Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Nothin' Fancy

After years in the reenacting world, I think I found my clothing niche just a few years ago. Living in eastern NC doesn't really call for much pomp & circumstance with silks and rows of fringe- it does however call for sturdy & serviceable garments.  In the past few years I have found that I really only pull 2 dresses out of my closet. These 2 dresses are pictured above. I have worn them both for years, and still pull them out almost every event, despite there being some new choices in the mix.

The first one is a lovely green cotton print, I made this dress 5 years ago and I have dubbed the dress "Ole' faithful," as it will fit almost any social class or setting here in NC. Adding a clean collar & cuffs, belt, and fashion bonnet, it does make a respectable impression! I have also thrown on a slat bonnet for a day light activity. The dress has had blue trim added to the sleeves as well was yellow glass buttons down the front. I must admit, I have been wanting to take the trim off those sleeves- but the buttons are staying!
DH & I 

Tintype by Harry Taylor
Playing graces on a Spring day
Such a great day! 
DH & I at an event last March. 

Even Louisa had to have one just like it! 

The second dress I seem to wear all the time is my go-to work dress. I made it about 4 years ago out of some $1/yard homespun I found in the red tag section of Joanns's Fabrics because it had some fading lines on it. I had intended for the dress to be the staple for hard labor in my 19th century closet, and it has been. The fabric is thin enough that it is ideal for the heat that comes along with cooking.
It has some quirks- which I love. The neck stretched out during the fitting, so I had to re-cut it- this is has a pieced bodice, I have now lost at least 2 of the vegetable ivory buttons- so they will need to be replaced. The hem is stained with mud, suit, & who knows what else. The shoulders of the dress have started to fade- its more of a tinged yellow there now instead of its pink/brown gingham.
The first time the dress was worn- yes it was at work & they must know my name. 

This may be a staged photo

Stewing Chicken

Hanging out with my favorite blacksmith! 

I post all of this to say that you don'e need as much as you might think. I tend to portray the same type of person- either I'm working with ladies aid, or I'm cooking. Many reenactors feel as if they need a closet of 897 gowns to do everything the need- and you really don't. Yes, I have more dresses- but I don't wear them nearly as much as I do these two.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Salads for the Season Part 2

Still Life Strawberries, Nuts & etc., Raphaelle Peale, 1822

I did a Salad post way back 2013- you can find it here. With the weather warming up here in NC, it reminded me how much I hate to cook over a flame in the heat and humidity- enter in the salads & sandwiches menu! I have dug around to find even more great salad offerings that can be made easily without cooking. These would also be a wonder addition to a picnic!

The Neighborhood Cookbook, 1914

Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent
The House Servants Directory, 1827

White House Cookbook, 1887

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How does your garden grow?

So, this is the first year DH and I have had a place that we can have a real garden!  So, we set out with excitement at our garden center, within reason. I wanted all the plants, he wanted ones that were aesthetically pleasing-we met in the middle with a good mix.
Vegetables and herbs, I really only wanted a tomato plant, until I go there.
We have a great little plot on the side of our house, where the fence offers 2 sides that will help support beans & tomato plants.
The plot beside the house. Allows for lots of sun & but also evening shade. 
We planted corn, 2 types of beans, cucumbers, squash, radishes, tomatoes, 2 types of onions, garlic, mint, cilantro, and rosemary.
DH putting mint in the ground. 

Everything will start from seeds except the herbs and the tomatoes- I have 6 plants! I really am excited to see how this will turn out. The rosemary and cilantro are in pots, I prefer my rosemary in a pot so I can move it around. Don't ask me why.

Cilantro, mint, rosemary, and tomato plants! 
This summer will be full of adventure in this little garden! I hope to at least get one vegetable out of it. If I get only one I will still count it as a success! I hope to get many more off of it, but even one will make me happy.
Geraldine observes from the window. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Years Goodies!

Looking for the perfect thing to celebrate New Years with? Look no further than our knowledgeable ancestors for traditional fare for the inspiring holiday!

Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book, 1850

Domestic Cookery, 1869

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014: A Year in Review

I used to do these on my other blog- but I thought my readers here would like to see how much this past year had in store!

It snowed a lot here in NC! It seemed to keep coming- but made for some beautiful pictures! 
I had this image struck for DH as a valentines gift! 
Small, local events! This one was at a restored plantation home. 
April brought 150th Bermuda Hundred, we portrayed the US Christian Commission with some great friends!

Not much happened in May- but I did get my new favorite cup! 
DH & I celebrated 3 years of marriage! We spent a few days at the beach for the first time in years! 

We had some pretty nice pictures taken in the summer!
We announced that we were expecting our first little bundle in March! 
We moved out of our apartment into a house in a small town- here is a rather dark picture of our living room. The curtains were the one thing that DH & I agreed on and based the room on! 
One of my favorite events happens every year! The civilian program at Bentonville!This year- I made stew for 100 people! 

I voted! 
We will ring in the holiday season one last time with only 2 stockings on the mantle! 

So, there are only a few highlights from my 2014! I look forward to what 2015 has in store! It's already shaping up to be a busy- event filled year! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Range of Skill

I had the great pleasure of cooking at the 1897 Poe House this past Sunday. The E. A. Poe House (brick maker, not author) is part of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.
I had a wonderful time cooking on this 1902 stove. The stove had been restored when the museum got it and it worked like a dream! It took a while to get the oven hot enough- but was easy enough to keep hot! There was almost a constant supply of wood going in the firebox to keep the range hot enough for baking.

Keeping the fire box hot!
The cooking demonstration was part of the annual Holiday Jubilee that celebrates a Victorian Christmas with period decorations, carols, hot cider, and more! I was able to dig up a great Gingerbread cookie recipe from the 1912 Mary Frances Cookbook!

While the original recipe calls for lard, I had none on hand- and just doubled the butter! To 4 tablespoons of butter I added the warm molasses that warmed on the stove almost all day giving the kitchen a great smell! Then the baking powder and flour/spice mixture. I cannot tell you how much flour I used for the entire batch- since I was adding as I was talking to visitors- but it was somewhere around a cup to 1 1/2 cups in addition to the 1/2 cup added with the spices.
Dough being mixed up!
 The dough is very soft- and rolls out very easily on a well floured surface- be careful it will stick if you do not have enough flour down on your rolling surface! I was using a large cookie cutter (think big biscuit size) so I was able to get about 6 cookies out with each batch. I have no photos of the rolling/cutting out since I was trying to take them while there were no visitors in the kitchen. I did however snag this one of me from the museums page!
I should make better faces for photos!

The cookies went into a 300-350* degree oven for around 10-ish minutes- I checked them before removing them since you lost heat from the oven every time the door opened.  Out would pop 6 fresh cookies! They were cut and served up for the visitors to sample! There were many positive comments on how they turned out!

Fresh cookies!

Did I mention that I had a great kitchen helper come with me? My dear sweet husband ended up staying all day and helped out in the kitchen!  I had planned on make a Christmas pudding from and 1897 recipe I had found. But, after discovering I had left part of the ingredients at home (over an hour away) we improvised (SSSSHHHH...)
DH working on the pudding!

We started with a butter/sugar base and added 2 eggs. From there about 1 tablespoon of molasses- then about 2 cups of sifted flour with some cinnamon and nutmeg. There was some milk added and raisins- I have to admit I just started the mix- and DH finished it- so there were no exact measures and we mixed until it "looked right". There was about 1/2 cup of apple cider added as well (think about my cider cake).  We ended up with a thick cake batter and into the oven it went. DH also set out to make a sauce to over the pudding- it was mostly milk & powdered sugar with a little butter and molasses added.  What ended up was something amazing!

The Christmas Pudding

Sadly, DH and I both know that we will never be able to replicate what came out of the oven and on to the plate- but it was a glorious pudding! It was similar to a cake- but that sauce on top is what made it divine! There was nothing left of it by the end of the demo- everyone was amazed and how nice it was!  

The day ended with the stove cooling off and the dishes being washed- but all in all it was a great day for baking!

Friday, November 14, 2014

To Feed Hungry Mouths: Civil War Refugees

"It is not unusual for us to have nothing but sweet potatoes and corn bread for days at a time." This sentiment expressed by refugee Frances Fearn of Louisiana could be echoed across the South during the war years.  

Hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens in the South were displaced from their homes when armies tore through the land that they had once called home. As a result, many were left with little to live off of, and even less to eat. The blockade, inflation, and shortages all played their part in the Southern diet during the war. While some areas seemed "untouched" by war the women and children at home felt the effects if they had to purchase goods such as flour, sugar, and coffee. 

Refugees often left their homes not knowing when they would return, or if they would return. Many families packed their belongings and moved on not knowing what was ahead of them.
Refugee family with belongings in a cart
Refugees often depended on the locals for food supplies. Relying on what was in season around them and what was available from the local for purchase. 

 "Yesterday I drove for twenty miles with Jack in the wagon drawn by four horses, carrying with me several hundred dollars with which to buy provisions. Imagine my despair and disappointment when I returned at night with one pint bottle of milk, a dozen eggs, a small sack of corn meal, and one chicken to feed twenty hungry mouths! What really saves us from starvation is a beautiful clear stream that runs through this forest. In it are the most delicious freshwater trout, at least they seem so to us." (Frances H Fearn, "Diary of a Refugee", 1910) 

Later Fearn notes that their food supplies were "limited to smoked beef and corn bread and tea..."
Frances H Fearn

Katherine Polk Gale (daughter of Gen. Leonidas Polk) sought refuge in Asheville, NC during the war and notes the generosity of their new neighbors. After her father had sent "twenty excellent negro men & their families" from the plantation in Mississippi, the family hired them to neighboring farms with their wages to be paid in "Bacon, wheat, flour, potatoes, etc." Gale explains that this is how the family was able acquire their food supplies. 

Sara Rice Pryor published her memoirs after the war noting "With all our starvation we never ate rats, mice or mule meat. We managed to exist on peas, bread, and sorghum. We could buy a little milk, and we mixed it with a drink made from roasted and ground corn." 

Mary Boykin Chesnut

Even famed Mary Boykin Chesnut was driven from her South Carolina estate and felt the pain of shortages and want for food. She notes one night she dined only on cold asparagus and blackberries. While in her refugee state  in February 1865 she notes, "I am bodily comfortable, if somewhat dingily lodged, and I daily part with my raiment for food. We find no one who will exchange eatable for Confederate money; so we devour our clothing."
She also observed in Columbia "Men, women, and children have been left homeless, houseless, and without one particle of food- reduced to picking up corn that was left by Sherman's horses or picket grounds and parching it to stay their hunger."

While many of these instances are based on women that came from "affluent" families at the beginning of the war, it shows that women of all classes were affected by the war. It is always a good idea to research the local area where you will be portraying a refugee. 


Chesnut, Mary Boykin. A Diary from Dixie,1905. New York. 

Fearn, Frances Hewitt. Diary of a Refugee, 1910. New York. 

Gale, Katherine Polk. Recollections of Katherine Polk Gale, undated. Gale and Polk Family Papers, UNC Chapel Hill. 

Massey, Mary Elizabeth. Refugee Life in the Confederacy, 1964. Louisiana. 

Pryor, Sara Rice. My Day Reminiscences of a Long Life, 1909. New York.