The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, January 31, 2009

1830s costume stuff!

image at left: Gentlemen of the 1830s.
In anticipation of my attending the Greater Bay Area Costumers' Guild Open House and annual meeting tomorrow (well, actually today, since it's midnight now!), here are some photos taken with my new nifty neato camera (with a real, honest-to-goodness ZOOM and adjustable FOCUS!), of some of my antique and vintage fashion print collection. Nothing like costume goodies for not much money! Although I think fashion plates might be more expensive these days (I bought mine over 10 years ago).

This image is of a collection of 1830s figures that were purchased by a friend of mine -- having been cut out of their original fashion magazine by a previous owner -- and she assembled them into a frame for me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A "Nice Plum Cake" baked in a flowerpot?

I was just taking notes from a book I downloaded from Google books, called _Inquire Within For Anything You Want To Know_, published in 1858, and marveling at the random assortment of information it contains. Recipes, medical advice, child-rearing advice, agriculture, solutions for minor marital difficulties, and etiquette instructions are only some of the pieces of information grouped in this book. Unfortunately, the information is not sorted by topic or type, and you have recipes for cake in between recipes for rat poison and cement, which means you have to read the whole thing to find, for example, all of the recipes. I've spent quite a while reading it already, and only made it through the first 170 paragraphs! In paragraph 72, however, I found an interesting cake recipe, which suggests that the batter be baked in a terra-cotta flower pot saucer! That's the most unusual baking container I've read of, yet!

"72. NICE PLUM CAKE.—One pound of flour, quarter of a pound of butter, quarter of a pound of butter, quarter of a pound of sugar, quarter of a pound of currants, three eggs, half a pint of milk, and a small tea-spoonful of carbonate of soda. The above is excellent. The cakes are always baked in a common earthen flower-pot saucer, which is a very good plan."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Note to self: take lessons in making Victorian Hair Art!

photo by E. Urbach
Well, I have discovered that making Victorian Hair Art is an interesting and fiddly craft. If I can find someone in this area who already knows how to make it, I'm going to try and get them to teach me. The concept isn't that difficult, it's just making the hair cooperate with the plan that's the difficult part. And my friends and I were only attempting simple braids and coils, not the hair flowers!
Of the four of us who sat down on Saturday to make some Victorian-inspired hair art, only one of us really had anything like success (and her project is still unfinished, as far as I know, so she might have changed her mind about its success!). The false hair that I bought was the most difficult to use, as it tangled too easily and wouldn't lay smoothly. The human hair extensions that I also bought wouldn't lay smoothly because the hairs were all different lengths and couldn't be evened out without cutting off too much length. The ends of the shorter hairs kept insisting on working themselves out of the braid and sticking out; stronger hair gel, or good old Vaseline, might help. The natural hair -- cut off the heads of two of the people present that day -- worked the best, with the addition of both the hair spray and the gel. The lengths of natural hair used varied between 8 inches and 12 inches in length, and the individual hairs were about equal in length in the more cooperative braids.

Other than making the hair lay smoothly in the braid, the other difficulty was tying knots in the end of the strand to keep all the hairs in place, and then fastening the bracelet clasp onto the hair at the knotted ends. This problem still needs more research before it can be fixed. Since I used the human hair extensions, the hairs were already sewn onto a strip or thread of nylon or something at one end, so I just knotted the other end. I ended up sewing my braided lock of hair into a coil (using thread that matched the hair would have been better, but sometimes you have to go with what you happen to have) to make a piece that would fit into a locket. I would like to use a length of my own hair (which is waist-length) to try and make a bracelet that will fit around my wrist, so that I can figure out how to attach the bracelet clasps! More information later.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lavender-Lemon Shortbread for tea.

Lavender-lemon Shortbread by E. Urbach (right), and purchased Speculaas cookies (left).
Today's the day for the Victorian Hairwork Tea party, and it's a beautiful sunny day. It's unusual for it to be sunny and 60 degrees in January, even in this part of California, but that's what it's been all week.

We have a good group of people who will be gathering at my friend's house this afternoon, and we'll watch the first episode of the vintage TV series "Upstairs, Downstairs" while we have our tea, and then get started on the hair art. My friend said that she was going to use some of her husband's hair for her project, and I meant to look through my boxes and get out the envelope containing my grandfather's hair, to use today, but I ran out of time. In giving a tour at the museum where I work ( I spoke with a 4th grade or 5th grade girl who saw the "family tree" hair art arrangement that we have on display, and said that her mom sometimes makes ornaments out of hair! I am going to see if I can get in contact with this lady and ask her to lead a hair art workshop in the future, because I am happy to know that someone in this area has that skill. I will definitely be using my grandfather's hair to make a little something once I learn how to make hair art better! Pictures will be posted.

I spent a good part of yesterday evening baking for the tea today (I still need to make a few sandwiches and the trifle), and one of the recipes that I re-discovered and used, was this one for Lavender-Lemon Shortbread. This is very fragrant and yummy.

Lavender-Lemon Shortbread
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (I used Meyer lemons from our tree)
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, mix the sugar with the chopped lavender and grated lemon zest. Using a hand-held electric mixer [or by hand], beat in the butter at moderate speed. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a sheet of waxed paper and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Form the dough into a 4-inch log and chill for at least 45 minutes longer. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the shortbread dough into ¼ inch thick rounds and place the rounds on un-greased baking sheets. Freeze the rounds for 10 minutes. Bake the shortbread for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Transfer the baked shortbread to a wire rack and cool completely. Makes about 1½ dozen cookies. *author’s note: the cookie dough log can be frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw slightly before slicing. The baked shortbread can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

-- from “Morning Glory”, by Alison Attenborough in Food & Wine magazine, June 2002.

MY NOTE: I put in more lavender, by accident; I had measured one tablespoon of culinary lavender, chopped it and mixed it in, before I looked closer at the recipe and realized that it called for one teaspoon of lavender. I like lavender, and I didn't think it was too much. I mixed this by hand; after mixing in the flour and salt I immediately formed the dough into a log, wrapped it in waxed paper, and refrigerated it overnight. The log was about 2 inches thick and 6 inches long. In the morning I unwrapped the dough, sliced it into 1/4 inch rounds, and baked it immediately. This saves cooling/freezing time. Also, I baked the cookies for a much shorter time, 15 to 20 minutes. I had baked the cookies for 20 minutes when I made them before, and they were almost burnt black, so check the cookies at 15 or 16 minutes, and take them out just when they start to brown on the edges. You can put a thin icing and culinary lavender on top of the cookies or leave them plain.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Victorian Hairwork Tea, part 2.

This coming Saturday, I'm planning to re-visit the whole Victorian Hair Art issue. My tea guild will be meeting on Saturday, and I've put together a project for us to try: making a bracelet or locket ornament in the Victorian hair jewelry tradition, using embroidery floss or human hair extensions. We will be using various techniques to do this: friendship bracelet making (remember those from junior high? Who knew we were keeping alive the tradition of hair art!), Japanese Himo braiding, cord making, finger weaving, basket weaving, and lanyard making (remember those from summer camp?). We'll be putting the finished hair work together with some lockets and bracelet clasps I got at the craft store.
The pictures to the left are the clearest ones from my previous hair art attempt: making a simple braid, to coil in a circle and fit into a brooch. Unfortunately, I haven't yet found a brooch that this braid will fit in! The first picture is of the package of hair that I used; it is human hair extensions that were in the African-American hair care section of the drugstore. The hair in the package is tied on to one long thread, which is rolled up to fit in the bag. The hair is 8 inches long. The second picture is a lock of hair about one inch wide, cut off from the long thread in the package. It has been dampened and lightly coated with regular hair gel, and has a safety pin in the piece of thread attached to the top.
I pinned the safety pin to the knee of my jeans -- like I used to do when making embroidery floss friendship bracelets -- and braided the lock of hair, resulting in what you see in the final picture. Sorry for the blurriness! The finished braid is 4 1/2 inches long from the top where the safety pin is pinned, to the knot. I coated the finished braid with some more hair gel and sprayed it with hair spray to keep the "wispies" from coming out of the braid, but it didn't really work. I need to get some really super-hold stuff, I think! This braid is not quite long enough to make a bracelet for my wrist, even though my wrists are skinny (about the only part of my body that, is, unfortunately!), but I've seen original hair work bracelets and watch fobs that are made of two pieces of hair braid, joined end to end by a gold or jeweled ornament. If I can find something similar ...
The image to the left is an antique from Morning Glory Antiques.

Anyway, I got a new camera for Christmas -- one with a *real* zoom and an *adjustable* focus -- so hopefully I will be able to get some really nice clear photos this week, and post them here.

I'm also putting together a packet of information -- just notes and a list of websites, really -- to help my tea guild ladies (and myself!) come up with a braiding pattern and technique that will work for us. It should be an interesting project.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A January recipe and a knitting pattern

image from Grandma's Graphics.
It's been alternately cold, windy and foggy, and cool, windy and sunny for the past week or so. The wind has been really strong, and the sun -- when it's out -- doesn't really feel warm at all. Time for a nice dish of something warm and comforting, and something warm to wear.

How about a nice pot of bean soup? This is a compilation of several 19th century recipes, put together by a living history re-enactor of my acquaintance. It sounds like a really simple and tasty recipe!

Bean Soup.
1 lb. white beans
water to cover the beans
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small/medium onion, chopped
1 - 3 cloves of garlic, minced
ham or well-rinsed salt pork, diced

Brown the meat and garlic in the soup pot, then add and brown the onions. Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a boil. Let boil until the beans are tender.

But it needs some nice warm bread to go with it, I think. Then again, I would eat warm bread with just about anything! Here are a couple of 18th century recipes from Hannah Glasse:

"To make a Scotch Rabbit. Toast a piece of Bread very nicely on both sides, butter it, cut a slice of Cheese, about as big as the Bread, toast it on both sides, and lay it on the Bread."

"To make a Welch Rabbit. Toast the bread on both Sides, then toast the Cheese on one Side, lay it on the toast, and with a hot Iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with Mustard."

"To make an English Rabbit. Toast a Slice of Bread brown on both sides, then lay it on a plate before the Fire, pour in a Glass of Red Wine over it, and let it soak the Wine up; then cut some Cheese very thin, and lay it thick over the Bread; put it in a Tin Oven before the Fire, and it will be toasted and brown presently. Serve it away hot."

As for something warm to wear, here is a pattern for a knitted Bosom Friend or Sontag, from Godey's Lady's Book, January 1860: I actually tried to copy this garment in crochet, since I don't knit, and produced a wearable sontag, but it doesn't look quite as neat as the illustration, or the one the lady at made!

Keep warm and hydrated with lots of tea!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

image from
"Before the Christmas holiday was popularized, New Year's Day was the celebrated mid-winter festival, and New Year greetings originated in Europe around 1466, hundreds of years earlier than the first Christmas cards." -- from _Christmas Past_ by Barbara Hallman Kissinger.

Bread and milk for breakfast,
And woolen frocks to wear,
And a crumb for robin redbreast
On the cold days of the year.
-- Christina Rossetti

The Frost Spirit
He comes, he comes, the Frost Spirit comes! You may trace his footsteps now
On the naked woods and the blasted fields and the brown hill's withered brow.
He has smitten the leaves of the gray old trees where their pleasant green came forth,
And the winds, which follow wherever he goes, have shaken them down to earth.
-- John Greenleaf Whittier
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)