Thursday, February 25, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #4 ~ Sweets for the Sweet

I sort of copped out on this fortnights challenge because I fell back upon a memorized recipe that we often made our boys when they were little. Cheap Crimean Lemonade is in the Hospital Stewards Manual though so it is a real historical recipe. It is sugar in it, so its sweet. Plus, since I've made it before I know it is good and it is quick and easy to make.
We've all been battling colds for the past few weeks and are all in various stages of recovery. I like to keep a lot of fresh citrus in the house when we are sick and I had a bag of little limes to use up. In the 18th century a surgeon named James Lind experimented with treating sailors at sea with citrus to prevent scurvy. (try saying that five times fast!) After seeing how effective citrus was in preventing this, in 1795 the British Royal Navy began issuing lemons or limes to their sailors. Limes were cheaper and easier to obtain, so perhaps that is one reason why this recipe is called Cheap Crimean Lemonade.

It is very easy to prepare, requiring only sugar, lime juice and water. While the recipe suggests the addition of rum, I have rarely used it when making this. Having tried it both ways, though, I can say the rum does make it better! This recipe makes enough to share with a friend. We usually triple or quadruple it for all of us! And yes, it was just as good today in late February as it is in the hot muggy summer.

Love, Sarah

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #3 - Cornpone

This challenge was challenging! The theme was history detective and the instructions read thus:

 "For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made."

I found it difficult to choose something to investigate. I don't have a lot of time to devote to research right now and wrack my brain as I might, the only things I could remember having read or heard about in the past that I never really knew how were made were foodstuffs talked about in favorite childhood literature.

Although I read quite a lot of books as a child, the ones I read over and over were the Anne of Green Gables series and Laura Ingalls Wilders' Little House on the Prairie. As a child I loved reading about food. How it was prepared, what it looked like, how it tasted, how it was served. I thought about Anne's unfortunate cake-baking experience, her likewise result with ruby-red raspberry cordial, and the monkey-face cookies her children enjoyed in Anne of Ingleside. I thrilled with delight reading about butchering time in Little  House in the Big Woods, the lovely cottage cheese balls with onion that Ma prepared in the hot summer  before Mary went to college in Little Town on the Prairie and the exciting dessert of soda crackers and canned peaches made with findings at the surveyors house in By The Shores of Silver Lake. 

Ahhh. I love food. :) 

So ANYWAY. Yes. I thought I should choose something I had always been curious about for this fortnights challenge. What could I do that would satisfy a long held curiosity and also be applicable to the 1860's/Civil War theme I want to do this year? Well, what could be a more early-American staple than infamous salt pork and cornpone? 

In the Little House books, salt pork is often described as being fried and served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I don't have the book in front of me now to quote it, but if my memory serves me correctly, cornpone played a heroic part in helping Pa escape from a pack of wolves. 

Cornpone is also referenced many times in relation to the diet of Civil War soldiers. While being described fairly frequently, the exact making of this interesting basic dish is often left to the imagination. 

"One of our tired forage trains had gone into park near us, and the teamsters offered to share their supper with us. They had corn "pone", some salt pork, and for a rarity some newly arrived coffee. We sat on the corn stalks around the fire with an iron camp-kettle in the midst containing the black coffee which we dipped out with battered tin cups, and we held in our hands pieces of the corn-pone and slices of fried pork, congratulating each other on the unexpected luxury of our supper." 
~ Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 
by Jacob Cox

"At dark he brought us a sack of corn pone, some meat and baked sweet potatoes, and with instructions as the country and descriptions of plantations and friends farther north, started us on our way rejoicing, for his provender had found us very hungry, weak, and much discouraged."
~Civil War Reflections
by Harvey S.  Hogue, Company G, 115th Regiment, Ohio Infantry

Original extant nuggets of cornpone from Andersonville Prison, from the Minnesota Historical Society

This link takes one to a source for a late 1850's article on making salted pork: The New England Farmer; Salted Pork

It seems salted pork of the period was pork that was put into a brine. I have seen a few references which seem to indicate dry curing was also done, but the meat was not smoked. Soaking would remove much of the saltiness to make the prepared product more palatable. For my own experiment with cornpone, I cheated and used store bought salt pork from my little town grocery. I don't know how this compares with period salt pork, but it gave me enough fat to make the pone, which is mainly what I wanted to do.

My salt pork was mostly fat with a thin streak of meat. A period article describes the salt pork of the army to be a "clear fat" so mine fails that description, obviously. 

Once I had a good amount of fat in the skillet, I mixed a few spoonfuls of it with cornmeal and a little hot water to make the pones. Period sources list different ingredients for making corn pone, but it seems the basics are water and cornmeal. I tried to think of how Laura Ingalls mother might have made it, or how a soldier may easily have made it with drippings left in the pan. 

So, a mix of cornmeal, fat and water. This did not make a malleable mass as required, so I added a little rye flour to attempt to hold the balls of dough together better. After a lot of squeezing and molding I was finally successful in forming a half dozen cakes. 

These I fried in the leftover fat, til golden brown. 

Malachi tasted them for me. I gave him some dark molasses to dip them in, if he wanted. He was a good sport and ate one with the molasses, but the rest he had with honey. He said the honey was better. 

The outside was crisp and golden and the inside kind of dense and crumbly. I'd eat them again!

I doubt this meal would be very kind to the digestive system if eaten frequently but it was fun to try it and even more fun to share the experience with my son (who was home from school today with a cough and sore throat) who now has a little bit better an idea of what he may have sometimes eaten as a young boy in mid-19th century America. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Yet Another Petticoat Post

Yeah, I know, I know. Another undergarment post? Really? Well, yes. It's what I am working on right now and as unexciting as these garments can be, I have to get them out of the way before any outer garments will look right. It's all about the foundation! Without the proper underthings nothing that is visible in the final outfit will look right. I'm getting kinda sick of white sewing but I'm nearing the end of it. In fact, if I have time tomorrow, I can get started on this months Historical Sew Monthly challenge. (A yellow and black plaid dress! And a purple print dress!)

Benjamins petticoat is very much like Anne's, except shorter. It's all of 13" long and has 4 tucks and a wide hem. Although I could let the tucks out as he gets taller I don't think I will, since once he outgrows it Rose will be large enough to fit it.

The older boys were very accustomed to wearing petticoats and gowns by the time they were Benjamins age. He, however, has not experienced going to as many living histories or reenactments and the feel of wearing a dress throws him off a little. It is so funny to see the slightly confused look on his face when he's in skirts.

After a few minutes, though, he was off running around and getting into things as usual! He is a very naughty boy sometimes and very quiet about what he does. His intelligence amazes me - he is extremely cunning. More so than his brothers seemed to be at his age; but then, he has four older siblings to learn from and the older boys did not have that.

Anne's old stays work quite well for him although if he grows much larger around the middle I won't be able to button them shut. I'm  hoping he will at least still fit into them for an event in May; after that, I can make new for him if need be.

 I think for his dress I will go with a short yoke and pleated lower bodice, with a bias band on the skirt for trim. Short sleeves, I think. I haven't decided for sure yet. It's fun to have a little guy in dresses again!


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #1 - Procrastination

Is it bad to procrastinate on a procrastination project? Because January was devoted to procrastinated projects and alas, it is a few days into February. I guess that just means I am a truly fantastic procrastinator. At least when it comes to sewing projects.

For this challenge I wanted to finish up the 3 littlest ones Civil War era undergarments. I started them back last fall but they still weren't completely done. Anne just needed a petticoat so I found myself towards the end of January scrambling to get one sewn up for her. But then after the panels were cut a child flung a wet tea bag over the fabric so it had to be washed. Then the tension screwed up on my sewing machine. Then my beloved steam iron died without warning and with much grief. Then I ran out of white cotton thread near the end of sewing in the tucks.

BUT IT'S DONE NOW! I sewed the last frustrating buttonhole today and Anne was perfectly pleased to pose for some pictures.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the soft stays I made for her four months ago were too tight. So I had to make new ones for her and that was unplanned. It works out quite well though since her old ones fit Benjamin rather well so he can have a buttoned stay too, with a petticoat, instead of the bodiced petticoat I had originally planned.

These stays were made just like the last ones except wider and a little bit taller. Also, I cut them all in one piece as a slightly shaped rectangle, with scoops under the arms, instead of having a side seam. These are seriously so quick and so easy. Talk about instant gratification! They took all of an hour to sew and cord, and then another half hour for buttonholes.

They have plastic buttons for now since I had no period appropriate ones that were small enough. I am lurking on eBay for some tiny little china ones so I plan to replace these before our first event this year.

The straps came out a bit long so for the pictures I pinned them up a bit. I hope they will last her awhile. At least for this year. She is getting very tall.

The petticoat is quite full and is made of a most dreadful fabric. I found a very high quality white cotton sheet 2nd hand and it was absolutely perfect for a petticoat. However, it sucks to sew. Oh my goodness. I don't know how I managed to hand sew the buttonholes. It was almost impossible to even pin. The finished garment has fantastic body and I think it will last forever but wow. Painful stuff to work with!

If you look very closely you may see tiny pin prick sized dots of blood. This is not because the tip of the needle pricked my finger while sewing but because it was darn near impossible to push the needle through the fabric, and before too long the eye of the needle was poking a hole in my finger. This is where a thimble would have come in handy, if I had been used to using one.

She is very happy with her undergarments and for the challenge this month I plan to finish her dress and Benjamin's dress.

The Challenge: Procrastination
Material: 100% white cotton sheet
Pattern: my own, appropriate for mid-19th century
Year: Early to Mid 1860's (though honestly appropriate for decades before and years after!) 
Notions: thread, buttons, cording
How historically accurate is it? Very
Hours to complete: About 5 maybe, all told. Done in bits and pieces. 
First worn: Today for pictures. 
Total cost: $1 for the sheet. The thread was more expensive! $6. The iron I had to buy was $50. The buttons were already on hand.