The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #13 -- Ethnic Foodways: my great-grandmother's biscotti.

Soft Biscotti.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #13 – Ethnic Foodways. Foodways and cuisine are at the heart of every ethnic group around the world and throughout time. Choose one ethnic group, research their traditional dishes or food, and prepare one as it is traditionally made.

My family is half Sicilian and a quarter Calabrese (from Calabria in southern Italy), and traditional (for us) Italian holiday food includes a few types of cookies.  When my grandmothers were alive, we usually bought our cookies at the Italian bakery, or from the supermarket (Stella D'oro brand used to carry some of our favorites), but now, purchased cookies are less available to us, so in the last several years I've started researching and making some.  This has also helped me enjoy all our Italian cookie favorites, since my nut allergies have made most traditional Italian cookies not an option for me (lots of almonds and hazelnuts). 

The issue with re-creating historic Italian cookies is the fact that literacy has not been a common skill in Italy and Sicily for many years – really only since World War 2.  My own grandparents were the first literate generation in their families; their parents were illiterate, and so was the rest of that generation, so their recipes have been passed down by mouth and by example, rather than being written down.  With that oral tradition comes the tradition of each person making the recipe slightly differently, according to their own tastes, which makes it hard to trace it back to the "original" version! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: If They'd Had It -- the Quince Marmalade version!

ingredients for Quince Marmalade.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #12 -- If They’d Had It -- November 2 - November 15

I had a hard time deciding which recipe to do for this challenge.  Should I choose mushroom ketchup, quince marmalade, macrows (macaroni), or something else?  I wanted to do them all.  I ended up wavering between the ketchup and the marmalade, and when I found the ingredients for both recipes in the farmer's market and in my pantry, I decided to do them both.  The quinces for this recipe came from the heritage apple vendor at the farmer's market. 

Quinces are a very old type of fruit.  Similar to apples and pears, they have a very hard flesh that doesn't soften until it's over-ripe, a delicious apple-y fragrance, but a very bitter and astringent taste that doesn't mellow out until it's very over-ripe.  They also have a lot of pectin in them.  They are mentioned as far back as ancient Rome, when they were recommended to newlyweds on their wedding day; nibbling on a slice of quince was supposed to perfume their breath!  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: If They'd Had It -- Mushroom Ketchup.

ingredients for Mushroom Ketchup.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #12 -- If They’d Had It -- November 2 - November 15 "Have you ever looked through a cookbook from another era and been surprised at the modern dishes you find? Have you ever been surprised at just how much they differ from their modern counterparts? Recreate a dish which is still around today, even if it may look a little - or a lot - different!" 

Not exactly a dish, but ketchup is a common condiment on American tables.  Tomato ketchup is what we know today, but tomatoes only entered the recipe in the mid 19th century.  Earlier ketchups were made from fruits, walnuts, mushrooms, oysters, or anchovies, and were said to have been inspired by a salty, savory, spicy condiment that some 18th century English sea captain or government official tasted in the Far East.  The first recipe for ketchup was published in E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife in 1727 in London, and again in 1767 in North America. Originally more like Asian fish sauce, "ketchup" or "catsup" recipes in Europe used European ingredients, and used the Anglicized version of the original Asian name.  The idea, however, is even older.  In Apicus' recipes from ancient Rome, there is one for "Tree Mushrooms", which calls for boiling them and serving them with liquamen – a sour fish sauce – and pepper. 

Several of my food history acquaintances online have made mushroom ketchup in the past year or so, and I've been wondering about it, too.  I've seen recipes for walnut ketchup, grape ketchup, and anchovy ketchup, but since I'm allergic to walnuts, I don't care for anchovies, I didn't have any grapes, and I love the fresh mushrooms from one of the vendors at my local farmer's market, I decided to make some mushroom ketchup.  Most 18th and 19th century recipe books include at least one recipe for one of the kinds of ketchup, and according to James Townsend & Sons' cooking videos, mushroom ketchup was so common that it may have been what people meant when they wrote about serving certain foods with "sauce." 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

image from Hubpages.
The baking marathon is complete.  There will be 27 people at dinner today.  Hope your holiday is full of fun and family and you remember all that you have to be thankful for! 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #10 -- Let Them Eat Cake! with Rice Cakes With Butter

Mrs. Hale's Rice Cakes With Butter, from 1841.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #10 -- Let Them Eat Cake! October 5 - October 18
"The 16th is the anniversary of the beheading of Marie Antoinette (zut alors!). In honor of Madame Deficit, prepare your best cake from a historic recipe. And then eat it, bien sur."

This challenge came along at a good time, because my brother and I each attended a wedding in the past fortnight, and therefore wedding cake played a small part in our thoughts recently.  My friend, the bride at one wedding, is allergic to wheat, so she had a completely wheat-free wedding brunch menu and had locally-made gourmet ice cream instead of wedding cake.  My brother's friend, the groom at the other wedding, is from the U.K. and he and his bride had two receptions, according to my brother: one with tea and cakes directly after the wedding ceremony and church service, and a dinner later in the evening.  My brother couldn't tell me what kind of cakes there were, only that they were fairy cakes (cupcakes) and brownies.  But a tea-and-cake wedding reception – how fun!  I'm pretty much up for tea and cakes any time, wedding or not.

My friend is a "foodie" and is always looking for good recipes, especially so now that she has been diagnosed with a wheat allergy.  I made her some wheat- and gluten-free Italian cookies for part of her wedding gift, and when I started researching recipes for this challenge, this rice flour cake recipe caught my eye.  Bonus: it doesn't contain any "wierd" ingredients that some modern gluten-free baking recipes have!  Everything apart from the rice flour comes from a normal pantry, and even the rice flour is relatively easy to find in areas with large Asian communities.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge: The Frugal Housewife, with Shrimp Curry from 1942.

ingredients for the Shrimp Curry (with trout).
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: # 9 The Frugal Housewife
Throughout history, housewives and housekeepers have kept a close eye on their budgets and found creative ways to pinch pennies while providing delicious and nutritious food. Create a dish that interprets one historically-documented method of frugal cooking.  

I chose to interpret frugality as a way to use pantry staples, including canned meat, to pull together an easy dish.  You could also use leftover fish from another meal in this recipe!

The Recipe: (where did you find it, link to it if possible)
Found in my grandmother's cookbook, Burnt Toast Recipes: Victory Edition, published in Los Angeles in 1942, this recipe for Shrimp Curry takes advantage of pantry staples to make it economical as well as tasty.  The recipe book is a collection of recipes put together by the Women's Auxiliary to the Women's and Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, which took care of the wives and families of servicemen who were stationed in the area during WW2.  My grandmother worked as a candy striper at the hospital during the summers, taking the train out from Omaha, NE where she lived and taught school during the rest of the year.

California seemed to be lucky in comparison to other areas, because of our climate enabling food to be grown year-round, as well as the large number of dairies and poultry farms, and everyday residents who kept a cow and a few chickens around for butter, eggs and milk.  Fish were being caught and canned in Monterey throughout the War, and while much of it was sent to other parts of the U.S., and overseas to our armed forces and our allies, there was still quite a bit of food available, with or without food rationing.  This recipe is frugal in its use of butter and imported spices, and makes good use of canned fish.  Although it calls for shrimp, any canned fish can be used.  (Ignore the mushrooms in the photo above -- they were part of another recipe but mistakenly got into the photo for this dish.)  

Shrimp Curry
Sautè 1 small minced onion in 2 tablespoons butter until onion is soft but not brown.  Stir in 1 ½ teaspoons curry, 2 teaspoons flour and ½ teaspoon salt.  Simmer tightly covered for 20 minutes, then add 1 can shrimp (cleaned and shredded), 2 teaspoons lemon juice.  Simmer for 5 minutes and serve with browned rice.  – recipe from Alberta Austin.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Antique Autos returns to History Park!

Vintage car in the park in 2012.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Some of my costume group in 2009.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
 I've been getting ready for the 14th Annual Antique Auto event at History Park, where the tea guild will be joining me for a picnic tomorrow afternoon.  It's such fun to research recipes and costumes -- because I always want to do something slightly different from what I did last year -- that I often find myself hurrying the morning of the event, and not finishing whatever costume or recipe I'd been working on, and pulling out something wearable from the costume closet, or something ordinary from the pantry, and going with that.  I'm hoping that this year will be different, since -- at the request of one of the guild members -- we are having a potluck picnic, and at least I don't have to make all the sandwiches.  I have decided to bring dessert -- a cake and some strawberries that I got at the farmer's market yesterday -- as well as the iced tea.  Then there's my costume; I could wear the 1920s frock that I've worn before, but I don't have a hat to go with it, or I could wear one of my Edwardian skirts, although I don't really have a good blouse to wear with them, or a proper hat, either -- just a modern straw hat with a ribbon on it.  I have all these plans to make blouses, and even some fabric to do it, and I want to make a tailor-made suit, and - and - and ... 

Anyway, while I decide, and work on my things, here are some suggestions from the readers of the _Woman's Home Companion_ magazine from 1916, so you can put together your own "motor picnic" in the next month or so: 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #7 -- The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread -- Raspberry Jell from 1945.

Calves' feet boiling for jelly.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Having tried (and failed) to make jelly the old-fashioned way from calves' feet, it was a very quick and easy job to make jelly with packaged gelatine.  The calves' feet need to be cleaned, covered in water and boiled gently for 4 hours, until the meat and cartilage fall off the bones and are dissolved into the broth.  Then the bones and meat chunks and any undissolved cartilage need to be picked out of the broth and the broth needs to cool and settle overnight.  Then the fat that rises to the top of the broth needs to be cleaned off the top, and the sediment that sinks to the bottom needs to be scraped off as well.  The resulting jelly is a transluscent, meaty brown color that needs to be melted again and strained through a jelly bag or a few layers of cheesecloth or wet muslin to remove more sediment.  Then the jelly needs to cool and settle again, and if it's not yet clear and flavor-less, it needs to be melted and run through a jelly bag again.  Once it's clear, only then can you add the flavorings and pour it into a mold and let it set into its finished shape!  That takes at least a day, just to prepare the unflavored gelatine! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Catching up -- school days begin again!

My mom's empty classroom.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Hello everyone,

I haven't fallen off the face of the blogosphere, but wow!  It has been a long time since I've posted.  Several things have been going on in the meantime. My mom retired from her kindergarten teaching career and I helped her move out of her classroom; 20+ years in the same classroom = a surprising amount of stuff!  Weeks and countless hours of sorting, packing, throwing away, giving away, and hauling papers, books, DVDs and videos, pictures, posters, activities and worksheets that she used to supplement the curriculum, and all the toys, puzzles, and manipulatives that belong in a kindergarten classroom.

I also spent 6 weeks as a teacher's aide in the same school's summer school program, teaching Medieval
history to a class of mostly 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.  It was a lot of fun!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Soups & Sauces Challenge: Caviche.

ingredients for Caviche.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
So, I'm still working on Challenge #1 for the Historical Food Fortnightly: I'm having trouble finding a piece of literature that mentions a specific dish that I have a period recipe for!  There's a lot of general mentions of meals, without saying what dishes or foods make up the meal, or only mentioning foods that don't really require a recipe, like fruit or a glass of wine, or foods that are made exactly the same way today as they were in the period (like tea and coffee).  I've decided on Calf's Foot Jelly, mentioned in one of the earliest novels, in 1807.  I think I ruined it, though, so I'll have to come back to the recipe and post about it later!  In the meantime... 

The Challenge: Soups & Sauces 

The Recipe: "Caviche" from the recently printed excerpts from Recipes from the White Hart Inn by William Verral, originally published in 1759.  The original recipe reads: 

Take three Cloves, 7 scruples of Coriander-seeds bruised ginger powder'd and Saffron, of each half a Scruple, three Cloves of Garlick, infuse them in a pint of good white-wine vinegar, and place the bottle in a gentle heat, or in water to warm gradually.  It is to be used, as Catchup, in small quantity as a sauce for cold-meats.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Surprise: Antiques Roadshow!

Souvenirs of the Antiques Roadshow!
 Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The book that I brought: souvenir illustrations from the
Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 in San Francisco.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Back in April I found out that the Antiques Roadshow was going to be at the Santa Clara Convention Center, which is less than 20 minutes from my house.  I missed them when they were in my home town a few years ago, because you have to put your name/e-mail address in a drawing on their website before a certain cut-off date, and then check the website after the deadline to see if you were chosen; I didn't find out about it until the date had already passed.  This time, though, I saw their ad after watching the show, put my e-mail address in, and actually got chosen for tickets!  The tickets are free, and each e-mail address chosen gets 2 tickets; each ticket holder gets to bring 2 items to be appraised.  I offered my second ticket to my friend Rose from the costume guild, and we had an exciting, if tiring day today at the Roadshow!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Back from the Land of 10,000 Lakes

My grandma's family home.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
We arrived back in California on Saturday afternoon, and went right into Memorial Day, with a block party in my sister's neighborhood, then laundry and re-stocking the fridge today, and I'm still not totally back on California time!  We'll see how that works when I go back to work tomorrow ...

Kitzville School, where my grandma attended.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
While I was gone we had a heat wave here in California, and we must have brought some California weather to Minnesota because, apart from a chilly rainy day the first day we were there, it was sunny and really warm the entire time.  Beautiful weather for my grandmother's funeral, which was nice.  Got to take a drive around town with my great uncle seeing a bunch of historic places, which I do remember doing the last time or two we were there when my grandma was alive, but it was different this time.  Before, we were always tagging along on her visit, we were only there to accompany her and make sure she was o.k., and although we were seeing family, we only ever saw them on these types of occasions; she was the one who had a relationship with them, and we were kind of the proverbial "third wheel" in the equation.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Catching up -- I'm so behind!

My grandparents' wedding
portrait from 1945.  Photo:
Elizabeth Urbach.
We've been keeping busy around here lately.  My grandma, who passed away last month, wanted to be buried in her hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, up near the Canadian border with the U.S., and the weather has finally warmed up enough that they can have her interment.  So, several members of my family will be flying out to Minnesota next week and spending a few days there with the family for my grandma's second funeral and burial.  It will be a lot of flying and driving, and hopefully, a really good experience with the family, since it will also probably be the last time we go out to Minnesota, and maybe the last time we see those relatives in person ...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Busy days.

Christina and I making the tea. 
Oh my gosh, it's been something like a month since I last posted!  A lot has been going on.

First, we had our 6th annual Cat Rescue Tea in San Jose, and it was another success!  We served about 120 people over 2 days, and raised close to $5,000 for 13th Street Cats!

I made 8 batches of Meyer lemon curd, and coordinated a bunch of other things, including jam donations, tea donations (from Satori Tea Bar and Thompson Tea Company), and put together 2 afternoon tea baskets for the silent auction, as well as collected a bunch of other tea things for the raffle for both days.  I also helped make tea sandwiches, served the lemon curd, jam, and butter, and with my friend Christina, made all the tea that was served at the event.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish tea and treats for St. Patrick's Day

Well, even though I'm not Irish, how can I pass up celebrating a holiday that honors a nation of tea-drinkers?  My mom always makes a corned beef, cabbage and potato dinner, and has lately started buying Irish beer for my dad and brother.  I, on the other hand, am more a fan of cider and wine rather than beer, and much more a fan of tea and treats.
I've made seed cake, shortbread and soda bread before, but not barmbrack, which according to modern recipes, is a fruitcake where you first plump the dried fruit in hot tea and then add it to the cake.  I may have to try that today for elevenses (morning tea and treat at 11 a.m.), which according to some Irish cultural websites, is as much an Irish tradition as an English one!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Finally finishing a project ...

Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Several months ago I began to make a dress for the museum where I work.  We conduct custom tours for 3rd grade classes in our Victorian house, and the tours include a short dress-up session and photo opportunity.  The girls' costumes that we use are Jessica McClintock and similar Edwardian-inspired dresses from the 1970s through 1990s, that are not only historically inaccurate for the time period of the house (1855 - 1875) but they're getting really ratty, faded, and in need of replacement.  But hey, they were donated 15 years ago (i.e. FREE) ...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Upcoming interview and the Cat Rescue Tea approaching!

2013 Downton Tabby Tea place setting.
Photo: Miranda Von Stockhausen.
There are two little tidbits of information to share today:

Tidbit #1: tickets to the Downton Tabby Tea benefit for 13th Street Cats are selling like hotcakes!  Or would that be tea cakes? Or catnip mousies?  Anyway, I understand that Sunday, March 30th is sold out, and that there are only 3 or 4 seats left for Saturday, March 29th, so buy yours TODAY before they're all gone!  It will be a really fun event with delicious food and tea (if I do say so myself ...).

Tidbit #2: I was contacted a few months ago by Stephen Nelson, who produces and hosts the podcasts at Tea Rage.  He wanted to interview me for a podcast, and I thought that would be a great idea.  It's always fun to meet other tea people, and the idea of sitting down and geeking out about tea is just so much fun!  We finally met and recorded the podcast this afternoon at Satori Tea Bar in San Jose, and after some editing (lots of background noise and, I suspect, rambling on my part) the recording will be up on Tea Rage in the next few months!  I'll post the link when it's up, but I encourage you all to pop over and listen.  Despite the "rage" in the title, and the fact that Stephen proudly categorizes himself as a "tea snob" he's not snobby or full of rage in real life, and we had a really interesting "chin-wag" over pots of tea.  We talked, not only about our mutual love of tea, and the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild, but also about ideas for future tea research and projects.  He might be buying a tea plant in the future and experimenting with growing and processing his own tea, so keep your eyes on this blog and I'll let you know when he does!  He also told me about another tea podcast series, called Leaf and Let Die, which I had never heard about; that's more of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 approach to not-so-good teas ... I'll have to give the podcasts a listen and see what it's all about.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cat Rescue Tea 2014 tickets are on sale now!

Downton Tabby Tea 2012.
Photo: Miranda Von Stockhausen 
It's that time again: the 6th Annual Downton Tabby Tea fundraiser is scheduled for March 29 and 30 in San Jose, and tickets have just gone on sale!  They sell out quickly, so be sure to buy yours as soon as you can.  Feel free to dress up for this event, in keeping with the Downton Abbey theme and the opulence of this restored Victorian mansion!

*NOTE: If you have a group of people attending, and you would like to be seated together, you must buy the tickets for your group at the same time (in one transaction), or we cannot guarantee your seating.  If ticket sales go like they have for the past few years, there won't be any available to buy at the door, or in the days leading up to the event!  Only tickets that have been paid for can be considered "reserved"!

Here is the vital information:

Fundraising organization: Friends of 13th Street Cats/13th Street Cat Rescue (

Dates: Saturday, March 29 and Sunday March 30, 2 to 4 p.m.

Location: a restored Victorian home in the Hensley District, downtown San Jose.  The address will be sent privately to those who purchase tickets.

Event details: prix-fixe afternoon tea plate includes homemade scone, lemon curd, jam, tea sandwiches and savories, nut cup and fresh fruit, tea cake and chocolate, as well as bottomless pots of tea (Satori Tea Bar's Earl Grey Creme or Smitten Kitten herbal tisane from Thompson Tea Co.).  There will be a silent auction and a raffle of a variety of wonderful items; in the past these have included: timeshare vacations, to bottles of wine, to tea baskets, to gear for your pets.  Self-guided tours of the mansion may also be available at the discretion of the owners.


  • $40 per person, for a full afternoon tea, Veggie or Regular options; 
  • $50 per person, for the full afternoon tea, Veggie or Regular options, plus 2 glasses of champagne; 
  • $150 for the Countess Package, full afternoon tea (Veggie or Regular) for 2, champagne for 2, VIP table for 2, 2 VIP badges, 2 tea favors, and advance entry at 1:30 p.m.;
  • $300 for the Grantham Package, which is everything included in the Countess Package, but for 4 people.  

Where to buy your tickets: the 13th Street Cats website at   Tickets on sale NOW!

See you there! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge #1 for 2014

Production photo of female
Hobbit for inspiration.
Challenge #1: Make Do And Mend.  So, I thought I would actually finish one of the challenges within a reasonable time period from its due date ... Besides the replacing of the waist drawstring on my hoop petticoat (detailed in the last post), I also spent some time arranging some items to make my 1580s Elizabethan working-woman costume into something Hobbity for the GBACG fashion show on Saturday.  I put my hair in curlers and asked my friend to lend me her pointy ears and everything!  And then (while at the fashion show venue) ... I read the fashion show script that the narrator would be reading, and had to "make do" to change it back to (relative) historical accuracy!  

Friday, January 17, 2014

New(ish) costumes: mending and adjusting one costume to work as a different one.

vintage 1940s poster.
I've been watching the Historical Sew Fortnightly costume activity for a while; although I've never had the time to finish anything on schedule, it's fun to see what everyone else does.  The current (well, the due date just passed, but you still get full credit even if you finish late) project is a "Make Do and Mend" theme.  I have such a pile of mending, both costume and mundane clothing, so I've gotten out a few projects to work on for this challenge.

The first one was fixing my hooped petticoat.  It's one of the cotton petticoats-with-tucks-filled-with-hoop-wire numbers that have been around for years, and it's served me pretty well for over 12 years.  I had removed the top hoop wire (it's a 5-hoop petticoat) because the petticoat was too long for me, and threaded the drawstring through the now-empty space where the wire had been, shortening the petticoat by about 6 inches.  No hemming -- all was good.  Unfortunately the drawstring was not all that strong, and it broke on my friend, who had borrowed it to wear to the Dickens Fair.  While she was wearing it.  Thankfully, it had been slipping down all afternoon, and she was in a dressing room when the breakage occurred, but we panicked for a while!  She ended up buying a new hoop petticoat at the Dickens Fair, and I brought my old one home, and shoved it in the closet.  Until now, when I looked through my stash and found a length of corset lacing that I had bought years ago, that ended up not being nearly long enough, but was a good length for a waist drawstring.  I promptly took it out, found my bodkin (I love those!), and threaded it in the empty drawstring space.  My hoop is usable again!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

World War 2-era gingerbread for the new year!

Image from http//
 Happy New Year!  While I didn't get Mrs. Beeton's Christmas Cake made this season, I did do a batch of my gluten-free cuccidati for my aunt and cousin, my rum-soaked fruit cake, and one of the recipes from my grandma's World War 2-era cookbook Burnt Toast Recipes: Victory Edition.  I have to be careful when making the recipes from this book; sometimes they're great (like the fruit cobbler recipe), but sometimes they're weird (like the mashed baked bean sandwich recipe) ... This one is a good one.  Of course, I didn't have all the ingredients so I had to improvise a bit, but it turned out a really yummy gingerbread that puffed up nicely in the oven (although it sank down once it cooled), and smells and tastes nice.  Here's the recipe [with my alterations in brackets]:

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)