April 8, 2017

Civil War Era Game: The Little Fortune Teller

I came across this fun little amusement in search for some Civil War Era games. This game is very familiar to those of us that played with those folded paper fortune tellers  in the 80s and 90s. It was published in Fireside Games (1859) among other publications.

The premise is very simple. You close your eyes, point to a number on the page and that number will correspond to your fortune. I'm going to have "A speedy proposal of marriage," and "See an absent lover." Uh oh! 

I thought I'd make a condensed version in case anyone wants to print it for use at reenactments. Right click and "Open image in new tab" to save the original size. The game will print properly on an 8.5" x 11"  piece of paper. 


March 3, 2017

Civil War Era Bubble and Squeak

Bubble and Squeak was a popular, economic meal using up leftovers. The name comes from the sound the cabbage makes while cooking.  It was often served with a side of sausages or other meat or mashed potatoes. It was sometimes referenced as an Irish dish although there are recipes for it, and references to it, in British, Scottish and American books. It's origin is British although the dish is similar to Irish Colcannon.

There were many recipes for it in the early 1800s but by the 1860s it was ubiquitous enough of a dish that publications refer to it as if it was commonplace. Godey's Lady's Book published a recipe in 1862 for Buttered Cabbage "Boil the cabage with a quantity of onions, then chop them together, season with pepper and salt, and fry them in butter. It is rather a homely, but savory dish, and frequently used either with fried sausages laid over it or as an accompaniment to roast beef, and forms part of bubble and squeak."

James M. Sanderson listed a recipe for Bubble and Squeak in his Camp Fires and Camp Cooking, or; Culinary Hints for the Soldier, a book intended for Union soldiers

This is an old and favorite mode of getting rid of bits of corned beef among good housewives at home and can be advantageously introduced into camp. Any pieces of cold corned or salt beef that may be on hand should be cut into slices and sprinkled with pepper; then put them in a pan, with a little grease or fat, and fry them slightly. Boil some cabbage, and squeeze it quite dry; then cut it up very fine, and serve a piece of beef with a spoonful of cabbage, first seasoning it with pepper, salt, and vinegar.


- 1/2 head of Cabbage (endive, or savoy recommended)
- Leftover Beef, sliced (steak or salt beef)
- 1 Onion
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
- Salt and Pepper


Wash and chop the cabbage, onion and carrot. In a medium pot, boil the vegetable mixture until soft. Drain. Put a pat of butter in a skillet on medium heat and fry the cabbage, onion, carrot and meat until the edges are slightly browned. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with mashed potatoes and sausages.

Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s

Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s

Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s

Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s
Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s

February 5, 2017

The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s Conference!

Did you know there is an amazing Civil War Civilian Conference coming up? What's that? A change to hang out with some awesome people and discuss important topics like interpretation and learn new historical skills! This year there will be workshops on aprons and pineapple purses, but also vendors and lectures. It sounds like it's going to be an amazing time! Below is a guest post from the conference director Kristen Mrozek: 

Hello! My name is Kristen Mrozek, and I am the director of The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s, a non-profit conference here in Michigan. It will be held March 24-26. I'm a follower of Stephanie Ann's historical adventures (and the food...goodness the food!), and she has been so kind as to let me do a guest post. In keeping with the "Secret Life" theme, I give to you: "Secret Life of a Conference Director"

1. Glenna Jo Christen, my director-in-crime, and I are planning an educational display, complete with original artifacts of the 19th century. Here she holds up the famous sheer dress that inspired the many reproductions today!

2. A piece of hair jewelry from my personal collection. We'll have jewelry, perforated paper, and other pieces to study. 

3. Our smaller classes and workshops (Aprons and Pineapple Purses!) will be held in this room at Monroe County Community College. The vendor area will be right around the corner: The Dressmaker, Sullivan Press, Miller's Millinery, Lucy's Hairwork, The Victorian Needle, James Country Mercantile, and Ensembles of the Past...oh my!

4. Meg, Jillian, Jennifer, and I enjoying another educational opportunity-this one in New York. I learned many things about conference organization at Genesee Country Village; from table settings to classes, the staff and volunteers there are essential to historical preservation!

5. I find myself drawn to The Sawyer Homestead. It's in Italianate architecture, and nearly burned to the ground a few years ago when it was struck by lightning. Through careful fundraising and dedication, the house is once more restored, and will host our Friday night party!

6. I've met with many of the organizations in Monroe to spread the word about the conference. As of now, over $500 has been donated in scholarships from various people and organizations. Would you believe I was once afraid of public speaking?

7. I found a Confederate apron at the Monroe Historical Museum-I highly recommend a visit. Downtown Monroe is filled with little stops of learning along the way.

8. We really can't go someplace without having a bit of fun. Here we're at The Clements Library in Ann Arbor, the spot for our free seminar about the collection. The University of Michigan is my alma mater, so I sincerely love any trip to the town.

9. I made this perforated paper box with silk, cutting the design with a precision knife. I'll be publishing a book with designs/patterns the day of the conference!

10. This picture is a bit older, but it fully captures my attitude towards my spare time. I've spent the past 10 months working on this conference, and I operate either in full throttle energy or complete exhaustion. My grandma called me a "mover and shaker for a reason! I swear if you attend, I'll be awake.

Come check out the website to learn more, because it's going to be awesome and I'd like to see you there :)

January 25, 2017

18th Century Castile Soap: For Shaving, Laundry and Weight Loss

I've finally gotten around to making the soap I've been researching for the last few months! Castile soap is one of the most basic soaps out there. It was a common soap in the 18th century and is even still used today.

In the 18th century soap came in two forms: hard soap and soft soap. Hard soap traveled easier around the house but soft soap was cheaper and easier to make at home. Not all soap was home made; soap boilers manufactured soap in bulk and both hard soap and soft soap were available to purchase in stores by the pound. Soap boilers also worked as chandlers as the ingredients and processes were similar.

In colonial times, soap was made by leeching lye out of hardwood ashes. The lye was then mixed with a fatty acid, typically tallow, lard or oil. It was difficult to gauge the strength of lye. Mrs. Child stated in The American Frugal Housewife (1828), that you could test the strength of lye by seeing if the lye was strong enough to float a potato or egg.  Some 18th century books recommended buying it from a soap boiler, instead of trying to make it at home.1 The mixture was cooked over a fire and stirred until saponification took place. If hard soap was wanted, salt or unslaked lime was added to the mixture. The mixture was then poured into barrels or molds depending on the type of soap. Soap was then left to cure. Hard soap, like Castile soap benefits from a cure time of over 6 months.

Castile soap is a soap made with olive oil. It was sometimes called "white soap," "olive soap," or "Marseilles soap," the latter name describing the source of a large manufacturer. Colonists used this soap for everything from laundry to luxury toiletries.

Razor maker,  Benjamin Kingsbury, thought Castile was the best soap for shaving. "The best soap for the purpose of shaving which I have yet found ... is the Olive-soap, made with olive-oil by a person well acquainted with the process of soap-making, and who, in making it, had in view the vision of a thick and durable lather..."2 Many luxurious toiletries called for Castile soap as a base to hold fragrances.

Castile was also used medicinally. It was seen as safer than other soaps to take internally because olive oil was safe to ingest. One anecdote from a physician relates the treatment of a patient who suffered from "corpulence" and gout.

He began to take it July, 1754, at which time he weighed 20 stone and 11 pound...He took every night at bed-time, a quarter of an ounce of common home-made Castile Soap, dissolved in a quarter of a pint of soft water. In about two months time, he began to feel more freedom...his bulk was reduced two whole stone weight...3
Soap was also listed as an ingredient to make chocolate frothy and soap and chocolate was seen as a cure for rheumatic pains.4 Yikes!

I originally started looking into soap making because I read about the harms of antibacterial soap, many of which are now banned by the F.D.A. for causing problems with the brain, hormones,  immune systems and reproductive systems. On top of the health risk they also cause an environmental risk. After the soap goes down the drain, the antibacterials continue to kill, killing many healthy necessary bacteria and algae in our waterways. I was looking for a healthier alternative to use and ended up where I always do: Looking at what our foremothers were doing and found a perfect replacement. I didn't want to make this post a tutorial because soap making is dangerous and one post is not enough to teach the process but I will be making a post on how to make 18th century luxury wash balls using pre-made Castile which can be bought almost anywhere, so stay tuned for that!    


1 Hill, John. A history of the materia medica. Containing descriptions of all the substances used in medicine ; ... By John Hill .. London: Printed for T. Longman, C. Hitch and L. Hawes, 1751

2 .Kingsbury, Benjamin. A treatise on razors: in which the weight, shape, and temper of a razor, the
means of keeping it in order, and the manner of using it, are particularly considered ... Vol. 9. London: Sold by the author, 1810.

The Critical Review, or Annals of Literature. Vol. 9. London: A. Hamilton, 1760.

4  Leake, John. Medical instructions towards the prevention, and cure of chronic or slow diseases peculiar to women: especially, those proceeding from over-delicacy of habit called nervous or hysterical... London: Printed for R. Baldwin, 1777.

January 1, 2017

The Pesky Colonial "New Year"

William Hogarth, 1755

There's something funny about Colonial dates. You'll see someone in a church record born on the 10th, but on their tombstone, it says the 21. This problem shows up frequently in genealogical research. People reason away the discrepancy:

They just didn't keep good records back then.
The church log must be recording the baptism date not the birth date.
The family but have misremembered the date at burial.
Birthdays weren't a big thing so they probably forgot it.
A lot of people couldn't read back then so their parents must have told it to them wrong.

The list goes on and on and these theories are possible but even if you ignore those pesky discrepancies there's still another thing that's weird about Colonial dates. Sometimes people double dated things. 1752/3. Well which was it?

Julian or Gregorian Calendars?

Much of this confusion is due to how people kept time. During the early 18th Century, most of the British empire was using the Julian calendar, a calendar of 365.25 days first put into use by Julius Cesar in 46 BC. But by the 1700s problems arose with the calendar. Most Roman Catholic nations were using the Gregorian calendar, which caused confusion in international affairs and the math was flawed so there ended up being a lot of odd leap years and religious holidays drifted too far away from their celestial markers.

In an attempt to reconcile the differences, the Parliament decided to change over to the Gregorian calendar in 1751/52. Confusing already? The Gregorian calendar was enacted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. It was a calendar of 365.2425 days and reduced the number of leap years while aligning holidays closer with the lunar calendar.

Happy New Year's Day, Again

At this time, Parliament also decided to pick a standard date for the ambiguous term "New Years." Prior to 1752, New Year's Day could fall on March 25th, January 12th, or January 1st depending on what year it was, your location, and what calendar you were using. While most people generally accepted January 1st as the start of the new year, the legal new year was March 25th.

Sometimes double dating was to bridge confusion between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar but other times it was an attempt to bridge the January 1st New Year with the legal new year, especially for dates written between the two. Sometimes both dates were written out full but many times were just written with a slash: 1751/2.  At the time of the calendar transition the designations O.S. (Old Style) and N.S. (New Style) were also sometimes used to eliminate confusion.

That's a Nice 11 Days You've Got There, It would be a Shame If Something Happened to Them 

Part of reconciling the two calendars meant losing days. The members of Parliament chose 11 days in September to eliminate.September 3 to September 14th didn't exist in 1752. If you think people get upset over losing an hour during Daylight Savings time you can only imagine the uproar losing 11 days caused. There was a whole lot of grumbling but little more than complaining happened. The William Hogarth painting (Above) shows a banner that reads "Give us our Eleven Days."
All these changes did cause disagreements at the time and have made it hard for modern day genealogists to keep in order. For instance, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731, before the calendar change. He celebrated his 21st birthday on February 22, 1753, despite having already been 21 for a year. It's clear how the calendar change could easily cause confusion with indentured servitude obligation, rent payments and age based inheritances. George Washington's tomb reflects the date change and lists him as being born in 1732.

Hope Everyone has a great New Year 2017 N.S.!