January 10, 2018

The Spectrum of Reenacting

Reenacting. It's not just one thing. 

One of the biggest complaints I hear in reenacting is about the "quality" of events. You'll hear one reenactor complaining that they hardly got to fire their guns, another complain that the whole event was nothing but a "shoot 'em up", and people like me that complain that they just didn't learn enough or see enough new things. The truth is that reenacting is a spectrum. There are many ways to reenact and ALL of these ways can have value. 

It has never been my hobby to pretend to be someone in the past; although, it has been my hobby to live like people in the past. I have always been firmly in the living history/experimental archaeology / history education segment of reenacting. It has allowed me to be a 3rd party observer in a lot of these arguments as I don't feel so strongly about any one type of popular event style, both of them typically lack what I'm into but I know that prior to attendance.    

You can't have a discussion about quality without a discussion of goals. Most reenactors will tell you that their goals are to educate the public and to honor the vets. (Although most reenactors are terrible at doing both of these things.) Reenactors need to be more realistic about their personal goals. Education and honor sound like great goals but are so often used as a mask for other more personal, and no less, acceptable goals.

Reenactors are frequently mad that an event did not meet their goals. They berate the event on social media and make fun of anyone who dared attend. It's pointless and detrimental to all parts of the hobby as people are stripped of any type of personal enjoyment. I do not think it is difficult for a reenactor to find events that fir their goals and am unsure of why so many still go to certain well known events and complain how there wasn't enough one thing or another then feel the need to complain about it. It is easy enough to find events that align with your personal goals or are at least in the same quadrant of the spectrum.     

Fun should be a goal no matter what type of reenacting you prefer. If education is your goal, be more serious about it. Don't just study history, study educational techniques. Join NAI or ALHFAM or any of the other educational associations out there that pertain to what you want to teach. Learn techniques from Eppley. If your goal is to experience the war as closely as possible, admit that is the only goal and attend events where others share this goal. This goal is not wrong or better than any other goal. There's no reason you can't just enjoy the hobby as it is without trying to make more out of what you want yourself or the spectators to experience.

In the end, it is important to me that more people are interested in history. We need an informed society so that better decisions can be made in the present. We need the average person to be interested in history so that museums, artifacts, and battlefields get saved for future generations. This is where reenactors/ events can really help people. A reenactment, no matter how farby can give visitors sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the past, if only a little. It makes the time period more personal and real to a spectator and therefore more interesting.

From the farbiest of farb events to costume parties to 1st person immersion, there is literally nothing that I will be upset with if it is getting people personally interested in history. (I do not mind if entertainment is misleading, I do mind if educational materials are misleading.) Be honest about what you're showing people and do your best to keep people interested in history.  

Reenacting. It's not all just one thing, but it can all be beneficial.     

December 18, 2017

Civil War Era Cookie Recipe: Ginger Nuts

Civil War Cookie Recipe Ginger Nuts

"He lives, then, on ginger-nuts, thought I; never eats a dinner, properly speaking; he must be a vegetarian then; but no he never eats even vegetables, he eats nothing but ginger-nuts. My mind then ran on in reveries concerning the probable effects upon the human constitution of living entirely on ginger-nuts." 

- Herman Melville, Bartleby, 1856

I was originally going to make Lydia Marie Child's Cider cake but ended up deciding against it. I thought these Ginger nuts would be a tasty accompaniment to the warm cider I had. Ginger-nuts are described in period sources as "little cakes," and seemed to be popular treat. Even William Alcott, the very health conscious father of  Louisa May Alcott, considered ginger nuts to be one of the "least objectionable" pastries. They could be cut out with cutters or formed into "nuts" or lumps and baked that way as is detailed in  The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker's Assistant (1854.) They are still popular in New Zealand but seem to have lost favor elsewhere.

The ginger and molasses taste went perfect with warm cider but would be as equally good dipped in tea. I only baked mine for 10 minutes because I knew we were going to eat them soon. The longer you bake them and the time they are in storage will determine the hardness. The full recipe would make about 200, 2 inch biscuits!  This was definitely a recipe designed to be baked once and to be used as needed for the rest of the year.

Surprisingly, even my family liked them and they are oddly addictive. I thought the hardness would deter people from eating them but they softened up in a day and were chewy although I know they will harden again in the next week or two. And even though we had a lengthy conversation about them not being dog biscuits, my sister's puppy still stole one from the table when I was not looking. This is definitely a recipe I will make again and it's a perfect reenactment snack. Being similarly hard would make this a good item to send to the soldiers during the war. 

Civil War Cookie Recipe Ginger Nuts

Civil War Cookie Recipe Ginger Nuts

Ginger Nuts


- 3 1/3 Cups Flour (And more, this recipe eats flour)
- 3/4 Cup Sugar
- 1 Cup Molasses
- 1 1/4 sticks of Butter, softened
- 1 Ounce Ground Ginger
- 1/4 of a Nutmeg, Grated
- Cinnamon to Taste


Makes about 4 dozen cookies. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, softened butter, molasses, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Add flour until it forms a thick paste (about 3 1/3 cups). On a heavily floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4 of an inch and cut shapes. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10-15 minutes depending on desired hardness. This recipe makes about 4 dozen 2 inch biscuits. 

Civil War Cookie Recipe Ginger Nuts

December 8, 2017

"A Man Could Propose to This Pie" WWII Era Recipe: Pecan Pie

WWII Era Recipe: Pecan Pie

Recipes for the earliest versions of pecan pie date back to the 1880s but the dish didn't reach its height of popularity until the 1940s when sugar rationing made this sugarless dish a good alternative to other pies. Older recipes tend to favor molasses while newer ones tend to favor corn syrup. The Karo corn syrup company helped popularize it in the 30s and 40s. 

Pecan pie has strong southern associations due to the cultivation of pecan trees there. It is currently the official dessert of the state of Texas, which is fitting, because the earliest recipes that are most similar to pecan pie today started popping up in the 1880s in Texas.   

I chose to make the Grandma's Old Fashioned Molasses version because, ahem, I'm giving it to a man--I mean--because molasses is the best nutritional substitute for sugar according to Sweets Without Sugar (1945), a book dedicated to wartime sweetener substitutes. (We'll see.)  I also used margarine as my shortening to keep in theme with WWII era substitutions. 

WWII Era Recipe: Pecan Pie WW2

WWII Era Recipe: Pecan Pie WW2


- 2 Eggs, Beaten
- 1/2 Cup light Corn Syrup
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1/16 teaspoon Salt
- 2 Tablespoons Shortening, melted
- 1 Tablespoon Flour
- 1 Cup Chopped Pecans
-  1, 9 inch unbaked Pie Shell

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line your pie pan with crust, a little on the thicker side. Mix eggs, corn syrup, molasses, vanilla and salt. Add melted, but cool-to-the-touch, shortening. (Or else you'll have omelette in your pie.) Mix in your nuts and pour the mixture into your pie crust. Bake for 40 minutes. Let cool completely, then serve with whipped cream and cherries.

WWII Era Recipe: Pecan Pie  World War Two

November 13, 2017

WWI Era Recipe: Pumpkin Candy and a Riddle

World War I WW1 Recipe Pumpkin Candy

I saw this recipe and just had to see how our predecessors used such a trendy, fall flavor combination! I think this is the first recipe I've made that used corn syrup, it could have just as easily been substituted with more sugar or honey.

For whatever reason I imagined this as a hard candy but it is a softball stage candy that could probably be pulled into a taffy.While many period recipes do not please the palates of two time periods, this one is pretty delicious and I can't wait to make it again. The flavor is delicious but not too strong and for a candy it's not super sweet. I didn't add the nuts but they would have been a decent addition. 

If you are making this with canned pumpkin (which is arguable partially squash anyway) be sure to get canned pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling. I highly recommend lining your pan with parchment paper and letting the candy sit for an hour or two before cutting. This recipe made about a 12" x 12" square pan of candy. Wrap the pieces in wax paper and enjoy!

World War I WW1 Recipe Pumpkin Candy

Found this puzzle while reading a period magazine and thought it would be something fun to try while my candy was cooking. I did not make much progress in it but you might have a better time of it:

Spinning Wheel, 1914

October 25, 2017

WWI Era Turkish Delight Recipe

"I am now on a hospital ship bound for somewhere, and I don’t know where...I have been wounded in the foot, but not seriously. You know what things are on an hospital ship, plenty of everything. I shall have a good yarn to tell you when I come home, and I don’t think it will be long. It isn’t half hot our here, and it doesn’t half make you stare to see a seven foot Turk in front of you. It makes you think you are going to have Turkish delight for supper..." -Private Charlie Cox in a letter to his parents Sept. 28, 1915

WWI Recipes Candy Turkish Delight

I'm very happy I had a chance to make this. I was hoping I could make something delicious to send on over to Newville but it's been quite the week. I found this recipe while researching Trench Cake and ending up finding a recipe for "Trench Fudge" (apparently there's no information anywhere about what trench fudge is) above this deliciousness.

Turkish Delight, also known as, Lokum, Lumps of Delight or Turkish Paste was created in the late 1700s in Turkey. According to the Arabic name, rāḥat al-ḥulqūm, they were likely developed as a throat soother. The candy became very popular in the West during the 1860s. Popular flavors included rose water, lemon, orange, honey, and molasses. The oldest recipes rely on the sugar and fruit Pectin to gel. The addition of gelatin is very typical of the time period. Gelatin was made for centuries as a result of boiling bones but gelatin desserts became very popular at the end of the 19th century. It was at this time Jell-o appeared.

No post on Turkish Delight would be complete without mention of C.S. Lewis and Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. There's a really good article on the popularity of Turkish Delight during the time period and how the difficulty of the recipe and the amount of sugar involved made Turkish Delight seem like a ridiculous luxury during the food rationing of WWII.

The Recipe:   

WWI Recipe Candy Turkish Delight
World War 1 I Recipe Turkish Delight Candy


The result ended up being better than expected. I was afraid it wouldn't gel but in the morning it was perfectly solid. The gelatin flavor is a little strong. Other contemporary recipes call for the addition of lemon or orange oil and I think that would be a good addition. This recipe can also be made with vegetarian gelatin.
I used a greased 9 x 6 " loaf pan. If I was to make this again I would probably use whole nuts so that they don't all float to the top. The times I used were very approximate as I was cooking in between calling a tow truck andwaiting for it. :) I might have done around 7 minutes for each boil. I was worried it might not gel but I had no issues. I covered it with a cloth when I left it to set over night in in the refrigerator to try to keep some of the moisture off.  Once cut, I made sure they were well coated in powdered sugar which dulled the candy to a peachy-orange color. 

I've read conflicting advice from "keep in an airtight container" to "keep in a paper bag," and read storage estimates from 3 days to 3 months. I put 1/2 in an airtight container, the other half I wrapped individually in little bits of parchment paper.  If either method keeps them good by next week, I'll be sure to send them on to the event and leave an update here on which method is better.

Hope you enjoy!