Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #2 - Culinary Vices

Have any of you been watching the new PBS series Mercy Street? I have not been able to catch the show on Sunday evenings but last Wednesday they reran the first episode so I watched it then. Tonight I will (try to) stay up late to watch the second episode.

While the show has its faults, it is an interesting look at the workings of one of the many makeshift hospitals of the period. I have enjoyed the depiction of a contract surgeon and the frustrations he may have felt while dealing with a difficult and unsympathetic superior. The female nurses, while annoying to me since most nurses of the period were male, offer a look at how women struggled in this field to gain the respect and appreciation of their male peers. 

The poor hospital steward is poorly interpreted, however. His was a difficult and complex role and one that was much more involved in the workings of the hospital than is shown on the series Mercy Street. 

To the pages of the Hospital Stewards Manual I again turned for this fortnights food challenge; culinary vices. While you certainly won't find fancy or expensive recipes in this book there are several that would be a welcome treat for the recovering convalescent. I chose one of the recipes in the Extra Diet section, Sweet Rice. 

Extra Diet was at the discretion of the surgeon and was given to patients who were on Half Diet (one step down from Full Diet) or Low Diet (a step below that). The recipes given are for dishes that are plain and easily digestible, including various puddings and jellies. 

Sweet Rice is a variation of the Plain Boiled Rice recipe also found in this book. The cooking of the rice is different than I am used to. I generally cook my rice in boiling water with a lid until the rice is done and the water has been absorbed by the rice. This recipe calls for boiling the rice for 10 minutes and then draining the rice and putting it into a buttered dish and baking it at low heat for an additional 20 minutes. I had doubts that this would produce nicely done rice but I was pleasantly surprised! The rice was perfect! I will certainly cook it this way again!

Once the rice was finished cooking, I added in butter and sugar, cinnamon and milk. I used cream for mine since that is what I had on hand. 

This all was mixed well  until the butter was melted and evenly distributed. I sprinkled a little cinnamon on top and it was ready to serve!

Miss Rose Marjorie Grace was eager to taste it. She is passionately fond of eating and rarely dislikes anything that goes into her mouth, whether it is indeed food or not. 

In goes the food. . .

Tasting. . .

Verdict? Rose approves. 


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #1 - Meat and Potatoes

To start off the New Year with something new, I joined the Historical Food Fornightly group. This group is similar to the Historical Sew Fortnightly (now monthly) but instead of sewing, obviously, you cook something! I was excited to join since I love to cook and it is easier these days for me to fit cooking time in instead of sewing time.

For quite a few years now I have been interested in the medical side of 1860s culture. Before marriage and babies I participated in a Sanitary Commission group and over the years learned quite a lot about period medical practices and the organization of hospitals and the methods employed to tend sick patients.

The 1862 Hospital Stewards Manual is a delightful peek into practices of the time. This book gives a good overview on the role of the Steward and among other things includes a chapter on various diets (of which there were 3; full, half, and low diet). The Surgeon would daily record each patients prescribed diet and the Steward would then have each diet prepared from the allotment of rations each patient received.

The recipes given in the Hospital Stewards Manual are very basic and, to our modern accustoms, rather bland. For this challenge I wavered back and forth between attempting the recipe for beef tea (which seems to be little more than a watered down homemade beef stock) or the heartier fare of fried steaks and boiled potatoes. In the end, the steaks and potatoes won out, mainly because I knew they would quickly be consumed by my steak-loving sons.

Fried Steaks

Cut the steak in pieces of 8 oz. each; flatten them to the thickness of three-quarters of an inch, taking care that each piece contains a little fat. Put a clean frying pan on the fire, with half an ounce of butter, which when browned a little is ready to receive the steak; keep it on a rather quick fire, turning it several times, and, when cooking, season each side with one-fourth a teaspoonful of salt and a pinch of pepper. Six minutes will do the steak; and by pressing it with a fork or the finger you can ascertain if it is equally done through. When done, suspend the steak over the pan, to allow the melted fat, if any, which clings to the meat, to fall back into the pan.

Boiled Potatoes

Wash the potatoes, and put them with their skins on into the caldron: throw in a handful of salt, and fill the vessel with cold water. Put it on the fire and bring it to a boil. When the water boils, throw in a little cold water to check it: do so two or three times. When the potatoes are very nearly cooked, pour off all the water, and stand the kettle over the fire till the steam evaporates. This process will make the potatoes mealy. 

For my steaks I cut up a larger 2 lb roast. I cut it in half, and cut one half into two 8 oz. steaks. I browned a tablespoon of butter in my cast iron skillet and cooked the steaks a little bit longer than 6 minutes, but it was on lower heat than I probably would have gotten with a "quick fire". Therefore, the finished steaks were medium rare, which is just how my boys like them, instead of being "equally done through". 

The potatoes were very easy, obviously! Cooking them in salted water did give them a good flavor, though. I don't usually salt my cooking water so that was new. 

They were good!

The Challenge: Meat and Potatoes

The Recipe: Fried Steaks and Boiled Potatoes from the 1862 Hospital Stewards Manual.

The Date/Year and Region:
1862 America.

How Did You Make It: The steaks were cut, fried and served and the potatoes boiled.0

Time to Complete: 30 minutes for the potatoes, about 10 minutes for the steaks. 

Total Cost: One-half of a 2 lb roast was about $5 and the potatoes were part of a larger bag. Perhaps 50 cents worth. 

How Successful Was It?: The finished dishes looked nice and tasted quite nice, too. 

How Accurate Is It?: I followed the instructions pretty much but cooked on top of a modern electric oven rather than over a fire. I did want to try cooking over a fire but most of my firewood is wet and/or buried in snow!


Friday, January 8, 2016

2015: A Sewing Review

It seems many of the costumers I follow have been posting their 2015 sewing project year in review, so I thought I'd do the same. I did not really make very much during 2015 but as I didn't plan to make anything besides the Vernet dress, I am happy with what I was able to do! I have more plans for this year but am still keep my expectations modest (or trying to. . .we will see how successful that will be!) Mainly I need to make an 1860's outfit for each of my children and I would like to remake my hoop skirt. Anything beyond that is for fun and not really useful for the living history we have planned.

So, a summary of what I did each month last year:


I made some items for customers, but nothing for "fun". I did make the pattern for this sunbonnet, though!


More customer sewing.


Almost no sewing.


First month in our new home! No sewing.


Back to customer sewing and I made a few little caps for baby Rose out of vintage handkerchiefs.


A drawstring regency dress:

And a Renn-Faire bodice:


I made my first apron-front regency gown this month! I have always been fascinated by this style but never actually made one til this year! I sold this one after I made it, but I did love it so. I can't wait to make another!

Anne also turned THREE years old! I made her a little doctor coat:

And a pink tutu:


This was the month of my 1860's corset. It seemed to take forever to make although looking back it didn't take that long. This was my first serious project in quite some time and I enjoyed making this so much. I still adore the finished product and hope it lasts me a long time!


Continuing with the 1860's theme, I made my striped 1860's dress and Rose's white baby gown:

Anne's Chemise, Drawers, Stays and Hoop Skirt:


Finishing up my regency items this month, I completed my stays, shift and petticoat:

Anne's Watermelon Dress!


Finishing up the Vernet items!




Plus a spencer, scarf and sash of silk satin. (Try saying that three times fast. . . )

And Anne's Thanksgiving dress!


I started my quilted hood. I didn't finish it til January, but it was begun in December!

And that's all, although I know I made some other items along the way that I did not bother taking pictures of or blogging about. What were they? I know I made Malachi some poke sacks for his woods excursions. I made a stroller cover for Anne's doll stroller. I made curtains. I mended jeans. (Boys are hard on their jeans. The knees in them last about 9.75 seconds. I now know this with sorrowful certainty.) I made Anne an adorable knit dress from a mans brown t shirt but she wore it out before I could blog it. It was so cute though!


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Quilted Hood for An Afternoon In the Wood

It took exactly one week to make the hood but I could not be more pleased with how it came out. Let's see. Quilting took four evenings of movies, including Toy Story 3 and The Karate Kid (choice of my children) and The  Young Victoria and Mary Poppins (my choice). Sewing time also included one extra movie, which I ought not to have watched due to uneasy wakefulness the night after viewing, about haunted places in Ohio.

(I don't believe in ghosts, per se, but do believe in spirits and I do believe paranormal activity is real and a result of energy or demonic activity. But I don't like to think about this too much before going to bed.)

I sewed the pieces together on the machine after quilting was done and added some ties. This afternoon Judah went with me to the woods, which is actually part of our backyard, and showed me some forts he made and we looked at what is left of the creek. Kitty Boy followed us, purring loudly. 

He is really getting abominably fat.

It was very muddy in the woods. It hasn't really been cold enough to freeze and we have had a lot of rain over the last week. A few days ago the creek was high and rushing. Now just some puddles remained and a skinny little stream. 

Judah showed me where a snake had lived over the summer. He seems to be gone now. 
My dress bodice looks horrible in this picture. It's now too loose and comes unhooked easily. Time for a new dress I suppose!

Using the sunbonnet pattern worked well. I did not modify the pieces except to omit the vandyked edge of the brim. I found the finished hood to work just as well with the brim folded back, or left unfolded. 

I was going to sell this but came to like it so well I think I shall keep it. I have some orange striped silk to make another and am interested to see how a fancier version of this comes out. 


Friday, January 1, 2016

1814 Vernet Dress!

Have you all followed the daily release of the fabulous Vernet fashion plate recreations at their community facebook page? All through last month a new plate and it's recreation (or an in progress photo!) was shared. I know I was extremely inspired and motivated by seeing the beautiful dresses, bonnets, frock coats, and more that were labored over in secret for so many months.

My own plate was quite simple and over a month ago I had some pictures taken at a local historic spot. The building is about 20 years too modern for my outfit but the day was lovely and rather warm for late November!

So here is my finished outfit! But alas, not *quite* finished, as I still have boots in a half-finished state and a parasol to somehow make. Probably by modifying an existing one! So those two items will be forthcoming sometime this year.

For this ensemble I made chemise, stays, petticoat, gown, chemisette, spencer, scarf, sash and bonnet. The gloves were white that I dyed green, although they came out somewhat lighter than I wanted.

I am pleased with how everything came together although there will be some modifications I will make somewhere down the line to tailor the outfit more to my taste. I will address those in later posts!

Before concluding for now, though, I must just mention how much I adore the jacket! I found myself not wanting to take it off during fittings just because it was so warm and cozy. It doesn't look too bad with modern jeans, either! ;)

Happy New Year!