Turban

The Good Time Regency Girls are attending a party this evening, and it called for a new hat. This is my first attempt at making a turban styled hat.

The idea started when a friend gifted me some thick soft cord that she thought I could use to form the base of a turban. I used it to form a loop to build the rest of the hat on.

Soft thick cord used to form the base of a turban.

Soft thick cord used to form the base of a turban.

Next I cut strips of fabric, edged them in lace, and layered them on the loop and sewed them in place.

Side view of turban.

Side view of turban.

Back view of turban

Back view of turban

Negus not Negas

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake

I was recently invited to party in honor of a fellow Regency Girl’s Birthday. The party was touted as a Regency Gambling Party and instructed that costumes were required. The invitation was issued through the events feature on Facebook, which got me thinking about how this wonderful little world of 19th century reenactors are embracing modern technology to help promote and support the events that they adore so much.

New straw bonnet

New straw bonnet

I was looking forward to this party because it provided me the opportunity to wear a hat I made several years ago, but never had the right place to wear it. Most Regency era events I attend are either evening balls where headwear leans towards turbans, ribbons and feathers, or outdoor day functions such as picnics, where a bonnet is called for. I thought that sitting around card tables would be perfect for my little lace cap complete with lappets, and so it finally made its official debut. While on the topic of hats, I was gifted one at the party by a fantastic lady who I had done a small favor for. She made me wonderful straw bonnet as a thank you gesture, and I was thrilled with it.

While driving over to the party I had another clash of eras. Me, dressed in a regency dress and spencer with my little lace cap pinned on my head, car windows rolled down, lappets blowing in the breeze while singing along to XTC’s “Generals and Majors” on the radio. I may have been in my own little world, but the entire spectacle was quite visible to other motorists, which I noticed giving me strange looks about half way to my destination while stopped at a red light. All I could do is laugh, and continue on to the party.

When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all of the guests were in regency finery. For some of the guests, this was their first exposure to a reenactment event, but almost everyone made an effort to dress the part, and the atmosphere was all the better for it. Some of the ladies borrowed dresses from the gracious hostess, one lady sewed herself a dress by looking at pictures of gowns from Jane Austen films on Pinterest, and one of the fellows in attendance shaved off his beard to craft himself a fine set of mutton chops. Each and every gentleman in attendance was fitted with a cravat, and a good deal of the evening was spent discussing how wonderful we all looked.

A fine 19th century spread.

A fine 19th century spread.

The food was one of the finest regency spreads I have ever seen. The table was dominated by two Croquembouche, towers of small cream puffs held together by caramelized sugar. Around 9pm the food was set out. Platters of roast duck, salmon, and ham. Chicken in aspic, welsh rarebit, devilled eggs, nuts and sweetmeats. As a cook, I fully understood the cost and the time a table like this took to prepare, and I was beyond impressed.

There was even a pot of 18th century warm spiced wine called Negus on offer, and I admit I had more than a few servings of it, so delicious, and the perfect lubricant for conversation. There were literary and pop culture quotes flying fast and furious over the course of the evening, from Austen and Bronte to Harry Potter and Star Trek, brought on by the Negus, as opposed to ‘The Negas’, leader of the Ferengi Alliance. Again I noted that folks were standing around in 19th century attire, sipping an 18th century beverage and discussing Star Trek. In my mind it doesn’t get any better than that.

Negus

Negus

Negas

Negas

I spent most of the evening in the parlour chatting with friends, and never did make it to the card tables where games of Whist and Faro were being played. The hostess handmade the gambling chips for the Faro table, which added to the overall ambiance of the event. I am not sure if any fortunes were made or lost at the tables, but I saw no tears so assume all went well.

The Faro Table

The Faro Table

At one point during the evening, I was sitting in the parlour with a cup of Negus, taking in everybody’s costumes and I found myself thinking of a line from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth observes “Perhaps by and bye I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones”. I shared the thought with the person I was sitting beside and we discussed it. There were differences between this private function in comparison to public events. The intimacy, the attention to detail, being surrounded by familiar faces, having some quiet spaces to sit and catch up with what was happening with people. I hope to see more of these smaller, private functions in the future, and am appreciative that I was a part of this one.

Lace cap
Lace cap

Not All Farms Are Created Equal

My mind has recently turned to how work has changed since the 19th century when more people were attached to the land and their own sources of sustenance. And while the work might have been gruelling, it also provided opportunities for social interaction and connection with others that we do not often see in our modern working environments. I have had a few experiences over the years that have given me a sense of connection to homesteaders of the past and how their lives might have been.

Take the process of harvesting and storing fruit. I recently spent an afternoon sitting in a log cabin topping and tailing gooseberries with three other ladies, and while we worked, we talked. We talked about family, and local events, and ordinary things that were happening in our lives. We topped and tailed and talked for hours. When is the last time you sat and had this type of interaction with folks at the office? Regretfully, many of us know very little about the people we work with. Although we are crammed together in cubicle farms, we seldom talk to each other while we work.

Topping and tailing gooseberries

Topping and tailing gooseberries

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work on a ranch in Alberta, where I had charge of a group of pigs and a small herd of bulls. This ranch was a special place, 10,000 acres of organic prairie land, with an assortment of buildings that the original homesteaders had put up. For a history geek like myself it was like hitting the jackpot. The part of the farm I was living on had three original houses standing on the property, showing how the owners progressed through the years from a tiny starter dwelling, to larger more spacious homes.

The first house built on the property.

The first house built on the property.

The second house built on the property

The second house built on the property

I lived alone, in a small 1920’s farmhouse that had a furnace that I had to shovel coal into twice a day for heat. There was no running water in the farm yard, or electrical outlets to keep the water troughs thawed during the cold winter months. I had to hand pump water for 150 pigs three times a day, and use an axe to crack the ice off the top of the water troughs several times a day so they could drink. There is nothing like the sleep that comes after a day of that kind of activity in -30 degree weather. During the spring I found an old version of a water trough heater made out of iron. You put hot coals inside of it and attached it to the trough to prevent ice from forming on the animals drinking water. I wish I had of found it during the winter months so I could have given it a try.

Water Pump

Water Pump

Trough Heater

Trough Heater

Inside of the trough heater

Inside of the trough heater

One day during the spring months, I had arrived home from doing some shopping to discover that a small group of pigs had escaped their pen and were having a free for all digging holes on the front lawn of the property. A quick phone call to a neighbour, and within a half hour there were eight people there to help patch up the pen, and return the escapees to their home. For anyone who has not worked with pigs, let me tell you they are not amiable to being herded. While the task was not easy, and was certainly comical to anyone watching, we got it done and afterwards sat around for about an hour having a chuckle over it, and recounting the hijinks of other animals we have worked with over the years. Again, I compare this type of experience to what you find in some modern workplaces, where the slightest hint of an emergency situation sends people into hiding, not into helping.

Two of the escaped pigs

Two of the escaped pigs

Participating in activities like these allow me a unique understanding of just how important connections with other people were to early homesteaders. Many of the books I have read about 19th century Canadian homesteading emphasized the problems associated with isolation, and the relief experienced at finding out you finally had some neighbours. It seems today many people are in the opposite situation, feeling over crowded in their environments, with no escape from other people. As with all things I suppose it is about balance. I can say that when I work in the nearby Pioneer Village, rarely a shift goes by where one of the guests does not make some type of comment about how peaceful or quiet the village is, and I agree wholeheartedly. I’ll take shoveling manure and pumping water over sitting in a cubicle farm every time, because not all farms are created equal.

Home is where the Hearth is.

It has been a busy summer. For the past month I have turned my attention from the wood cook stoves to the open hearth. Through research into the types of food 19th century Upper Canadians would have cooked, I have prepared a selection of main courses and desserts.

Last weekend I made a Cottage Pie (similar to Shepherds Pie but made with beef instead of mutton). What I liked about this recipe was that it allowed me to use several types of cooking techniques, boiling, frying, and baking. The end result was a dish full of delicious comfort food. I also had the opportunity to use a product called Mushroom Ketchup in the preparation of this dish. It used to be popular condiment, and I was surprised by the deep earthy mushroom flavor it gave to the dish.

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Today I played around with some bannock recipes and think I found a winner. The bannock griddled up golden brown and easily cooked all the way through, something some bannock recipes don’t do very well.

bannock

Finally, I turned my attention to my sweet tooth and made a boiled plumb pudding. The pudding cooked for 3 hours, and came out great, made even more perfect with the addition of a rum hard sauce. For this recipe I tried using a pudding bag with a draw string, and found it very difficult to remove the cooked pudding from the bag. In the future I will go back to using a large square of cloth that can be tied with string and easily opened once the pudding is cooked.

pudding

I am going to be co-teaching a hearth cooking workshop in Pickering Ontario in October, and some of these recipes are going to be featured in the program. It will be wonderful sharing this form of cooking with folks who are eager to learn about it and I anticipate that it is going to be a great time. Until then, I will continue to research and test recipes. More to come….

I Lyed!

Lyed corn that is!

This product is made by soaking corn in a weak lye bath that removes the outer hull from the kernel. It can be made from white or yellow corn, and is sold in whole or cracked kernel varieties. It originates from the aboriginal peoples of North and South America, who discovered this technique of drying corn so that it was more palatable, and could be stored for later use.

My adventure with lyed corn started forty years ago when my father, a member of the Cayuga Nation, took me for a visit to the reservation where I was fed a bowl of corn soup. I remember it tasting delicious. Chewy, and salty, and smoky, with big chunks of fry bread to soak up all the broth at the bottom of the bowl. That soup has haunted me for years.

Fast forward 40 years later. I was researching 18th and 19th century upper Canadian recipes for a course on hearth cooking that I am going to be co-teaching in October. What do I stumble across but an 18th century recipe for corn soup. As I read through the ingredients, my mind rushed back to the corn soup of my childhood.

Corn soup in the Haudenosaunee culture is based on some basic ingredients – lyed corn, beans, salt pork and water. The soup I made did not have beans, used chicken stock as a base, and had some cream and butter stirred in just before serving, but the star of the show was the lyed corn.

The following pictures show the lyed corn I used in its dry state and after cooking. ¼ cup of dry corn expands to just under 1 cup when cooked.
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The dry corn is soaked in water overnight, and boiled for 3-4 hours until the corn kernels soften and burst open, sometimes referred to as popping. The result is a fairly bland tasting corn with a chewy texture that works beautifully in soups.

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Close up of kernels that have popped.
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I made the soup in a cast iron pot over an open hearth fire, which added an extra smokiness to the finished product which I would categorize as comfort food, plain and simple…no lie.

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Note – The Haudenosaunee confederacy is made up of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations.

Blue Ribbon Buzz

I participated in a “Blue Ribbon Cooking” competition today at a pioneer village. Each historic house or building on the property had a team of cooks making sweets, and guests were invited to taste the various offerings and vote for the treat that they liked best. I was working out of a c 1850 Inn and our team made sugar cookies rolled in nutmeg and sugar and baked in a wood burning cook stove.

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Some visiting craftspeople were located throughout the village adding ambiance by spinning, weaving, making rope, and playing various musical instruments. One of the highlights of the day was going for a promenade through the village to visit the other cooks and sample the foods they were making. I can say that my personal favorite was the vanilla ice cream, a little cup of ice cold bliss, and I am sure sitting beside a red hot wood stove all day had no influence on my choice. As in times gone by, members of the current historic cooking community become known for certain things. “Have you tried Julie’s lemon bars?” “Sue makes the best pound cake”. As of yet I have not landed on a speciality. I think that it is something that just happens as you play around with different recipes and techniques. I have no idea who actually won todays competition, and I have a feeling that it does not really matter because for the team of cooks, craftspeople and volunteers, everyone came out a winner and a little sugar buzzed.

face

Toast of the Town

Rumor has it that toasted cheese was a favorite dish of Jane Austen as evidenced by the author’s own hand…

“We were greatly surprised by Edward Bridges company… It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper, entirely on my account.”
~Jane Austen, 27 August, 1805

Also referred to as rarebit, I could think of no better dish to prepare during my final wood stove cooking examination.

The recipe I selected was originally published in “Domestic Cookery (1829)

Grate three ounces of fat cheese, mix it with the yolk of two eggs, four ounces of grated bread and three ounces of butter; beat the whole well in a mortar, with a dessert spoonful of mustard and a little salt and pepper. Toast some bread, cut it in to proper pieces; lay the paste, as above, thick upon them, put them into a Dutch oven covered with a dish, till hot through, remove the dish, and let the cheese brown a little. Serve as hot as possible.

The modern adaptation:

1¼ cups cheddar or other hard cheese
2 hard-boiled egg yolks mashed
2-3 cups soft bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon mustard
Dash of salt and pepper
8 slices lightly toasted bread

1. Blend cheese, mashed egg yolks, bread crumbs, butter, mustard, salt, and pepper.
2. Spread paste on toast. Bake in 350º oven covered for 15 minutes. Remove cover for last 5 minutes to brown the cheese.

I used a dry mustard powder instead of wet mustard, and regular ground black pepper. A very light rye bread was used as the base and in the topping. A medium orange cheddar was provided for me to use, in the future I will use an old white cheddar to give the dish a little more bite and less of an orange hue. It took about 30 minutes to bake in a slow/medium wood stove oven. I was not able to get the top to brown up as I did not have a salamander on hand, but the result was still delicious.

Note: a salamander is an iron disc that is heated in the fire and used to brown the tops of food.

salamander

The stove was the ENSIGN model made by the United Nail & Foundry Co. in St. John’s Newfoundland. It has a very small fire box and burns through wood extremely fast. Although I had heard the oven runs hot, I had a difficult time getting it to reach a medium heat. Perhaps the cool, damp weather was having an influence on the temperature. No complaint mind you, cool weather is appreciated when wood stove cooking.

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Here is the star of the show, toasted cheese. This dish was a great choice for my examination, I passed with flying colors. I will certainly be making this in the future, it was buttery,savory and crunchy and hit all the right comfort food buttons. I can see why our Jane liked it so well.

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Pelisse and Thank You

My sewing skills are progressing and each time I complete a project my confidence grows. To date I have made three dresses from the 18th-19th century. I have made two day caps, a fichu, a pocket, two chemises, bloomers, and a petticoat. Putting on a garment that you have made yourself is a wonderful feeling however, there have been a few pieces that I have been wanting but are still outside of my current sewing skills. This year I received some money for my Birthday, and I decided that I was going to have a few staple pieces professionally made to flush out my regency era wardrobe.

I had some cream and brown striped cotton that I wanted to make a simple day dress out of, but felt my sewing skills were not developed enough to successfully handle striped fabric. I also wanted a brown pelisse and a spencer. So here is what I had made with my birthday money.

The day dress has removable sleeves so it can serve many purposes, from a general assembly type dance, to a picnic, to an afternoon tea. It is a light cotton that will be comfortable spring through fall.

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The skirt portion of the pelisse is attached with buttons when removed become a spencer.
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The fabric is a rich toffee brown, and has some beautiful embroidery work on the sleeves and the skirt.

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These two garments will give me four different looks, and blend well with the rest of my wardrobe which all tends to lean towards muddy brown, green, and beige shades.

The best part is how perfectly they fit. Employing the services of a professional tailor is money well invested, and I certainly understand the excitement that people of past generations must have felt when visiting the tailor to get their dresses done for the season. My garments may not be from the House of Worth, but they are just as special to me as if they had been. What a treat!

Added note- 2 June, 2014
I was searching some pictures of dresses from metmuseum.org and came across this 1815 silk dress that resembles mine. This made me smile.

a dress

Burning down the house…not!

Today was part two of the wood stove cooking course. In teams of two we had to light and heat the stove and prepare three types of dishes, one fried, one cooked in a pot on the cook top, and one baked in the oven. The dishes prepared were shortbreads (oven), apple fritters (fried), and the now famous (in my mind) lemon curd. Happily all the dishes turned out great. The lemon curd took almost twice as long to cook on the wood stove as it did on a modern stove, and I think that whipping up a batch last week in a modern kitchen saved me because I knew exactly what consistency the curd had to be before removing it from the heat. I got through the day without burning myself, burning the food, or burning down the house.

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When life hands you lemons…

I am completing a course on woodstove cooking. One of the challenges is trying to cook without using a timer and temperature control. Using sight, touch, sound, and smell to understand where something is in the cooking process is a skill set that has been numbed with the use of timers and pre-packaged heat and serve foods. Next week I am going to be making a Lemon Curd recipe that was discovered in a 18th century cook book. I decided to make a batch on the modern stove, so that I could observe the thickening process, and see what the curd looked like at the 3 min point, the 5 minute point and so forth. Next week I will be attempting to make this on a woodstove located in a 19th century historic house. Good thing this recipe cooks up so delicious, this was hands down the best lemon curd I have ever consumed, so having another batch to look forward to next week will be a pleasure. 20140511_130557