Thursday, October 16, 2014

Material what?

Material culturenoun
the aggregate of physical objects or artifacts used by a society.

In the realm of living history and reenacting there are different levels of enthusiasm, as is the same for most hobbies. However,
the realm of "living history" recreates a specific point in time. I have to say that to some, the material culture of a person/place/time has no impact on their impression. And in my opinion they could not be more wrong ( but I was an American Studies major). For example: Civil War Reenactors (I have the most knowledge of them-but you can sub any "military") will almost everything about the jacket they are wearing or the gun the are carrying- but when you ask them who they voted for or where they went to school- they give a blank look. 

Taking the Census, Francis William Edmonds, 1854

The problem being that every soldier was a citizen- but not every citizen was a soldier. The items they used everyday before joining the military would be very familiar to them. Think about all of the things you use on a daily basis- blankets, cups, plates, napkins, clothing, food, farm equipment, lamps, etc. The list is almost endless, and while no one can expect to know about everything about a particular time period- the resources are available to familiarize oneself with at least some of these items.
Take a look at a few of these things-
Item 1
Item 2
Item 3

Item 4 

How many of those items do you recognize? They are everyday items that most citizens in the 19th century would have at least have some working knowledge of. 
Item 1- A tin reflector oven. Used to roast meat in the kitchen, these had been around for quite a while, and most folks would at least recognize one. 
Item 2- A tea pot c. 1830. Who doesn't know how to use a tea pot?
Item 3- Ladies slippers.  I will admit these are a bit "fancy" for any impression I have done recently, but the concept is the same- how many of us today know name brand shoes and styles though we are not able to wear them ourselves?
Item 4-  A child's undergarment- commonly called a petti-chemise to combine a chemise & petticoat together. How many men know what a chemise even is in the living history world? Probably not as many that know what a slip is today. 

These are just a few examples of why all living historians should at least be familiar with some part of their own local culture. At least some national events that were in the news constantly. 

Here is another little quiz- who is pictured in this political cartoon?
Louis Maurer cartoon, 1860

The caption may have given it away- it is an 1860 political cartoon depicting the presidential race as a baseball game. Most are familiar with the Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debates- but what about the other two candidates? John Bell and John Breckenridge? Who were they? And which one would you have voted for in 1860? Remember, if you are a woman, you had no choice in the matter, since women would not get the vote for a another 60 years.  Would you have supported your husbands decision? Do you think it is right for women to be involved with politics? ( I recently participated in an event where politics were an issue, and I had to admit that "my husband will make the best decision"- which made me upset just to say- even as 1864 me!) 

These are a few issues that can be addressed either on a local or national level. Like I said- take a morning and aquatint yourself with the items you use for your morning routine- do you know their period equivalents?  Would have had access to them? During the war years would you have been able to afford them? 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Heritage Festival Demonstration

This past weekend I had the pleasure of cooking for the Cape Fear Botanical Garden's Heritage Festival. It was a fabulous weekend, the first real cool weather we had in NC, which made the fire that more comforting. There were many different demonstrations and activities- butter churning, tobacco tying, candle making, the general store was open & more!
Saturday's menu was simple- Chicken noodle soup. The chicken noodle soup is a easy recipe you can find here- its a go to for an easy meal!
The morning started well, after fighting to get the fire started on a very damp morning. I did have a few volunteers from the site helping as well. We started by getting the chickens in the pot and chopping vegetables. The recipe does not call for carrots- but I like them in my soup, and they add some color! 

Everyone is amazed when I start making noodles on site during demos. It is something that everyone enjoys watching- they are SO easy! Mix, roll, cut, dry. And only 4 ingredients! 
After removing the chicken and taking it off the bone- add chicken and noodles to the pot-and I had a BIG pot! 

The soup turned out great! 

Sunday was even cooler than Saturday- which made me the popular demo for the day.I had hot apple cider ready all day! On the menu with cider- fried sweet potatoes!  

Cider & boiling sweet potatoes
Directions for Cookery and its Various Branches, Eliza Leslie, 1844

These fried sweet potatoes were a hit! It is always a good idea to cook what is in season- and right now sweet potatoes are coming out of the NC fields by the truck-load. For more on sweet potatoes- click here.  I was all by myself on Sunday- so the simple menu really helped, but also reminded me of all of the hard work that is done with cooking. 

I did manage to snap one photo of myself! 

Look for a wrap-up of my Bentonville Fall Festival in a few weeks! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sweet Potatoes

The Sweet Potato. . My dear home of NC has been ranked first in sweet potato production since 1971, so it should be no surprise that I have an abundance of these near me. The sweet potato was found across the south during the war years. Many diaries of Civil War soldiers reference eating sweet potatoes and receiving them as rations.  There was even a reference to sweet potatoes in the popular song Marching Through Georgia.  

Period cook books are peppered with sweet potato recipes, giving you an idea of the variety this root vegetable has to offer. Today, we may think of the sweet potato being reserved for a sweet Thanksgiving side dish, but in the 19th century, it was used more often.

Here are a few recipes to get you to use this years crop!

The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph, 1838

Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches, Eliza Leslie, 1844

The Practical Cookbook, Ms. Bliss, 1850

Monday, August 25, 2014

For Cause & Country: Serving the Soldiers

This past weekend I had the great pleasure to participate in For Cause & Country: Serving the Soldiers held at Ft. Washington. The site was gorgeous! While this post has nothing to do with cooking, or food even, I wanted to share my great time with you!

I attended the event as the wife of the fort's Chaplain, along with us was a dear friend & her sister. The best part of the event was that we had the opportunity to occupy the fort for the entire weekend, which meant we were able to eat, sleep, & live in forts restored offices & barracks. Among the rooms being used there was a hospital, chapel, USSC Depot and offices. Outside were a kitchen & laundry. The set-up was very impressive considering the forts mostly empty rooms were turned into impressive displays of daily life in 1864.

Saturday was a bustle coming & going- breakfast, then a busy day of entertaining VIP's from Washington City with the United States Sanitary Commission. Cookies & lemonade were served during a tour of the USSC depot, then a lunch of chicken, cucumber salad, tomatoes, and bread the VIPs took a tour of the fort. The USSC turned to their needlework for the rest of day, making quilt squares and housewife's for soldiers.  Saturday's humidity turned to rain, which made the rooms of the fort even more cozy as we stitched away. There were some great memories made that afternoon!

Sunday morning opened to a beautiful sunny sky. Services were held in the fort yard before breakfast. Then we returned to the USSC to continue our never-ending work. A few VIP's decided to come and view the USSC hard at work, and joined us for some comments about Special Diet Kitchens & their affects on injured and recovering soldiers.

Like most great events, it all seemed to end too soon. It was great to meet so many new friends and spend time with those you only get to see a time or two during the year! I do hope this becomes a recurring event!

I took no photos of the actual event, just of an overly-packed car & the gorgeous view of the Potomac River from the fort walls. Below are photos I have "borrowed" from others!


USSC busy at work making quilt squares
A busy morning at the fort. 

The Col & his wife, along with VIPs & USSC delegates. 

Serving the VIPs

My new dress! I finished it right before the event. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What's In Season?

Trying to get people to bring period food to events can be difficult. There are many reasons that I have heard why people do not eat appropriate foods at events, "It's too hard" "It's too expensive" "This tastes better"...well.... no.  I have had many meals that require less effort than a sandwich, cost less than a funnel cake, and tastes better than a hot dog. But everyone has their own opinion. 

One easy way to ease someone into period appropriate foods is to take a trip to the farmers market. This can take the fear out of anyone when they are wondering "What on earth can we eat?"
In the Kitchen ,Johannes Engel Masurel, 1866
The great thing about summer is that there is an abundance of fruits & veggies that are in season. Being from NC there's an almost endless list
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Watermelon
  • Corn
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Okra
  • Radishes
  • Peppers
  • Pears
  • Grapes
The great thing about this list is that most of it needs little or no cooking at all! Add some bread & cheese and make a spread of any of the above- a great filling, hydrating lunch or dinner for any setting! 

Fall brings another season of bounty! Some summer items are being carried over. 
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Cabbage
  • Turnips
Usually the butchering of fresh meat (beef, pork, etc) would happen late in the fall. The meat would then be salted, smoked & cured for use through the winter. 

  • Collards
  • Turnips
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter Squash
This is a great time for soups & stews that require little meat. Load up on the veggies! 
Making a great soup on a chilly day! 

  • Peas
  • Strawberries
You will want to use up what is left from the root cellar and what was put away for winter use- lots of root veggies, mixed with new spring produce. 
This is also when hens start laying again, so eggs can be added back to the menu! 

All Year
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Lettuce
  • Peanuts
  • Poultry (Chicken, Turkey, Goose)
  • Game meat
Many seasonal items are preserved for use all year. Read more about preservation techniques in V. Mescher's In a Pickle! Types of Food Preservation in the 19th Century.  

Every season will depend based on your geographic location check your local farmers market or produce stands to see what is available just before an event.  If you are able to keep a garden with fresh veggies & herbs keep the 19th century in mind. Period garden guides, such as, The Field and Garden Vegetables of America published in 1865 offers insight into what varieties were available to our 19th century ancestors. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Aren't you hot in that? Part 3

I started this series early last fall as a lesson in the safety of period clothing, then as a survey of evidence of women in "work" clothes. Images, engravings, and paintings of women doing daily chores invite us into their daily lives, like a snapshot to the 19th Century.

The Tin Cup, 1864 by John George Brown
I'm still not sure what the mother in this painting is doing, laundry maybe? Notice her light sun-bonnet and apron, but serving functionally. It appears that she may also have on a work petticoat under that apron.

Canal Street Market, 1860 by Henry Mosler

This painting of Canal Street Market has so much going on! Look at the aprons, the bonnets, the baskets! Its a look into bustling street scene that gives so much detail I encourage you to look at it large and see all of those wonderful details that Mosler included. Here we do see at least two wonderful sunbonnets in different styles.
Engraving of a Laundress

I wish I had the source for this engraving (if you know, please tell me). I think this is a war time engraving, considering the officer peaking around the corner. This laundress has her skirts pulled up around her and her sleeves either pushed up, or may even be a short sleeve dress. I love that her hair is  coming loose and we can see those stray ends falling out! Makes me feel good about my hair being a mess while running round.

For more in this series & to see more images, please read Part 1 & Part 2

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Christian Commission at Bermuda Hundred

The past few months have been devoted to sewing. I had a semi-immersion event coming up, and it was my first one in a few years, so I have been having to update my 19th Century "basics"- pettis, chemises, drawers, etc. The event took place in April 1864, we portraying volunteers of the United States Christian Commission (USCC) .

USCC Office, Washington DC- photo M. Brady (LOC) 
 The delegates of the USCC were volunteers who distributed over 6 millions dollars worth of supplies to the soldiers fighting. These supplies included food, clothing, medicines, reading materials, and more. The US Army was grateful for the efforts put forth by the USCC and the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC). Throughout the North there were fundraisers, fairs, and publications advertising and asking for donations for the men at the front fighting.

The rations issued by the military left little in the way of a tasty diet- salt pork, corn meal, hardtack, beans,etc. Soldiers were extremely grateful for any variety they could get their hands one. The USCC asked for foods that were easy to transport and store. Oatmeal, jelly, crackers, butter, onions, apples, lemons, pickles- all of these were easy to ship as well. There were very specific instructions for packing and labeling boxes to be sent to the USCC for distribution.

For this event we portrayed delegates in the field during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. The event as a whole was very different. The set-up had visitors walk through the lines. Starting behind the Union Lines at the USCC & USSC set-up through the woods, to the Federal line, then to the Confederate works. The fighting was happening in "real  time" meaning that the earthworks were being constructed as the days went on, with fighting happening throughout the day.

DH, myself & Stormi walk from the battle area. 
It was not unusual for gunfire to be heard sporadically, followed by a volley or cannon fire. We did manage to walk down to the Federal lines once, but some fighting began, and we had to make our way back to the safety of our camp. Most of the day was spent interpreting to visitors the different roles of the USCC & the USSC (across the path from us). This did leave some downtime since we were prepared to help soldiers with reading material, food, etc.  We did get to feed some soldiers & give them coffee when they came from their entrenched quarters-they were grateful for the hot meal despite the 80* weather.
Stormi & I distributing food for the Soldiers

Although there was a lot of down time we did get to spend some time with friends who enjoy this crazy hobby with us. It was nice  to sit under the shade of the arbor to get to know the other "delegates".  One of the best moments to come from the weekend, was this awesome image that was struck of all of us. We used two different field images of the original USCC to create ours. 

USCC Delegates, BH 1864- Image by Chris Morgan

After two days of wet, muddy, tick-infested woods I would say the event is one to remember. I met some new people, got to see old friends, and once again learned some lessons along the way.