Simple Remedies

October 28, 2010

America Frugal Housewife


Boil four feet in a gallon of water, till it is reduced to a quart. Strain it, and let it stand, till it is quite cool. Skim off the fat, and add to the jelly one pint of wine, half a pound of sugar, the whites of six eggs, and the juice of four large lemons; boil all these materials together eight or ten minutes. Then strain into the glasses, or jars, in which you intend to keep it. Some lay a few bits of the lemon-peel at the bottom, and let it be strained upon them.

For those wondering what calf’s foot jelly is…it is (and I quote the dictionary here) “a savory jelly made with gelatin obtained by boiling calves’ feet.” Savory and calves feet don’t quite go hand in hand in my mind…but hey! Calf’s Foot Jelly was often a food fed to invalids back in the 1800s.

…presented to you from The American Frugal Housewife – Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, by Mrs. Child…


The Dark Side of History

October 26, 2010

In August, I went to Victoria, British Columbia for a long weekend with my husband and his parents, who were visiting from South Carolina.  We visited three major sites while we were in Victoria, and this post features one of them: Craigdarroch Castle.

My inner history nerd loves castles (hence why I love traveling in Europe).  There’s just something romantic about them, despite the fact that they are much less comfortable than the fairy tales would have us believe.  But European castles were built for the nobility to defend their land.  North American castles, like Craigdarroch, were built much later by wealthy businessmen who wanted to show off.  Hey, it worked.  Craigdarroch isn’t exactly Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, which I’ve also toured with my in-laws, but it’s pretty swanky.  Four floors of fine art, antique furniture, ornate trimwork, and excellent craftsmanship are inside the imposing stone exterior.  The house even had indoor plumbing, a novelty in the 1890s.  All four of us found something to appreciate as we looked into the rooms and read signs about the family who built it.

Craigdarroch Sitting Room

But even as I enjoyed our few hours of living it up, something bothered me.  In a few places in the house, asides were made that Robert Dunsmuir, the coal-mining baron who built the house for his family, gained much of his wealth through less-than-honorable business practices.  He had a reputation for being hard on his workers.  Details weren’t given, but in the days before labor unions, one can guess that working conditions in his mines weren’t the safest and the wages paid weren’t a fast track to the sort of wealth Dunsmuir eventually possessed.  He also formed something of a monopoly on Vancouver Island, even receiving a government contract to build a railroad that just happened to connect his coal mines to the nearest shipping center.  All of this gave him the money to construct this glorious castle.  And of course, Craigdarroch isn’t the only place where this is true.  Far too many lovely monuments have a dark side.

I’m not going to get on a soapbox and preach about the evils of the past that can’t be adequately rectified today.  All I’m saying is that reading those snippits of information made me stop and think about what I was seeing in a different way.  Yes, it’s beautiful.  The artists and craftsmen who worked on the house made beautiful things, which didn’t directly exploit miners.  But it is a shame that those signs couldn’t read “This castle and all you see in it was built by a man of compassion and integrity with money he received through honest hard work.”

Contest: A Difficult Boy

October 22, 2010

As we learned Wednesday, M.P. Barker worked at Old Sturbridge Village, and that experience helped her write A Difficult Boy. Old Sturbridge Village is a living history museum that is home to 59 historic buildings on 200 acres of land. It is one of my favorite places as most of you know. I love the charm of the village.

Today’s contest is simple. Go to the OSV site and take a look at the village map. Explore the building pictures and descriptions and tell me which town building most fascinates you and why. If you’ve already visited the village tell me about your favorite part of your visit.

Village Center


Mill Neighborhood

Interview: M.P. Barker

October 20, 2010

Everyone welcome M.P. Barker, author of A Difficult Boy, a middle grade historical novel set in 1839 rural Massachusetts. Nine-year old Ethan is indentured to Mr. Lyman, a wealthy shopkeeper. When he arrives at his new home, he meets Mr. Lyman’s other indentured servant, a moody, sixteen year-old Irish boy named Daniel. When both boys suffer from Mr. Lyman’s blows they realize they must learn to overcome their differences to survive.

1. Hello Michele. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to stop by Damsels in Regress to talk with us. Jumping right in, can you tell us what inspired this novel?

Thanks so much for the invitation! The story was inspired by a document I came across when I was working as an archivist at the Springfield (MA) History Library and Archives. It was a bill that the master of an indentured boy had sent to the boy’s parents after the boy ran away. The master must have gone to a lot of effort to chase this kid down; the bill included charges for hiring a horse, staying overnight at an inn, and hiring someone to assist with finding the boy. The master also billed the parents for court costs and the value of seven months’ worth of work that went undone while the boy was missing. The grand total was equal to about $1500-1600 in today’s currency.  I never found out the whole story behind the bill, but it stirred lots of questions in my imagination: Why did the boy run away? Why was the master so intent on getting him back? How were the parents going to pay the bill?

At the time, I was just starting to explore fiction writing and was involved in a writing group in which we did short exercises in response to writing prompts from the group leader. I was so intrigued by that document that I began using the characters of an indentured boy (who became Ethan) and his master in those writing exercises. Daniel, an indentured Irish teenager, very quickly turned up in my imagination and demanded to be included, and the story grew from there.

2. I love the early 1800s. Especially the every day life of country village. In A Difficult Boy, the time period came alive for me, from the descriptions of clothes, to food to the country store. What type of research did you do to help you capture all the little nuances of 1830s rural New England?

I was very lucky that I had worked at Old Sturbridge Village, where I actually did many of the things that my characters would have, including mucking out barns, milking cows, taking care of livestock, and making and eating the sorts of food New Englanders would have eaten back then. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a job!

We were trained in just about every aspect of daily life in that time period, and also had access to a research library full of nifty 19th-century documents and publications. So a lot of my “research” was really on-the-job training that happened long before I even imagined writing a novel.

Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: A Difficult Boy

October 18, 2010

A Difficult Boy
M.P. Barker
Grade 5  and up
272 pages

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with 1830s rural New England.  So when I found A Difficult Boy, a wonderful, historically accurate, book set in 1839 Massachusetts, I was ecstatic.  I loved the book!  And not just because of the setting. The novel was well written, well plotted and had a cast of characters I couldn’t help but fall in love with.  The setting was just icing on the cake. M.P. Barker’s A Difficult Boy is a page turner that will please all ages.

Ethan’s family is in trouble.  His father, a farmer, owes a substantial amount of money to Mr. Lyman, a wealthy shopkeeper and landowner.  To help pay off his debt and save the family’s farm, nine-year old Ethan is indentured to Mr. Lyman.  When he arrives at his new home, he meets Daniel, a moody, sixteen year-old Irish boy.  Orphaned at a young age, Mr. Lyman took Daniel in as an indentured servant.  Daniel has become a sullen and irritable boy after years of abuse, both verbal and physical, at the hands of Mr. Lyman.  When Mr. Lyman’s blows start to fall on Ethan as well, the boys overcome their differences and learn to depend on each other to make it through each day.

The novel moves at a good pace and has a variety of characters that each add something unique to the story—from Ethan’s good heartedness, to Daniel’s surliness, and even Mr. Lyman’s cruelty.  Even though the novel is told from Ethan’s point of view, the story is really about Daniel.  And even though we are never privy to Daniel’s thoughts, through Ethan we learn to fall in love with him.

Historically, this book is pretty accurate (I know the author has said she’s found a few mistakes, but I didn’t notice any.)  I’ve done more than my fair share of research on this time period, and I was very impressed.  The little details—from milking cows, to preparing dinner, to mealtimes, and even a walk in a pasture—that the author managed to work in throughout the novel painted a wonderful picture of a rural New England farm family and the hardships they faced day in and day out.  The author doesn’t shy away from the hard topics either as she paints a vivid picture of the prejudice many of the Puritans had toward the Catholic Irish at the beginning of the 19th century.    I was really impressed by how Ms. Barker managed to work in these details to aid the story and advance the plot.

I’m pretty picky about historical fiction.  I love to read it, but it takes a lot to really impress me.  This book did just that.  It’s got everything I could ask for: a strong plot, interesting, believable, and three dimensional characters, and a setting that comes alive on the pages.  I wholeheartedly recommend A Difficult Boy.

Apple Sauce (the 1800s way)

October 14, 2010

Since it is apple season in New England…here’s a recipe for apple sauce…the 1800s way!

Apple Sauce

In the country it is thought almost as indispensable to provide the stock of apple sauce for winter use, as the pork; and there is no doubt of the healthiness as well as pleasantness of fruit taken in this way as food.  To eat with meat it is best made of sour apples, not too mellow, but pleasant flavored.  Boil down new sweet cider till it is nearly as thick, when cold, as molasses; strain it through a sieve; wash the kettle (it must be brass) put in the syrup, and as soon as it boils put in the apples, which must have been previously pared, quartered and cored.  Stew over a slow fire of coals till very tender.  A barrel of cider will make half a barrel of very strong apple sauce, which will keep through the winter.

If you like it sweet to eat with tea, use sweet apples, and skim out the whole quarters, when soft; then boil the syrup and pour over them.

Brought to you by: The Good Housekeeper, by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1839

Apple sauce in the 1800s was not like what we're used to today. It was rarely eaten on its own, but more common as a spread with meats or baked goods. (I apologize for the not so great picture it was the only one I had.)

More Historical Video Fun

October 12, 2010