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.



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.


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.


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….

International Women’s Day


Gentle reader,  let us not forget that March 8 is International Women’s Day. It focuses on the collective efforts of women’s struggle for equality. And while many of us “Good Time Regency Girls” love to curl up with a Jane Austen novel and romanticize the period as an endless string of dinners, dresses, and balls, it is worth remembering that most regency girls were most likely not having all that good a time.

Jane Austen died in 1817, and she lived in the shadow of a century’s long patriarchal society which viewed women as lustful, stupid, sexually manipulative inferiors who needed to be constantly controlled by men.  It was not until the later half of the 19th century that Women were seen to start raising organized issue with their place in society. The inability to inherit or retain property rights following marriage, the vote, and the right to be admitted into academic programs and careers that were considered the domain of men were battles being taken on by women.  The London School of Medicine for Women was established in 1874 and was the first medical school in Britain to train women. In 1889 Cornelia Sorabji became the first woman to enter law school at Oxford University and eventually practice law in England.  Women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom was a national movement that began in 1872, and women did not get the vote until 56 years later in 1928.

I sometimes play a game where I imagine that I can transport people from the past to spend a day with me here in the present. What would Jane Austen think of the 21st century woman?  Jane wrote

” A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can”

Would the modern women shock or intrigue our Jane?  I imagine hot running water, medicine, and transportation would count as shiny objects. But what would she think of the status of women? In my country I can take any academic program I want to, work in a career of my choosing, and the law states I am not to be beaten.  I can buy and sell my own property,  can vote, and live my life without the support or control of a man.   And I find it comforting to remind myself of these facts, as I am still dubious as to the overall status of women both in my society and worldwide. There is still much work to be done.

So as we 21st century girls delve into our books, wear our ball gowns, dance at balls, and feast at regency supper parties, let us not forget the violence, objectification, and humiliation that women of the regency era were subjected to. Let us honor their strength and ability to cope within a stifling and horribly unfair patriarchal society, that in some respects still exists in the modern world. And each time we slip into one of our ball gowns, remember the successes because

“Our scars make us know that our past was for real” … Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.




The Long and the Short of it

So sometimes as we all know Real Life can take over and you can not seem to have a moment to get a breath. Most of August was like that for me as things picked up very fast at work. However I have been able to take some time off and have been re-charging. Also there have been a few odds and ends I have needed to take care of, one of them is a very much needed hair cut.

I have always been a bit funny about my hair. It was never something I learned to do anything with. Attempts were made off and on in middle school to very very little success. In high school I was involved with theater and hair was something you handed over to someone else. For the most part I have kept my hair a little longer then shoulder length. Though by the end of this summer it had grown midway down my back. This was as Lady Jen pointed out, a wonderful thing, as it would give me more then enough hair to put up for Balls and 1812 events. Over the past year it has done me very well for these types of outings. I even managed to learn how to pull it back into a bun! Over the summer I think I looked up more pictures of Regency hair then anything else. All of them for long hair many of them with steps on how to achieve the look. Booked marked and filed away for events in the fall.

It did however hit a point that as lovely as it was for events, it was getting to long. The final straw came when one night when this long mane was fanned out over the bed. His Lordship asleep rolled over on to it…then I rolled over. Needless to say it woke me up and I knew something had to be done. So on the first day I had off I drove over to the salon and had counted on getting a trim. Despite talking a big game about going short I had a very strong feeling that it would be nothing more then a trim, after all I still had all those events this fall.

For what ever reason as I sat down I told her to cut it short. In fact it it now the shortest I have ever had it. In side of 45 minutes it went from down my back to about an inch above my shirt collar. Happy and much lighter I set out to grab a coffee. Feeling great until I gave a bit of thought to all the Regency events coming up. As it stands right now I can barely get it pulled back let alone get it in a bun. Not a huge fan of dancing in a turban. What is a Lady to do?

I have been looking at pictures of Lady Caroline Lamb. Many of us know that she is the post girl for short hair during this time. After looking at pictures of her what I can’t work out is just how short her hair was un-curled. Could I just curl it all and push it forward? As for historic ways to do this is there a difference with paper curls vs rag curls other then the maternal used? Dose it even matter and should I just suck it up and turban it all?

So readers I ask you if you have any tips tricks or thoughts on this. I have a little under a month until the next big event and hope that it’s not a hair raising one.