The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Historic Cooking: Artichokes, Italian Style from 1898.

This is another entry for the Historical Food Fortnightly project, which is now being continued on Facebook.

Artichokes, Italian Style. 
From _El Cocinero Espanol_, 1898.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: April 22-May 5: Flower Power. A dish that is floral, flowery, or flour-y, as you desire.

A month late in posting, but better late than never!  It took me a while to decide what to do for this challenge; I have orange-blossom honey, rose petal honey, dried rose petals, and both orange-flower and rose water in my pantry.  What to do?  I finally decided on artichokes – which are a flower! -- when I saw them in the grocery store, but then it took me another while to choose the historic recipe to use to cook them.  My first couple of artichokes had to be cooked and eaten in a not-particularly-historical-way when they were on the point of going bad, and I hadn’t yet chosen a recipe!  A week or so ago I bought some more artichokes and again, took more than a week to choose, not because there weren’t many recipes, but because there were so many choices! 

I selected a recipe from Encarnación Pinedo’s _El Cocinero Español_, which I have been slowly translating from the original 19th century Californian Spanish, because I’ve been wanting to try some of the recipes.  This recipe book is the earliest published cookbook from the colonial Spanish/Mexican California culture; I’m sure there are other recipe collections in existence, but as far as I know, they are still in manuscript form, hidden in attics and storage areas, and the California history scholars and museums that I contacted didn’t know about them. 

Page from _El Cocinero Espanol_,
by Encarnacion Pinedo, 1898.
_El Cocinero Español_ was published in San Jose in 1898, written by a lady from an influential Spanish ranch-owning family, who recorded the traditional Californio recipes that she learned at home, and at the Catholic convent school that she attended in the 1850s and 1860s (staffed by South American nuns).  At the time the book was written, the author, Doña Encarnación, was unmarried and lived with her sister, her Yankee brother-in-law, and their children, one of whom was already grown up and married to a Yankee.  The author and her sister were raised during a very difficult time in California history when the established community of Californios was being abused on all sides by American and English (and other foreign) immigrants and settlers, due to the misunderstanding, encouraged by the newspapers, that all land and property titles that existed before 1850 (California entered the United States), were legally null and void, and that all existing residents were reduced to the status of conquered enemies.  In reality, California was purchased (as part of the treaty that ended the war, because the residents had already started fighting for independence from Mexico), not conquered (it was the central government of Mexico that was conquered);  all property titles were upheld (but actually ended up being required to be confirmed in court), and all existing residents were automatically made citizens of the United States, but that is not how most people understood the situation!

In her introduction to the cookbook, which was initially written as a private family record of their history and food culture, Doña Encarnación records the animosity and distrust that her mother (her nieces’ grandmother) held for the foreigners, especially the Yankees, and attempted to pass on to herself and her sisters (including her nieces’ mother), and details some of the abuses that their family, in particular, suffered at the hands of the Yankees. The book was written in order to secure, to her nieces, their Californio family identity and history, in the form of the stories and recipes, which Doña Encarnación saw was not being taught alongside their American identity, and feared would be lost forever, as the girls would all, likely, marry American or other non-Californio men.  It is likely that the book was published because it fulfilled the same purpose for other mixed Californio/non-Hispanic families.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Blogging during the Quarantine

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Oh my goodness!  So much has changed since the last post!  I think that everyone in the world (or almost everyone, at least), is going through this unprecedented experience: just about the whole world is shut down (or just opening back up), and most of us are sheltering in place by not leaving our homes except to get groceries and attend to other emergencies, wearing masks and gloves, and staying at least 6 feet away from people outside our own households.  There is a lot of controversy (and name-calling and character-assassination on both sides of the issue) about whether or not such strict lockdown is necessary or even legal.

The school where I work has been closed since mid-March (although we did a very quick switch to 100% online/remote learning, with varying degrees of success), and all of the living history and costume-related events, as well as all other public events for the next several months, have been canceled or rescheduled.  Costume College, which was scheduled for the end of July, has been canceled, and the theme that was set for 2020 has been pushed forward to 2021.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Posting again after a year ...

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I haven't entirely forgotten this blog ... really ....

So many things have changed since I last posted -- on December 31st of 2018!  Most important among the changes is another new place to live.  I moved in about 6 weeks ago, but I'm still unpacking things; I have almost all of my possessions out of my storage unit, however, and I need to get another bookcase or cabinet to hold my antique books and the dishes and silver that I inherited from my grandparents.

I am still working in the library at the school, and I'm also in charge of running the Rancho Day event for 4th grade, and assisting with the Tea Party section of the Colonial Day event for 5th grade, for both of which I wear historical dress, of course!  Rancho Day for 2020 will be at the end of next month, and Colonial Day will be a few weeks later, in early to mid February.  I need to get my costume in order for both events!

I walked in the Rose, White & Blue Parade in San Jose again, with
Photo: Deborah Borlase.
the Greater Bay Area Costumers' Guild, and our theme was Prohibiton: Pro and Con.  I made a ca. 1918 skirt out of blue linen (not quite finished, but it was wearable) and wore it with my vintage embroidered blouse and my "Votes for Women" sash, to illustrate that the people opposing prohibition were also opposing women's voting and other legal rights.  The two issues (prohibition and women's suffrage) were so intertwined that most of the women's organizations campaigned for both issues simultaneously; the amount of control that "Big Alcohol" had over the national, state, and local governments was one of the biggest obstacles, if not the biggest one, to women getting the right to vote, which is a fact that people have largely forgotten and which, even the historians in my costume group wanted to dismiss, as "clouding the issue."

Monday, December 31, 2018

Historic Cooking: Fig Bread Pudding from 1907 and the history of Figgy Pudding.

Happy New Year!  "Time flies ..." and all that.  I have settled in to my new place -- a vintage Airstream trailer from 1967 -- but haven't got the oven up and working yet (it runs on propane and involves open flame every time you use it ...) so the only historic cooking I've done so far has been on the stovetop (also propane, involving open flame) and I haven't gotten many photos of the projects.  I am working on a Twelfth Night Cake for the coming week (I'll bake it in my mom's regular electric oven), so hopefully I'll get that written up and posted within the month.  One Historical Food Fortnightly challenge which I made this year, I also did last year but didn't get around to posting about it -- Figgy Pudding.  I decided to use a different recipe for figgy pudding, one that didn't take as long to boil as the one I usually use, so the research for that sent me down the rabbit hole of figgy pudding history.  I ultimately decided that I like the flavor of the Victorian recipe better than this one, but it was still an interesting recipe.

Just after Thanksgiving I made another figgy pudding for my Christmas caroling choir – the Lyric Theatre Victorian Carolers – as I have for the past several years, but this year I wanted to try a different recipe.   In researching other recipes, I followed one of the many "bunny trails" that I remembered from my previous research on the topic of figgy pudding: what is it and how old is it? 

Fig Bread Pudding.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Figgy pudding seems like such an old-fashioned treat, the kind that dates back to at least the 18th century, but my own investigation into period cookbooks has turned up surprisingly few recipes for it -- under the name "figgy pudding" -- that date before the Victorian era. In The Monthly Magazine: Devonshire and Cornwall Vocabulary from 1810, it defines "figs" as: "Figs, raisins. A "figgy pudding"; a pudding with raisins in it; a plumb pudding." Also, there is a somewhat sniffy (in my opinion) entry in The Oracle—A Weekly Journal of Response, Research, and Reference from December 1882, which states, in answer to the question "In Somersetshire the poor people call raisins figs and a plain pudding they speak of as a figgy pudding. Why is this?" that "It would be hopeless to seek a rational explanation of the error. We can only surmise that in the days when communication was less facile than at present, the rural population having little acquaintance with colonial produce, used figs as a convenient generic term for the dried fruits sold by grocers. ... We do not think the error is peculiar to the poor: it is rather characteristic of the rural population." Well, la di da!

The authors of most "history of figgy pudding" articles on the Internet seem to agree that figgy pudding, plum pudding, and Christmas pudding are all names for the exact same thing, that none of those dishes actually contain figs or plums, and that this somehow made sense to the people of the past because they were weird like that way back then.  However, that kind of explanation for "why people in the past did things a certain way" always makes me suspicious, because it so often turns out to be totally untrue!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Historic Cooking: Fourth of July Pudding from 1916.

Fourth of July Pudding.  Photo: Liz Raven.
The Redone Challenge: Today in History (June 29-July 12, 2014) Make a dish based on or inspired by a momentous occasion that took place on the day you made it. Get creative - you would be surprised by all the interesting things that happened every single day!

The Recipe:
A Fourth of July Luncheon. To be served buffet style or on the porch.  By Cora Farmer Perkins.

FOURTH OF JULY PUDDING: Pick over, wash and hull one quart box of strawberries.  Sprinkle with one cupful of granulated sugar, cover, and let stand two hours.  Mash, squeeze through a double thickness of cheesecloth, and add one cupful of cold water, and lemon juice to taste.  Turn mixture into a brick mold.  Beat one pint of heavy cream until stiff and add one-half cupful of powdered sugar, one-half tablespoonful of vanilla, a few grains of salt, and two thirds of a cupful of rolled dried macaroons.  Pour cream mixture over fruit mixture to overflow mold.  Cover with buttered paper (buttered side up) and adjust cover, when mixture should be forced down sides of mold.  Pack in rock salt and finely crushed ice, using equal parts, and let stand three hours.
            Remove to chilled serving dish, garnish with selected strawberries, and cut in slices for serving.
--from _Woman’s Home Companion_, July 1916. 

The Date/Year and Region: the United States, 1916. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Historic Cooking: Hannah Glasse's Rich Cake from 1774.

Hannah Glasse's Rich Cake from
The Art of Cookery, 1774.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Redone Challenge: #21: Party Foods (October 7 - October 20, 2016) If there’s a party, there has to be food! Pick a dish meant to be served to a crowd, or at a festive gathering, and show your work! 

At the school where I work, the 5th-grade classes spend a whole school day studying the Revolutionary War history of the United States, with a day of living history activities called Colonial Day.  The students rotate through a list of different activities ranging from candle dipping and writing with a quill and ink, to learning about the Boston Tea Party and enjoying a “party” at the “Governor’s Palace” in Williamsburg, VA.   The previous librarian used to assist with the Boston Tea Party activity, and I inherited that job when I took her place in the school library. My love for tea and history prepared me to coordinate the “party” part of the activity, as well as make the tea, and teach about tea and etiquette in the 18th century.
18th century Rich Cake/Great Cake, iced.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

While the students’ parents were supposed to sign up to bring the treats for the “tea party”, only a few promised to bring food (although several things turned up unannounced on the day of the event), so I decided to bake something so that there would be enough for every student to have at least one piece of cake or one cookie.  Although the parents had previously brought 20th-century treats like banana bread and scones with frosting on them, I wanted to increase the historical accuracy of the activity.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Historic Cooking: Californio-style Chocolate from ca. 1777.

A cup of Californio-style Chocolate.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Redone Challenge(s): Sweet Sips and Potent Potables April 5 - April 18, 2015, and History Detective (January 29 - February 11, 2016) 

Foodways from the Spanish and Mexican colonization period of California’s history is not a very widely-talked about subject.  The documents that contain the information about food during this period are largely still in 18th century/early 19th century Spanish, although some of them have begun to be translated into English and other languages in the past few years.  The available documents are also mostly from the very beginning of the Spanish colonial era (begun in mainland Mexico in the 16th century) or from the very end of the Mexican colonial era – or even afterward, in the later memories of the people who lived in California during that time.  Therefore, a fair amount of extrapolation is necessary to re-create foods that would have been familiar to the Californios – people of Hispanic descent who lived in California before the Gold Rush. 

Chocolate began as a bitter, spicy beverage among the Aztec elite.  They drank it for religious/ceremonial purposes as well as ordinary ones and incorporated many local flowers and spices in its manufacture.  They used cacao beans and pods as a form of currency and presented it as gifts to other rulers, including the Spanish conquistadors, when they first arrived. 

The Recipe: The recipe I ended up using is an amalgamation of multiple original recipes from the period.  The earliest Spanish recipe that I could find for chocolate was written by Antonio Colmenero, translated by Don Diego de Vades-forte in "A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate" which was published in London in 1640, in Spain before 1631.  It includes the original Aztec ingredients, as well as Spanish substitutions for some of the items that were unavailable in Spain, and instructions for preparing the cacao beans and spices so that they are ready to melt in hot water.  

“To every 100 Cacaos, you must put two cods of the long red Pepper, of which I have spoken before, and are called, in the Indian Tongue, Chilparlagua; and in stead of those of the Indies, you may take those of Spaine; which are broadest, and least hot. One handfull of Annis-seed Orejuelas, which are otherwise called Vinacaxlidos: and two of the flowers, called Mechasuehil, if the Belly be bound. But in stead of this, in Spaine, we put in sixe Roses of Alexandria beat to Powder: One Cod of Campeche, or Logwood: Two Drams of Cinamon, Almons, and Hasle-Nuts, of each one Dozen: Of white Sugar, halfe a pound: Of Achiote, enough to give it the colour. And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.”
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)