Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Popping in for Popovers

I’m drawing up my grocery shopping list for my family’s Christmas dinner (it’s just a week away—eek!) We always have a roast beef at Christmas, served with the traditional horseradish sauce. Queen Victoria evidently enjoyed a good piece of roast beef herself on December 25. But because I live in New England, not the old one, our roast beef is eaten with those lovely bubbles of bready goodness, popovers.

For those who haven’t had the good fortune to be acquainted with popovers, they are muffin-shaped, mostly hollow rolls made from a thin, eggy batter; they are baked in either muffin cups or in special high-sided popover pans. Cooked in a very hot oven, the thin, liquid batter releases lots of steam, which creates the hollow effect, rather like a soufflé. When done, you slather popovers with butter and enjoy...honestly, given the choice I’d rather skip dessert on Christmas and just eat more popovers.

The origin of the popover is in Yorkshire pudding, the traditional accompaniment to a beef roast, which follows a similar recipe but is cooked in a pan (originally set under the spit on which a roast was cooking, so that the dripping juices from the roast fell into the pan of batter, enriching it.) For some reason, cooks in the new world came up with the idea of cooking the batter in individual, small servings and using butter rather than meat drippings...and the rest is delicious culinary history.

Being huge popover fans in my family, we have the special popover pans, but 5 oz. Pyrex custard cups will work as well.


Set your oven rack to the middle of the oven, because these babies rise.


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter

Generously butter a dozen or so small Pyrex custard cups; set them in a baking pan, which makes the whole thing easier to handle. Whisk together all the above ingredients, preferably in a mixing bowl with a spout. The batter should be thin—rather the consistency of heavy cream—and don’t worry if it’s a bit lumpy. Pour the batter into the prepared cups till they’re about half to two-thirds full—don’t fill them completely or they won’t puff. Put them in a cold oven and turn it on, setting the temperature to 425°. Set the timer for 45 minutes, and go do something else to take your mind off them, because you can’t peek—if you open the door, kittens will sob, puppies will turn their backs on you, flowers will fail to bloom...and your lovely popovers might collapse. Only after 45 minutes can you check on them, to make sure they’re deliciously golden brown; depending on your oven, a few more minutes might be necessary. When done, remove them immediately from their cups, and serve at once with butter.

If you feel like gilding the lily, finely grated Parmesan cheese and/or herbs can be added to the batter. Or you can serve them with herbed garlic butter—but I digress... 😋

Enjoy...and I hope your year-end celebrations are warm and wonderful. See you next year!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Another Christmas Tradition: Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

When you think of a nineteenth century Christmas, you might think about muffled carolers going door to door, couples meeting under the kissing bough, and Yule logs burning in massive stone fireplaces in country houses built ages ago. But chances are, you don’t think about sitting in a lecture hall listening to a natural philosopher extol the virtues of chemistry.

That happened.

The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 by members of the Royal Society who wanted to see their scientific advances be turned beyond the acquisition of knowledge to improve industry and medicine and to interest people outside their exalted sphere. From the beginning, they planned on giving lectures and demonstrations. Sir Humphry Davy, a noted chemist who is, sadly, most often associated with the discovery of laughing gas, insisted on the Royal Institution conducting scientific research as well. Good thing too—research there led to discoveries of new elements and the development of the electric motor.

But lecturing and demonstrating remained a key component of the Royal Institution. The founders built a large lecture theater in 1800, holding lectures for adults. By 1816, they were also holding lectures for medical students in the laboratories themselves. Davy was succeeded by William Thomas Brande in 1813, and he was succeeded by Michael Faraday in 1821. It was Faraday who conceived of the Christmas lectures, a special series of talks given during Christmas holidays, with “spectacular demonstrations,” for youngsters.

The first few years, the lectures were given during all school breaks, but eventually only the Christmas lectures remained. They have been given every year from 1825 until this year, with a break during World War II. Early lecturers shared general information on natural philosophy (all of science), astronomy, chemistry, architecture, electricity, geology, and zoology. Around 1839, however, topics began to narrow, with such intriguing titles as “First principles of Franklinic electricity,” “The chemistry of non-metallic elements,” “The properties of matter and the laws of motion,” and “The chemistry of coal.”

Many of these lectures were given by Faraday, but others were given by his contemporaries. Faraday gave his last lecture in 1860, “On the Chemical History of a Candle,” which later was published in book form. The book is still in print. Prince Albert and two of his sons attended. Queen Victoria did not attend, but if you look closely in the pictures, you will see women at the lectures.

Beginning in the 1870s, the topics once again narrowed. Titles now promised to explain “Burning and unburning,” “The motion and sensation of sound,” “Heat, visible and invisible,” and “A soap bubble.” The 1880 lecture focused on atoms.

Since the 1960s, the lectures have been televised. You can catch up on them at the Royal Institution website.

A new Christmas tradition, perhaps?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Merry Bookmas?

Christmas and books. They just sort of go together, don’t they?

Well, they do when it comes to my Christmas shopping list.  I don’t give as many as I used to within my immediate family because we all have Nook e-readers and share a Barnes and Noble account—you don’t want to know how many e-books we have! But I always save a few special selections for Christmas giving: daughter #1 is a manga fan (and loves wolves), so she’s getting Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki; daughter #2, who is studying jewelry making, gets the enormous new release Jewelry: The Body Transformed and Indian Jewelry Making, and the whole family is getting some of the newer Asterix books, continued by a new artist and writer team now that Uderzo and Goscinny are no more.

I also have other family that I always get books for at the holidays like my mother in law, to read on the plane as she makes her annual trip to warmer climes. This year it’s A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Ann Fowler, historical fiction about Alva Vanderbilt, and The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, set during and after World War II.  And my dear friend Liz is getting White Mughals by William Dalrymple, about 18th century East India Company agents who fell in love with India—and with Indian women.

And—ahem—I may have ordered one or two books for myself, too...The House at Lobster Cove by Jane Goodrich—about an extraordinary house that was destroyed and then rebuilt, each time by two extraordinary people, and The Shepherdess of Elk River Valley by Margaret Duncan Brown, who single-handedly ran her Colorado ranch for nearly fifty years, somehow found their way into my basket.

Are you a holiday book giver? What books are planning to give (or hoping to receive?)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Nineteenth Century Christmas Wish List, 2018 Edition

Almost done with my Christmas shopping (don’t hate me, and don’t tell me you finished in October). 😊 As we have in past years, I thought I’d alert you to presents that any aficionado of the nineteenth century and avid bookworm might enjoy.

Let’s start with books. Fabric a la Romantic Regency appears to be a lovely glossary of fabric terms from the early nineteenth century. Ever want to know the difference between sarsnet and lustring? This ought to tell you.  

There’s also an interesting tome, Jane Austen’s England, that promises to look closer at the places and situations depicted in Jane Austen’s novels.

And this one tickled my fancy: How Jane Austen Kept Cool, all about Georgian ice cream!

Perhaps your more in the mood to make sure your favorite books remain in the family. Check out this embosser, which will tastefully mark the books with your name.

Mugs always seem a popular gift. This one has a unique slant. 

Need something to put that new mug on? Try these coasters of Jane Austen books.

Or perhaps you’d like to step up your organization approach. Love these file folders from the Victorian Trading Company.

Finally, you can be reminded of all your favorite British authors, from Shakespeare to Tolkien, with this decorative plate. There’s only one, I’m afraid. 

Good luck, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Some Good News, and a Thank You

Sometimes, good things happen when you least expect them.

I’ve been completely preoccupied with family issues this fall—preoccupied to the point that I haven’t written anything new since the summer or even thought much about writing. Life is finally calming down to the point that I was starting to think that maybe one of these days I could get back to writing again...but I’ve been afraid that I won’t be able to—that I’ve lost the knack of putting words on paper and telling stories...or worse, that I won’t have any stories to tell because they’ve dried up while I’ve been busy elsewhere. I know that sounds irrational...but writers are funny creatures. Look up “imposter syndrome” when you have a moment. 😟

Then, a week or so ago, I received some unexpected good news: “Alea Iacta Est”, my story in the Book View Café Anthology Nevertheless, She Persisted, won second place in the Short Historical Fiction category of the International Digital Awards, which I’d completely forgotten I had entered last summer. It was a nice piece of news...as was the email that arrived a couple of hours later, informing me that Between Silk and Sand had won the Young Adult Novel category in the same contest. But more importantly, it reminded me that yes, I really am a writer...and while I’ve been temporarily unable to write anything new due to circumstances beyond my control, nothing can prevent me from getting back to work when time and mental space permits. 

And the “thank you” part? That’s simply because I’m grateful to all of you who visit NineteenTeen and who’ve read my work, bought my work, borrowed it from the library, lent it to friends...without you, this whole writing thing would be a lot less fun.  As a further thank you, I’ve posted a brand new short story, not available anywhere else, on my website for newsletter subscribers. It’s a romantic contemporary fantasy short titled “A Perfect Night for a Trip on the Lake”—to access it, go to http://eepurl.com/bVDwlf
Here’s to more words shared. Soon.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Peek into London Life: the London Gazette Online

I was recently made aware of a treasure trove of information original to the nineteenth century we love so much and available for searching online: The London Gazette. Oh, the joys of research, lovely, lovely research! (Must. Force. Self. Back. To book in progress!)

But you can play. You see, the Gazette started during the Great Plague of 1665, when, according to that news source’s website, couriers fleeing from a grisly death in London refused as to so much as touch a London newspaper for fear of contracting the disease. The Gazette began publishing information that had arrived as dispatches at the royal court—reports of ships captured or sank, battles won and lost, military valor, and ambassadorial splendor. Indeed, a gentleman did not count his deeds complete until they had been “gazetted.” And, wonder on wonders, every issue dating back to its origin is available online!

Published every few days, the Gazette carries intriguing insights into life in the court of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales and Regent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. For example, in the issue covering Saturday, September 19, to Tuesday, September 22, 1812, we learn that the “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” from Sweden had his first private meeting with the Prince Regent (wouldn’t you love to know how that conversation went?). We also learn that the ships of no less than 24 American privateers were captured by the British navy in the last few months (I never realized we had so many privateers during the War of 1812!). You can learn their names, the names of the captain, the name of the captain and ship who captured them, and what sort of ship (brig, sloop, etc.). Talk about scope for fiction!

But juicy tidbits abound.

File:Sir Ralph James Woodford.jpgHave you heard? Sir Ralph Woodford, Baronet, has been appointed governor of Trinidad.

And the poor Mayor of Plymouth! He’s been receiving death threats from an anonymous source (and the Gazette reprints a few). The Prince is offering 500 pounds, a princely (cough, cough) sum, for information leading to the villain’s capture. He will also graciously pardon you if you happen to be an accomplice squealing on a friend.

And, oh my! Two Frenchmen escaped England after giving their parole as prisoners of war. His Royal Highness is offering 200 pounds for information on which British subjects aided the enemy. Someone has already determined the Frenchmen were ferried away by a smuggler, whose ship was seized as it returned from France loaded with contraband.

The paper also includes notices of impending bills in Parliament, with most penned by solicitors. The bills deal with building and expanding roads, enclosing commons, and changing rules for companies (guilds). Then there are lists of prize payments to be made for various ships captured and notices to sailors when to report to pick up their share.

Toward the back are sadder notices of estates being sold for debt and estates going bankrupt. Pages are devoted to insolvent debtors owing less than 2,000 pounds and more than 2,000 pounds, which prisons they resided in, and how creditors can come make claims.

See what you can find.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Newer Additions to my Collection: 1814

It’s been a while since I started doing (and finished up) regular Fashion Forecasts here...and one corollary of that is that I’ve since acquired a lot more prints for any given year. Since the last time we looked at fashions in the year 1814 was back in 2010 (!), I thought I’d post some more prints from my collection...because, eye candy.

All prints are from the 1814 Ackermann’s Repository, with the original descriptions when I have them. Enjoy!

Let’s begin with a rather cozy looking Morning Dress for January, perfect for quiet days at home when it’s too beastly to venture out of doors. A button-front bodice fastened at the throat with a gold brooch, a ruffle-edged over-robe, and matching ruffle-edged cap complete the ensemble.

Ball Dress time! This February number features a white skirt topped with a pale aqua bodice (a look we’ve already seen this year) with aqua accents in the sleeves (note the puff of fabric in the cuffs) around the hem, and even on the slippers. The costume is completed with a gauzy lace scarf  or wrap and a charmingly simple bunch of flowers in the hair, as well as elbow-length kid gloves.

1814 is the last of the interesting years of ladies’ dresses as depicted in Ackermann’s; after this year I find them a bit on the dull side for several years. But this Walking Dress from February is anything but dull: I love the fawn-colored cloak edged with maroon ad a small capelet at the back, over a spencer of the same fabric. A maroon hat covered with a froth of feathers tops it all off.

Another Walking Dress with a cloak is up for March, but this one takes a leap into the dramatic: blue-gray edged with fur (sable?) and lined in scarlet cloth with a capelet/hood, tying at the throat with a matching ribbon. The dress underneath features a high neckline edged with vandyked lace, and the scarlet cap is ornamented with twists of lighter colored cloth and a rope-and-tassel trim. And the scarlet half-boots peeping out at the bottom are adorable.

Ruffles seem to be the order of the day for Morning Dresses; this one features rows of ruffles trimming the sleeves, cuffs, bodice, and neckline, as well as a cap consisting mostly of—you guessed it—ruffles. Only the hem isn’t ruffled: it is trimmed in a much more tailored fashion, with tongues of fabric punctuated with buttons. (April)

May’s Opera Dress is of plain cut and decoration (a quiet band of embroidery adorns the hem and cuffs), saving all the drama for a capelet of scallops of lace, tied at the throat with cords and tassels. The hairstyle is charming, a Psyche knot with lovelocks at the ears and back of the neck.

Another Walking Dress with a cape for May, this time of green edged with a deep flounce of white lace, a rather dashing military-style hat edged with green ribbon and a plume of feathers, and a scarf tied across the breast (which looks a tad awkward, but that may just be me.)

June’s Walking Dress is capeless, instead featuring a Pomona-green spencer decorated with little clumps of tassels down the sleeve. The front is filled with a flounce of ruffles; the skirt trimmed with rows of Vandyke lace. The bonnet is also ruffle-trimmed, with ribbons and flowers, and the red reticule makes a pop of color.

I do like this Full Dress from June, speaking of interesting and creative designs, and wish the front were visible. But the cut-away lilac overdress, the striped sleeves, the decorative details around the waist and the back of the bodice, and the floofy frilled neckline make this a very attractive costume.

Which dress did you like best?