June 22, 2016

A History of Royal Food and Feasting: Free Online Class!

This week the free online course "A History of Royal Food and Feasting" goes live. It is being hosted by the University of Reading in southeast England and focuses on the foodways of 5 key monarchs including Henry VIII and George III.

The class starts this week so don't miss out! I'm a huge proponent for MOOCs, alternative, and free education and this class is top quality. It is hosted on the FutureLearn website which offers many very interesting courses. I urge everyone to check them out.

June 7, 2016

9 Colonial Herbs and Their Uses

"Yarrow...The Leaves are esteemed cooling, drying, binding, serviceable in all kinds of Haemorrhages..." 
-Elizabeth Blackwell

These etchings and the information are from John Hill's Virtues of British Herbs, first published in 1771. Sir John Hill was a prolific writer, doctor and botanist in the second half of the 1700s. He started apprenticing at an apothecary in his early years and went on to earn a medical degree at Edinburgh. He later opened his own apothecary shop. He was known for his multiple books on vegetables and herbs. His writings were so prolific, he was even wrongly attributed as the author of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 

The herbs and flowers listed below would have been very familiar with 18th century women. Many of these grew naturally in Britain and the United States and these plants were commonly used as infusions to treat remedies or as compresses to be held against the skin. The book specifies that most of these useful herbs are found in fields, just as they are today. If you weren't paying attention, you probably would skip over them.

The book reviewer in The Critical Review in 1771 commented that Hill's book was likely intended for private families as the remedies were not in professional use at the time. It was nevertheless a popular book that went through multiple printings and found itself on both sides of the Atlantic by the 1850s.          

***The information below is purely for educational purposes and is not medical advice.***

 Although, many modern day herbalists and individuals will attest to their effectiveness, there have been few clinical trials on their uses as remedies. Never use a plant that you cannot identify 100 % and always be aware of the side effects of any plant you might want to use.  

Coltsfoot Leaves (Tussilago farfara)

Uses: Kidney Inflammation, Asthma, Consumption. 
***Can cause liver damage. 

Great Daisy / Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum)

                         Use: Diuretic, to clean the kidneys.
                         Infusion of leaves. 

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Uses: Fevers, Internal Inflammations
Infusion with Honey and Milk
Clip small a quantity of the Leaves fresh
gathered; put them into an earthen pipkin,
and pour upon them as much boiling water as
will cover them. Let this stand all night. In
the morning boil it a few minutes; and put in
as much honey as will fweeten it. A half-pint
bafin of this mould be drank warm three times
a day.

English Chamomile (Anthemis Nobilis)

Uses: Improving Appetite, Assisting Digestion: Strong tea made from the flowers.

Colic and Indigestion : Strong Tea made of the leaves.

Feverfew (Matricaria parthenium)  

Use: Relieves Headaches
Leaves as an infusion or compress.

Goldenrod (Solidago)

Uses: Internal Bruising, Diuretic.
Infusion of leaves, young leaves are best.

Senico (Senecio sarracenicus) or Broadleaf Ragwort

                         Use: Heals bruises.
                         Used as an infusion.

Tanzy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Uses: Relief of putrid Fevers and Epileptic Fits.
Flowers, powdered.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Use: Pain Relief
Drank as an infusion or made into a compress mixed with equal parts Toadflax.

Further Reading

Blackwell, Elizabeth. A Curious Herbal. London, 1739.
Dillon, Clarissa F. "a Work Highly of Use." Vol. 1. Harleysville, PA, 2006.

Dillon, Clarissa F. "a Work Highly of Use." Vol. 2. Harleysville, PA, 2011.

Hill, John. Virtues of British Herbs: With Their History, and Figures, and an Account of the Diseases They Will Cure ... London: Printed for R. Baldwin. 1772.

Tryon, Thomas. The Good House-wife Made a Doctor; Or, Health's Choice and Sure Friend Being a Plain Way of Nature's Own Prescribing, to Prevent and Cure Most Diseases... London: Printed for H. N. and T. S. and Sold by Randal Taylor, 1692.

June 2, 2016

Civil War Era Egg Sandwich: A Picnic Recipe

"My fellow-passengers were two pleasant, elderly ladies, who pressed egg sandwiches upon me."
-Bentley's Miscellany, 1857

This recipe was cooked for the Historical Food Fortnightly. A yearly challenge that encourages bloggers to cook a historical food every two weeks. It was difficult finding foods expressly for picnics, which was the challenge for this week. Bread and chicken were mentioned in many accounts as well as fresh fruit and tea. Alansa Rounds Sterrett in her wartime diary recounts a picnic in May:
"Very warm. I sewed at 0. F. Hall all day. Excellent picnic dinner down stairs, -- chicken sandwiches, pickles, pies, cakes, &c. and coffee. Henry Seig brought up to the sewing room 4 long strips. I basted, Aunt S. did machine work. Done and sent away before six. Evening, rested."
I feel silly that this recipe is so simple but I thought it was redundant to post how to make bread or hard boiled eggs.

The Challenge: Picnic Foods (May 20 - June 2) Some foods are just meant to be eaten in the outdoors! Concoct a dish that is documented for al fresco dining, or foods that might particularly lend themselves to eating at a picnic. Bonus points for putting it to the test!

The Recipe:

The Date/Year and Region:
1860s US or England

- 2 Slices of Bread
- Butter
- Pepper
- Salt
- Nutmeg
- 2 Eggs, Hard Boiled

How Did You Make It: 

I made my own bread but for a quick event, store bought bread would be fine. I only boiled my eggs for about 6 minutes as I thought the less chalky yolk would taste better. I peeled my eggs and sliced them. Buttered the bread and sprinkled a bit of salt, pepper and nutmeg then laid my slices of egg on.

Time to Complete: 10 minutes after the bread was baked.

Total Cost: I had everything on hand but imagine it would be less than $5 of actual ingredients.

How Successful Was It?: Surprisingly not bad. I was a little put off by the lack of mayonnaise and thought the addition of nutmeg would be odd. It's not bad as long as you aren't expecting an egg salad sandwich and the nutmeg was a surprising, tangy addition I never would have thought of.

How Accurate Is It?: Followed the recipe as close as possible.

Henry O'Neil. A Picnic, 1857 Civil War Era Picnic

Henry O'Neil. A Picnic, 1857

Independence Day Picnic 1862

The Picnic on a Clifftop, Frederick James Shields

May 13, 2016

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party Post, April and May

It's been awhile since I've posted a Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party Post! The last few months have been characterized by abnormal weather. Snowy, cold and rainy. I've been sewing a lot in an attempt to have a whole new set of Civil War clothing or two. The corset is finished and one dress is close but the hem is too long and I need to redo it. It's at least 160 inches of hand sewing so I've been putting it off. I am also not looking forward to sewing hooks and eyes. :)   

Cleaning artifacts from the archaeological dig at Newlin Gristmill. There is so many artifacts from this dig, it's crazy. The ones I cleaned here were 1860s-1870s period.

I was so happy to see the crab apple trees in bloom. Unfortunately, the rain knocked the petals off shortly after.

The sheep have been sheared.

It seriously felt like we hadn't seen the sun in weeks.

Snow in April.

It's snake season. I've been seeing them all over the place. 

Max at work gets a visit from the dentist.

At least the storms look pretty through the lens.

I've been having a lot of fun saving seeds from tomatoes. It's weirdly fun.

Corn snake in the garden.

It's time for the lambs! We should have more soon. Can't wait.

Spent some time with my mum and grandmum for Mother's Day. 

May 5, 2016

Civil War Era Confederate Milk Substitute

"We have a quantity of arrowroot, and I was told by several that it was useless to prepare it, as the men would not touch it." Kate Cummings, Confederate Nurse

This recipe was cooked for the Historical Food Fortnightly. A yearly challenge that encourages bloggers to cook a historical food every two weeks. This week I tried my hand at a confederate milk substitute called Arrowroot powder. 

Arrowroot powder is a starchy powder made from the Maranta Arundinacea plant that is native to Mexico and South America. While it is not something most people are familiar with in modern times, the powder was ubiquitous during the 1860s. Arrowroot powder was frequently used to make a custard like meal for children and those with "weak constitutions." It was a staple in hospitals. 

Additionally, it was used to make mock cream, puddings, jellies, and was considered a good cough syrup and very nutritious. I was excited to share this recipe, even though it is very simple. because arrowroot was something so common in the 1800s and it's not something many people today have even heard of.   

The Challenge: Mock Foods (April 22 - May 5) Historic cookbooks are full of recipes meant to imitate rare, expensive or impractical ingredients. It’s your turn to help your food pretend it’s something that it isn’t!

Arrowroot Powder

The Date/Year and Region: American South, Mobile Alabama

The Recipe: "I make it into a liquid, and while hot stir in several well beaten eggs, then season well with preserves (those slightly acid are the best), then let stand until cool. With wine instead of preserves it is excellent. It makes a pleasant and nourishing drink, will ease a cough, and is beneficial in cases of pneumonia. The men drink it with a relish, but I do not enlighten them in regard to the nature of the mixture. "

Civil War Era Recipe: Confederate Milk Substitute


- Arrowroot Powder
- Water
- 2 Eggs
- 1/4 cup of wine or spoonful of citrus preserves


Put your water in a saucepan on medium heat. Add enough arrowroot powder to make it a milk consistency. Break and scramble the eggs in a separate bowl. Add the eggs and preserves or wine to the arrowroot mixture when it is simmering. Mix the eggs in and remove from the heat to cool. If you want a milk substitute, only stir the eggs in until combined. If you'd rather have an arrowroot meal or medicine, stir until it forms a custard consistency.    

Time to Complete: 15 minutes

Total Cost: $2.00

How Successful Was It?: I have a horrible habit of tasting what I'm cooking as I am cooking it. I tasted the arrowroot powder mixed with the water. It tasted like the left over residue from smarties and smelled like the grease on Auntie Anne's Pretzels. It was so bad I could not believe this was considered a substitute. With the addition of the egg and wine it actually did become a neutral flavor that would be passable for milk with the addition of a little sugar. It was good enough when mixed with something out.     

How Accurate Is It?: No substitutions made.