Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In the Twelfth Month of Blogging...highlights from the past year

"Portrait of a Gentleman" by Nicolas de Largillierre.(early 1700's)
Looking back over my blog posts of 2014, I have pulled out some of my favorite discoveriesone for each monthand listed them below for your edification and enjoyment. Maybe one of these will help you win on Jeopardy someday!

Jan 8- Regarding 18th century wigs: “The powder was made of starch and was such a messy affair some wealthier homes had rooms set aside for the process (‘Powder Rooms!’)
Feb 19- Regarding 18th century love and marriage: “One of the more prevalent means was ‘handfasting’ or ‘spousal’ in which the young couple, with or without witnesses, simply held hands and promised love and loyalty, declaring themselves married. These personal ceremonies were held anywhere the couple chose and in Colonial America were often performed over an anvil in a blacksmith’s shop, symbolizing the strength of their bond.”
Portrait of an Unknown Lady of South Carolina, 1708-1709,
 by Henrietta Johnston
March 12- Regarding John Lawson’s early 18th century description of the ladies of Carolina: “ ‘As for those Women, that do not expose themselves to the Weather, they are often very fair, and generally as well featurd, as you will see any where, and have very brisk charming Eyes, which sets them off to Advantage.’ ”
April 23-  Regarding the real life “Robinson Crusoe” for which Daniel Defoe based his famous character: “As a landing boat rowed ashore, a wild-looking man clothed in goatskin, waving a white flag and yelling in excited English, came running to the shoreline. This solitary man, Alexander Selkirk, had been living alone for the previous four and half years with only the company of wild goats, rats and feral cats, the legacy left by early Spanish colonization attempts.” 
May 7- Regarding the curse Rev.George Whitefield laid upon Bath, North Carolina: “At one point, Whitefield gave up and upon leaving the town for the last time proclaimed: ‘There’s a place in the Bible that says if a place won’t listen to The Word, you shake the dust of the town off your feet, and the town
Bath, NC (KLWood, 2014)
shall be cursed. I have put a curse on this town for a hundred years.’ ”
June 4- Regarding the female pirate, Anne Bonny: “On November 18, 1720, the day Calico Jack was to be hanged from the gallows, it is reported Anne Bonny was allowed to see him one last time. Her words? ‘I’m sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man you need not have hanged like a dog.’ "
July 2- Regarding 18th century sea bathing machines: “The machine was basically a dressing room on wheels that was pulled into the ocean by a horse. Although there were variations, most followed this basic routine: individuals entered the beached machines, fully dressed, by climbing a set of steps and disappearing into the privacy of the wooden box.” 
Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, 1745, by William Hogarth
Aug 27- Regarding common expressions with nautical origins: “Pipe down - A signal on the bosun's pipe to signal the end of the day, requiring lights (and smoking pipes) to be extinguished and silence from the crew
Sept 24- Regarding the secret code of flowers:
Camellia: My destiny is in your hands 
Carnation (Pink): I’ll never forget you
Carnation (Yellow): Disdain
Dahlia (Red): Dignity and elegance
Daisy: Innocence”
Edenton's 1767 Courthouse (photo by K.L. Wood)
Oct 22- Regarding Edenton townspeople’s grisly view of justice: “Disappointed at not being able to bring the man to justice, they took his corpse to the old Courthouse, sat it up for ‘trial,’ accused and sentenced him to ‘death,’ and then carried his body back to Beverly Hall where they strung him up in a tall tree in the backyard.”
Nov 5- Regarding 18th century chocolate: “Although drinking chocolate had been the
delicious norm for centuries, did you know that, other than chocolate used to flavor baked goods, there was no form of solid “eating” chocolate prior to 1830?”
Dec 3-Regarding the years when England cancelled Christmas: “Anything smacking of
revelry was denounced and soldiers were even ordered to roam the streets sniffing out any illegal substances, ie: mincemeat pies and Christmas puddings.”
The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas,1686, Josiah King

It’s been a fascinating year, filled with wonderful discoveries from our past. I hope your New Year is filled with joy and all that makes for a fulfilling life for you and yours.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back next year now! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How Old IS That Fruitcake?...a Christmas confection timeline

A Slice of American Fruitcake, photo by Stu Spivack via Wikimedia Commons
Pecan Pie!, photo by Steve Snodgrass via Wikimedia commons
There are legendary fruitcakes said to be passed down through several generations, doubtless hard and dense enough to second as doorstops during the "off season." But when did this Christmas treat that so many love to hate, much in the same spirit as tacky Christmas sweaters, first appear? Or candy canes, or eggnog, or pecan pie, for that matter? It often surprises me how recent some foods are and how ancient are others. In a recent post I mentioned that chocolate candy did not come on the scene until 1830. Imagine! Before then, chocolate was only ingested as a beverage or as a cake ingredient. Thanks to the wonderful website,, and to, I bring you a list of Christmas foods and their dates of origin. (Of course, due to the nature of the beast, the dates are sometimes not on the nose, but are certainly in the ballpark. How's that for throwing three idioms into one short sentence!) See the special eggnog recipe at the end.

Bobs Canes, photo by BitterSweetHorror
via Wikimedia Commons
Stuffing: 5th century
Gingerbread: 11th century
Mincemeat Pie: 12th century
Fruitcake: 13th century
Plum Pudding: early 15th century
Syllabub: 16th century
Turkey: 16th century
Eggnog:* 17th century
Sugarplums: 17th century
Buche de Noel: 19th century        
Peanut Brittle: 19th century
Pecan Pie: Late 19th century
Red and White Striped Candy Cane: Turn of 20th century
Cheese Ball: turn of 20th century
Jellied Cranberry Sauce (what my sister-in-law calls "Old Fashioned Round"): 1941
Rum Balls: 1940s
"Classic" Green Bean Casserole: 1955
Bishop's Bread (with chocolate chips:) 1959
Spiral-cut Honey Baked Ham: Patented 1952, TradeMark 1957, Available in 1960s
Red Velvet Cake: 1960 (not to be confused with Red Devil Cake from 1930)

We just had our annual Christmas Candlelight Tour Weekend, here in Edenton, NC, where the doors of festive homes are thrown open to admiring visitors. One of the really nice aspects of the event are the free venues housed in 18th century houses where confections and 18th century beverages are happily passed out to us all. One of the most richly luscious is the traditional *eggnog available at the Barker House. In the spirit of the season (and, yes, this eggnog does have spirits aplenty,) I am posting the following Colonial American Eggnog recipe from George Washington himself! Feel free to make your own adjustments to the alcohol contents. ;>}

*George Washington's Eggnog
Makes about 3 quarts
Egg Nog, from     
1 pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey
1/2 pint Jamaican rum
1/4 pint Sherry wine
12 eggs, separated
12 tablespoons sugar
1 quart whole milk
1 quart heavy cream

2-Separate yolks and whites of the eggs*.
3-Add sugar to beaten yolks and mix well.
4-Add combined liquors to the yolk and sugar mixture, drop by drop at first, slowly beating it all the while.
5-Add cream and milk and mix thoroughly.
6-Beat the egg whites* until stiff and gently fold these into cream liquor and yolk mixture.
7-Let this sit in the refrigerator for several days.
Enjoy (responsibly!)

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! And have the Merriest of Christmases!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Year Christmas was 17th century Puritans took the Merry out of Christmas

Twelfth Night, 1668, Jan Steen
London, December 25, 1640: The first of the Twelve Days of Christmas finds all shops closed, churches open for special services, holly and rosemary adorning homes and places of worship, carols being sung, wassailers rewarded with specially brewed Christmas ale and punch, people dancing in the streets, card games and other sports played, actors performing on stage, mincemeat pies baking, plum puddings bubbling, and Father Christmas overseeing it all. Christmas is in the house!

The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas,1686, Josiah King
London, December 25, 1645: All shops open for business as usual, churches closed, not a holly berry or rosemary sprig in sight, no carols sung, no special food or beverages (mincemeat pies confiscated and bakers of such, duly fined,) no games, no dancing, no plays, no playing and Father Christmas has been exiled. Christmas has left the building!  

Oliver Cromwell, 1656, Samuel Cooper
The difference? The reign of a Puritan-based Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. Anything smacking of revelry was denounced and soldiers were even ordered to roam the streets sniffing out any illegal substances, ie: mincemeat pies and Christmas puddings. As with many acts of extremism there was some basis for this reaction against all things Christmasy. Seems some segments of the populace had turned the Twelve Days of Christmas into one gigantic, raucous, (often bawdy) party with little left of the religious other than the church services. Thus the Puritans threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, and left England bereft of even the sweetest and most pious celebrations. In addition to ridding the country of traditions handed down since pagan days and wrapped up in festive Christmas ribbons (mistletoe, decking the halls with boughs of holly, Yule logs, etc) the anti-Catholic Puritans were intent on taking the "mass" out of Christmas, as well. Thus Christ's Mass (Christmas) became known as Christ-tide and was set aside only as a time of fasting and private prayer--if observed at all.

Christmas Pudding, London,
James Petts per Wikimedia Commons 
Christmas was not so easily legislated or threatened out of the hearts of the people, however, and many carried on quiet, clandestine celebrations during the long, dark days of mid-winter. When Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, both Charles II and Father Christmas were welcomed back with open arms. By December of 1660, Christmas celebrations were back in full swing although some of the earlier more rowdy aspects were toned down and a more family-friendly holiday warmed the hearths and hearts of England.

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