March 25, 2015

Your Family Memories May Be at Risk: Which Solution is Right for You?

archiving family photos
A few months ago, my family was digging through the family video tapes. My cousin was getting married and we thought it would be fun to find some footage of her as a little girl.

We put a tape in. The pictures shook a little bit, which was normal with home tapes but the picture became very staticy and eventually engulfed in lines.  Same with the next tape. As it turns out, the lifespan of a home recorded VHS tape is only 10-25 years.

Luckily, not all of the family tapes had been affected but it was enough of a warning sign to try to get them converted to another medium. (You'd think that someone who spends a great deal of time stabilizing and conserving things from the past that I would have foreseen this. I knew it would happen eventually I just thought we had more time, somehow.)   

Electronic media storage devices have been an awesome advancement as they have allowed us to store massive amounts of data in small spaces and tend to have a long shelf life under good conditions. Digital photos are now vastly more poplar than prints or film photos. But just like everything in the world, digital storage devices also deteriorate through the years and have problems.

Digital photos and electronic media has become so popular that even new couples to get their wedding photos on a CD or USB drive with all of the intentions of printing photos from them later. Which rarely happens as their friends have already seen the photos so there is nothing pressing them to print them. Unfortunately USBs and CDs are "temporary" storage solutions only meant to store items short term until the couples can find a different solution which many times doesn't happen until years after the fact when it is too late. 

I urge people to reevaluate their family memories ASAP. Below is a breakdown of the possible types of storage commonly available today and the issues associated with each type to assist anyone looking to protect their family files:

Electronic Media Storage: USB drives/ Hard Drives

Issues :

- Number of times file are added and deleted severely affects longevity.
- Exposure to hot and cold temperatures.
- Everyday drops and bumps.
- USBs are frequently lost due to their size.
- Software and hardware malfunctions.
- Popular file types change over time so in the future you may not be able to open the files.
- Popular hardware changes so you may not have the physical equipment to open the file in the future. Have you tried opening a file on a floppy disk recently?
-Lifespan: 2-5 Years

External floppy Disk Reader
Remember this?
Cloud Storage: Sites like Facebook, Flickr, even Blogger, as well as sites dedicated to storage like Dropbox and GoogleDrive. 


- Issues with privacy/hacks.
- If a company goes out of business, what happens to your files?
- If something happens to you, does your family know how to access the files?
-Lifespan: ???

CD-Rs and DVD-Rs: 


- While professionally made CDs and DVDs can last decades, homemade ones deteriorate in as little as 5 years.
- Can be scratched or cracked easily.
- Heat (such as being left in a hot car) can speed up the deterioration process.
-Lifespan: 2-5 Years  

Issues with Photographs:

-Can be damaged by fire, water, etc. (There are far more people who have lost photos, videos and documents due to hardware failure than people who have lost these things due to natural disasters such as fires or floods.)
-Can take up a lot of space. 
-Not all negatives, films, papers and ink created equal. Low end items will show color shifting earlier.
-Fade when exposed to sunlight.  (Always display a copy and keep the original packed away.)
-Lifespan:  65-100+ Years

Regardless of what media you choose, it is smart to have a copy of all important documents at a different location. Water and Fireproof boxes are a smart investment for irreplaceable documents. Not only will they protect your files from fire and water damage but it helps to have your documents all in one place in the case of an emergency. Also remember that no method is perfect, so reevaluate your documents and storage systems every few years.

For more information on proper storage of photographs and documents check out this page: Care for Antiques.   

March 13, 2015

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party Post: Indoors and Outdoors

This is a long one! The weather has had everyone cooped up in their houses so you get to see a lot of what I do when when I'm stuck in for days: mostly cleaning, organizing, writing.

Civil War Reenactor

You know it's cold when you are wearing two pairs of horrible wool reenactor socks to do stretches.

After three times of trying to reinstall this shelf, I finally got it in. The shelf did fall on my arm 2 of the 3 times and is still hurt.

Civil War Reenactor

I can't remember where I heard about this but I was advised to date the books on my "To Read" List and if I hadn't gotten to them in a year, I should just pass them on to someone else. Don't do this. It will make you feel like you accomplish nothing. :D The problem with my To Read List is that it grows and I definitely don't get to them in order. 

That moment when you are wrapped up in your favorite blanket, about to go to bed, and you realize you look like you're going to the opera.

If you didn't see enough snow last post, we just keep getting more and more of it.

Attempted yoga. I'm not good at it and it was a bad idea with my hurt wrist.

The drive on the way to work was slush covered and my car had some fun.

The snow got increasingly worse over the next day.

This was around 4 PM but the snow continued all night.

A few days after the snow, the weather became strangely warm.

We had a 50 degree day and decided to venture out for a walk. The snow melted completely at Valley Forge where it looks like they might be getting ready to build some new cabins.

Civil War Ball Dance

I have been working with the Chester Historical Preservation Committee to host a ball that will benefit a historical church and trolley car. It's been a lot of work but it will be worth it! If anyone is interested in attending, I would love to hang out with you.

Hope everyone is enjoying the nice weather and looking forward to spring!

March 9, 2015

The 1912 Titanic Lemon Tart Recipe

Titanic 1912 Dessert Lemon Tart Recipe

If you haven't already read the first part of this story click here to go to: Part 1 This is a part of the Historical Food Fortnightly.

The Challenge: "Foods served at notable events in history Feb 22 - March 7
What kind of food was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth? What did Benjamin Franklin eat at the Constitutional Convention? Find a food item that was served at a notable event in history, research the recipe, and recreate the dish."

The Recipe:

The Date/Year and Region:  USA and UK 1912

How Did You Make It:



- 1 Cup Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Corn Starch
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
- 1 1/2 Cups Boiling Water
- The juice and rind of one Lemon


Make your crust and let it chill. Rind and juice one lemon. Boil the water in a medium saucepan. Add sugar and corn starch. Let boil for five minutes. Remove from heat, add butter and lemon juice and rind. Temper the eggs by adding a bit of the hot mixture to the eggs a little bit at a time while whisking. Once warm add the egg mixture into the whole and put into a double boiler if necessary to thicken. Line your 8 inch tart pan with the dough, fill with the filling, add dough shapes to the top. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.   

Pie crust made of 1 pound butter, one pound flour and a little water.

Time to Complete:
I felt like I was making it forever. A normal person might be able to make this in one hour.

Total Cost:
Inexpensive, I had all of the ingredients except the lemon and sugar

How Successful Was It?:
I don't generally like lemon but this tasted very good. When I first added the lemon I didn't think it was strong enough but once it cooled down it was lemony. My family ate it and that almost never happens.  

 How Accurate Is It?:I took a middle ground between the description of the Titanic Tart and the recipe I was following. It seems tarts don't typically have a top crust but the recipe called for adding fancy shapes out of dough on the top of the custard. The Titanic Tart had a top crust. In the recipe book, the "Lemon Tart" and "Lemon Pie" recipes were exactly the same with the exception the tart lacked the top crust.

Lemon Tart baked on the Titanic

Tart with a Questionable Personal History: The Titanic Lemon Tart

Titanic Recipe Lemon Tart

 This is going to be a long post, so anyone who wants to skip right to the recipe click here: Part 2

I was still in college when I read about the white whale of a tart. That devious, juicy, enticing tart shrouded in mystery. My life as a foodie was forever changed the day that I read that there was, still in existence, a tart that was baked on the Titanic. I kid you not.

The article I was reading was brilliant. It was about the various archival preservation methods for food artifacts. The little quip about the tart just casually tossed in there. I knew then that I would have to recreate this tart. I tried in vain to locate the tart or even another mention of it but found it was a ghost.

The first time I read it I had images in my head of a girl (who looked very much like my sister,) tiptoeing into the kitchen amidst the commotion, and tossing a tart and a few extra goodies in a folded piece of newspaper, and sliding them into her coat while being quickly ushered into a lifeboat. Later she is seen with a doughnut in her mouth as the terrified survivors watch the flares go up over the ship. And even though my sister responds to this anecdote with "Of course I'd get some food, you don't know how long you're going to be in that lifeboat! You could freeze or starve!" I realize this is an unlikely scenario for a tart, but it's the one I went with until I could figure out more logical origins.

I knew there was only one place to get some answers and I amazingly got in touch with Gary McGowan of Cultural Preservation and Restoration of New Jersey, who freeze dried the tart years ago. While he never further authenticated the provenance, he said that the woman who brought it in said that she inherited the family heirloom. "It was lovingly cared for in a little cardboard box and, because it was food, she was concerned about moisture having an ill effect on its stability," McGowan wrote in addition to nice description of the specimen "When I saw it, it was quite hard and almost petrified."

Could this thing be real or was this just a piece of conservationist lore? It was only purported to have been baked on Titanic. It didn't seem plausible that something baked on Titanic could have made it out but it turns out, there are a lot of ways an edible could have left the ship.

There were workers on Titanic for days before the ship sailed and the whole ship was tested to make sure everything was in good working order. The tart could have been baked as part of this test run.  It is also possible the tart escaped with one of the early cross channel passengers who disembarked in France and Ireland before the transatlantic voyage. Another plausible scenario is that the tart was mailed home. The R.M.S. part of R.M.S. Titanic stood for Royal Mail Steamer. There was a post office on board along with 7 million pieces of mail. Some of this mail was dropped off when the ship crossed the channel.

1912 Lemon Tart Recipe

My top 3 candidates for smuggling the tart out are as follow:

1. Charles John Joughin. He was the Chef of the ship. In this scenario it would not be a tart baked on Titanic but a tart baked by the chef of Titanic. According to reports, this gentleman is noted for having been the last survivor to leave the ship and treading water for 2 hours before he was rescued. He stated that he barely felt the cold and was fine except for swollen feet. The interesting thing is that after he was saved he started a new life, in New Jersey. The same place that the tart resurfaced. 

2. Eileen Lenox-Collingham. This young girl of 11 was one of the cross channel passengers, of her trip on Titanic she had this to say "I remember vaguely, the enormous dining room. Of course, it was very exciting for us because in those days children led a very nursery life, we didn't have our meals with our parents; we had them in the school or nursery. And it was generally very plain food, I suppose, like milk pudding and rather dull things like that, so it was very exciting to have this elaborate food." She sounds exactly like I do when someone asks me about a trip. I give the food tour.

3. John Coffey. He was a stoker who was hired in the days before Titanic's voyage. He used the job as a free ride home to Queensland and snuck off the ship when they got there, hiding under the mail bags. One could only assume he packed a bit of food for his journey.

Is there any credence to the Titanic Tart? Is it just food myth? A good fake? We'll probably never know, unless you are the owner of this tart and want to get in touch with me. Are you a believer or not? Answer in the comments. 

So at the most this is a recreation of a foodie dream, and at the least it's a recreation of a REALLY old tart.

On to Part 2.

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