The Ladies' Tea Guild

Friday, January 22, 2010

_Return to Cranford_ on the Internet.

I was able to catch the first episode of _Return to Cranford_ when it was broadcast a while ago, but missed the second episode. However, they're both available (at least for a while) on the PBS website. Here is the link for episode 1: and for episode 2: It's as charming as the first part of the series. Enjoy!

Jane Austen's _Emma_ to be broadcast this weekend!

Jane Austen's silhouette (allegedly). From the Republic of Pemberly.
The new adaptation of Jane Austen's _Emma_ will be aired on PBS beginning Sunday, January 24th! Here's the link to the PBS website:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Victorian recipe reborn: bread-and-butter pudding.

It has been really rainy, windy and cold these past few days, and we have had lightning and thunderstorms almost every day. I got wet to the skin from the knees down yesterday when I went in to work, but although I like my job I'd prefer to stay home during weather like this! Especially when there are interesting recipes in my antique cookbooks, that are begging to be tried. I especially like to bake when the weather is cold, so last weekend, and again yesterday, I pulled out the books and got to baking. One recipe that all of my old cookbooks seem to have, in at least one version, is bread pudding. I've made savory and sweet bread puddings before but never simple old bread-and-butter pudding. The recipe I used was from Godey's _Lady's Book_ from 1860, but I cut the recipe down to two servings. Here is the original recipe:

A Very Nice Bread Pudding.
Take three slices of bread; lay them in a deep dish; make a custard of one quart of milk and four eggs, sweeten to the taste, and flavor with lemon; pour the custard over the bread without stirring. Bake twenty minutes. Grate a little nutmeg on top. This is the finest bread pudding I have ever eaten. The white of the eggs beaten separately and put on top is an improvement, with a little jelly.

Of course, they don't tell you how big the slices of bread should be, nor how hot the oven should be! Many other old recipes I've seen have currants sprinkled over the bread, and with bread-and-butter pudding, the bread is buttered before being soaked with custard. I decided to alter the Godey's recipe to be more in line with other Victorian bread-and-butter pudding recipes. I also tried cutting the crusts off the bread and just using the crumb for the pudding, and it made a big difference in the texture. Here is the recipe I ended up with:

Victorian-esque Bread-and-butter Pudding.
4 slices of French or Italian bread (fresh loaf from the supermarket bakery, a few days old)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 regular eggs
1 pint of whole milk, plus extra
a handful of dried Zante currants
a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, plus extra
the zest from half a fresh lemon (I used Meyer lemon, because we have a tree)

Butter a small baking dish with some of the butter on a piece of waxed paper (the wrapper from the stick of butter is the best). My dish holds about 4 cups. Cut the crusts off of the bread slices and fit two of them into the bottom of the dish. If your butter is soft enough, butter the bread on one side before you put it in, but I had cold butter and just covered the bread with very thin slices of butter. Scatter some of the currants on top of the bread and butter, and sprinkle a few spoonfuls of sugar on top. Cover with another layer of bread, butter, currants and sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a pint of milk and 2 or 3 more teaspoons of sugar, plus the lemon zest. Pour evenly over the bread, and push the bread down with a spoon to make sure it soaks up the custard. Pour a bit more milk over any dry spots where there isn't enough custard. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, get a pie plate or deep baking dish, pour 1 inch or so of water into it, and set the dish with the pudding into the water. Bake in the water bath for 20 minutes, then check with a table knife to make sure all the custard is set and it's not soupy in the middle. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving. The pudding will puff up and brown on top, and then fall as it cools, like a souffle. It will also have a light texture like a souffle.

Many old Victorian recipes use spices and lemon zest, or rose or orange-flower water for flavoring, but not vanilla. The lemon by itself is delicious! I made the same recipe again yesterday, but left the crusts on the bread and added orange-flower water instead of the currants, and I don't like it as well as just the lemon. I may have to try adding a bit of rose water next time. I also have an old recipe for a coconut pound cake that uses rose water as part of the flavoring, and now I also want to use flaked coconut and rose water to flavor bread pudding! It might turn out to be really good!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Women's Victorian costume: the finishing touches.

_Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine_, ca. 1866.
Of course, accessories really "make" the outfit, in the 21st century as well as the 19th. Many Victorians thought that some kind of coat, shawl or other garment was necessary to lend the proper "finish" to a woman's clothes when outside, even in the warmest of weather! While period photos show us that not every woman wore a jacket, cloak, or coat every minute she was outside, your costume should also include outerwear like a cape or shawl. If you can find a ready-made cape that reaches to your elbows at least, and to the hem of your dress at most, that will work; check thrift stores at Halloween time. Your cape should reach all the way around your body, not just hang down your back, and it should be made of a dark fabric that looks like wool.
A shawl will probably be the easiest to find or make, however; the shawl can be a woven paisley print, or crocheted or knitted, or be a simple square of fabric folded into a triangle large enough to wrap around your shoulders. Neutral colors are best, and try to avoid those really bright crocheted "lace" shawls and ponchos from the 1970s! You can use a small, simple brooch to pin the edges of the shawl together under your chin, so you don't have to hold it on with your arms.

Dark-colored gloves are a also good thing to have. Avoid the polyester or crocheted lace fingerless gloves (or "mitts"), because they were really only worn inside the house, not on the streets during the winter in the 1850s and 1860s. Thrift stores, Wal-Mart and Target carry plain black and brown leather or leather-look gloves that are perfect. You can also use plain black knit gloves, and cut off the fingertips if you want, but be aware that cut-off or ratty gloves are a “lower-class” look! Don’t wear cut-off gloves if you have a modern manicure with nail polish, or very long fingernails, however!

photo ca. 1870. Sense & Sensibility.
You can also make a pair of "muffatees", to keep your hands and wrists warm while keeping your fingers uncovered, by getting a pair of old knitted wool knee socks in black, brown or other solid dark color, and cutting off the feet. Pull the leg portions on your arms so that one end covers your hands up to the first knuckle and the base of your thumb, and the other end covers your wrist and forearm. Use a needle and thread to take a stitch or two in the end that covers your hand, between your thumb and first finger, to make the muffatee fit better, and use Fray-check on the cut edge so it doesn't ravel. Or turn the edge to the inside and sew or glue it down. You wear the muffatees instead of gloves, and they can be worn both inside and ouside, but they are not fashion accessories, they are practical!

Jewelry should be simple and sparse: a plain gold band wedding ring, small gold studs or drop earrings, and a round, oval, or rectangular brooch at your collar are fine, but keep modern wristwatches hidden and leave the rest of your jewelry at home! For carrying those modern things like wallet, keys, water bottle and camera, get a wicker basket with handle to carry over your arm, hide your stuff under a cloth napkin or flour-sack kitchen towel, and you are ready to be seen in the shops!

Kay Gnagey’s 19th Century Costume Research Center
Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Sewing Academy

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Victorian costuming for women: caps and headresses.

_Graham's Magazine_, 1849. Wikipedia.
A woman old enough to be accepting gentlemen callers was expected to make sure that her hair was arranged attractively at all times, and if she couldn't manage that (like in the middle of the night, at breakfast, or when doing vigorous housework) then she was provided with hundreds of attractive cap styles so she could cover up her hair. Caps were also supposed to help keep the hair cleaner longer, in the same way that clothes absorb oil and sweat and help keep the skin cleaner. Women who were middle-aged or who had children were expected to wear some kind of cap almost everywhere, allowing them to just put their hair up neatly rather than elaborately, and allowing thinning and graying hair to be covered. You might keep this in mind when you wear your costume.

Of course, your hair should be parted in the middle and pinned up as smoothly as possible whether or not you wear a cap. Night caps, like the well-known "mob caps", were not worn outside the bedroom, or perhaps the breakfast room, in the Victorian era. Elderly or conservative ladies often wore caps under their bonnets when outside their own home. Depending on the formality of the occasion, a cap can have white lace, self-fabric ruffles, colored silk flowers, embroidery and ribbons decorating it. Simpler designs for the morning and at home, fancier for the evening or when expecting visitors. Day caps of the period covered the top of the head from ear to ear, and often had ruffles framing the face at the front edge, and ribbon bows over each ear and/or hanging down over the hair at the back. Visit the Cranford web page to see several cap styles for middle-aged and older women.

An easy “cheat” that results in a fairly period Victorian look, is to get a white lace-trimmed hanky, cut or fold it into a triangle, and bobby-pin it on top of your head, with the large point hanging down over the back of your head, and the fold or cut edge going across the top of your head in front of your ears. If you can sew or hot-glue, you can make a very simple cap by getting a piece of fine or semi-sheer white fabric that is at least 3 inches wide and at least 9 inches long, hem it (turn under the fabric edges and sew or glue in place), and glue or sew lengths of lace in overlapping horizontal lines on it, decorating it further with ribbon bows and/or pastel silk flowers over each ear and/or in the center.

Women doing war work in snoods, 1942. Wikipedia.
A popular headdress among modern Victorian costume wearers is called a "snood" and is like a hair net, but it is made out of colored crocheted yarn. The colored yarn snood did not exist during the 1850s and 1860s! It was a product of the 1940s and the practical styles that women wore while doing war work. The Victorian predecessor was called a hair net, or just a "net", and was black or "blonde" (natural unbleached silk), made from knotted silk thread. It was decorated with a line of ribbon bows or rosettes around its edge. For fancier occasions, a net could be made out of narrow velvet ribbon, with velvet ribbon bows and perhaps a tassel hanging off the back. The wearer's hair was pinned up as usual underneath, and the net was pinned in place, running across the top of the head from ear to ear about 2 to 3 inches back of the hairline, behind the ears, and following the hairline at the nape of the neck. The decorative ribbons on the net framed the face.

1855. Bancroft Library Collection.
A good option is to get a regular "lunch lady" hair net, in black or to match your hair, and glue or sew some bows -- coordinating with your dress -- along the edge. If you can't find a regular hair net you can wear a crocheted “snood”, but choose a black one, or match your hair color, rather than a bright color. Instead of decorating your net and bobby-pinning it to your hair, you can thread a satin ribbon through the edge of the net, and tie it in a bow on top of your head when you put it on. Whatever you choose, remember that the hair net is an ornament to the hair, not the thing that keeps your hair out of your face. Your hair should be pinned up inside, filling out the net at the back if you want, or not, and gelled or hair-sprayed so that it won't come loose and wisps of hair won't stick through the mesh. Don’t just pull it on like a shower cap and tuck your loose hair into the back! A net is generally worn without a bonnet, although it can be worn with a hat, especially a riding hat or a toque (pillbox shape with no brim).
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)