Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Voile Undersleeves

I had a slow day at the Fort yesterday (at least in the morning), so I decided to sew some undersleeves by hand.

The voile is delightfully light, but starts looking wrinkled the second I take the iron off of it.  It didn't fray very much, and so far was more pleasant to work with than the batiste I used on my last set of undersleeves--it was also less droopy, so I am hopeful that it will wear a bit more nicely.  The ease with which it wrinkles is a bit disconcerting, however...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Historic Food Fortnightly Challenge #6: Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables

The Challenge: Seasonal Vegetables

The Recipe: Economical Vegetable Pottage accompanied by A Plain Salad (& Egg Dumplings, roughly based on the recipe from Godey's, reproduced in Civil War Recipes)

Date/Year & Region: English, 1852; American, 1860s

How Did You Make It: Started a broth with 4 oz. butter in 6 pints of water; added salt, pepper, winter savory*, parsley* and thyme*.  Allow that to boil while cutting vegetable: red potatoes*, gold potatoes*, golden beets*, tete noir cabbage*, carrots*, welsh onions*.  Added the shallots and (some type of) fresh bean whole.  Allowed the whole thing to simmer for a while, adding mint near the end.   For the salad, I layered green and red cabbage leaves, added some red lettuce, and decorated with slices of golden beet and mint leaves.  Dressing of apple cider vinegar & olive oil (ran out of butter) with salt and pepper.  Dumplings made of flour & salt, worked to a dough with egg* yoke and then boiled.

Time to Complete:  From digging the potatoes until the dishes were washed, about 5 hours.  I was making this in order to demonstrate the period kitchen in use, so it filled the time wonderfully.

Total Cost:  All ingredients to hand.  Asterisked items were from the Fort's period garden (or period chickens residing therein).

How Successful Was It: My best stew yet (probably because the instructions informed my seasoning choices, and I didn't put in too much pepper this time).  The visitors commented favorably on the smell, and the reenactors seemed to favor the dumplings.

How Accurate Was It: I confess I just hunted through the available recipes looking for guidelines by which I could justify improvising (having not exactly prepared for the task at hand).  That being said, the period instructions offer great latitude to use whatever vegetables are available--and for what it's worth, veggies and herbs used were all heirloom varieties dating no later than 1855.

Soup on the Stove

Egg Dumplings

Historic Food Fortnightly Challenge #5: Pie

The Challenge: Pie (made during the challenge fortnight, August 9th)
The Recipe: Open Tart of Blackberry Preserves from Mrs. Beeton
Date/Year & Region: English, 1861 (Crust: American, 1860)
How Did You Make It: Made up the puff paste from Practical American Cookery just as in Challenge #3.  Rolled it out and lined the bottom of a pie pan (having no tart pan), then cut stars from the scraps using a cookie cutter.  Baked about 15 min at 350F until the paste appeared to be cooked.  Before serving, I spread the preserves over the crust and topped with the stars.
Time to Complete:  Half an hour, at the outside.
Total Cost:  $5.00 for the nice preserves (no HFC), on sale.  Flour & butter on hand.
How Successful Was It:  Took it to a potluck, and didn't even get piece.
How Accurate Was It:  Very, though I did purchased the preserves, rather than making them.

Baked Paste; I can't find my picture of the completed tart

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark

A good seven/eight years after I started reading at her website, I finally got a copy of Mrs. Clark's "The Dressmaker's Guide".  I hadn't done so at first, as I was 1) at college, with little spending money, and thus 2) on hiatus from the hobby.  By time I got back into the swing of things, I felt confident on the basics, and didn't think I'd have much to learn from this particular source.

This turned out to be--very much--not true.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, detailing how to drape or draft and then make up each of the layers* which goes into women's wardrobes c. 1840-65.  The first three chapters cover preparation for sewing and context for one's living history: a year-by-year timeline of events, approaches to progressive reenactment and documentation of research, a timeline of dress styles, and a 50-page tutorial of stitches and fabric terms.  Chapters 4-11 go through each garment or element, discussing how to fit it, what materials to use, and how to make it.  Chapter 12 is a quick-reference appendix, with three "croquis" in different body types (instructions are given in chapter 2 for using these paper dolls to plan your outfits and play with styles).

For a preview of style and content, the free women's patterns found at the Compendium are mostly taken from the book (except for the sunbonnet, shawl, and apron).  The chemise chapter, for instance, includes the personally-drafted banded chemise found at the Compendium, as well as instructions for a gored chemise, and a discussions of the different fabric choices.  Similarly, the basic drawers and petticoat are given free on-line, but the book offers additional design choices, including decorative tucks and whitework insertions, and instructions for corded and quilted/wadded petticoats.  If you can follow the directions given on-line, you'll have no trouble with the book's instructions.  Additional book content includes a whole chapter on draping a personal corset pattern, cage crinoline instructions, a self-drafted sleeve pattern with 8 different variations, and a chapter on personal accessories.

What I found most valuable were the bodice and sleeve drafting instructions.  Several variants were included for each, with the time period when each is popular, and instructions for personalized fitting. To get an idea of the breadth of the bodice chapter, take the "Having a Fit" article, then add sketches of each step for the draping, advice for fitting commercial patterns, and instructions for creating 6 different bodice variations from the basic pattern (high or low, gathered or darted, V-necks or rounded, and some beautiful pleated/shirred "fan fronts").  The sleeve portion follows, and I'm excited to experiment with some of the variations shown.

I expect this book will prove valuable to sewing enthusiasts of all skill levels.  Despite extensive reading on the subject, I was surprised by new elements like the diagonal tucks.  At the same time, all the basics are present.  A person with no experience in mid-19th century women's clothing could go through every step from selecting an impression to finishing a completed ensemble with the instructions given here.  It may take a while, by the information is all given in a clear manner which should be accessible for beginners.  Additional help is available through the author's website, or at the attached forum.

Looking for downsides, the main things which come to mind are the overall size: there are 100 pages of information before any garment instructions show up.  This is possibly overwhelming, but also provides interesting background information and useful techniques.  The instructions can at times 'run-on' in my opinion (separate tables for calculating yardage for each type of petticoat, for instance, instead of just adding or subtracting from the basic plan), but this may be useful to those not mathematically-inclined or who need to take some things in 'baby-steps'.  Erring on the side of more information and simpler explanations isn't a bad thing.  For those that need visual instructions, there are nice sketches included with most of the techniques, but no photographic images of garments or steps.  I liked the drawings as given; your mileage may vary. The table of contents give page numbers for the chapters, but the one thing I would change about this book is adding a topical index, so you can look up "coat sleeve" or "petticoat: whitework" and go directly to the page.

Score: 5 Stars
Difficulty: Absolute beginner & up.  Basic sewing skills are useful, but not strictly necessary.
Accuracy: No original garments are presented, but the variations and techniques are all very accurate as far as I can tell.  Read Janet Arnold if you want details of original garments, this is more a summary of the the period and its aesthetics.
Strongest Impressions: This is a book to reference.  It's not meant to be the end of your research, but the beginning.  Find an original for inspiration, then use the sketches and instructions in here to reproduce the elements you like.  The introductions and instructions in chapters 1-3 are a good basis for making one's first forays into historic clothing--and will put you miles ahead of the non-fitted, ready-mades found at most reenactments.  Should I even become an eccentric millionaire (half-way there!), I would be giving these out like Bibles.

*On further reflection, stockings & garters, shoes, gloves, and millinery are not included as topics.  All trunk garments from the chemise outward are covered, however.**
**Ok, not aprons.  But you should be able to figure one out from the all the techniques given.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #4: Foreign Food

The Challenge: A Foreign Dish
Date/Year and Region: 1861, British interpretation of a "German" dish
How Did You Make It: Slice potatoes into long wedges.  Brown butter and flour in the a saucepan; add vinegar and broth to make a 'gravy'.  Boil potato wedges until soft and then serve hot.
Time to Complete: About half an hour (no clock in historic kitchen); prep time approximately 10 minutes, 15-20 minutes to cook.
Total Cost: Uncertain.  Ingredients on hand.
How Successful Was It: Very well-received.  The potatoes have a rich buttery taste, with a bit of kick from the vinegar.  Several people compared it (justly) to German potato salad.
How Accurate Was It:  Fairly.  I eyeballed the ingredients, instead of measuring them carefully.  As golden potatoes were used, I decided not to peel them before cooking.

Photos forthcoming, once I figure out how to get them off my phone (forgot the camera, alas).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Historic Food Fortnightly, Challenge #3: Today in History

The Challenge: Today in History--make a dish associated with a particular date in history.  I took the lazy route, and decided to try a mid-19th century cherry pie recipe for the 4th of July (celebrating,  a la mode, 1860).
The Recipe: Cherry Pie from Practical American Cookery (1860)--I used the "puff paste" on page 150, since the pie receipt didn't specify which paste to use, and I didn't particularly want to use suet.
The Date/Year and Region: 1860, American (San Francisco)
How Did You Make It:  For the paste, cut 1/4 lb. butter into 1 lb flour, work in water until a paste is formed. Allow paste to relax, then roll it out, layer on thinly sliced butter, fold paste over butter, and roll out again.  Repeat until 1 lb butter has been incorporated.  Line pie plate with paste, add pitted cherries, cover with molasses, and sprinkle with flour.  Place top crust, and bake.
Time to Complete:  Under 90 minutes, including baking
Total Cost:  Uncertain (most ingredients were on hand)
How Successful Was It: Not successful.  I liked the paste crust, but the filling was far too liquid--I probably should have added less molasses and much more flour.  No quantities were given in the receipt, but I thought I was erring on the low side... The taste of the molasses overwhelmed the cherries, and when I tried to move the pie, it tended to leak thin cherry-molasses liquid everywhere.
How Accurate Was It:  Receipt followed to a nicety.  I used 3 3/4 c. flour for 1 lb (based on the serving size information on the flour bag).  Baked at 350 F for 40 minutes, as baking directions were vague ("more than half an hour"), but a slightly longer time or hotter oven would probably have been better.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Historic Food Fortnightly, Challenge #2: Soups & Sauces

Apple Sauce from Elizabeth M. Hall's Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy (1860).

Pare, quarter, and core a quarter of a peck of rich, tart apples; put them in a stewpan, with a teacup of water; add some finely chopped lemon peel, and a large cup of sugar; grate half a nutmeg over, and cover the stewpan; let them stew gently for half an hour, then mash them fine; add a teacup of butter, and serve with boiled rice or boiled batter pudding 
The Challenge: A Soup or Sauce
The Recipe: Apple Sauce, from Practical American Cookery
The Date/Year and Region: 1860, American (San Francisco)
How Did You Make It: Peeled, sliced & stewed 2 lbs apples with 1/4 c. water and 1/4 c. sugar, a little minced lemon peel (fresh) and a dash of nutmeg.  After 30 minutes the apples were soft; added 1 Tbsp butter and mashed apples.  Added more nutmeg for flavor.   
Time to Complete: about 45 min
Total Cost: $4.00 for 1 lemon and 2 lbs apples; small quantities of sugar and nutmeg to hand
How Successful Was It?: It tasted like apples (and nutmeg always goes well with apples!).  The texture was different from commercial applesauce--it reminded me of mashed squashed, which was a little weird.  I also don't normally eat applesauce warm, but the recipe said nothing about letting it cool before serving.
How Accurate Is It?: Scaled it down by 1/3 or so, treating "1 peck" of apples as 12-ish pounds--at the internet's suggestion--and 1 "tea-cup" of the water/sugar/butter as 4-6 oz, according to Civil War Recipes. "Golden delicious" apples are also dated to 1905, says Wikipedia, so that's post-date for this recipe.  I also ate it alone instead of serving with a pudding or ham.