The Ladies' Tea Guild

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #23: Soda Nectar from 1869.

Ingredients for Soda Nectar: sugar, lemon, soda.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: # 23 -- Sweet Sips and Potent Potables Whether it’s hard or soft, we all enjoy a refreshing beverage! Pick a historic beverage to recreate - remember to sip responsibly!

This is definitely a catch-up posting, but I have a feeling that I'll be re-doing this challenge several times over the next few months, as the weather continues to heat up!  I have been collecting historical beverage recipes, both alcoholic and Temperance, for a while now, and it was really difficult to choose which one to make.  I didn't have all of the ingredients for some of the most interesting recipes, and I didn't have all of the equipment necessary to make others.  I still intend to make drinking chocolate the 18th century (or earlier) Spanish California way – once I get a chocolate pot and chocolate mill – and also a related drink called Racahout from 18th and early 19th century England, as well as some kind of punch and some of those Civil War-era soda powders (especially ginger!).  However, it took a particularly warm spring day, a dinner of Chinese take-out, and a lack of things to drink, to get me to complete this challenge, with things I already had in the kitchen.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Back to costuming: the mid-Victorian sheer dress.

Original sheer muslin dress, 1840s.
Old Sacramento Living History Museum.
Mid-Victorian daytime fashions were not all about heavy, opaque fabrics; warm weather allowed for light dresses of semi-transparent fabrics like muslin and barege, trimmed with embroidery, ribbons and lace for a cool, floating visual effect.  These gowns, called sheer dresses, or "clear muslin dresses", were especially popular at seaside and tourist resorts, during the 1840s through the 1870s.  They were worn for morning, afternoon and evening, changing the bodice style, and were popular in England and North America, as well as when visiting warmer climates like Italy.  These followed the lines of mainstream fashion, but included characteristic features such as shorter sleeves, lower necklines, partial bodice linings, and depending on the transparency of the fashion fabric, separate colored under-dresses.  This article, first published in the Greater Bay Area Costumer's Guild's newsletter, Finery, will focus on day or afternoon styles for these dresses. 


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #18 Descriptive Food -- Tuff-Taffity Cream from 1670.

Ingredients for Tuff-Taffity Cream.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: # 18 -- Descriptive Food We all know those recipes that come attached to interesting and imaginative names - slumps, crumbles, buckles, trifles, flummery. Pick a historic recipe that has a descriptive title.

There were so many interesting-sounding recipes that I considered for this challenge, but I decided on Tuff-Taffity Cream because I wanted to know why it had that name!  Other descriptive recipe titles are a bit more clear, but this one ... I have read about a fabric called "taffety" – which became our modern "taffeta" – but I don't know what period taffety was like, and why a custard would be called by that name.  And the "tuff" part?  Modern taffeta is a stiff, glossy fabric that is used to make women's formal gowns, but it's also lightweight and can be luxurious, and I thought that might be the clue to the relationship between the fabric and this recipe. 

The Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities defines "tuftaffeta" (also spelled "tufted tafata") as a silk taffeta (a fabric which has a smooth finish), that has a pile or nap arranged in tufts, to create a decorated pattern: "creating a pile and then cutting some of it only so as to form a pattern was very popular in the sixteenth century and early seventeenth, but largely died out thereafter as different ways of finishing became available.  ... Tuftaffetas were normally made of silk and were therefore valued highly, but some were made of half-linen." So, "tuff-taffity" is really "tufted taffeta", which is a decorative silk fabric.  I guessed that the custard called "tuff-taffity cream" must have a silken, "tufted" texture, then.  I don't know that I've ever eaten a food with a "tufted" texture! 

Food historian Ivan Day contributed his opinion on the subject on his blog, Historic Food: "Quince marmalade or sliced quinces were added to apple pies and taffety tarts to improve their flavour. The taffety tart filling ... also contains preserved orange.Taffety tarts borrowed their name from the textile material called taffety, but why this was the case is not understood. A more elaborate taffety called tuff-taffety was popular for making hats in the Tudor period. Hannah Wooley, the seventeenth century writer on domestic matters gives a recipe for a tuff-taffity cream, which is a smooth frothy cream garnished with red current jelly." So there you have it!  Maybe "tufted" is the same as "frothy"?  Let's find out.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #20 -- Eggs a L'Exposition

The Palace of Fine Arts, from
_Splendors of the Panama-Pacific Exposition_.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: #20 -- Foods served at notable events in history 
What kind of food was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth? What did Benjamin Franklin eat at the Constitutional Convention? Find a food item that was served at a notable event in history, research the recipe, and recreate the dish.

The Tower of Jewels, from _Splendors of the Panama-
Pacific Exposition_. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
This year is the 100th anniversary of one of the most iconic events in California history: the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  Held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the Pan-Pacific Exposition was California's message to the world that the city of San Francisco, and the entire state, had completely recovered from the catastrophic earthquake and fire in 1906, and that California had not only recovered, but surpassed its previous accomplishments to become a cultural, economic and technological leader of the United States, on a par with New York City, Boston, Chicago, and other eastern cities.  The fair lasted an entire year, and the city was transformed by the beautiful buildings, gardens, walkways, public art, and evening light shows, not to mention the exciting and wonderful international exhibitions in each of the pavilions.  The fairgrounds became the most fashionable place to be, and the fair was absorbed into San Francisco life and California culture to an extent that, when it came time to close the fair and remove all the buildings and gardens, Californians felt like the heart of the city was being destroyed.  Residents protested the removal of the buildings – which had been built of plaster and chicken wire over wooden frames, and never intended to last more than a year – and succeeded in saving the Palace of Fine Arts and the Temple of Art, which were kept in their original locations until several years ago when they needed to be re-created in concrete due to deterioration.  The re-created buildings are still there, part of an art museum complex, and are used for countless photographs and concerts to this day.
The Tower of Jewels at Night, from _Splendors of the Panama-
Pacific Exposition_.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

The fair was so popular that souvenirs of all kinds were created, from replica glass "jewels" to imitate those decorating the Tower of Jewels, to illustrated picture books – one of which I have! – to special "Exhibition" cookbooks.  I decided to make one of the recipes in the souvenir cookbook, The Pan-Pacific Cookbook: Savoury Tidbits from the World's Fare, which features international recipes as well as ones apparently created especially for the Exposition. This recipe is on the Pan-Pacific Exposition website. The book is available for free in PDF form on OpenLibrary, and available in paperback re-print for $13 or so on Amazon.


Playing catch-up with the Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #17 -- Tea caudle.

Chinese teapot.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
 The Challenge: #17 -- Revolutionary Food. The theme is revolution, and it’s all about ch-ch-ch-changes. Food can be inspired by revolution, can showcase a revolutionary technique, or come from a revolutionary time. Give us your best documented interpretation of revolution.

Of course, being a tea drinker and tea blogger, I am interested in the history of tea, and I'm very aware of the part tea played in English and American history.  Although tea was advertised as early as 1658, it was officially introduced to England in 1662, as part of the dowry of the new Queen of England, Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II.  A Portuguese princess, Catherine also brought to England trading rights at all of Portugal's trading posts around the world, including the ones where tea could be purchased.  Tea became extremely popular at court almost immediately, and spread to the aristocracy within the first few years.  Within twenty years, the upper middle classes were also familiar with it, and drinking it enough to provoke articles and dire warnings against it in newspapers and the increasingly popular domestic manuals and recipe books, aimed at the aristocracy and the upper-middle classes, as well as their servants.  By 1750 tea was being called "unwholesome" or even "of a poisonous nature", and said to cause "distempers, tremors, palseys, vapours, fits" and other nerve damage, when "drank to excess;" people were encouraged to put "cream, &c." in their tea to counteract the "corroding" nature of the lime and alum used to make loaf sugar (when people sweetened their tea), or to use lavender oil, nettle flowers, or quicksilver-water, in making their tea, to "prevent the rise of vapours"!  But how was the tea made?  

There is some suggestion in the earliest books, that people were drinking tea, or perhaps ordering it ready-made, along with the other fashionably new drinks, coffee and chocolate, in tea and coffee houses, more often than making it at home, since the recipe books from those first 20 years don't contain any recipes for making tea.  The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in 1660 that he sent for a cup of "tee, a China drink" one day when at home, but it's not clear where he got the tea, whether it was made in his own kitchen, or brought from a tea house.  These tea and coffee houses became wildly popular, rivaling taverns in their customer numbers, but more fashionable than taverns because they sold the exotic, expensive, imports, so they were patronized by the aristocracy and upper middle classes, as well as anyone else who could afford the price of a cup of tea or coffee, including women, in many cases. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #14 (re-do) and #15 -- Sacred or Profane: Deviled Beef Bones

Deviled Beef Bones.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge -- Sacred or Profane: "In this challenge, be as divine or as devious as you like! It could be a food with connections to a religion, a dish served for sacred celebrations, or a concoction with a not-so-polite name. Whatever your choice, show us how naughty and/or nice you can be!"

In looking for recipes to fit this challenge, I thought about making a Nun's Cake, or even a "bowl of smoking Bishop" as mentioned in The Christmas Carol, but in looking for fresh marrow bones to re-do the Florentine of Marrow from the previous challenge, I found a recipe for Deviled Beef Bones that sounded interesting.  Plus, it can be a (very) late entry for both the Fear Factor and Sacred or Profane challenges!

The history of eating bone marrow goes back to prehistoric times.  Archaeologists are always finding bones and bone fragments in the kitchen refuse heaps that are dug up, and it seems that until the Medieval era, the bones were simply roasted or boiled for broth, and then broken to extract the marrow, which was then eaten as a dish by itself.  The 17th and 18th centuries seem to have been the heyday of marrow's popularity, with multiple recipes for marrow puddings, both boiled and baked, marrow tarts, pasties, fritters, and other sweet dishes.  By the 19th century, marrow seemed to be most popular as a dish of beef-bones, roasted or broiled, served with toast or potatoes, or some kind of starch.  Narrow little marrow spoons became available to make it easier to scoop the marrow out of the bones, especially since recipes often called for the bones to be served cut into fairly large pieces, more than an inch or two long.    

I found a recipe for Broiled Beef Bones from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery (1875) on the Food Timeline website, and just underneath it, there was a recipe for Deviled Bones from the same book.  The second recipe wasn't long on instructions, so I improvised with the ingredient amounts, and consulted the first recipe for cooking time.  Deviled bones, or kidneys, or anything else in a Victorian recipe, is generally called that because it is intended to be cooked or served with a spicy sauce or spice rub containing lots of pepper, or horseradish, or other "hot" spices.  This recipe called for a spice rub of mustard, cayenne, and mushroom ketchup, which has ginger, pepper, and other warm spices in it. 

Never having eaten marrow bones, I had no real idea what to expect.  I didn't know how much marrow I'd get out of each bone, or what the texture would be like.  I don't have any marrow spoons, so I just used a table knife, and it seemed to work all right.  I had all the ingredients in my pantry, even the mushroom ketchup, so I made the recipe as written, and served the marrow with toast on the side, as instructed in a third recipe from the same cookbook. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A failed Florentine of Marrow -- Historical Food Fortnightly challenge #14

ingredients for a Florentine of Marrow.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: #14 -- Fear Factor.
What foods have you always wanted to attempt, but were afraid to attempt to make - or afraid to eat? Choose a dish that is either tricky to create or nerve-wracking to eat, and get adventurous! It’s historical Fear Factor!

I could have re-done Calf's Foot Jelly from earlier in the year, but I had trouble finding fresh calves' feet.  I could have done Beef Tongue, but a few other people chose the same thing, and while I will probably try it myself later, I preferred to work with a different ingredient, to give the challenge postings more variety.  I also thought about doing stuffed beef heart, or kidneys, but had trouble finding fresh ones, even at the local Filipino grocery store.  Then I saw beef marrow bones at my regular grocery store, and that sealed the deal.  I've heard of marrow bones being a popular dish even into modern times, but never having had them before, I didn't know what the commotion was about.  I was a bit turned off by the thought of eating blood, but the bones didn't look very bloody when I bought them, and I was intrigued.  Instead of making a modern recipe like Osso Bucco, I looked through my historic recipes and saw that marrow could be substituted for suet and butter in boiled puddings, as well as used as the filling for fritters, tarts, and other sweet dishes, mixed with spices, dried fruit and candied citrus peel. 

The history of eating bone marrow goes back to prehistoric times.  Archaeologists are always finding bones and bone fragments in the kitchen refuse heaps that are dug up, and it seems that until the Medieval era, the bones were simply roasted or boiled for broth, and then broken to extract the marrow, which was then eaten as a dish by itself.  Removing the marrow and using it as an ingredient in other recipes became very common by the 16th century, with recipes for rissoles, pies, puddings, and tarts containing marrow in the filling, with sugar, spices, and dried fruit.  The 17th and 18th centuries seem to have been the heyday of marrow's popularity, with multiple recipes for marrow puddings, both boiled and baked, marrow tarts, pasties, fritters, and other sweet dishes.  By the 19th century, marrow seemed to be most popular as a dish of beef-bones, roasted or broiled, replaced by suet and butter in puddings and other desserts, although many Victorian cookbooks still include a recipe for marrow pudding. 

Recipe books, along with other publications, record the rapid increase in knowledge and innovation characteristic of the Enlightenment, with new dishes, and new names for old dishes, abundant.  The Florentine is one such dish; a variation on a regular custard tart, Florentines are baked puddings, in a puff pastry crust, or simply in a buttered dish with an edging of puff pastry, with a filling of eggs and cream or milk, with any combination of sugar, marrow, butter, suet, fruit, sweetmeats, spices or other flavorings, and bread crumbs.  Generally sweet, Florentines could also be savory, with vegetables, herbs, marrow or suet, and gobbets of meat as the filling.  I chose to re-create a recipe from 1674 because I had all the ingredients already; the book, English and French Cook, is on Google Books.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)