Friday, February 26, 2016

The Many Uses of the Wonderful Raspberry


Sorry, couldn’t resist. I did not mean the sort of raspberry that involves sticking your tongue out of your mouth and making rude noises. I mean the plant and its heavenly berries. You see, raspberries are by far my favorite food. I am even now waiting for 13 plants (6 red summer-bearing, 6 red fall-bearing, and 1 golden raspberry), to arrive from a fine nursery near the slopes of Mt. Rainier. And my dear husband has created the perfect patch in which to put them. I can hardly wait. So, when I stumbled across a section in La Belle Assemblée about raspberries, I couldn’t wait to share that with you either!

The author of the article in the October 1810 edition of that famous ladies’ magazine rhapsodizes about raspberries almost as readily as I do.

“This . . . fruit was well known to the ancients, from whom it received the name of Rubus, either from the redness of the twigs of the parent plant, or from the colour of its juice, which so often stained the taper fingers of the Roman maidens, as it does even now with our fair countrywomen, who are not ashamed to leave the library of science for the humbler studies of the confectionary or still-room. In the latter, they may learn by practice how to please a husband’s taste, even in the gratifications of the palate.”

Yes, well, I didn’t start eating raspberries for my husband’s sake. It’s rather the other way around at my house.

“Its essential character is too minute to require description where the fruit itself is so well known; but we must not forget to mention that of the general genus, there are no less than thirty-two varieties, comprising every species of the  Bramble as well as of the Raspberry.”

Thirty-two varieties? I knew there was a reason I loved England!

“Amongst us the old name of Raspis, or Raspibsberry; in some parts of England it is called the Hindeberry, and also Framboise, from the French. It is believed to be indigenous with us, as it is a native of many parts of Europe, being found not only in woods and hedges, but also in moist situations, and even in rocky places.”

Interesting. The raspberries I have known do not like moist places. They hate getting their feet wet, which worries me a little here in Western Washington. That’s one of the reasons I wanted stock from the area.

“It is needless to expatiate on the estimation in which it is held when prepared as a sweet-meat; we may, however, with propriety describe it when ripe as a fruit of the most fragrant kind, as subacid and cooling, allaying thirst and heat, and promoting the natural habits in common with other summer fruits.”

Now we’re talking! In fact, the author goes on to list several other interesting uses for raspberries in early nineteenth century England:

  • As a syrup approved for children by the College of Physicians, with instructions on its use in the Pharmacopeia
  • As a way to remove tartar from teeth
  • As a rather potent and rare wine
  • As a dye (from the twigs) to turn wool, silk, and mohair black
  • As food (the leaves) for silkworms when mulberry leaves cannot be found.
Even in nineteenth century England, they were considered a wonder-fruit!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Hey, guess what? I have a new book coming out, and it’s available for preorder!

I haven’t talked much about Skin Deep here because it’s (a) not YA and (b) not historical fiction. But it’s based on a couple of my other passions: quilting, selkies, and Cape Cod. I suppose it was only inevitable I'd have to write a book including them at some point.

Here’s the blurb:

After a painful divorce, Garland Durrell looks forward to settling into her home on Cape Cod to make the quilts that are her passion. On the first morning of her new life she finds a man and a small boy washed up on the beach, both badly wounded. Since the town chief of police is strangely reluctant to help, Garland takes on the care of the mysterious pair who don't seem to remember what happened to them--and feels her own heart begin to heal.

Alasdair does remember. He and his son Conn are the last of the ruling family of selkies from the waters around the Cape, locked in a decades-long struggle with an evil that threatens all, selkie and human. He’s not sure if he can trust the lovely, blue-eyed woman who takes them in until he touches one of her quilts and feels the magic she’s sewn into it...and the emotions that he never thought he’d feel again.

But the evil entity that stole Alasdair’s sealskin and left him for dead quickly senses both his presence and Garland’s magic, and is determined to destroy one and possess the other. Only Garland and her quilts, made with a power she barely believes she has, can save them all from destruction—if she can avoid being destroyed first.

Skin Deep’s official release date is April 12, but it’s available for pre-order now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple ibooks, and Kobo, and will be available for pre-order in print as well in the next couple of weeks.  I promise that I’m working on more historical stories (set in 1810, if you recall) but sometimes those other pesky interests will demand my attention too. I hope you’ll give Skin Deep a try!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nineteenth Century Carpets: Under Foot Yet So Stylish

If you’ve read many novels set in the nineteenth century, particularly in the homes of the aristocracy, you may have come across the names Aubusson and Axminster. You might say they were the royalty of carpets during that time. But what exactly was an Aubusson or Axminster carpet and how did it compare with an Oriental carpet, which you will also see mentioned? Inquiring minds want to know!

Oriental Carpet—Exotic and Fashionable
The weavers of the Ottoman Empire, China, Persia, Egypt, and India created pile carpets and flat-woven carpets like tapestries using silk, wool, and cotton. They used motifs of flowers and medallions with bold colors that had specific meanings in their cultures. While the meanings were generally lost on the Brits and Americans, that didn’t stop enterprising business men from importing and selling the colorful, well-made carpets to the wealthy. But in the eyes of the fashionable, these carpets had a problem. You had to take what you could get; it was relatively difficult to commission one of a particular color and size to fit the decor of a specific space. In other words, you had to design the room around the carpet. So, the search continued for alternatives that would be as luxurious and beautiful.

Aubusson—One Step Down from Royalty
France knew it could do one better. The weaving industry had been thriving in the town of Aubusson for decades. Aubusson rugs were flat-woven rugs, much like tapestries. Many featured the same bold, exotic designs of the Orient, but others incorporated floral and Greco-Roman patterns and pastel colors. The weavers also borrowed designs from Savonnerie, a rug manufacturer that sold exclusively to the King of France. The rugs were highly popular among the ruling classes until the middle of the nineteenth century, when looms stopped producing. Ironically, the designs are now reproduced in the Orient and made available for sale around the world.

Axminster—Closer to Home and Still Quite Fine
Of course, for much of the nineteen century, England and France were at war, and America was blockaded for one reason or another. Obtaining French rugs might be tricky, and some deemed the practice downright treasonous. That’s one of the reasons Axminster carpets came into prominence. In 1755, Thomas Whitty, a weaver from Axminster, Devonshire, became obsessed with a Turkish carpet he saw in London and would not rest until he was able to recreate its like on his own equipment. The beauty and style of Axminster carpets caught the attention of the British aristocracy, and it wasn’t long before Axminster carpets graced the floors of Chatsworth (home of the Duke of Devonshire), Brighton Pavilion (Prince George’s favorite home), and the palaces of King George III. King George and Queen Charlotte toured the factory to see how the carpets were made. The company was so well thought of that the Sultan of Turkey commissioned a huge carpet, 74 feet by 52 feet for the Topkapi Palace. It took 30 men to carry it from the factory. Sadly, the factory caught fire in 1828 and was nearly destroyed. The carpets were so famous, however, that another company took over the manufacturer, and Axminster carpets are still available today.

A Carpet by Any Other Name
Aubusson and Axminster were not just locations where these carpets were made but designated a particular way of creating a rug. It might be the manner in which the loom was strung, or the type of weave or yarn used. You will find Aubusson and Axminster carpets made in places nowhere near the two towns. For instance, this reproduction was of a carpet originally made in America in the late 1700s, although it is called an Axminster.

Never can be too careful what you have underfoot.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1810, What a Year It Was, Part 2: The Lady of the Lake and the Hughland Revival

Just in case you think that media having a profound effect on popular culture is a modern phenomenon, I have five words for you: The Lady of the Lake.

In 1810 a Scottish lawyer named Walter Scott who had been slowly building a name for himself as a poet writing about Scottish history and lore published his third narrative poem, called The Lady of the Lake. His previous efforts, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) and Marmion (1808) had seen moderate popular success. But for some reason, the May release of The Lady of the Lake turned Scott into a household name, selling 25,000 copies that year alone.

The poem’s story is a dramatic one, with three suitors vying for the hand of the fair Ellen Douglas, a disguised king reconciling with an estranged old friend and supporter (who happens to be the father of the aforementioned Ellen), and war between the king and his Lowland Scots versus the Highland Clans led by one of the (also) aforementioned suitors. There are bards and druidic prophets and old feuds affecting the present and one-on-one combat and lots and lots and lots of description of the wild beauties of Scotland...and the origins of the song we now know as “Hail to the Chief”!

So, popular book, sold lots of copies, blah blah blah. But The Lady of the Lake also sparked something known as the Highland Revival, a sort of craze for Scottish history and culture (or at least what people thought was Scottish culture). Don't forget that Scotland had been in eclipse through most of the 18th century, ever since the last Stuart uprising in 1745 had led to the horrible slaughter of the Battle of Culloden, decades of sanctions against the Scots, and widespread emigration to America. Scotland as a topic was ripe for romanticization and exploitation; it had already begun with the publication in 1760 of what purported to be epic poems by an ancient Scottish bard, Ossian, by one James Mcpherson. They were an international sensation: people from Thomas Jefferson to Napoleon counted them as favorites. Alas, it turned out that they were not ancient, but Macpherson's own work. Still, the seed had been planted, fertilized by the passion of the late 18th and early 19th centuries for the wild and picturesque. 

Scott knew a good thing when he saw it; he followed up the success of  with a series of historical novels set in Scotland, and the craze only grew. The Prince Regent was an enthusiastic subscriber; he invited Scott to dinner in 1815 after reading his novel Waverley, published the previous year, and ended up visiting Scotland in 1822, the first reigning monarch to do so since 1650. He also had his portrait painted wearing a kilt to commemorate the visit.  The Highland Revival would eventually find its apotheosis in Queen Victoria’s buying a house in the Scottish Highlands, decorating it from cellar to attic in tartans and deer antlers, and trying to spend as much time there as possible, much to the dismay of her ministers.  And long-time NineteenTeen readers may recall my poking gentle fun at the Scottish craze in an April Fool’s Day  post a while back.
And it all more or less started in 1810. ☺

Friday, February 12, 2016

Advertising for Marriage, Nineteenth Century Style

More and more adults are turning to online dating sites to find their true love. According to the Pew Research Center, which studies the internet and technology (among other things), usage among 18 to 24 year olds has tripled since 2013, and usage among 55 to 64 year olds has doubled. But the internet is only the most recent way lonely hearts have advertised for companions. In the nineteenth century, one was more likely to purchase an advertisement in a newspaper.

Both in England and the U.S., “matrimonial” newspapers served as matchmakers between men and women looking to marry. A publication called “Wedding Bells” was published regularly out of Boston, and other such publications were hawked in England. Unfortunately, there is little evidence as to the efficacy of these ads. How many respondents actually found true love and lived happily ever after?

Certainly, there were concerns about the practice. For one thing, more sophisticated ladies and gentlemen did not feel comfortable having their information bandied about in “common” publications. Many readers turned to more genteel journals. In 1876, the Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, which compiled insights into science, literature, “and general intelligence,” received a sufficient number of queries about offering space for matrimonial ads that the editors decided to open a column. The ads would feature no more than 6 entries per issue, listing qualifications of the person seeking marriage and qualifications wished for in the partner for the hefty fee of $25.00 (equivalent to more than $500 today).

In 1839, Walks and Wanderings in the World of Literature, a high-brow London paper, decried the advertisements, claiming the men were only looking for a lady with money. The editors suggested that a group of women should band together to trick these fellows into the open, then tar and feather them and let them out into the streets, “to be barked at by dogs, pelted by the boys, and laughed at by all.”


If you’d like to read some of these announcements and an excellent commentary on them, try the now-defunct blog Advertising for Love, which was part of the research for a doctoral thesis project.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Did They Really Say That?

One of the joys of leafing through the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is running across slang expressions and figures of speech still in use today that you would never guess were particularly old...but as it turns out, are. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve run across, along with their definitions as listed in the DVT, that make me laugh...and marvel at their longevity. Enjoy!

Sea Lawyer: A shark  (Yes, really!  This reminds me of an anecdote that I posted about a while back. Who knew lawyer jokes had such a long and distinguished history? )

Coming!  So is Christmas: Said of a person who has long been called, and at length answers, Coming! (We use this all the time in my family, so it totally tickled me to find it here.)

Birth-day Suit: He was in his birth-day suit, that is, stark naked. (Okay, this one totally surprised me—it just doesn’t sound old, does it?)

Black and White: In writing. I have it in black and white; I have written evidence. (Another very modern-sounding expression—maybe because we have a picture in our 21st century heads of 19th century paper being brownish rather than white?)

Kick the bucket: To die. He kicked the bucket one day; he died one day. (I did a little research on the origin of this phrase; the Oxford English Dictionary favors the one which involves pigs to be slaughtered being hung from a beam to allow the blood to drain from the carcass, the beam in question being a trébuchet or buque in French (so presumably a Norman borrowing?)

Bears and Bulls: A bear is one who contracts to deliver a certain quantity or sum of stock in the publics funds, on a future day, and at stated price; or, in other words, sells what he has not got, like the huntsman in the fable, who sold the bear’s skin before the bear was killed. As the bear sells the stock he is not possessed of, so the bull purchases what he has not money to pay for; but in case of any alteration in the price agreed on, either party pays or receives the difference. (Wow, who knew?  It looks like the terms date from as much as a century before, tied up with the South Sea Bubble incident of ca. 1717.)

All right!: A favourite expression among thieves, to signify that all is as they wish, or proper for their purpose.

And speaking of all right, Regina and I thought it might be an all right time to have a group read since we haven’t done one for a long time. So mark your calendars for the week of March 29, when we’ll be discussing Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 classic Cranford. Regina and I will provide some history, but we hope you’ll jump in with comments and opinions.  And the cool thing is you can find Cranford for free on-line, at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as at Project Gutenberg. 
Happy reading!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Four Things on a Friday

Oh, but I have some goodies for you! I’ve been collecting them for some time, but one came in this week that made me decide I simply had to post. So, without further ado, here are four things you need to know this Friday.

Ever wonder about those words in old Westerns? What’s the difference between caboose and calaboose? If someone claims you’re in a feeze, is that a compliment or an insult? Wonder no further! Check out the online dictionary of Western slang. You might see some of these terms working their way into Nineteen Teen, because they’re simply too much fun!

Like to sew? Want to stitch up some period outfits? See what you can find among collection of free historical costume patterns, ranging from medieval to early twentieth century, and coats to underthings. I’m wondering about new Regency gown for a trip this summer. We’ll see! 

I’ve known for some time about the lady Regency dress up doll online (and been known to spend far too much time playing with outfits). But I was delighted to learn this week that the same artist, the wonderful Sarah Vaughn, has a gentleman dress up doll as well. You will never get to your chores again. Be warned.

Finally, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one mourning when the world lost the wonderful Alan Rickman a few weeks ago. Mr. Rickman was famous in recent years for portraying Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, but he will always be dear to my heart as Colonel Brandon from the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibilities (not to mention from Galaxy Quest). Here’s a short film with him in another Regency role, along with some faces well-known for period acting. I would wager than had a great time doing this. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

1810--What a Year It Was

I promised you a new series, didn’t I? Well, today it begins...but first, a little background.

I’ve had an idea for an adult Regency story for years...but some ideas take a long time to marinate. I jokingly say that the girls in the back room had to think about it for a while...and in 2015, they let me know they were ready to get started. The story has turned into a serial, told in novella-length episodes that are complete stories in themselves but include an overarching plot (and developing romance, of course!) that interweaves with the events of the individual stories.

The story takes place over the course of 1810 and will end in 1811, which means I’ve been doing a lot of research about that one year...and it was a pretty interesting one. So I thought it might be fun to examine some of those events that inspired my serial, because we’re all about weird history stories here at NineteenTeen, right?

So what was going on around the world in 1810?  Although my serial of course will focus on England and its concerns, there was a lot of interesting stuff happening elsewhere...
  • Napoleon divorces his Josephine in order to marry Marie Louise of Austria, and adds Holland and the German kingdom of Westphalia to the empire, but French forces under Marshal Masséna are expelled from Portugal
  • Beethoven composes Für Elise
  • Lord Byron, sojourning in Greece, swims the Hellespont 
  •  General Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s marshals, is elected Crown Prince and heir to the throne of Sweden.
  • Frédéric Chopin, composer and pianist, is born, as were Robert Schumann, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (who wrote the wonderful Cranford, among others), and P.T. Barnum.
  • Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Chile take varying steps toward independence from Spain.
  • The first steamboat on the Ohio River begins operation . 
  • King George III is declared insane (again.)
  • And for you Regency boxing fans, the great 40-round match between Cribb and Molineaux takes place.
Stay tuned for the first post soon!