September 17, 2014

1860s Crab Apple Jelly Recipe: Historical Food Fortnightly

“I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It's an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren't stupid because you're a housewife. When you're stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.”
― Tasha Tudor

From the top I can smell the tart apples and the wind brings the sweet smell of  honeysuckle. I was lucky enough to get to visit the farm on the most beautiful fall day. I finished helping clean up after the weekend's Civil War event, and couldn't help but take advantage of the ripe crab apples.

All of the animals were out, including the farmer's matching, black Corgis. The crab apple trees towered. I struggled to find a few branches that I could reach with the ladder. I could hear the dull thumps of the apples I was accidentally knocking to the ground and the birds tweeted around me. On the whole, the day was perfect for picking and reminded me of the pickings that happened when I first started working at the farm. 

When Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish naturalist, visited Pennsylvania in the 1750s, he remarked that crab apples were plentiful but were not good for anything but making vinegar. Crab apples have a reputation of being a useless fruit and a nuisance. As Pehr Kalm suggested, I had actually intended to make vinegar out of my collection.

Once the tweeting birds were replaced with squawking crows, too close for comfort, I decided I had enough to make a small container of vinegar and one of preserves of some kind. I took the collection home and rinsed it in a few washes. I was still unsure of what kind of preserve I wanted to make. I was stuck between making marmalade and jelly. I ended up making jelly because more people would enjoy it. 

The Challenge: "In a Jam (Or Jelly or Preserve) September 7 - September 20
It’s harvest time in the northern hemisphere, and springtime in the southern hemisphere. Make something either to preserve that produce that you’re harvesting, or replenish your supply after the winter! Fruit and vegetable jams, jellies, and preserves are the focus!"

The Recipe:

The Date/Year and Region:
1860 New York, United States

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)


-Crab apples


Wash your crab apples. (Mine were cherry size so I didn't bother removing the stems or chopping the apples.) Place into stew pot and fill the pot with water until the crab apples are just covered. Bring to a boil and cover your pot then simmer about 30 minutes. The crab apples should have burst. Remove from the heat and carefully mash the crab apples with a spoon or masher. Once mashed, strain using a sieve or cheesecloth. Measure the juice. For every cup of juice add 1 cup sugar. Boil for about 30 minutes, or until the jelly sets.   Strain into final containers.

Add water and boil.
Burst Crab Apple
Mash and Strain.
I strained twice.
Boil the Juice and Sugar
Strain into Containers

Time to Complete:
Picking crab apples: 1 hour. Cooking: 1 hour. 

Total Cost: $0.60

How Successful Was It?:
It smelled like October and tasted like honey. I would make this again just for the baked-apple smell. I've never really been a jelly maker because I haven't started canning. This actually might make me try and get the materials. Homemade jelly really is a ton cheaper than store bought and is easy to make. Get out there and collect those crab apples! :)

 How Accurate Is It?: 

Followed the recipe exactly. Used modern sugar.


Kalm, Pehr, and Johann Reinhold Forster. Travels into North America. The 2nd ed. London: Printed for T. Lowndes, 1772.

Putnam, Elizabeth H. Mrs. Putnam's Receipt Book; and Young Housekeeper's Assistant. New York: Phinney, Blakeman & Mason, 1860.

September 16, 2014

Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation Civil War Event 2014

I have been missing all week, but that is a post for another time! On Sunday, I helped out with the Civil War event at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation in Media, Pennsylvania. This is my home event and I was sad to only be able to help out one of the two days.

For those of you who have never been to the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, the farm is beautiful and is the perfect spot for a time traveling trip. It's a gorgeous backdrop for a Civil War event. The farm house and surrounding buildings bring farmhouse life to life and the spectators stand so close, that they are really a part of the action.   

The guys in the stripey pants are recreating Wheat's Louisiana Tigers, a battalion of ruffians and dockworkers. These guys do a great job at events. It's always fun to see them. It was overall a beautiful day and event and I was glad to get out there for at least one of the two days. 

September 8, 2014

Secret Life of Bloggers Blog Party: Post # 27

Now that life is settling back down again I've actually got a new blog party post. I have lots to tell but no time to tell it so hopefully I'll get everyone updated next week.


We've been finding frogs all over the place at the farm. The spring house has a surprisingly large regular frog as well as a couple of salamanders.


The twilight really shown through the blinds.


I've been working on a food project. 


I've been spending a lot of time messing around with my camera again.


I've been pruning the bookshelves. Which is a hard task but I only like to keep the really good stuff.


Paranormal investigation at work. 


Went to the Brandywine Festival for the Arts. Helped out with the giant Lite-Brite built by Barrel of Makers. They will be taking it to Makerfaire in NY soon.

September 1, 2014

American Potash Cake or Long Island Pound Cake: Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge 7

The 1700s housewife had two options when trying to get her cake to rise. For the first, she could beat eggs or egg whites strenuously for 2-3 hours or she could use yeast and let her cake rise just as she did bread.

The first method was costly in time and money. Recipes of the time call for 12-35 eggs and while eggs were a bit smaller in the days before egg grading and genetically modified hens, that is a lot of eggs for one dish.  The second method worked but the housewife would have to wait until the cake rose which can be longer than an hour.

The issue housewives faced was time. If visitors suddenly showed up, it would take at least 2 hours to make a cake. To get around this a housewife might make treats like Hannah Glasse's Portugal Cakes, which she directed lasted half a year if they were made without currants or she could make smaller "cakes" that relied solely on a few eggs for rising. Today we call these small cakes, cookies.

In the 1750s scientists were experimenting with potash, which was wood ash with the lye leeched out and some lye added back. They found that when added to food, it acted as yeast did. Potash did leaven food but it had a bad after taste. Pearlash, a more refined potash became popular in the United States. These leavens revolutionized baking for women who were used to time consuming leavening methods. In later years, saleratus became more popular and eventually baking soda.

For this Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge I used pearlash (potassium carbonate) to make American potash cake or Long Island Pound Cake, so called because the American women adapted this new technology early and apparently the women of Long Island were known for it. Pearlash was called for in four recipes in the first known American cookbook, Amelia Simmons' American Cookery in 1796.   

The Challenge: "The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread August 24 - September 6
Create a food item that reflects historical food improvements. Showcase a new discovery in food preparation, a different way of using food, or a different way of serving it. Make sure to include your documentation!"
The Recipe:
This recipe was printing in more than one European publication at the time.


 The Date/Year and Region: 1799 U.S. and England

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation)


- 6 Cups Flour (save one cup for dusting and adjusting)
- 1/2 Pound Butter (2 sticks)
- 1 heaving teaspoon Pearlash or Baking soda (You did use enough)
- 2 Cups Buttermilk or Sour Milk
- 1/2 Cup Sugar


Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the flour well. Put the sugar in the buttermilk and add to the flour mixture. Dissolve baking soda in a little water, add to mixture. Blend together until a soft dough is formed. Add more flour if necessary to make a workable dough. Roll it out to about a 1/2" on a floured surface with a floured rolling pan. Cut out into small circles with a cookie cutter or cup. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. The cakes won't spread while baking.
Time to Complete:
30 minutes

Total Cost:
$8.00 I had to make 2 batches.

How Successful Was It?: (How did it taste? How did it look? Did it turn out like you thought it would?)
I made the cardinal sin of cooking with potassium carbonate. I added too much, even though every instance of someone telling me they cooked with it ended with them using too much. I guess I read too much into "heaping teaspoon." I had to make a second batch.

When i first started, the recipe seemed similar to sugar cookies, but as i went on I realized that it was actually going to be closer to modern day biscuits.

How Accurate Is It?:
More accurate than I would have liked. In the future I would cook these with baking soda as the pearlash is scary to use and I don't feel comfortable serving foods that contain it. 

I've really wanted to try a recipe with potash or pearlash to see how differently they acted from modern day equivalents. It was fairly similar. It does have a "taste" but so does baking soda if you put too much in. Can't wait to see what everyone else makes for this challenge!

August 23, 2014

Civil War Peach Pie for the Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenges 5 and 6

I knew that pie baking was one of the challenges. I was dreading it. But as it came and went I felt secure in not doing it.

I'll do the next one, I convinced myself. Besides, why would anyone want to see my pie when there were REAL pies out there to drool over.

The truth is, the thought of making a pie is frightening. Terrifying. I don't make pies.

I look upon every pie recipe with incredulity. Every time I see a pie at a bake sale I assure myself that it's in a store bought crust. Sometimes when I'm sleeping, I dream of pie filling dripping down the walls like blood in a horror movie.

It all started with the first pie I ever made. My mom and I were bored. We decided we'd make a pie as practice for one that we wanted to make for Christmas.

We bought all of the ingredients and started in earnest. Barely following the recipe, we plopped all sorts of things in there we thought would be good. Flour flew as we rolled out our crust and rerolled our crust and mangled our crust back together. We put frankenpie in the oven, shrugged at each other, and set the temperature to whatever we thought sounded good. The smell of cinnamon and apples wafted to us for about an hour before we went to check on it.

The oven door creaked open. We peered in at our creation together.

It was beautiful! And it tasted like rainbows and fluffy clouds.

 So we tried to make it again for Christmas and instead of rainbow-cloud pie, we ended up with swamp pie. We gave up. I tried making other pies over the years since the first one and they've never turned out. If it wasn't burnt crust, it was mushy crust, or watery filling. I've gave up making pies but I'm not upset about it.

I am now convinced that the person who made up the saying of "easy as pie" was being sarcastic. There are even whole forums dedicated to pie troubleshooting. It's not me. It's pie.

But wait, you say. You've seen me with a million pies you say? Oh yes. 

That's all been a lot of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. I've held pies, I've made pie filling, I've helped make pies. But most of the time, I watch other people make pies. People are only too happy to make pies. 

I know what you are going to say. But what about the book?

Completely ghostwritten. In fact, I didn't even read it. :) 


The Challenge: Pies and In season Fruits and Vegetables

The Recipe: 

The Date/Year and Region:
1856, Philadelphia

How Did You Make It: 


- 1/2 Pound Butter
- 2 1/2 cups Flour


-Peaches, peeled, pitted and diced


Cut the cold  butter into cubes and add to the flour, rub the pieces of butter though your fingers until entirely flaky. Divide the dough in half.  Roll out one half of the dough on a floured surface using a floured rolling pin. Place the dough in the pie tin. Fill the pie crust with the peaches and add sugar to taste. Roll out the second crust and cover the pie. Crimp the edges together and put some holes in the top crust. Bake for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 450. Turn the temperature down to 350 and bake until golden brown, around 45 minutes. 

Time to Complete:
About 1 hour.

Total Cost:
About $3.00

How Successful Was It?:
The crust was delicious. I definitely did not add enough sugar to the peaches. I was being conservative as I had never made it before.  I wish I had added some spices and more sugar to the filling and  a little sugar to the crust but was trying to keep as accurate as the recipe said. 

P.S. I'm fairly sure this pie only turned out because of spite. :)

August 18, 2014

Middletown Peach Festival 2014

I just got back from the 21st Middletown Olde-Tyme Peach Festival, hosted by the Middletown Historical society in Delaware. The festival includes a parade, car show, live music, pie baking contest and more.

The living history part is hosted by the Victorians of Virtue and Valor and is set up in front of the Historical Society. With the Victorians of Virtue and Valor, visitors played with Civil War period games, learned about soldier life and how those at home supported the war effort. Visitors also wrote letters to modern wounded soldiers.

It was a fun day, we had great weather and very interested visitors.

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