March 29, 2013

Why I am Sharing the Secret Family Recipe: Italian Easter Pie (Pizza Gain) with Lots of Photos

“You don’t do it by pictures,” my grandma said as I snapped a few photos “you do it by feel.”

“Well I can’t exactly tell my readers on the internet to feel it, grandma.”

“Wait. You’re putting our secret family recipe on the internet?”  asked my mom up to the elbows in the dough. 

“Why not? Mum are you planning to let the recipe die with you?”


This was the conversation that we had a few days ago while making traditional Italian Easter pies. My grandma doesn’t remember when the family started making them but she said that she started making them in the 70s. This is one of those dishes, that everyone’s family used to make and they would trade them because everyone else’s tasted better and it was an honor for people to like yours best.  Our family still makes them every year. We still sample pies from other parts of the family but it’s not the big deal that it used to be. 

This time, my mom brought her recipe to my grandma’s, my grandma had the recipe she always used and we recently acquired my great-grandma’s recipe through my mom’s cousin. This year, my mom used that recipe instead of the one she normally used. The “original” family recipe was highly coveted due to a change in the recipe a great many years ago that allowed the baker to use Crisco instead of the old-fashioned, traditional lard. 

We were about half way through making the filling before my mom said:

“Wait. This one says 6 hardboiled eggs and 4 raw eggs and my recipe says 4 hardboiled eggs and 6 raw ones.”  This was the first of many discrepancies that included differences in cooking times, glazes and oven temperature. So my mother took her recipe, which she received from my grandma when she got married and compared it to my grandmother’s thinking hers had some error. They weren’t the same.

“But this is what you gave me when I got married!” my mother said.

My grandmother took her copy and showed my mother all of the changes to the recipe that occurred in all of the years she cooked them.  By some brilliant notion, my grandmother dated all of the changes she made to the recipe and had comments. 

So my mother’s was more like the recipe my grandmother made in the 70s and my great-grandmother’s recipe was close enough but still different.  What is strange enough is that they all taste similarly enough that no one would be able to tell the difference.  

So I’m sharing the secret family recipe. Why? 

Because it’s not a recipe at all. It’s a bunch of different ones or it’s so secret, even we don’t know it. 
Either way, I’m a fan of sharing recipes and I’d like to bring this one back as our family makes them differently than a lot of other families. Many other families make them with meat slices and make them in a pie pan with two crusts. 

Finished Pies
Secret Family Recipe:


- 7 Pounds Flour
-1/2  Cup Lard
-3/4 cup Sugar
6 Tbsp. Baking Powder
-7 Eggs
- 5-6 Cups lukewarm water (add 4 cups first then add what is needed to make a dough)

Cut up Lard into small pieces.  Add large to Flour, Sugar, and Baking Powder in a large pan or bowl.  Create a “well” in the center of the mixture. Add eggs into the well and mix together with hands. Add water as needed.

Remove dough from bowl and kneed on a floured surface. Put back in pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let it “rest” for 1-2 hours, it will become smooth.


- 5 lbs. Ham, cubed
- ½ lb. Salami, cubed
- 1 ½ lbs Ricotta Cheese
- 3 “handfuls” grated Parmesan Cheese
- 6 Hardboiled Eggs, chopped
- 4 Raw Eggs
- Heavy Pepper to taste

Roll out large circle of dough, roughly 1 pound, on a floured surface.  Fill half of the dough with filling. Fold the dough over. Trim excess dough edges so that the pie is symmetrical. Make ¾ inch slices around the unsealed edge. Alternating turning each dough “tab” over or under and press down with a fork to seal. Poke a few holes in the top for steam to come out.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake on a lightly floured baking sheet for 25 minutes on the bottom rack and 10 minutes on the middle rack. While still hot, you can coat the tops with raw egg, or milk if you plan to freeze the pies. Let cool on a wire rack. 

Have a good weekend everyone! If you get adventurous and want to try these, they were traditionally a hearty treat after abstaining during lent.

March 27, 2013

When General Lee Instructed his Men to Find Their Own Food

In 1863, the men and women of the Confederacy had already sustained two years living on reduced provisions. Early on, the war had disrupted a well-established food trade between the north and south. The north supplied grains, meat, fruits and cheese to the south in exchange for tobacco, rice, sugar and cotton.

The Union blockade of 1861 decreased imports significantly but the people of the south did not immediately feel the effects of the blockade. Delicacies like coffee, wine and spices disappeared quickly. By 1862, even staples dissipated aided by foraging armies, drought and the destruction of farmlands.

1863 was the year that the south really felt the effects of the war. Wheat, butter and milk prices were more than three times what they were prior to the war. The shortage of provisions and hoarding of provisions by those who were afraid to sell and those who intended to sell at a significant profit led to extremely inflated prices. Many poor could not afford to buy food, even if it was available. Rioters took to the streets in the south, breaking into bakeries and stealing food.

Library of Congress

With the dismal food situation in the south, the leaders were constantly worried about procuring enough food for the armies. It was on this day 150 years ago that General Robert E. Lee instructed his men, who were subsiding on reduced rations of 18 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of bacon daily, to send out foraging details to procure "sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb's quarter, and poke sprouts" to supplement the meager rations and help prevent scurvy.

 His orders are below:

Headquarters Army Of Northern Virginia,
March 27, 1863.

Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War: 

Sir: About the last of January I directed General W. E. Jones to send an escort of. cavalry with Maj. W. J. Johnson, commissary of the cavalry division, into Hardy County, for the purpose of collecting beefcattle, &c. General Jones was also directed to send parties into the counties west for the same purpose. Major Johnson has returned from his expedition, and reports that he obtained in Hardy County 500 beefcattle, 200 sheep, and 4,200 pounds of bacon. He also obtained from Loudoun and Culpeper 200 head of cattle, and from Rockingham 3,000 pounds of bacon. I have not yet learned what amount of subsistence the parties sent by General Jones obtained. I have endeavored during the past campaign to draw subsistence from the country occupied by the troops, wherever it was possible, and I believe by that means much relief has been afforded to the Commissary Department. At this time but few supplies can be procured from the country we now occupy.

General Longstreet has been directed to employ the troops south of James River, when not required for military operations, to collect supplies in that quarter, and penetrate, if practicable, the district held by the enemy. The troops of this portion of the army have for some time been confined to reduced rations, consisting of 18 ounces of flour, 4 ounces of bacon of indifferent quality, with occasionally supplies of rice, sugar, or molasses. The men are cheerful, and I receive but few complaints; still, I do not think it is enough to continue them in health and vigor, and I fear they will be unable to endure the hardships of the approaching campaign. Symptoms of scurvy are appearing among them, and to supply the place of vegetables each regiment is directed to send a daily detail to gather sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb's quarter, and poke sprouts, but for so large an army the supply obtained is very small. I have understood, I do not know with what truth, that the Army of the West and that in the Department of South Carolina and Georgia are more bountifully supplied with provisions. I have also heard that the troops in North Carolina receive one-half pound of bacon per day. I think this army deserves as much consideration as either of those named, and, if it can be supplied, respectfully ask that it be similarly provided.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,

R. E. LEE,


A soldier in the 4th North Carolina State Troops mentioned gathering plants in April of 1864, "My Dear Sister...The boys when not on duty amused themselves at various sports, some fishing, some digging ground hogs out of their holes (an animal that I never saw until I came to Virginia), while nearly the whole regiment amused themselves gathering wild onions...Gen. Ransom had a kettle for each company brought down the line, for the purpose of cooking them." He later mentions that his company has plenty of food, but that they lacked meat.

Anyone up for a groundhog fricassee seasoned with wild onions over rice?

March 22, 2013

2 Sailors from the USS Monitor Finally Buried

 The remains of two sailors found in the gun turret of the USS Monitor, 11 years ago will finally be buried after an extensive forensic analysis attempting to identify the men. The USS Monitor, colloquially known as the "cheesebox on a raft," was a Civil War ironclad best known for its revolutionary, revolving gun turret.  The vessel was lost at sea in December of 1862 and wasn't recovered until 1973.

The analysis revealed that the men were Caucasian and not men of elevated rank. One man was also wearing two different shoes.  


Read the full CNN article here.

March 20, 2013

The Expense Book: Finances in the 19th Century

There once was a time when many people wrote down every purchase made in a household. Today this seems ludicrous as we make so many small purchases on a daily basis. We even make scheduled payments that we don't even think about. Running a home is like running a small business, it only makes sense to keep the same kind of records.

Many books from the time period recommended that income in and expenses paid were calculated weekly to make sure that the family was not spending more than they were making. 

Many books for new housekeepers demonstrate basic record keeping as it was seen as a very useful skill for a wife to have. It was the bane of many men to have a spendthrift wife who had no inclination or want to spend wisely. It's really a great skill to learn in modern times. Due to our culture and lifestyles, many people never learn to manage money to their own detriment. It might seem like a complicated thing, but once you find a system that works, it is really a helpful tool.

Benefits of Keeping an Expense Book:

-You know if you paid something or if someone owes you money. This is the biggest reason, as accounts get more complicated, sometimes it's easy to forget what needs to be paid or how much income you will have coming in.

-You spend less. Writing down and holding yourself accountable for purchases makes you think about purchases more and you're likely to not buy as many little unimportant things.

-You can spot trends. You can spot trends you'd like to promote and trends you would like to see decreased. With an expense book, trends help you spend your money more wisely. $7.00 lunches from work everyday may not seem like a lot but it comes to $35 a week or more than $1,500 a year. You can also see that you aren't spending enough money on important things. For instance, if it's a goal of yours to eat healthier, you may want to dedicate a little more money to do so.

-The more watchful you are, the more leeway you have. This is closely related to "waste not, want not." If you are aware of your fixed expenditures, you can spend a bit more on necessities. It also brings people closer. If you know you and your spouse only have $10 for entertainment this week, you can brainstorm ideas and learn to work together to make the most of it.     

-You have a year to year record. You can see when you bought important purchases and how often you paid for maintenance on big items.

-It's just cool. Yes, it's actually really neat for historians to see what people bought, how often and money spent in any given time period. Remember when your grandparents told you they could see a movie for a dime? You can show our grandchildren the going rates of items and what you bought when. You also can help create a good historical record so historians can learn straight from your life. It's interesting to note that in modern times, we spend the smallest percentage of our incomes on food than ever before. Something we could not have known without expenditure books.   

I am old fashioned and use a modernized version of the record sheet in the top page scan. I leave one page for each week. I keep my receipts in an envelope in my purse and total up my purchases at the end of the day to simplify things. It's an especially helpful record for people who have multiple sources of income or irregular paychecks. After you keep a book like this for a while, you can start to create a realistic budget which will allow for economy, which is not learning to do without but learning to do more with less. It's always fun to see how our predecessors did things.

Today we have computer programs and phone apps that do this kind of thing, but I still find the actual writing helps me. Is there anything that you find particularly helpful?

March 15, 2013

Ridiculous Overabundance

I was waiting for the bus today with the frigid wind biting my fingers. My pocket had decided to tie the mother of all knots in my earbuds and I spent the time thinking about what I used to do before my Ipod.  I remembered how awesome my portable CD player was at the time and how goofy that would look today.

I remember how awesome it was to have the gift of music with me wherever I went. My CD player also had something special: skip protection. Remember that? (For all you kids who missed this, it means that I could sit on the bus with my songs only skipping when the bus clobbered over big bumps, not the little ones.)

The memories brought me to thinking about how nice and convenient is to have a whole music library with you and how we no longer need CDs around, cluttering our houses. I can’t help but thinking that we’ve reached an age of overabundance that would astound our predecessors.  We are now at the point that we have so much stuff, we pay money for non-tangible goods.  That is such a bizarre concept. Non-tangible goods have no resale value. Could you imagine explaining to your great-grandparents that the store you just bought is a "virtual" store and not an actual establishment?  

We are surrounded by so much stuff, we pay for less stuff. Regardless of the overabundance that surrounds each of us, we still buy more.  I took an inventory of things that I use every day. I was sort of shocked that I really only use a small portion of what I own on a daily basis. I could probably pack those things in a suitcase. In fact, I do every time I travel. Laptop, camera, ipod and kindle top the list of things I use everyday, assuming I'm not counting necessities like my hairbrush or my pillow. 

I feel like our gadgets do more and more with less space, but we are still surrounded by more things than ever. Our stuff makes us feel secure. We feel it will help us through a time of scarcity. We've hit the point that scarcity would, indeed, be rare. Maybe we, like our gadgets, need to start doing more with less. Less stuff means less distractions from the things that really matter. We need to bring back the human element to life. We need to foster deeper relationships and friendships. Let go, and trust that we can rely on each other in tough times. We should stop trying to be tiny islands onto ourselves.    

March 11, 2013

Day Trip: Crystal Cave in Berks County, PA

Yesterday, Andy and I were lucky enough to get to visit Crystal Cave in Kutztown, PA. For the past few years we kept mentioning that we should visit a cave but it just didn't happen. But yesterday, we had an amazingly beautiful day given the fact that it snowed only a few days ago.   

This particular cave has a rather unique history. It was discovered in 1871 by farmers looking for limestone to fertilize their fields. On the same day it was discovered, plans were made by the village adventurous at the local tavern, Lesher’s Bar. The excited men didn't find diamonds, gold or coal but they did find a very beautiful natural wonder.   

In the early days of the cave's operation, tours were given by candle and torchlight. "Illuminations" of the cave were thrown to entice visitors. These involved illuminating different rock formations in the cave and providing the music of a cornet band.  

The cave was one of the first tourist sites in Pennsylvania. It's various caverns hosted dances and even weddings. The cave is is "live" which means it's constantly growing and changing due to water movement. You can see and feel the water dripping off the stalactites.  

The early tours focused on formations with seemingly religious or animal themes.

Overall it was a fun day and worth the trip. The outdoor paths were off limits due to a recent storm, so we didn't do much walking around. In the summer months there is also a miniature golf course.

March 7, 2013

Advice for Spectators at Reenactments

As the 150th anniversaries of big battles like Chancellorsville and Gettysburg are coming up this year, many people who have never been to a reenactment will be flocking to the sites. Reenactments can be very fun, but can easily become troublesome if you don't know what you are getting into.

As a reenactor, I have seen many spectators who looked completely lost as to what they were expecting when they showed up who could have enjoyed the event a lot more if they knew a couple of things in advance. A reenactment generally isn't the place for high heels, but there's always one woman there who didn't realize that the event was taking place in a field. 

Advice for Spectators:

-Ask someone where the bulk of the battle will be. The battles are typically in the same spots each year so ask around to see if you can get a good spot. It's improbable that you will see the entire battle so if you get a good spot, keep it.

- Bring your own shade. Most events are held in the summer and there is little shade. Make sure you wear hats and sunscreen. If it's really sunny, you may even consider bringing umbrellas. Sunny can be fun but after hours in the sun, sunburn and sweat can easily become not so fun.

-Bring seating. Battles can be up to two hours long and seating is not provided. It's easy to bring a blanket or some beach chairs. Also many events are held on grass with minimum paved roads. Wear comfy shoes and be prepared to walk on hilly fields. Strollers are sometimes more of a hindrance than a help.    

-Pack a lunch. Make sure you bring lots of water and pack a lunch. There are almost always food vendors at events but be prepared to pay high prices and wait in long lines. You could make use of the day and pack a special picnic. Water is very important, make sure you have extra.

-Bring your own toilet tissue. If it's a huge event like the Gettysburg 150th anniversary, you can bet your bottom that there's a good chance there won't be any. Better safe than sorry.  

-Explore the camps in the morning before everyone is exhausted. Many battles start at 1 or 2 PM, explore the camps before the battle so that you actually get a chance to see everything. It's unlikely that the camps will still be there after the battle on Sunday. Many reenactors travel far to attend reenactments so they have to leave early to get home in time for work on Monday morning.

-If you are bringing children, dress them up. The kids will definitely have more fun if they are wearing outfits that they don't normally wear. Dress little boys up in plaid shirts, jeans and a baseball hat. Dress girls in  button down dresses or a shirt and long skirt with an apron and straw hat. It's not historically accurate but your kids won't mind and they'll have a ton more fun. Suitable outfits can be made out of thrift store finds for a few dollars. You may also think about bringing some toys or a card game. Sometimes the battles take a little while to start up.   

General Courtesies:

Remember, reenactors pay as much as you do to go to events, please be respectful of them. Don't touch anything they bring without permission. All items you see are their personal belongings. Most reenactors are more than willing to let you see or even touch anything you ask to but it's much more polite to ask.

If you are a reenactor, do you have any tips on how to have a good time at a reenactment? If you are planning to attend a reenactment this year as a spectator, do you have any questions?

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