Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ashland 1814 Living History Days

Yesterday, I spent a gorgeous early Fall day at a local historic estate called Ashland.  It was the home of early 1800's politician Henry Clay.  This weekend, Ashland celebrated the 200th anniversary of Henry Clay's involvement in The Treaty of Ghent.

The current home on the Ashland estate is Victorian, but the floor plan is the original Federal style floor plan.  It is unfortunate that photographs are not allowed inside the home.  It is a truly stunning place.

While at the event, I met some beautiful ladies that are a part of the 2nd Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Militia.

I strolled the wooded grounds and gardens of Ashland, toured the home, and listened to a first person portrayal of Henry Clay's housekeeper.  I met a group of quilting ladies who convinced me that I wasn't as bad at quilting as I thought.

But I spent most of my time at a tea table with my friends Natalie, Jill, and Emily, watching the golden leaves of the walnut trees around us drift down in the breeze like schools of fish.  My official role during the weekend was to demonstrate embroidery.  I have been working for the past month on a 1760's seat cushion crewelwork reproduction.  Jill taught about the history of tea, and Natalie and Emily demonstrated wool spinning and weaving.  The crowd was small, but very curious and keen to learn.  

I am always surprised and refreshed by the number of children (boys especially) that are interested in learning about sewing, embroidery, weaving and spinning!  Children truly do long for the hand crafts of our ancestors. They get so little time and experience with handmade arts these days.  It is a way of life that is disappearing, if not already gone, for much of society.  As someone who loves art and history, I feel like it's my responsibility to pass on this knowledge to the next generation.  I hope that every historical costumer/reenactor feels and does the same.  Whatever your craft might be, what you do should not be only for your vain enjoyment, but to lift up and pass on a way of life that is threatened to become extinct.

Because of the time portrayed, 1812-1814, I finally had the chance to wear the blue velvet spencer that I made a year and a half ago.  The day was a bit warm for it, around 80*F, but it fit the era so perfectly that I couldn't resist.

Overall, I wouldn't have changed a thing about the day except to ask for more time.  To say it was pleasant is an understatement.  

P.s. - To see more pictures of the day (and the front of my spencer) check out THIS PAGE by a local photographer who took pictures of the event in 3D!  3D glasses are a must!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vernet's 1814 Merveilluese and Incroyables

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #6: Seasonal Foods

This certainly is not as appealing of a recipe as the pies were, but now that I'm back to work teaching, time is not my own.  So...seasonal me, one of my favorite foods of this season are fresh FIGS.  This recipe was quick, easy, and delicious in its simplicity.  Try it now, if you can, before the beloved fig goes away for another year.

Better Meals for Less Money by Mary Green

4 bananas
4 figs
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 cup chopped nut meats

Peel, scrape, and slice bananas; wash, dry, and chop figs; spread over bananas; sprinkle with sugar and nut meats, and serve with cream. Grape nuts may be used in place of nut meats.

The Date/Year and Region: English/American, 1917

Time to Complete: 5 mins

How Successful Was It?: It was simple and delicious.  The textures complimented each other, and the fresh, wild flavor of the figs went well with the sweet, domesticated banana.  To me, it was a healthy dessert.

How Accurate Is It?: The only difference between the original recipe and what I made... instead of using cream, I used coconut milk.  I try not to each too much dairy.  And I wasn't even sure what sort of "cream" they were referring to...heavy cream, or whipped cream, or clotted cream???  Also, I adjusted the quantities, using only 1 banana, two figs, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts, because I was the only one eating it.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #5: Pies

For this Historical Food Fortnightly challenge, I think I went a little over-board.


I love pies.

Not just sweet pies, but savory ones too.

Besides the fact that a well made pie tastes good, I love pies because they are self contained, and aesthetically pleasing. There's also something about them that makes me think of a room full of hobbits - or a dark, smoke filled tavern where Aragorn lurks in the corner.

 Pies are portable.  Pies are sculptural.  Pies make me think of Middle Earth.

They also remind me of the past more than any other food.  They are a food that crosses nearly every century in modern history.  They cross every social border, and nearly every cultural one too.  High class pies, low class pies, foreign pies....they are everywhere you look.  They are the quintessential food of my English and Irish ancestors, and as far as food can be, pies are in my blood.

I giggled and rubbed my hands together when I read that pies (of course) were on the HSF list of challenges.
So, in honor of one of my favorite genres of food...I outdid myself and MADE 3 PIES.

Yes.  Three.

And it took me 12 looooooong hours.  How did they do it?!  I will separate each one, and give you the best run down that I can.  Pictures will be first, followed by the descriptions.

Pie #1:  A Vegetable Pie in a Standing Crust

Standing crust after initial cooking, but pre-vegetables.

The cooked vegetable pie.

The Fricassee Sauce... no recipe here, it's just a basic seasoned rue... butter, flour, milk, salt, pepper and herbs.

The yummy vegetables ready to be devoured! 
(Don't eat this crust, it's pretty and functional, but doesn't taste good.  It eats like a rock.)

The Recipe:
 Vegetable Pie, by Sarah Martin, The New Experienced English Housekeeper

The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, and Confectionary

The Date/Year and Region: English/American, late 18th century.

Time to Complete: 3 or 4 hours

How Successful Was It?: Very successful with all of the family.  It turned out exactly like I thought it would.  I would make it again, if it didn't take so long to make the crust.  I'll probably save it for special occasions.  It was a bit heart braking to have to throw away the crust when we were finished eating the vegetables.

How Accurate Is It?: I didn't alter this recipe one bit.  The only thing I can say is that I had a lot of help from the people at Savoring The Past. 

Pie #2: Beef Pie, with Puff Paste Crust.

I savored this with brown English mustard.

The Recipe: 

Puff Paste Crust (with help from Savoring The Past)

Take a pound of fine flour and half a pound of firm butter break the least half of it among the flour then wet it with about half a mutchkin half a pint of cold water and knead it very smooth If the paste stick to the table lift it up strew a little flour beneath it and when it is properly wrought up roll it out Divide the remainder of the butter into four parts take one of them and stick bits of it over the paste Strew some flour over it and give it a clap down with your hand to keep the butter from shifting then fold up the paste and continue to do so three times more when all the butter will be wrought up use it as quick as possible because it is the worse of lying.
or this one:

Puff Paste - By Gervase Markham, 1615, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman (SERIOUSLY!!! That's the title!)
Now for the making of puff-paste of the best kind, you shall  take the finest Wheat flower after it hath been a little bak't [dried] in a pot in the Oven, and blend it well with eggs, whites and yelks all together, and after the paste is well kneaded, roul out a part thereof as thin as you please, and then spread cold sweet butter over the same; then upon the same butter roul  another lets of the paste as before, and spread it with butter also; and thus roul leaf upon leaf with butter between ill it be as thick as you think good: and with it either cover any bak't meat, or make paste for Venison, Florentine, Tart, or what dish else you please, and so bake it. 

For the hand pie filling, I did what Mr. Markham suggested every "Complete Woman" should do, and filled it with any "bak't meat" I felt like.  In this case, it was ground beef, seasoned with onions, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire Sauce.  So there.

The Date/Year and Region: Late 18th century, or early 1600's, depending on which crust recipe you use, England/America

Time to Complete: 4 or 5 hours...this pastry was the most time consuming.

How Successful Was It?: Delicious.  The crust was everyone's favorite the flakiest, crunchiest, buttery pastry or croissant that you can find in Europe. (Not the soft, weak croissants in America.)

How Accurate Is It?: Accurate...except perhaps the ground beef filling.


Pie #3: Strawberry Pie with Short Paste Crust and a side of Custard

Pre-cooked pie.

What they strawberry design looked like BEFORE it fell during the baking process.

The Custard.

The Recipe: 

Short Crust- By Mary Harrison, 1905, The Skillful Cook: A Practical Manual of Modern Experience


  • 1 pound of flour
  • 3/4 pound of butter
  • enough cold water to mix rather stiffly
  • pinch of salt


Rub the butter into the flour until like fine bread-crumbs.
Mix with cold water, using as little as possible (if too much is used the crust will not be short).
Roll gently to make the paste bind.
If this paste is used for tarts, add one dessertspoonful of castor sugar to the flour.

Strawberry Filling - (I followed the instructions from this recipe for the filling, but did not use their crust or presentation.) By Gesine Lemcke, 1920, Desserts and Salads

press 1/2 pint strawberries through a sieve and mix them with 3 tablespoonfuls powdered sugar; wash and drain 1/2 quart strawberries, put them in a dish, pour the mashed strawberries over the whole fruit and fill them into the tartelettes

Custard - By John Farley, 18th century, The London Art of Cookery

The Date/Year and Region: England/America, year depends on which part of the recipe you are referring to.

Time to Complete: 2 or 3's all a blur.

How Successful Was It?: I have to say that the flavor was excellent, but the consistency was a flop.  It was WAY too runny and wet inside of the pie.  Next time, I would thicken the sauce up before I put it into the pie.  The custard was fabulous.

How Accurate Is It?:  I followed all recipes, except I added lemon juice and cinnamon to the strawberry filling...but since I used three different recipes for the pie, I can't really say it belongs to one or the other.  So, out of the three pies, I would say this one is the least accurate.