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10 Year Anniverary & New Releases Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' Butterfly Cottage - Melanie B, Dogwood Plantation - Patty H R, Janet Grunst's winner is Connie S., Denise Weimer's Winner is Kay M., Naomi Musch's winner is Chappy Debbie, Angela Couch - Kathleen Maher, Pegg Thomas Beverly D. M. & Gracie Y., Christy Distler - Kailey B., Shannon McNear - Marilyn R.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Early American Autumn Chores

by Denise Weimer

As we ease into October, follow the wood smoke on a leaf-laden, cool breeze back to a homestead on the Colonial or Federal frontier. We’d probably pass the men and boys in the field, busy with the harvest of whatever crop might be grown in that area. If we stuck our head in the door of the cabin, what would the women be up to? I came up with a few fall chores they might be about. Can you think of more?

Preserving – Meats were smoked, salted, and pickled for winter. The women turned fruit into jellies and jams and also pickled peas, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. Pumpkins might even be dried and hung from the rafters.
Soap-making – This task used grease saved from butchering and cooking and lye, which came from ashes kept in a large barrel. When these were boiled together with constant stirring in an outdoor pot, the whole yard would smell horrible. Lye from six bushels of ashes and twenty pounds of grease only yielded a small barrel of jelly-like soap.

Candle-making – Stinky, rancid deer suet or bear grease was uncovered after being saved for several months and placed in an iron kettle on the fireplace. It took about six hours to melt. Tallow was rendered through a cheesecloth, straining out the solid particles. It was then either stored for future use or transferred to another pot for reheating and dipping candles. Some families had large, tin candle-makers. Wick strings were doubled and strung over a narrow stick called a candle rod, then twisted tightly. The housewife dipped the wick into the melted tallow, then rested the rod on a rack until it cooled and grew hard. This was repeated over and over—often over the course of days—until the candle grew thick enough. Families might hang candles from the rafters until they were needed.

Beef-buying – Those who raised beef cattle might expect a buyer between the end of summer and September each year.

Corn-shucking – Separating the ear from the husk could call for a bit of merriment, with neighbors joining together to visit over the chore, feast, quilt, and sometimes, dance. Finding a red ear of corn could mean a chance to steal a kiss from one’s favored belle.

Baking – Let’s clear out the memory of all that grease and tallow and scent the air with a pumpkin and apple pie as we close today’s visit to the past. From The Compleat American Housewife 1776 by Julianne Belote:

Pare a pumpkin, and take the seedy part of it out; then cut it in slices; Pare and core a quarter of an hundred of apples, and cut them in slices. Make some good paste with an Egg, and lay some all around the Brim of the Dish; lay half of a pound of good, clean Sugar over the bottom of your Dish, over that a Layer of apples; then a Layer of Pumpkin, and again so untill the Pie is full, observing to put Sugar between every two layers, and all the remaining Sugar on top. Bake it half an hour, and before you send it to the Table, cut it open and put in some good fresh butter.

Other sources: Revolutionary War Journal Online, “Lighting Colonial Homes – Candles & Much More.” With These Hands They Built a Nation: The Story of Colonial Arts and Crafts by Lois Lazarus.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

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Monday, October 11, 2021

Colonial History in the Caribbean: St. Croix

This summer, the opportunity arose for me to accompany my husband on a military trip to St. Croix, US Virgin Islands--my first time ever out of the country! Although St. Croix was never on my wishlist of places to visit, I am so glad I went!

Beyond the expected tourist vibe, this Caribbean island boasts an interesting slice of colonial history. It was, in fact, a colony of Denmark during the 1700's. St. Croix's two towns, Christiansted and Frederiksted, were named after Danish kings. We stayed in Christiansted, just steps away from the first Lutheran church built on the island (unfortunately not open to the public), and about a block further lay the Danish outpost of Fort Christiansvaern. Of course I went exploring ...

The old church is now called, simply, "The Steeple Building." A bronze plaque reports that construction began in 1750 and that this first Danish Lutheran Church was consecrated in 1753 as the Church of Our Lord of Sabaoth and served until the move to a new sanctuary in 1831. (Which I also saw and admired--and is still in use!) The church building was then used as a military bakery, storehouse, town hall, hospital, and school. It still, says the inscription, bears the aspect of 1796.


Coming from drought-stricken North Dakota, which usually has a vivid beauty of its own even in August, I found myself continually amazed at the fresh greens and striking blues of the island and the waters around it. There's a reason why "Caribbean blue" is a thing!

It's funny, too, how a history nerd like myself gets excited just over an 8th century fort and cannons. I mean, really, how many can you see before they all start looking alike? But there was something about the cheerful yellow of Fort Christianvaern, and the weight of history lurking in its halls ...





There were too many rooms of the fort to share, but some of the more interesting ones included the aresenal, still containing various artillery equipment, gear, and firearms:





Of course, like so many other places, the 18th century history of St. Croix was entangled with the practice slavery. Sugar plantations comprised a large portion of the island's industry, and old sugar mills still stand scattered about--like this one on the boardwalk in Christiansted, now converted to a shop and restaurant by day.


In all, it felt a little like being on a "Pirates of the Caribbean" set, except for reminders that we remained firmly in the 21st century. (Among other things, the sanitizer dispensers literally in every nook and cranny!)



I also discovered two connections to American colonial history, right there on St. Croix ... but those will have to wait until next time!

(If you think you know at least one of them, do go ahead and post in the comments!)




Sunday, October 3, 2021

How Frontier Folk Stored Food for the Long Cold Season

There've been many posts on this blog in years past about cooking, keeping house, and other day-to-day activities in Colonial times. What has always been of special interest to me is the nature of storing food in general, of stocking up, of putting by. I'm especially curious about how people survived on the fringes of society on the frontier. I think of these things quite often now that we are in the height of fall and my family prepares for winter in our own northern Wisconsin way. 

The garden is winding down, but the apple crop is in!


Let's look at a few of the things people needed to do back then just to store food enough to  survive the cold months that would bear down on them.


STORING FOR A LONG SEASON

Of course, unless they were professional hunters or trappers, most Colonial pioneers planted. That might mean a field of corn or a kitchen garden. They harvested just as we do. And if their work wasn't destroyed by either animal or human marauder or by pestilence, then they needed to store their harvest. Remember that on the frontier, cabins were usually very small. While we love to admire the beautiful colonial houses of the eastern seaboard settlements, most cabins in the wilderness weren't much bigger than your average master bedroom or living room. One wall was likely taken up by a brick or stone fireplace where all the cooking was done. Another area was squished in for sleeping. All space was carefully used, and there wasn't a "living room" at all, unless you actually mean a general room where all the real living was done.

Now try to imagine where and how you'd store an entire winter's worth of food supply, along with everything else you owned, in such a tight space. You'd have a corner or area you considered your pantry perhaps. In your pantry you might keep bags of dried food such as sugar, corn meal, dried beans and peas, and other grains; canisters or jugs with pickled items to make them last; barrels or more jugs for liquids--wine, vinegars, and so on. That's a lot of space to consume. So you'd look overhead for storage too. You might hang ropes of onions, garlic, peppers, and dried herbs. If you were fortunate to have a smoke house, you could keep smoked deer haunches or possibly a ham or two, but if not, your smoked meat--or dried jerky over a very low fire--might also hang from the rafters of your cabin. 

Image by kimlangley from Pixabay 

Really fortunate people might have a root cellar for some crops, but hunters, trappers, and folks recently arrived on the frontier might only be able to dig a hole in the ground to hide away their goods. No matter where the storage went, I would be a wreck worrying about rodents! 

Frontier folk might depend often on hunting and foraging for food, but once the wintery snows settled in, the possibilities for foraging greatly depleted. If you did bring down game, you might have to find a way to preserve and store it, which also meant figuring out how to save the hides or feathers or other parts you planned to use later--an integral part of frontier living. Plus, you needed to store your munitions and winter clothing.

If you owned animals, you might have a supply of meat, milk, and eggs that needed preservation. Milk might be made into cheeses (again to the rafters) or butter (filling those crocks). More space-takers. Those early breeds of chickens didn't lay all winter long. Any eggs you weren't going to eat promptly needed to be safely stored from bacteria and evaporation.  Townsends on Youtube explains a variety of methods for that in great detail. They involved:

Room temperature storage--but only eggs that had not been washed or cracked can be stored up to a couple of weeks this way. Unwashed eggs have a natural protective barrier on the shell that prohibits bacteria from entering or liquid in the egg from evaporating out. When I raised chickens, I rarely washed my eggs for this very reason, even though I had the luxury of modern refrigeration at hand.

According to Townsends, the best way to preserve eggs was to store them in slaked lime, which is merely quicklime soaked in water. It had a 100% success rate after 8 month. Limestone was a product in the 18th century that was readily available and still is today. 

Another highly successful egg-storage method was to cover eggs in wood ashes. This technique yielded a really good success rate of 80%. A little taste change in the egg did occur. Coating the eggs with an oil such as butter or rendered animal fat was another method. Rancidity could be a problem with butter, but the meat suet helped the egg last indefinitely.

A few other, less successful methods of storing eggs involved: coating them with a varnish. Yeah... So there was that. Storing eggs in wheat bran is another but this had only had about a 30% success rate over time. Burying eggs in salt or storing them in brine was tried too, but this was not highly successful as it dried out the egg and made it taste salty, although it did a good job of preventing bacterial infection. 

If you want to try storing eggs for a period of time, do check out Townsends video with instructions and subscribe to his extremely interesting channel on all things American historical frontier.


Bear in mind that individuals on the frontier who did have the luxury of owning a few chickens or a hog or horse also needed to store food for their animals. That's hard enough in modern times with tractors, barns, and harvesting equipment. Back then by hand... Eek.

Nevertheless, through all the difficulties and consuming amounts of time it took to "put by" for winter, the rewards must have been great, especially the peace of mind in knowing they'd have enough to subsist on. I know that even nowadays, when I can hop in my car and run to town for a grocery pick up, nothing outweighs the feeling of accomplishment I have over looking at a lineup of home-canned applesauce or salsa on my shelves, or counting squash for the mountain I'm preparing to store in my basement. 

My Blessed Abundance

What about you? Do you "put by" for winter? What aspects of historical food preservation intrigue you the most?

SPECIAL SALE

October 7th is the anniversary of the Great Peshtigo Fire which took place the very same night as the Great Chicago Fire. Peshtigo, however, holds the record as the deadliest fire in American history. In remembrance of that night, The Red Fury, my novel about three people caught up in in that tragic event, will be on sale this week (Oct. 4th-9th) for only 99¢. Don't forget to grab it!




Monday, September 20, 2021

Of Flip and Syllabub

Old Salem Tavern

by Denise Weimer

Some of the spirituous liquors favored by our forefathers remind me of our modern coffee craze. According to a sweet little book in my parents’ possession, Little Pilgrimages Among Old New England Inns by Mary Caroline Crawford, copyright 1907, “Our forefathers, it must be remembered in explanation of this, knew nothing of the luxury of hot tea and coffee and so if they would drink anything but water [often unsanitary], malt beer and other spirituous drinks had to be supplied and dispensed by somebody.” 

Taverns rose to this occasion, often famed far and wide for particular drinks. Brigham’s Tavern in Westborough, Massachusetts, made mulled wine of a quart of boiling hot Madeira, half a pint of boiling water, and six frothed eggs, sweetened and spiced. “Nutmeg was a favourite flavoring and fashionable young ladies and elegant gallants always carried the delicate dainty in their pockets.” The Shepard Inn of Bath, Maine’s shipping city, served hot toddies and gin fizzes at a little window in the front hall. Other taverns concocted beers boiled with roots and herbs, spruce or sassafras bark, or pumpkin and apple.

Every landlord swore by his way of making flip. The Compleat American Housewife 1776 by Julianne Belote gives one recipe. In a pitcher, mix 2/3 full of strong beer, adding enough sugar or molasses to sweeten. Fill with about half a pint of rum, then heat the mixture by stirring with a red-hot poker. Says Pilgrimages: “The loggerhead, more commonly called the flip iron, was a regular part of the chimney furniture in ‘ye olden time:’ it was constantly kept warm in the ashes all ready to impart at short notice the puckering bitterness and curious scorched taste beloved of our ancestors.”

Tavern dining
The Compleat American Housewife
highlights another sweet Colonial libation, syllabub, a Christmas favorite. Amelia Simmons’ recipe called for sweetening a quart of “cyder” with sugar, grating in nutmeg, and then milking your cow directly into the liquor! Next, pour half a pint or more of sweet cream over it. Those who are financially able may use white wine instead of “cyder” and beat it with their cream for half an hour.

I experienced my first syllabub at the Moravian tavern in Old Salem, North Carolina. I must say, I wasn’t expecting quite so much “cyder.” LOL!

How about if I close today’s post with a sneak peek of a scene from A Secondhand Betrothal, my romance set on the Georgia frontier which my agent is currently shopping? Incidentally, it mentions both syllabub and nutmeg in this scene where the heroine, Esther, is Christmas shopping for the family that has taken her in after a tragedy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Can I help you, ma’am?” Mr. Moore gave no indication he recognized her as the daughter of his previous competitor. Just as well. She’d rather him assume she was a guest of the Lockridges, perhaps a relative.

“Have you white sugar and wheat flour?” She whispered the question. Tabitha’s dried apples would make a wonderful cake, and Esther had not forgotten Jared’s reference to syllabub. While the Lockridges took their corn to the grist mill on the Apalachee—a luxury compared to the hand mill Liam had expected Esther to use to grind their dried corn, and acorns when that meager supply dwindled—even they seldom acquired wheat flour on the frontier. The best gift she could give this family would be something they would all enjoy.

Mr. Moore caught onto her secrecy, his bushy brows shooting up, then nesting above his shining eyes as he whispered back. “I do, but it comes very dear.” He named the price, and Esther swallowed hard.

She twisted the ring off her finger. She’d gained enough weight that it no longer threatened to fall off. “Would this be enough for a pound of each … and one of those?” She nodded toward several nutmegs displayed in a nearby wooden bowl.

“Why … I’d say so. I don’t get much jewelry here, and rings that can be used for weddings are even rarer, but ma’am …” He took the circlet to examine it. “Are you sure?”

Esther nodded. “I am sure.” She picked up the top nutmeg and shook it, satisfied by the rattle of kernels in the shells covered by their streaked reddish coat of mace. The seeds had sufficiently dried to make their highly prized powder.

“Have you something we can hide your purchases in?”

She held out a cloth satchel looped over her shoulder, strung under her cloak.

“Very good. One moment while I fill your order.”


Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

Connect with Denise here:
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Friday, September 3, 2021

Life of a Longhunter

by Naomi Musch

There have always been wanderers, those curious and hardy souls who aren’t content remaining near the hearth, but find their calling in traversing the wild, in exploring the unknown, in finding their prospects in raw and solitary pursuits. In the early days of the settling of America, there were the explorers, then the trappers and fur traders, the voyageurs, and the longhunters.

I have to admit, I’m drawn to the romanticism of these types of characters. (Think Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans.) Yet, while we enjoy visualizing the romantic hero of the woods, we ought to understand the reality of the kinds of existence the wilderness wanderers lived. While history tells us there were men with fine character, cleanliness, and noble intentions, some hunters or traders of the era were also likely brutal, vulgar, and downright uncouth. (It would be pretty tough to mind personal hygiene while meandering the wild, and so much time alone lends a man to adjusting his standard of morality, usually toward the bad.)

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, Simon and Schuster


Let’s take a couple of minutes to think about the actual lifestyle of a longhunter in the late 18th century. The longhunters were mostly men who came to the frontier from Virginia and other southwest corners of the colonies and headed through the gap into Kentucky, Tennessee, and even as far as Illinois. They didn’t set out on the frontier with the purpose of settlement, but because they both preferred the lifestyle of self-rule and, mostly, because they hoped to make a profit. The name longhunter came from the fact that rather than heading into the forests for short durations to hunt or trap, they set out for periods as long as six months at a stretch, returning home with a bounty that would pay more than their farms might provide in a year’s time.

Yes, they did come home. They settled down between seasons. They might farm some, but they made the bulk of their income bringing in hides and meat--usually for the companies that hired them. While they were at it, the longhunters became well acquainted with the land west of the mountains itself—such as Daniel Boone did—and later on used this information to make land claims or to hire themselves out as guides to settlers seeking to move west.

The longhunters didn’t usually operate solo. Working for hire, they traveled in large groups for mutual protection in the face of trouble. Daniel Boone was himself robbed on three different occasions. Picture a camp of twenty or more men…each day bringing in more kills…some men having packs of hunting dogs and as many as three to eight pack horses each for carrying their meat, hides, and equipment. But these dogs and horses needed food and care besides. The hunters would flesh out their hides, salt and pack meat, and toss leftover carcasses to their dogs. The camp would be inundated with unsavory smells from souring meat to clothes, grease, and general human filth besides. Hardly the image of a romantic tale! And the men occasionally suffered great hardship too. There were times they couldn’t build a fire, and the cold and damp seeped into their bones. Sometimes the hunting was meager and so was food. Illness and injury had to be taken care of only by the skill of fellow hunters. Sometimes death met them in the woods.

Longhunter with a Dead Deer


Nevertheless, despite the extraordinary way they lived—or perhaps because of it—we enjoy the stories of these wanderers. Not unlike travelers returning home from a far journey today, I’m sure the longhunters made joyful preparations as they returned to their homesteads to see their families again. They likely stopped to bathe and groom themselves, and perhaps they brought their wives and children some trinkets gotten in trade. Then they would settle in for a period of domesticity before restocking their supplies and saying their goodbyes for another season.

I remain enamored of the stories of the fur traders and hunters and trappers. Of the rendezvous, the settlements, and forts in the wilderness. This coming January, my novel Song for the Hunter will release, and I hope you’ll join me living for a while as a wanderer in the wilderness…from the comfort of your home in the pages of a book. Add it to your Goodreads want-to-read list, or pre-order it today:

 Song for the Hunter by Naomi Musch


Happy wandering!

Naomi

https://naomimusch.com/