winter wrapped in a small blanket, folded the the shawl above. I've been fooling with the idea of making a shawl that I can wear around the house as well as at reenactments. (I really think someone with more fashion influence than I needs to bring shawls back.) This pattern is simple enough but uses different stitches to make pretty patterns. It is probably gorgeous when made and I am thinking of adding it to my list. It is folded over do it will be twice as warm. But first I have to finish the garment I am working on.  

The item I am currently working on uses a very open stitch and I am afraid it will be too open to be warm. It is a gift so I can't post much about it yet but I really like how it looks so far. I am very happy that I have something to be excited over because this semester is really sucking the life out of me. (Yes, it's pretty sad that I am looking forward to 3 minutes of knitting here and there throughout the week but at least it is something and I'm not running around full of stress like I have been in previous weeks. :D)

When I am done the three big projects that I have this semester I vow to sit and knit to my heart's content. I am a pretty slow knitter so I usually only manage one or two knitting projects a season. Unfortunate, knitting takes so long and there's so many other enjoyable hobbies.   

September 20, 2011

Civil War Bread Recipe

I meant to make this a tutorial, but didn't think it entirely through. While my hands were covered in sticky, partially kneaded dough I decided that I should take a photo of it and realized that I had no hands to do so. So, this is a very photo light tutorial.

During the mid-1800s, bread was a stable food. Like today, there were many different types of bread and bread mixtures. Cornmeal, rye, potatoes, rice, hominy, buckwheat and other variant ingredients were used to make different kinds of bread. Most of these breads had a base of wheat flour and a smaller proportion of another type of flour or ingredient.[1]  Bread was thought to be unhealthy when warm; so many books advised waiting a day before eating.[2]Bread was available for purchase at bakeries but many houses still made their own bread.  Bread was also being manufactured by machine at this time.

[1] The Complete Confectioner (Philadelphia: J. B Lippincott, 1864), 143-154.
[2] Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary, 45

The recipe I used was from Mrs. Hale’s New Cookbook that was published in 1857. It was for "English Rolls."


-8 Cups Flour
-1 Pint of Warm Water, which should be between 105 degrees and 115 degrees, or you will kill the yeast.
-3 Tablespoons Yeast, The fast acting kind is fine. If you use period liquid yeast, omit the pint of warm water.
-2 ounces of Butter, softened
-1 teaspoon Salt
- Enough water to make a dough that does not stick to your hands. 


Add the yeast to the water and let sit for a few minutes. Put flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast liquid and the butter, mix with a spoon, then with your hands until the dough is well mixed. Knead the dough for about 5 -8 minutes (this may be easier in two smaller batches.) Form the dough into a ball, place in a clean bowl and cover with a warm, damp towel and place under a lamp to rise. When the dough doubles in size, about two hours, remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and punch the dough down. Divide the dough in half and in half again until you have 12 lumps of dough. Form the dough into roll shapes and arrange on cookie sheets, leaving space in between rolls to let them rise. Cover the rolls with a warm, damp rag and let the rolls rise for about 30 minutes. Score the rolls with a serrated knife or razor blade. Bake in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes. They do not get very brown, so be sure to make sure they don't get too hard.    

If you are curious about what ways to shape your bread. Round loves with crosses on the top were popular as well as bread baked in tin loaf pans. Here are some loaf examples:

A traditional style of bread baked in a tin loaf.

This style of loaf was popular in England but not in the U.S.
An illustration of the Bread Riots. Look at all the different kinds of loafs.

For more reading, The English Bread Book by Eliza Action in 1857, is a very good start. For different kinds of American bread recipes try, The Improved Housewife, published in 1855, particularly pages 125- 128.

September 14, 2011

A Whole Pint of Yeast? A Definition of Mid 19th Century Yeast

Many Civil War Era recipes call for a lot of yeast. While the proportions seem ludicrous to us, there were many liquid based forms of yeast that are no longer used anymore. While much of their yeast was still in the liquid form, they did have cakes of yeast and dry yeast also; therefore, many of these recipes relied on the cook to know which kind to use given the proportions in the recipe. During the 1850s, yeast was used in cakes and confectioneries as well as in bread. Today we tend to think yeast gives a sour flavor and prefer to only use yeast in bread.

Here is a recipe for yeast that is easy to make today. It was reprinted in Godey's Lady's Book in 1860 but was featured in many publications before that:

"How to Make Yeast
Boil one pound of good flour, quarter of a pound of brown sugar, and a little salt in two gallons of water, for one hour. When milk-warm, bottle it and cork it close. It will be ready for use in twenty-four hours. One pint of this yeast will make eighteen pounds of bread."  

Other recipes at the time suggest that you allow the yeast to cool before bottling, leave some room at the top for froth, and to not cork it too tight.

Some recipes that call for yeast (liquid and not):

From The Art of Cookery by John Mallard, 1836


From The Improved Housewife, 1851

From Mrs. Hale's New Cook Book, 1857

From the United States Cook Book by William Vollmer, 1856

There will be a continuation of this post sometime later this week. This yeast is something I might try when cooking over an open fire. I feel strange letting things boil for hours on a modern stove top. I would like to try it though because different kinds of yeasts have different tastes and I would love to get the flavor of things as close as I possibly can.  

September 12, 2011

Researching Consumes Your Life!

I haven't been posting as much lately because I've been busy with homework and I've been doing a lot of research for my cookbook! For those of you that don't know, my future cookbook is a Colonial American cookbook but I am including sections on cooking techniques as well as a good bit of history.

What a complex topic! As soon as one question is answered, hundreds of others pop up. I am not one to stop researching until I have *exhausted* all sources of information. Like many books, not all of the research I have already will fit in one book. I'm working on ways to fit a lot of information in a small amount of space. Also, I know a lot of people are interested in the minute details of all of this but many just want the overview, so I have to try to include or exclude enough information to please both. 

On top of this, I am not limiting the recipes to just English recipes as lots of other groups were in America at the time. Although the minority, many of these groups had their own cultural dishes that have avoided inclusion in many books on the subject due to the fact that they were not written in English.


Just in Pennsylvania we had Swedes, Dutch, German, Welsh, Scots, Irish, Native Americans, and African American as well as English. Although these groups made up the minority, certain areas consisted entirely these groups, such as Germantown. I feel that these recipes would be helpful for people to get a fuller picture of New World foodways. 

September 8, 2011

A Colonial Recipe for the Poorer Classes: Colonial Beef Stew

Most of the Colonial Recipes that we still have today were recipes written for the upper class. Cookbooks were generally written for people who wanted to cook the recipes that they had tasted at fancy dinner parties hosted by the wealthiest ladies in town. Even though cooks, and in some cases servants, wrote cookbooks, they were intended for the wealthy using ingredients that the wealthy had ample access to. This recipe was intended to be an inexpensive meal that would make meat go farther, especially among the poorer classes or in places with little meat.

Jonas Hanway, who recorded this recipe, was a British philanthropist who recorded his displeasure with the way that many English people cooked, claiming that they were wasteful.  He suggested that people make economical meals instead of meat heavy, extravagant ones.

This recipe was probably similar to ones used in taverns and other establishments that tried to feed a lot of people in the cheapest way possible.   


- 18 Cups Water
- 1 Pound Beef, cut into pieces
- 2 Cups Split Peas
- 3 Potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped
- 3 ounces Ground Rice (not the same as rice flour)
- 3 Large Leeks, cleaned and sliced
- 2 Heads of Celery, cut into pieces
- Salt to taste


Put the sliced meat in a large pot, brown for about 8 minutes. Add the water, Split Peas, Potatoes, and Ground Rice and let boil 2 hours then add Leeks, and Celery. Let simmer for 10 minutes and salt to taste.

September 5, 2011

Making Homemade Pizza

Believe it or not, I have never made homemade pizza before. I've made tiny pizzas on pitas and pizzas that you take home and heat up, but I have never made a pizza with a real made-at-home crust.


Up until now, I was really spoiled. I had tasty $5.00 pizzas very close to my house. But the shop closed down and now the only pizza shops around serve horribly thin crusted, bland tasting pizza-like oddities for over $10.00. (When I say thin crusted, I mean thin crusted! We bought one with 1/2 a centimeter crust.) Not that we get pizza very often, but on occasion, we just crave it. Last time we went to the beach, we ordered the most delicious pizza. The crust was good the sauce was so good we were considering sneaking into their backroom for the secret recipe. Anyway, this had us craving pizza and with nowhere to get it, we decided to try it for ourselves. I put baby portable mushrooms on my and my mom's side and Andy put green peppers and sausage on his. It turned out very yummy, not quite the pizza we had at the beach, but better than any pizza around here. 

The Dough:

- 1 cup of Warm Water (105°F-115°F)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dry Yeast
- 1 Tablespoon Honey
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- 3 1/2 Cups Flour
- Olive oil for brushing over the top.

Put the water into a measuring cup,(make sure it is of temperature or you will kill the yeast like I always do.) Add the yeast and honey and stir it a few times. When the sugar dissolves, add the salt. Put the flour in a medium-sized mixing bowl and make a well in the center of it. Pour the yeast mixture into the well. Stir with a wooden spoon until it is too hard to mix, then use your hands. You may need more or less flour, keep adding it until the dough does not stick to your hands. Knead about 5 minutes. When done, roll it into a ball and brush olive oil over the top to keep it moist. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit under a lamp to rise for 1 hour. (I got this tip from Jodi at Curious Acorn.  Before she told me that, I was always letting my doughs rise in crazy places.)

The Sauce:

- 15 ounces Crushed Tomatoes
- 1/2 Tablespoon Sugar
- 4 Cloves of Fresh Garlic, Chopped and Smashed.
- 1 teaspoon Oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Salt
- 1 teaspoon Rosemary

We mixed this together and let it sit while we rolled out the dough.  The rolling pin that we have is useless, you are supposed to fill it full of water and freeze it to use it and it has never done anything but leak onto my dough. We've been using an old fashioned soda bottle, which worked surprisingly well.

The dough works best if you turn up the sides a little at the ends so the toppings don't fall off while cooking. I forgot to do this, but most of the toppings stayed put. We cooked the mushrooms and the sausage before baking to remove excess juice. Cover the dough in a thin layer of sauce, leaving a one inch border around the outside edge.

Add cheese and other toppings and bake it in a preheated oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. We don't have a baking stone but the pizza still turned out yummy on an oiled metal tray.   

I know making pizza is probably very old to many of you but it was a lot of fun. We don't normally eat pizza very often so it was a fun yummy treat and I expected it to be a lot harder considering the vast amounts of horrible pizzas out there.

September 2, 2011

Common Mistakes that New Researchers Make

Thanks to the digital age, primary documents are quickly becoming available to anyone who wants to access them. Unfortunately, a growing issue that is a result of this accessibility, is that people who have never researched anything before are unknowingly sharing unsound research with others.  It is great to have so many people interested in evaluating history for themselves without the lens of a historian but there are some common pitfalls that new or amateur researchers make.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

-Not doing enough research and making theories.  Some people find one piece of evidence for something to support a claim and end their research. One piece of evidence is not research; it is a piece of data. Research is the culmination of a lot of evaluated data. (See next mistake.)

-Finding one source that gives evidence for something without evaluating the source. When one researches thoroughly, they find evidence and spend a lot more time studying the source of the evidence. How common a view would it have been? How widely spread was the publication? Did the author have any ulterior motives? Does the information only pertain to a certain area, religious or political group, or country?  Was the piece supposed to be satirical? 

-Having a firm hypothesis and making the research fit the hypothesis. This includes not including research that would negate your thesis. Ethical researchers will make note of the evidence that goes against their theories as well as the evidence that does. This is so readers can evaluate the source documents themselves and see if they agree with a researcher’s conclusions. Good researchers use “working hypotheses” which can change when new information is uncovered. Good researchers must be willing to change their views. There is no shame in being wrong but there is shame in trying to skew research to fit a hypothesis. 

-Ignoring research done by others. It is very important to be cognizant of the research that others have done on your topic. It is not good manners to ignore the hard work that others have done before you and it is silly to present your research to your field if you have nothing particularly new to share. Your research should build on or negate the works of others as well as introduce new information, if possible.  Reading the works of others alerts you to resources you might not have find yourself and keeps you up to date.  

 I'm sure there are more but these are the ones I notice most and remember doing myself. I am very much a supporter of amateur historians because they typically research things that are very interesting that don't tend to get a lot of professional attention. I like to encourage people to try their hand at research if they are inclined because local history and material culture tend to only get attention from amateurs and it is some of the most interesting history to learn about. But we have to keep the research well founded, bad research gives amateur historians a bad reputation.      

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