Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Verses for the Printer's 18th century poem of a Colonial Christmas

"The Mistletoe Bough" by Francis Wheatley, 1790
This week I beg my Reader's pardon and indulgence as I celebrate this busy and beloved Christmas week, with little time to research and write, with a poem I've just discovered which gives an amusing look and first person insight into 18th century American Christmas traditions. It was written in the late 1700's by St. George Tucker of Williamsburg, Virginia. The term "Printer's Devil" refers to a printer's apprentice, often the youngest, who spent much of his time stained with black ink. As my husband was a printer's apprentice in his younger days, this poem is especially dear to me. 

 "Christmas Verses for the Printer's Devil"
                   by St. George Tucker
Now the season for mirth and good eating advances,
Plays, oysters and sheldrakes, balls, mince pies and dances;
Fat pullets, fat turkeys, and fat geese to feed on,
Fat mutton and beef; more by half than you've need on;
Fat pigs and fat hogs, fat cooks and fat venison,
Fat aldermen ready the haunch to lay hands on;
Fat wives and fat daughters, fat husbands and sons,
Fat doctors and parsons, fat lawyers and duns;
What a dancing and fiddling, and gobbling and grunting,
As if Nimrod himself had just come in from hunting!
These all are your comforts—while mine are so small,
I may truly be said to have nothing at all.
I'm a Devil you know, and can't live without fire,
From your doors I can see it, but I dare not come nigher;
Now if you refuse me some wood, or some coal,
I must e'en go and warm, in old Beelzebub's hole;
Next, tho' I'm a devil, I drink and I eat,
Therefore stand in need of some rum, wine and meat;
Some clothes too I want—for I'm blacker than soot,
And a hat, and some shoes, for my horns and my foot;
To supply all these wants, pray good people be civil
And give a few pence to a poor printer's devil.
Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now...
and a Merry Christmas to one and all!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Oh Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding"...only if you're over 21!

English Tudor Christmas Carolers
Back in the 18th century (and a couple centuries before) when caroler's sang out "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and implored, "Oh bring us some figgy pudding," and warned, "We won't go until we get some" and demanded, "So bring it right here," they were calling out for a Christmas pudding imbued with tradition...and quite a bit of alcohol. Figgy Pudding, AKA Christmas Pudding, AKA Plum Pudding, AKA Christmas Pottage, is brought to us from 17th century England and, as this writer can attest from personal experience, can be prepared today with as much or as little Christmas spirit (spirits) as the intended audience requires. I am sure those merry-makers of old, caroling from door to door on cold December evenings, were warmed by both the goodwill and alcohol content of their beloved pudding.

As with all things setting Christmas apart from any other time of the year, the Puritans banned Christmas Pudding (way too festive for those folks.) It came back to roaring popularity with the reign of King George I of England who loved it and who became known (along with other less endearing names, especially here in the Colonies) as the "Pudding King." The king included the pudding in his royal Christmas feast of 1714 when he first arrived from Hanover and taken the throne.

Tradition has it that each member of the family should have a hand in the preparation with each taking a turn to stir from "East to West" to represent the Magi on their journey from East to West to find and honor the Christ Child. Admittedly I am most directionally challenged so, living on the east coast of America, I suppose I would just have the stirring be done counterclockwise.

Christmas Pudding from Wikipedia
Below are directions for the pudding you can prepare yourself anytime during the season (it keeps a loooong time.) Traditional recipes include suet but this one leaves it out. Having made pudding with suet, I can assure you the pudding will be fine without it! Thanks to and baker, Dorrie Greenspan, for this recipe. Enjoy!

Figgy/Christmas/Plum Pudding

Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking: From My Home to Yours, created this recipe for figgy Christmas pudding fo rAll Things Considered.
Makes 8 to 10 servings

12 plump dried Calymyrna figs, snipped into small pieces
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup dark rum
1/3 cup cognac or brandy
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 (packed) cup brown sugar
2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (made from about 8 inches of baguette)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup brandy, cognac or rum, to flame the pudding (optional)
Softly whipped, lightly sweetened heavy cream, vanilla ice cream or applesauce, homemade or store-bought, for serving (optional)
Getting ready: You'll need a tube pan with a capacity of 8 to 10 cups — a Bundt or Kugelhopf pan is perfect here — and a stock pot that can hold the pan. (If you've got a lobster pot, use that; it'll be nice and roomy.) Put a double thickness of paper toweling in the bottom of the pot — it will keep the pudding from jiggling too much while it's steaming. Spray the tube pan with cooking spray, then butter it generously, making sure to give the center tube a good coating.
Put the figs and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and, keeping an eye on the pan, cook until the water is almost evaporated. Add the cognac or brandy, rum and raisins and bring the liquids back to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, make sure it's in an open space, have a pot cover at hand and, standing back, set the liquid aflame. Let the flames burn for 2 minutes, then extinguish them by sealing the pan with the pot cover. For a milder taste, burn the rum and brandy until the flames die out on their own. Set the pan aside uncovered.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt and keep at hand.
Working in a mixing bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs and brown sugar together until well blended. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the bread crumbs, followed by the melted butter and the fig mixture (liquids included). Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and gently mix them in — you'll have a thick batter. Fold in the cherries and cranberries.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Set the pan into the stock pot and fill the pot with enough hot water to come one-half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the baking pan. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot tightly with foil and the lid.
Lower the heat so that the water simmers gently, and steam the pudding for 2 hours. (Check to make sure that the water level isn't getting too low; fill with more water, if necessary.) Carefully remove the foil sealing the pot — open the foil away from you to protect your arms and face — and then take off the foil covering the pan. To test that the pudding is done, stick a skewer or thin knife into the center of the pudding — the skewer or knife should come out dry.
To remove the pudding from the pan (a tricky operation), I find it easiest to carefully empty the water into the sink, and then carefully ease the baking pan out on its side. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the pudding cool for 5 minutes. Detach the pudding from the sides of the pan using a kitchen knife, if necessary, then gently invert it onto the rack. Allow the pudding to cool for 30 minutes.
Flaming Figgy Pudding from Wikipedia
If you'd like to flame the pudding — nothing's more dramatic — warm 1/3 cup of brandy, cognac or rum in a saucepan over medium heat. Pour the warm liquid over the top of the pudding, and then, taking every precaution that Smokey Bear would, set a match to the alcohol. When the flames die out, cut the pudding into generous pieces. Actually, there's so much fruit in the pudding, the only way to cut neat slices is to make the slices generous.
Serve the pudding with whipped cream, ice cream or applesauce.
Alternatively, you can cool the pudding completely, wrap it very well in several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to two weeks. When you are ready to serve, butter the pan the pudding was cooked in, slip the pudding back into the pan, seal the pan with foil, and re-steam for 45 minutes.
Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sing a Song of Christmas...18th century style

Bruton Parish Church, Colonial Williamsburg, VA*
~First, a brief but important (to me, at least!) announcement: If you happen to be fortunate enough to be in Edenton, North Carolina this Friday or Saturday, Dec 13 and 14 to see and participate in the free and paid events of the beautiful annual Christmas Candlelight Tour, stop by for complimentary confections from 1-5pm at the Chowan Arts Council Gallery, 504 S Broad St, where I will be having a book signing of my novel Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse. For more information about this special town-wide Edenton offering see:
(free egg nog and cookies and goodies galore!)~

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." sings out from radios, televisions, store speakers, and cell phone ring tones but, in the 18th century, the weeks leading up to Christmas Day were times of quiet introspection called Advent. Many present-day churches still follow the same liturgical calendar encouraging their congregants to spend the four pre-Christmas Day weeks meditating upon the preparation of their hearts and souls for the coming of Christ into the world, but as soon as they step back into day-to-day life, I think most cannot ignore the festive atmosphere that surrounds us this time of year. I, for one, believe it's possible to merge faith and festivities but in parts of 18th century America, that was not the case. As a matter of fact, thanks to Puritan influences, most of 1700' s New England completely turned its back on anything that set Christmas apart from any other time of the year. the South where the Anglican church was dominant, Christmas was celebrated, albeit more conservatively than we now do.

An integral part of 18th century Advent and Christmastide activities was the singing of songs of the season. Several of our well-loved Christmas hymns and carols were written in the 1700's. The lyrics were sometimes set to old, traditional tunes of Great Britain and Europe and the carols we sing today are sometimes set to music composed a century later. The heart of the songs, however, lies in the words themselves and today I would like to share some of them in the form of spiritual poetry. Sometimes we are so caught up in the melodic singing, we do not pay attention to the words. So, in the spirit of an 18th century Advent and Christmas, here are three songs brought to us directly from the writers of the time. In some, I have omitted the repetitious lines used when singing and I challenge you to read them without hearing the musical notes in your head (harder than you think!)

"Le sommeil de l'enfant Jésus "by Francesco Travisani, 1656-1746

"Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"
(an Advent hymn by Charles Wesley, 1701-1788,  also the author of  
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing")

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

"Oh, Come All Ye Faithful"
 (as "Adeste Fideles" by John Francis Wade, 1711-1786)

"Nativity" by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 1714-1789
Oh, come, all ye faithful, 
Joyful and triumphant!
Oh, come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the king of angels:
Oh, come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord.

Highest, most holy,
Light of light eternal,
Born of a virgin,
A mortal he comes;
Son of the Father 
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
In the highest:
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, 
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

"Joy To The World"
(by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)
"The Holy Family" by Giuseppe Antonio Petrini, 1677-1758
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


*By Rainer Halama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Syllabub Anyone?...18th Century Festive Holiday Drinks

"The Sense of Taste" by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760) 
Ah, 'tis the season for raising a toast of good cheer or simply sipping something warm and wonderful by candlelight or a crackling fire. The 18th century had its share of Christmas "spirits" whose tasty descendants still grace our tables and tickle our taste buds today. One of these that made its way from 16th century Tudor England into my own 20th century North Carolina childhood is that creamy, luscious concoction known as Syllabub, a frothy blend of sweetened wine or cider and rich cream. I had such fond memories of this holiday treat, I even named a dear, big, beautiful Maine Coon Cat of mine, "Sir Syllabub" ("Bubba" for short.)

Syllabub. The origins of the name are speculative but it's so much fun to say aloud, isn't it? Rolls around your tongue and then just pops right out. A multi-syllabic party in your mouth! Syllabub was a very popular, festive beverage in 18th century Colonial America, as well as in Great Britain, and many recipes of the period show a goodly amount of variations on the theme. There are even recipes that involve milking a cow directly over a bowl of sweetened wine or cider. I think I'll pass on that one this year, thank you very much. There are two basic forms of Syllabub, one in which the sweetened wine/fruit juice is whipped into heavy cream in such a way as to remain consolidated, and one in which the liquid drains out of the mixture leaving the wine in the bottom of the glass and the thick cream on top. For this latter method, there were special Syllabub drinking vessels with a spout from which one could drink the liquid and use a spoon for the creamy froth on top. 

North Carolina Scuppernong Grapes,
 photo by Kathryn Louise Wood
My childhood memories are of the type that stays consolidated, served chilled, and is a cross between a drink and a dessert to be eaten with a spoon. Now, my family's roots are of the tea-totaling Methodist and Baptist variety and alcohol was not considered acceptable holiday fare so our Syllabub was made with "soft" cider made from apples or Scuppernong grapes. HOWEVER...once in a while (no one claims to know exactly how it happened) that cider might sit in the pantry for quite a spell waiting for Christmas and could (under just the right, mysterious circumstances) have a little extra kick about it, bordering on the "hard" side. When that happened, there would be a bit more of the "silly" in the Syllabub.

In the weeks to come I will share other 18th century holiday recipes but, for now, I will give you directions from some historic cookbooks for Syllabub. You may adapt these instructions with modern methods and ingredients and still enjoy a traditional treat with which your ancestors would feel at home. The first is closer to the kind of Syllabub of my youth (replacing the wine-- Rhenish and sack-- with "soft" cider...of course...) The second is of the liquid on the bottom, cream on the top variety.

"To Make Everlasting Syllabubs"
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, London 1758

~Take five half pints of thick cream, half a pint of Rhenish, half a pint of sack, and the juice of two large Seville Oranges; grate in just the yellow rind of three lemons and a pound of double-refined sugar well beat, and sifted. Mix all together with a spoonful of orange flower water, beat it well together with a whisk half an hour, then with a spoon fill your glasses. These will keep above a week, and is better made the day before.~

"Lemon Syllabub"
Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, London 1784
Detail from"The Sense of Taste" by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760) 

~Put a pint of cream to a pint of white wine, then rub a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar upon the out rind of two lemons, till you have got out all the essence, then put the sugar to the cream, and squeeze in the juice of both lemons, let it stand for two hours, then mill them with a chocolate mill, to raise the froth, and take it off with a spoon as it rises, or it will make it heavy, lay it upon a hair sieve to drain, then fill your glasses with the remainder, and lay on the froth as high as you can, let them stand all night and they will be clear at the bottom.~

Enjoy your Syllabub mustaches!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

We Gather Together...a Thanksgiving Excerpt from Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" by Jennie A. Brownscombe
Those of us in the United States are preparing for tomorrow's All-American Holiday of Thanksgiving which falls on the fourth Thursday of each November. (Of course, like many American traditions, it probably has its roots in British and European harvest celebrations.) Where and when the First Thanksgiving was observed is up to some debate, some saying it was the 1621 Pilgrims' Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts  while others believe it was the 1619 Settlers' Thanksgiving at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia. Either way, it is a day to give thanks for all of our blessings, big and small, with many of us celebrating by eating copious amounts of food!

Today, I would like to take you back to a traditional celebration that would have been at home in turn-of-the-20th century Massachusetts by way of printing an excerpt from my novel, Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse. Here the villagers gather together to enjoy each others' company and favorite foods as the children perform a Thanksgiving pageant. 

"Freedom From Want" by Norman Rockwell
...High, clear voices were heard in the distance and we all craned our necks toward the garden from which the sound came. A line of children, from youngest to oldest, marched in single file, singing “We Gather Together” as they approached. They were dressed in Pilgrim costume, black trousers and jackets for the boys and black dresses with starched white aprons and caps for the girls. Each one carried something symbolic of the harvest—pumpkins, gourds, clusters of grapes, bowls of cranberries and raspberries and nuts—and the tallest boy, bringing up the rear, proudly bore a great platter holding an enormous, roasted turkey, its golden brown skin glistening in the autumn sunlight. 
 With great ceremony, the children set down their treasures on a table until there was a long, colorful centerpiece stretching the length of the rows of tables where sat the admiring adults. Once the young man set his turkey on one of the serving tables, the children gathered into a cluster, all eyes on the garden. They completed the last verse of their Thanksgiving hymn just as drumbeats were heard resounding from the garden entrance. Gasps of  “Ooo’s” and “Ah’s” emitted from the grown-ups as another line of children, dressed in all manner of Indian garb, began their parade toward the tables. Brown leggings and shirts for the boys, and short, brown shifts for the girls, formed the backdrop for fanciful ornaments of feathers and beads and seashells. I noticed their feet were wrapped in soft, tan cloth, secured with leather cord. Each young “Indian” carried a gift of speckled Indian corn or a fish fashioned, quite realistically, from papier-mâché. These were placed on the tables among the Pilgrims’ gifts, to the steady drumbeat of a serious-faced little boy, his skin darkened for the occasion, blue eyes startlingly bright against his new complexion. The Indians joined the Pilgrims and all sang one verse of  “Come Ye Thankful People Come” with our minister urging us all to join in.
As the voices died down, he stepped before the children and raised his hands and closed his eyes, signaling the saying of the blessing. We all bowed our heads as Rev. Harris intoned a prayer of thanks for the bounteous goodness of God and for all the blessings He had bestowed upon us, particularly the blessing of these lovely children. With “Amen’s” arising from the gathering, Mr. Buchanan instructed us to take the plates we’d brought for the occasion and line up to share in the smorgasbord.
 I’ve heard of “groaning boards” before, and I think those tables would have groaned if they’d had voices! Never have I seen such a delicious display. Rev. Harris carved the great turkey and offered up juicy slices to adjunct the rest of the food. The tables were resplendent with corn puddings, baked beans, sliced beef, chicken and turkey, roasted potatoes—both white and sweet—string beans, butter beans, cranberry sauce, greens, and an incredible assortment of desserts. I cannot begin to name them all, everything from pumpkin pies sweetened with maple syrup to buttery pound cakes, to my favorite—Jenny’s sweet potato pie. I was proud to see my pie gobbled up quickly (although Joseph gazed forlornly at the empty dish, making me promise to fix another just for him!)
 We returned to our places at the tables and joyfully dug into our heavily laden plates. There was a chorus of satisfied remarks as we dove in, with many an inquiry as to “who made this pudding,” “these beans,” “this pie,” etc. It was a glorious time of food and fellowship! I introduced Mother and Father to everyone in turn, and I could see the blossom of peace blooming on Mother’s face as she was reassured, once more, of her daughter’s well being in this “foreign” land.
Once we were completely sated, Mrs. Buchanan stood at the end of one of the tables and rang a bell for our attention.
 “Now,” she said, “to complete the day, the children will give each of you a small piece of paper and place pencils on the tables for you to share. Please write down one thing for which you are truly thankful and pass your paper to the end of the table where either an Indian or a Pilgrim is standing. Once all have been collected, Mr. Buchanan will place them in the Thanksgiving fire and their ashes will rise to heaven in a symbolic gesture of our gratitude!”
 Dutifully, we set to our task. Some quickly wrote down their blessing while others thoughtfully scratched their heads or rubbed their chins in concentration. The choice was very difficult for me as there is so much for which I am thankful. Seeing the distress of those of us trying to decide among our blessings, Mr. Buchanan rose and said, “Remember, this is just one of your blessings. Just write down whatever comes into your heads. God knows your gratitude isn’t limited to this choice!”
 I scribbled down my response and passed it down the table, playfully slapping Joseph’s hand as he tried to read it. As the slips of paper were handed to them, the children dropped them into carved-out pumpkins, stationed at the head of each row of tables. Each pumpkin, brimming with thanks, was then carried to the schoolmaster standing by a great bonfire.
 “Dear God, Father, and Provider of us all, may the fragrance of these expressions of thanksgiving fill Heaven with their sweetness and gratitude.”
 With that, Mr. Buchanan took a pumpkin from each child, in turn, and emptied the contents onto the leaping flames.
 “Looks kind of pagan to me,” I heard Sam’s raspy whisper.
 “Shh!” Esther scolded.
 A titter of laughter rippled through the gathering, threatening to break the mood so skillfully cast by the dramatic Mr. Buchanan. When the last thankful notes sent smoke spiraling up toward the heavens, the schoolmaster turned and pronounced, “A Happy Thanksgiving to us all!”...

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


("The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe : This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks...for 18th century Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew
So, I am setting aside the diverse swirling claims for the origin of this Southern culinary classic comfort food, be it place or date of origin, and sharing the recipe with which I grew up. This particular recipe comes from the Chowning's Tavern Cookbook of Colonial Williamsburg.

 For those of you who may not know, Williamsburg was the political, educational, and cultural center of Virginia from 1699 to 1780. It is home to the College of William and Mary which received its charter from King William III and Queen Mary II of England on February 8, 1693. Second in age only to Harvard, William and Mary educated many of America's Founding Fathers including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and is still a vibrant and revered college to this day. Check out William and Mary at:

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
To prevent the deterioration of one of America's historical gems, two men joined forces in the 1920's to preserve, restore and, when necessary, accurately replicate the buildings of Colonial Williamsburg. The two men were the rector of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church, the Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin, and wealthy philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  Today you can stroll the streets of the town, eat in its taverns, and enjoy its shops along with costumed reenactors for a real 18th century experience. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg visit:

18th Century American Feast
Now, for that recipe that will be part of my Thanksgiving celebration (which, for our family, stretches from Thursday through Sunday of next week!)  Feel free to alter according to your own taste (the early cooks probably included squirrel.) Serve it with cornbread (fried or baked) and/or ham biscuits (thin, succulent slices of Virginia or country ham nestled inside warm, buttered biscuits.)

This makes a large pot of stew but it freezes well and actually improves in rich flavor when prepared ahead of time and slowly re-heated.

Brunswick Stew from the Chowning's Tavern Cookbook

~~ Ingredients:
• 2 chickens (about 3 pounds each), cut into 6 or 8 pieces 
• 4-5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 2 (16-ounce) cans, drained, seeded, and chopped 
• 4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels 
• 3 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 2 large onions, thinly sliced
• 2 cups fresh or frozen lima beans
• 2 cups fresh or frozen sliced okra
• 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste 
• 1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste 
In a large pot, place the chickens and add enough water to cover, 2-3 quarts. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered, until the chicken is falling off the bones and the broth is well flavored, 2-3 hours. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a bowl and cool.

Skim the broth. Add the tomatoes, corn, potatoes, onions, lima beans, and okra. Season with the salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull the chicken off the bones. Add the chicken to the vegetables and taste the stew for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, or sugar as desired. Serve hot in warmed bowls. ~~

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Photo Credits:
Brunswick Stew--  By Joe Loong ( [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia--  By Harvey Barrison from Massapequa, NY, USA (Colonial Williamsburg Uploaded by AlbertHerring)  [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (],  via Wikimedia Commons

18th Century American Feast--  By Harvey Barrison from Massapequa, NY, USA  (Colonial Williamsburg  Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-SA-0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

So You Want To Be A Colonial America?

Portrait of 18th century Surgeon John Hunter by Joshua Reynolds
During the early days of Colonial America, university trained physicians were few and far between. Most doctors, trained in Europe, were quite comfortable remaining in their homeland and had no desire to brave the wilds of the New World. Many of the doctors who came and remained in 17th and 18th century America were ship's surgeons or apothecaries, at best. There were, however, a few brave medical souls who found the idea of chartering unknown territory a desirable, even exciting one. As time went by, more and more young colonists were sent to Europe for their medical training and returned home to serve the needs of the pioneering folk of the thirteen colonies.

One practice that prevailed all the way into the middle of the 19th century was that of young men apprenticing to established doctors. The term of the apprenticeship averaged five to seven years and usually commenced between the ages of 14 and 18. The young apprentice would pay a fee of about $300 and for that he would be given room and board, often in the physician's own home, training, and finally a certificate of completion along with medical books and a set of pocket tools to begin his professional life. He might even receive the skeleton of the body stolen from the churchyard with which he had received much of his education!

By Vincent de Groot 
The first phase of his training was termed "reading with the doctor." During this time he would be given reading assignments from medical texts and would be tested on the information as well as instructed to recite what he had learned. He would also observe and, later, assist with patients who came to the doctor's office. Skills involving bloodletting, tooth extraction, and the care of wounds would be learned in this way. Many doctors of the time mixed and dispensed their own medicine so the apprentice would spend much time learning to grind, mix, and prepare needed drugs.

The second phase of training was called "riding with the doctor," in which the student/assistant would accompany the doctor as he attended his patients in their homes. The apprentice listened and observed the doctor and on the way home would discuss the diagnosis and method of treatment. He would assist the doctor during these house calls and toward the end of his training would be sent out on his own to check on patients under his teacher's care. For 200 years, 90 percent of American doctors were trained under the apprenticeship method and even as late as the mid 19th century, more than half had still been trained in this manner.

Men did not pursue medicine to become wealthy. Especially away from the larger towns, patients might pay their doctors with produce or eggs from their own farms. Perhaps I'll drop my health insurance and stock up on canned tomatoes from my garden instead. What do you say, Doc?  

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


(My thanks to the Galter Health Sciences of Northwestern University for this research. You may read more at .   Skeleton photo: - (Own work) [GFDL (,  CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-5 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Hands on Deck! Stepping aboard a 16th century experience

Elizabeth II at Edenton Dock
As part of our town's 300th Anniversary Celebration, Edenton, North Carolina recently hosted a visit by the representative ship, Elizabeth II. The 69 foot, square-rigged ship was built to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of Sir Walter Raleigh's exploratory expeditions to the New World and, since 1984, has allowed us to travel back in time to experience a taste of those extraordinary adventures. The construction of Elizabeth II was carried out by a building and rigging crew in Manteo, North Carolina, along the same banks first explored by the English settlers. When not sailing to other ports of call, the Elizabeth II floats in Shallowbag Bay at Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, along the famous Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Flag of St George and the Tudors
Upon first seeing the vessel, I am struck by the sensation of viewing an art work come to life since our only visual experiences with such ships are through paintings and drawings of the time. The Elizabeth II was built with an eye to historical accuracy and no detail was overlooked. The ship's design was based upon several merchant ships that plied the seas and crossed the Atlantic between 1584 and 1587 at the command of Queen Elizabeth I. As I stand on the dock gazing at the ship, flags ripple in the gentle October breeze. They, too, are representatives of their time. One flag is white with brilliant green stripes, Elizabeth's family Tudor flag, and others display the red cross of Saint George, the patron saint of England.
Elizabeth II Rigging
Stern of Elizabeth II at Edenton Dock
Ropes Below Deck
Captain's Quarters
Costumed interpreters welcome us aboard and gently guide us around the many trip hazards at our 21st century feet and remind us to mind our heads as we descend into the lower depths of the ship. Not only was the ship built to look like a ship of old, it was constructed using 16th century methods. The spars (masts, yards, booms, poles) were built from wood procured from Tacoma, Washington. The large spars were made of Douglas fir and the smaller ones were made of Sitka spruce. Each mast and yard was made out of one tree selected for its appropriate size, stripped of its bark and turned on a large lathe to the exact dimensions needed. The 16th century technology employed even went so far as to having the huge sails hand sewn. The sailmaker chosen for this task was Nathaniel Wilson of East Boothbay, Maine.

Turning the Capstan to lower the anchor
As we climbed down the steps leading below deck, I was cognizant of the confined spaces that would have housed the 50 men on board such a vessel. Reaching the lower deck I heard the soft Scottish accent of a man, dressed in the manner of a 16th century seaman, explaining the origin of the term "son of a gun." According to this man (who could have easily passed for Johnny Depp!) captains would sometimes bring their wives along on voyages but disguise them as men and often have them work as gunner's mates. When the inevitable happened and these gunners ended up in childbirth, the baby boy was called a "son of a gun." I have heard other explanations for the term, but will leave that for another day.

My dear 89 year old mother accompanied my husband and me on the tour of the ship and as
she posed for a photo I was reminded of the irony of the situation. Some of her ancestors (and mine, too, of course) were among the native inhabitants of this New World along with other ancestors of ours who were part of the English settlers who first met them.
My mother, Oleta Wood, aboard Elizabeth II

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


(All photos on this post were taken by my husband, William Ahearn, and used with his kind permission.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An 18th Century Halloween Treat, from our special guest blogger, Mr. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

"Daniel Defoe"  Unknown, in the style of Sir Godfrey Kneller 
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I am able to read and share with you fascinating though obscure literary treasures. The Project Gutenberg is an excellent source for reading these pieces in their original form and the one I present to you, today, is a ghost story written by Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe fame) telling of a ghostly encounter recounted to him by a Mrs. Bargrave in Canterbury, England in the year 1705. Defoe presents the tale as a true event though there is some speculation to the contrary. Judge for yourself after reading my following edited version or, better yet, read the original at:
(Be sure to read the footnotes following my signature.)

Mr. Defoe tells us Mrs. Bargrave had not seen her friend, Mrs. Veal, for over 2 years and attributed her absence with the forgetfulness of a woman busy with her husband's new-found prosperity. Mrs. Bargrave is sitting alone in her home attending to her sewing-work when...
... she hears a knocking at the door. She went to see who was there, and this proved to be Mrs. Veal, her old friend, who was in a riding-habit. At that moment of time the clock struck twelve at noon...
"Henrietta Cavendish Hollles" by Sir Godfrey Kneller
(digital enhancement by K. Wood)
Madam, says Mrs. Bargrave, I am surprised to see you, you have been so long a stranger; but told her, she was glad to see her, and offered to salute her; which Mrs. Veal complied with, till their lips almost touched; and then Mrs. Veal drew her hand across her own eyes, and said, I am not very well; and so waived it. She told Mrs. Bargrave, she was going a journey, and had a great mind to see her first. But, says Mrs. Bargrave, how came you to take a journey alone? I am amazed at it, because I know you have a fond brother. Oh! says Mrs. Veal, I gave my brother the slip, and came away because I had so great a desire to see you before I took my journey. So Mrs. Bargrave went in with her, into another room within the first, and Mrs. Veal sat her down in an elbow-chair, in which Mrs. Bargrave was sitting when she heard Mrs. Veal knock. Then says Mrs. Veal, My dear friend, I am come to renew our old friendship again...
Then Mrs. Veal reminded Mrs. Bargrave of the many friendly offices she did her in former days, and much of the conversation they had with each other in the times of their adversity; what books they read, and what comfort, in particular, they received from Drelincourt's Book of Death, which was the best, she said, on that subject ever written... 
Says Mrs. Veal, Dear Mrs. Bargrave, if the eyes of our faith were as open as the eyes of our body, we should see numbers of angels about us for our guard. The notions we have of heaven now, are nothing like what it is, as Drelincourt says; therefore be comforted under your afflictions...
She would often draw her hand across her own eyes, and say, Mrs. Bargrave, do not you think I am mightily impaired by my fits? No, says Mrs. Bargrave, I think you look as well as ever I knew you... 
And to divert Mrs. Veal, as she thought, took hold of her gown-sleeve several times, and commended it. Mrs. Veal told her, it was a scowered silk (see my note below*), and newly made up...
She said to Mrs. Bargrave, she would have her write a letter to her brother, and tell him, she would have him give rings to such and such; and that there was a purse of gold in her cabinet, and that she would have two broad pieces given to her cousin Watson...
Photo by K. Wood
Then Mrs. Veal asked for Mrs. Bargrave's daughter; she said, she was not at home: But if you have a mind to see her, says Mrs. Bargrave, I'll send for her. Do, says Mrs. Veal. On which she left her, and went to a neighbour's to see for her; and by the time Mrs. Bargrave was returning, Mrs. Veal was got without the door in the street, in the face of the beast-market, on a Saturday, which is market-day, and stood ready to part, as soon as Mrs. Bargrave came to her. She asked her, why she was in such haste. She said she must be going, though perhaps she might not go her journey till Monday; and told Mrs. Bargrave, she hoped she should see her again at her cousin Watson's, before she went whither she was going. Then she said, she would take her leave of her, and walked from Mrs. Bargrave in her view, till a turning interrupted the sight of her, which was three quarters after one in the afternoon...
On Monday morning she sent a person to captain Watson's, to know if Mrs. Veal was there. They wondered at Mrs. Bargrave's inquiry; and sent her word, that she was not there, nor was expected. At this answer Mrs. Bargrave told the maid she had certainly mistook the name, or made some blunder. And though she was ill, she put on her hood, and went herself to captain Watson's though she knew none of the family, to see if Mrs. Veal was there or not. They said, they wondered at her asking, for that she had not been in town; they were sure, if she had, she would have been there. Says Mrs. Bargrave, I am sure she was with me on Saturday almost two hours. They said, it was impossible; for they must have seen her if she had. In comes Capt. Watson, while they were in dispute, and said, that Mrs. Veal was certainly dead, and her escutcheons (see my note below*) were making. This strangely surprised Mrs. Bargrave, when she sent to the person immediately who had the care of them, and found it true. Then she related the whole story to captain Watson's family, and what gown she had on, and how striped; and that Mrs. Veal told her, it was scowered. Then Mrs. Watson cried out, You have seen her indeed, for none knew, but Mrs. Veal and myself, that the gown was scowered. And Mrs. Watson owned, that she described the gown exactly: For, said she, I helped her to make it up. This Mrs. Watson blazed all about the town, and avouched the demonstration of the truth of Mrs. Bargrave's seeing Mrs. Veal's apparition.
Vintage Halloween Postcard

And so, dear Reader, I am sure you join me in saying, "Thank you, Mr. Defoe, for reaching to us beyond the grave to share this story with us!"

Happy Halloween to All!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!



*Scowered silk is raw silk that has been put through a special washing to render it smooth and silky.

*Escutcheons are engravings such as family crests which I gather, in this case, were for Mrs. Veal's gravestone.

**Special (appropriately strange) Footnote regarding the 2 portraits I found to illustrate this post**

I found these portraits with separate Internet searches. Defoe's portrait I found in while searching for "Daniel Defoe" and the portrait of the woman wearing a riding habit (which looks a lot like striped, scowered silk to me) at while searching for "Painting, 1705 Riding Habit." The odd thing is that both paintings are attributed to the same artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller (although the artist of this Defoe portrait hanging in the National Maritime Museum in London is officially unknown, it is listed as being in the style of Kneller.) Anyway...I thought it was a lovely, strange coincidence to share with you.

(Per the Project Gutenberg terms of use: "This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at" )