Sunday, July 31, 2011

History is Served

When you're exploring an unfamiliar land, intrepid travelers will tell you that to experience the food of a country is essential to truly experiencing a country.

The same is true when exploring history - food helps to put you in a time and place.

Food and eating in the mid-19th century is both the same and different than it is today. In the present, we can go to the store and purchase an item like fresh strawberries year round; in 1860's fresh strawberries would have been available for just a brief time - and they would have been both enjoyed as is and also preserved for future use.

I have a group of very good friends in the living history community, this year we've chosen to focus on food - to make it as accurate to the mid-19th century as possible - and it has been fabulous!

At a recent event, I made three different recipes from "The Lady's Receipt Book, A Useful Companion for Large or Small Families" written by Eliza Leslie in 1847.

The first was "Turkey or Chicken Patties":

Take the white part of some cold turkey or chicken, and mince it very fine. Mince also some cold boiled ham or smoked tongue, and then mix the turkey and ham together.

Add the yolks of some hard-boiled eggs, grated or minced; a very little
cayenne; and some powdered mace and nutmeg. Moisten the whole with
cream or fresh butter.

Have ready some puff-paste shells, that have been baked empty in patty-pans. Place them on a large dish, and fill them with the mixture.

Cold fillet of veal minced, and mixed with chopped ham, and grated yolk of egg, and seasoned as above, will make very good patties.

The name must come from the puff-paste shells being bakes in patty-pans, as there's nothing "pattyish" about them - but they sure did taste good and quickly disappeared!

Next was "Lettuce Chicken Salad":

Having skinned a pair of cold fowls, remove the fat, and carve them as if for eating, cut all the flesh entirely from the bones, and either mince it or divide it into small shreds.

Mix with it a little smoked tongue or cold ham, grated rather than chopped.

Have ready one or two fine fresh lettuces, picked, washed, drained, and cut small. Put the cut lettuce on a dish, (spreading it evenly,) or into a large bowl, and place upon it the minced chicken in a close heap in the centre.

For the dressing, mix together the following ingredients, in the proportion of the yolks of four eggs well beaten; a tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar; a salt-spoon of cayenne; (no salt if you have ham or tongue with the chicken;) two tea-spoonfuls of made mustard; two table-spoonfuls of vinegar, and four tablespoonfuls of salad oil. Stir this mixture well: put it into a small sauce-pan, set it over the fire, and set it boil three minutes, (not more,) stirring it all the time. Then set it to cool.

When quite cold, cover with it thickly the heap of chicken in the centre of the salad. To ornament it, have ready half a dozen or more hard-boiled eggs, which after the shell is peeled off, must be thrown directly into a pan of cold water to prevent their turning blue. Cut each egg (white and yolk together) lengthways into four long pieces of equal size and shape; lay the pieces upon the salad all round the heap of chicken, and close to it; placing them so as to follow each other round in a slanting direction, something in the form of a circular wreath of leaves. Have ready, also, some very red cold beet, cut into small cones or points all of equal size; arrange them in a circle upon the lettuce, outside of the circle of cut egg. To be decorated in this manner, the salad should be placed in a dish rather than a bowl. In helping it, give each person a portion of every thing, and they will mix them together on their plates.

This salad should be prepared immediately before dinner or supper, as standing long will injure it. The colder it is the better.

Again, a winner! And pretty too.

Finally, "Columbus Eggs":

Take twelve hard-boiled eggs. Peel off the shells, and cut the eggs into equal halves; cutting off also a little piece from each of the ends to enable them to stand alone, in the form of cups.

Chop the yolks, and with them mix cold ham or smoked tongue, minced as finely as possible. Moisten the mixture with cream, (or a little fresh butter,) and season it with powdered mace or nutmeg.

Fill with it the cups or empty whites of the eggs, (being careful not to break them;) pressing the mixture down, and smoothing it nicely.

Arrange them on a dish; putting two halves close together, and standing them upright, so as to look like whole eggs.

No pictures of these, as they were a visual disaster! I'm told they tasted good (I don't care for deviled eggs) and they certainly all were eaten, but I don't plan on trying these again - too much work and way too messy.

You may have picked up on a trend: lots and lots of eggs! In the middle of summer, hens would be laying well and all those eggs need to be used.

Preserving all matters of produce was an important task for the lady of the house and pickling was a very popular method; the Victorians pickled everything, vegetables, eggs, fruit, even walnuts.

I've wanted to try some pickle receipts, but following the methods published during the period wasn't going to work for me - the quantities are just too large and the techniques not terribly viable in the current world of food production. I was really pleased to find Food in Jars, modern canning methods combined with small batches, just what I needed. I've found that many use the same flavorings as the period recipes, so by choosing carefully I feel comfortable using them for historic meals.

I tried two, pickled cherries and green tomato chutney. I loved the cherries, but not everyone else did; they're just a very different flavor for the modern palate. The chutney (which would be called chow chow in the period) was a definite success; it tasted great with meats and breads.

Choosing foods for an event mindfully, taking seasonality and commonality into consideration has really helped put us in the mindset of the past, truly "History is Served"!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Orange Sherbet

Do you remember orange push up pops?

They were my favorite purchase as a kid when the ice cream truck made it's way through the neighborhood - are ice cream trucks still around? Certainly not on Mackinac!

The cool sweetness or orange push ups was what I kept in mind as I worked on my latest beading project, "Orange Sherbet" a coordinating necklace and bracelet.

They were a bit of an experiment: I used just a single beading technique, tubular herringbone, and a single type of bead, seed beads only.

The visual interest comes in the interplay between the differing sizes, colors and finishes of the seed beads themselves - no flashy focal bead needed!

I worked with tight tension, resulting in a tube that will support itself.

I think they're a success - simple but visually interesting.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Letting the Clothing Speak - An 1860's Fashion Show

Clothing is about function - protecting our bodies from the elements. But fashion, that's something entirely different.

Fashion involves following the standards of your particular society and time, and perhaps expressing your individuality - if that's appropriate to the societal norms.

During the mid-19th century, the clothing worn by an given individual spoke volumes about the person wearing it; I decided to let the clothing speak to the attendees of the fashion show held during Charlton Park's Civil War event, held July 16th-17th, 2011.

It was an exceedingly hot weekend and spectators for the fashion show had to stand in the direct sun, so this years show was fairly short, but we packed in a huge amount of information. It was also interactive with the audience - they were asked to identify the type of person who might be wearing an outfit, lower, middle or upper class, rural or urban, North or South, what type of activity the outfit might be used for , etc.

The "sister dresses" made another appearance - they're a perfect style for sweltering weather.

We discussed why a family might buy an entire bolt of fabric and how that fabric might be used for girl's dresses, father and son's shirts (okay, probably not if it's pink like this fabric), and mama's apron or slat bonnet. We also mentioned the practice of reusing the fabric from the skirt of a dress in any number of items - all the little thrifty tricks of a middle class lady using her resources to best effect.

While these dresses are practical, everyday clothing, they do have some fashionable touches - the wavy braid trim and fancy buttons, pretty touches for lovely girls.

This lovely lady has had a long night, caring for a sick infant and has not yet dressed for the day.

She is wearing a wrapper, somewhat equivalent to a modern housecoat, and it would be strictly at home wear.

The baby is all in white, which may seem impractical, but is actually a very reasonable choice, as white clothing can easily be boiled clean. Underclothing for all ages is usually white for the same reason.

This particular wrapper was remade from an old, worn out dress - hence it's slightly dated style of fabric, a pattern that would have been popular during the 1850's. This is another example of thrift, one that is often seen in original garments.

It has some lovely sleeve details:

I'm so fortunate in my friends - when I ask for help, they always come through - even when I ask them to show off their nightclothes!

This nightgown was copied from an original and features beautiful white soutash braidwork and buttonhole stitched scallops - I do wish it showed up better in this photo, as the workmanship is stunning.

This gentleman is wearing his brand new, finished the night before the event, paletot.

Paletot's are considered an informal garment, being made with a loose fit, flap pockets and no lining. They're really going out of style by the 1860's, but this man is old enough to have worn this in his younger years and there's no reason to discard a perfectly serviceable garment, unless you're a spendthrift.

It's a good fit for his persona, that of a cooperage shop owner, who used to actively labor in the trade, but now leaves the physical labor to his employees, while he tends to the financial side of the business.

His success at business has allowed the expense of some hired help at home, an Irish girl who serves as a "maid-of-all-work".

Her clothing is completely practical: dark colors, with a pattern to hide stains, sleeves that can be rolled up out of the way, a kerchief round her neck, apron, and no hoop to get in the way when scrubbing the floors.

Our businessman's wife will often work right alongside her help, but she now has some leisure time on her hands and she has decided to support the war effort.

She's sending some mixed signals regarding which side she supports in the war, her patriotic apron favors the North, as does her combination of red shoes, white stockings and blue dress. But that bonnet, trimmed in red, white, red - is it actually a secession bonnet?

Patriotic clothing and accessories, such as cockades, aprons and even bonnets were favored by both sides in the conflict, especially early in the war years. But as the casualties mounted and the war dragged on, such items are less common.

The dress is not extravagant, the slight v-neckline is helpful in warm weather, as is her straw bonnet. The hoop is of modest size and the skirt slightly raised, both indications she intends to be actively engaged in activity.

Fashion always has a story to tell - this year the story involved a pair playful girls, a sick child being cared for be a weary grandmother, a prosperous business man and his household - common people of the 1860's, living their lives by the standards of the times.

Those same type of people exist today... but they sure don't dress the same!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Open House

Since 2007, an annual Open House has been hosted at the lighthouse each summer. This year Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society and Boy Scout Troop 323 of Freeland, Michigan hosted visitors this past Saturday.

Just getting there is part of the adventure; leaving from the Coal Dock on Mackinac Island, several people at a time board a small charter boat and step two involves transferring to small rubber dinghies (you will get wet!) that are able to land on the rocky shore.

Round Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1895 at a cost of $15,000 by Frank Rounds, a carpenter from Detroit. Rounds had previously worked on Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel, which was completed in 1887. The lighthouse was first lit on May 15th, 1896. It was commissioned under the U.S. Lighthouse Board, which became the United States Lighthouse Service in 1910. When it was first completed, the lighthouse was brick red. This would remain so until it was painted red and white in 1924.

The beacon was automated in 1924 and became the responsibility of the United States Coast Guard in 1939, when the Coast Guard took over all of the nation's lighthouses. To support World War II efforts, most of the original machinery on the first floor was removed for scrap.

The long years it has been unoccupied have taken their toll, and the former living quarters now show a certain faded beauty.

At one time, the woodwork must have been beautiful.

This "modern" shower is barely 6" tall and a couple feet wide, but I'm sure it was a most appreciated addition at the time.

Many of the windows now have metal shutters, protection from the weather and vandals, but imagine the view this bedroom once featured!

More woodwork:

The ladder up to the tower:

The views are certainly worth the climb!

Getting home meant reversing the loading - dinghy to boat to dock - and by then the wind had come up and it was clouding over, making for a chilly ride.

Many thanks to Boy Scout Troop 323 and all the other volunteers who work so hard, both in running this open house and all their efforts to preserve this gorgeous light.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bead Journal Project - March 2011

This month, I decided to attempt something new, a piece in the style of the Northeastern Woodland Indians, a technique I've not used before.

Here's the inspiration image (are you tired of seeing it yet?):

Native American “whimsies” are beadwork items attributed to Woodland Indian women during the Victorian era, which they made for sale as souvenirs in areas such as Niagara Falls and Mackinac. These non-utilitarian “whimsies” became an important source of income for these women, helping to support their families.

The whimsies show a definite European influence, after 1800 among Northeastern Woodland Indian women, appliqué beading follows a distinctly different style from the mostly geometric Plains styles. Curvy flowers connected by spiraling vine tendrils are beaded onto black velvet or velveteen show the use of traditional themes adapted to the Victorian tastes of their buyers.

Usually the beadwork is sewn over a pattern cut out of paper, as can be seen in this antique example:

I did the same, cutting a paper template to bead over. It actually serves two functions - providing a pattern and masking the dark background which would dull the colors of white or clear beads.

Designs are usually quite stylized and this did cause me some problems, as my design is naturalistic. This shows up especially in the flower petals, as some unfortunate bead placement.

Overall, I'm pleased - I was able to achieve a lot of texture and depth - but next time I'll stick with simpler forms!