Highlights Reel

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Completed my docent training at Smith’s Castle and spent their Heritage Days weekend event talking to visitors about the kitchen and hearth. Led a small group of pirate reenactors through the entire house – a perfect introductory audience for my first whole-house tour. Working in the gardens Wednesday afternoons.

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The website for Plimoth Plantation states that it takes “the average visitor” two and a half hours to see everything. Who are these people? We spent six hours, felt like two, and could’ve easily spent another four. Was extremely impressed with the first-person docents we met – and speaking in OP English, too! Enjoyed poking around the backs of the houses and peeking in at their gardens. Most of them were dressed with branches to protect the seedlings. I purchased a small pipkin and some seed packets (summer savory and cornsalad) from the gift shop. I deserve a medal for self restraint.

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Visited the Hempsted Houses in New London, CT. The stone house dates to the mid 1700s; the larger Elizabethan frame house dates a hundred years earlier, and is the oldest house in New London. This photo of the earlier house’s hearth is far better than the ones I took that day.

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This is the main hearth in the 18th-century stone house. It is now believed the house was built by French Acadians driven out of Canada by the English.

 

Reading a fantastic book titled Cooking with Fire – my brain is ablaze (ahem) with ideas for our fire pit.

Feel free to stop by my flickr photostream to see other photos of my adventures.

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So ready for spring

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It finally feels like spring is here. From 12 o’clock, moving clockwise: dandelion, Barbarea vulgaris, Allium tricoccum, Allium vineale, hosta. Yellow flowers are Ficaria verna, which must be cooked to remove a toxin – this is a new one to me this year. To its left is very young Lepidium virginicum (peppergrass), below that is Daucus carota. The green leaves resembling curly dock are young horseradish leaves. The pale blue green succulent in the center is sedum, probably Autumn Joy. All gathered on an evening stroll through our yard.

Decluttered and rearranged the contents of two outbuildings. Sorted through thirty years’ worth of photos and personal ephemera. Did a dump run, threw out half a trash bag full of old photos, cards, and letters; other things – including furniture – donated or given away.

Wood stove cooking, and a lesson about limes

So I succeeded in cooking a pot of beans on our wood stove. Unfortunately, I also learned (the hard way) that lime rind imparts intense bitterness. I have a favorite recipe for beans that calls for tossing in a halved, unpeeled orange and, not having any oranges handy but still wanting the brightness of citrus, I tossed in a halved, unpeeled lime that was languishing in a bowl on my kitchen counter. Big mistake. Ruined the whole batch, including a really nice smoked ham hock. My husband gamely wolfed down a couple of bowls spiked with great lashings of hot sauce, but finally conceded that it was pretty awful. As much as I hate to waste food, I tossed the rest.

Still – I cooked a thing on our wood stove!

 

Snowed in with more on the way…

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Well! The new Facebook group Colonial American Foodways now has over 150 members, several of whom are historical interpreters, some of them professional. We’ve had some lovely discussions and shared a lot of information. Seems like this was a niche just waiting to be filled.

I’ve also confirmed that I will be giving a talk on edible garden weeds at my local library branch next month. Several of the plants I’ll be featuring were known – and in some cases intentionally introduced – by colonists as food and medicine.

Last weekend I attended another hearth cooking class at Historic Deerfield, this one featuring recipes by Hannah Glasse. On the day’s menu: Pounded Cheese, Brown Chicken Fricassee, Red Cabbage in the Dutch Style, Norfolk Dumplings, and Indian Pudding.

Lastly, had my birthday dinner with my beloved husband at Newport’s White Horse Tavern, the oldest continually operated tavern in the United States (since 1673). The chef is a friend; we are still talking about the Brussels sprouts. No kidding.

Lastly, this morning I’m experimenting with our woodstove. I’ve never really tried to use it for cooking. Going to see if I can get the stove hot enough to cook a pot of beans all day without making the house unbearably warm. We shall see….

 

A lengthy sojourn, and a new thing

 

It’s been a tumultuous month. I completely managed to overwhelm myself with expectations, as I so often do. Also realized I’d wandered waaaaay off into the weeds, focus-wise. I was all over the place: historical clothing, manners, military history, buttons, shoes, diseases – when what I really meant to focus on was food.

Several people have expressed to me an interest in colonial American foodways: gardening, cookery, and a certain amount of foraging, too. I’d searched for a Facebook group on these topics, and only found one, which I joined – but quickly discovered it was largely inactive, with the single admin posting the occasional Jas. Townsend & Son video. Also, he was apparently a bit of a racist. So I left that group, did a bit of complaining about it to my friends, and they encouraged me to start my own, which I did last night. It’s called Colonial American Foodways and it only has a dozen or so members so far.

I will be moving or at least copying a lot of relevant content/links from this platform to that one. Not sure what that means for the future of this blog, which is semi-secret anyway. If you’re on Facebook, we’d love to have you join our little fledgling group.

Death’s Head Buttons

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When I was on the Isle of Lewis, I stumbled upon a local arts & crafts workshop called Blue Pig. The lady had a number of beautiful silk-wrapped buttons for sale. I loved them – especially the red, white, and blue ones that looked like Union Jacks – but, despite their low cost and diminutive size, I was traveling lightly and in that moment couldn’t justify the expense.

This morning I ran across a photo somewhere in my research and they were the same as those I saw on Lewis. They were were used on men’s coats and waistcoats throughout the 18th and into the early 19th century. They were used on everyday business attire not for best dress.

“The Deaths Head button is a common type of Leek button. Leek buttons are named for Leek, England, where as early as the 1600’s it became a center of the button industry. It is a mystery why they were called Deaths Head. This type of button is found on numerous garments dating from the early 1700’s and on through the 19th century. A bone, horn, or, wooden button form was wrapped with thread. Silk Buttonhole thread works best, but linen and mohair was also used.”

http://www.woodedhamlet.com/howto_advice/deathshead_instruc.htm

http://www.burnleyandtrowbridge.com/deathheadbuttonstheiruseandconstruction.aspx – I cannot tell you how delighted I am to learn that a man who wrote a whole book (well maybe booklet would be more accurate – his thoughts span but 23 pages) about the fiddly bits of fancy people’s clothing is named Norman Fuss.

Note: I ran across a photo of one of these buttons on Pinterest today, and it looked exactly like the ones I’d seen at a little arts and crafts shop and studio on the Isle of Lewis this past September. The lady there made many of the items for sale (soaps, cards, prints, bookmarks, framed multimedia art pieces and sea-oriented watercolors), including these. I nearly bought one of them, it was red, white, and blue – with a single yellow thread, too, I think – that reminded me of a Union Jack. I should have bought it. But I feared it would only be momentarily admired and then tucked away in my jewelry box…forever.

And then today, I saw this photo, and realized they were the same kind of buttons as this woman made, and furthermore that they were of a style from the mid-1700s to early 1800s. How could I not want to learn more? Maybe even make some?