Friday, November 16, 2018

Cooking Vegetables in Nineteenth Century Britain? A-Maizing!

Ah, yes, it is nearly Thanksgiving here in the States, and thoughts turn to the meal about to be served. I am the most fortunate of women—my husband chooses, purchases, thaws, dresses, cooks, and carves the turkey. It generally looks like something from an ad for the perfect Thanksgiving. The grain and vegetables of the meal fall to me or anyone I can wrangle into helping. (I am also blessed with good friends and family members who cook.) I recently turned to that expert in household management, Isabella Beeton to see what she had to say about vegetables in her 1859 cookbook. The results, were, ahem, a-maizing. 

Mashed potatoes are a classic with turkey. Mrs. Beeton notes that different potatoes have different flavors. The names tickled me: the Shaw, Kidney, Bread-fruit, Tartan, Red-apple, and Lancashire Pink. But though she provides a recipe for mashed potatoes and even mashed turnips, she had a strong opinion about “vegetables reduced to a puree.”
Persons in the flower of youth, having healthy stomachs, and leading active lives, may eat all sorts of vegetables, without inconvenience, save, of course, in excess. The digestive functions possess great energy during the period of youth: the body, to develop itself, needs nourishment. Physical exercise gives an appetite, which it is necessary to satisfy, and vegetables cannot resist the vigorous action of the gastric organs. As old proverb says, ‘At twenty, one can digest iron.' [Note from Regina—please do not attempt to digest iron.] But for aged persons, the sedentary, or the delicate, it is quite otherwise. Then the gastric power has considerably diminished, the digestive organs have lost their energy, the process of digestion is consequently slower, and the least excess at table is followed by derangement of the stomach for several days. Those who generally digest vegetables with difficulty, should eat them reduced to a pulp or purée, that is to say, with their skins and tough fibres removed. Subjected to this process, vegetables which, when entire, would create flatulence and wind, are then comparatively harmless.” 
Word to the wise!

Corn on the cob is generally past its prime for most of us in the U.S. around Thanksgiving, but her advice on how to cook it was fascinating. I had no idea that, even in 1859, the word "corn" wasn't used in Britain, and the plant itself was rarely grown!

INGREDIENTS.—The ears of young and green Indian wheat; to every 1/2 gallon of water allow 1 heaped tablespoonful of salt.
Mode.—This vegetable, which makes one of the most delicious dishes brought to table, is unfortunately very rarely seen in Britain; and we wonder that, in the gardens of the wealthy, it is not invariably cultivated. Our sun, it is true, possesses hardly power sufficient to ripen maize; but, with well-prepared ground, and in a favourable position, it might be sufficiently advanced by the beginning of autumn to serve as a vegetable. The outside sheath being taken off and the waving fibres removed, let the ears be placed in boiling water, where they should remain for about 25 minutes (a longer time may be necessary for larger ears than ordinary); and, when sufficiently boiled and well drained, they may be sent to table whole, and with a piece of toast underneath them. Melted butter should be served with them.
Note.—William Cobbett, the English radical writer and politician, was a great cultivator and admirer of maize, and constantly ate it as a vegetable, boiled. We believe he printed a special recipe for it, but we have been unable to lay our hands on it. Mr. Buchanan, the present president of the United States, was in the habit, when ambassador here, of receiving a supply of Indian corn from America in hermetically-sealed cases; and the publisher of this work remembers, with considerable satisfaction, his introduction to a dish of this vegetable, when in America. He found it to combine the excellences of the young green pea and the finest asparagus; but he felt at first slightly awkward in holding the large ear with one hand, whilst the other had to be employed in cutting off with a knife the delicate green grains.
However you choose to celebrate, Marissa and I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving. We will be off next week, celebrating with our family and friends. We hope you can do the same.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Chairs That Go Bump in the Night, Part 2: More Gothic Furniture

Are you ready for more Gothic fashions for your home?

Of course, every well-appointed castle home needs a Gothic Flower Stand. As the accompanying text says, “Among the various decorations of modern apartments we can reckon none, perhaps, more pleasing than a flower-stand: it diversifies and enlivens the appearance of almost any room; and the odoriferous perfume proceeding from the flowers, and the beautiful appearance of their variegated hues, tend at once to delight and charm the senses. There is no style more appropriate for this sort of decoration than the gothic: its crockets, finials, foliage, pendants, &c. all flowing and pliable, seem to be a continuation of nature; while its open and fanciful traceries contribute to the lightness of the effect.” The text goes on to say that it cannot be determined if flower stands are “of any great antiquity”, but that any well-appointed modern home should have one...and now we know the Regency origin of this very popular Victorian style. (Ackermann’s Repository, August 1826)

The preoccupation with finding some link to the ancient past in the descriptions of furniture is noteworthy and more than a little amusing; somehow, linking the day’s furniture to the past somehow made it better (as we saw a few weeks back with the Gothic pianoforte.) In the text accompanying this illustration of Candelabras from September 1826’s Repository (which look like an ancestor of the floor lamp) the anonymous author discusses at length their use in Roman household décor and how they lend themselves to Gothic styling for modern “elegant furniture.” Gotta say, though, that the candelabra at right, complete with two tiers of flying buttresses, is just a tad on the silly side...

And speaking of Gothic pianofortes...another example, this time of an upright pianoforte complete with coverings of crimson silk to set off the brass and rosewood. The music stand, with its candles, is a re-imagining of an example found at King’s College in Cambridge, and the chair includes a screw seat that can be raised up and down at the convenience of the pianist.

The description of a Gothic Sofa in the November 1826 Repository is worth, I think, quoting in full: “The annexed plate represents a sofa in the Gothic style. This piece of furniture is comparatively of modern date, and undoubtedly of Eastern origin; but in adapting it to European customs, it has been found necessary to vary the decoration in some degree from that of the original model.

“In the Oriental countries a sofa is but little elevated from the floor, and consists of soft cushions covered with silk and other costly materials. Two of these are generally piled upon one another, and a third is placed against the wall to recline upon. These cushions are thus ranged round an apartment, and the heat of the climate renders them indispensible, either for public meetings or private assemblies. They are also well calculated for the sitting posture of the Eastern nations, which requires an easy couch. As none of these conveniences are adapted to the climate and customs of Europeans, the artist has been obliged to make some change from the original; so that the modern sofa presents quite a different appearance from its Oriental original: it nevertheless possesses a comfort which entitles it to rank among useful furniture. From its flowing and easy form, it is more calculated for the Italian than the Gothic style: the latter character has nevertheless been attempted to be given in the present design, which is composed from the best authorities in the florid style.”

And finally,  January 1827’s issue brings a Gothic upright moveable (see the little wheels?) Looking-glass, with a description containing familiar text about a looking-glass of this size being a luxury unknown to “our ancestors” but admirably adapted to the florid style...

Any favorites this time around? I just keep thinking of the poor maids who job it would be to keep this furniture dusted and polished...!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Cool 19th Century Places to Visit: The Thorne Rooms

Sometimes the coolest things are the smallest. That’s certainly true of the Thorne Rooms, a series of miniature interiors painstakingly recreated. While the rooms were constructed between 1932 and 1940, they depict lifestyles from the late 13th century to the 1930s, in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.

The visionary behind the work is Narcissa Niblack Thorne, wife of James Ward Thorne connected to the Montgomery Ward department stores. She designed the rooms and commissioned artisans to create the various pieces to populate them. The scale is one inch equals a foot, and the details are exquisite. I recall touring the rooms held by the Art Institute of Chicago. In a tiny library of the Georgian era lay a pair of spectacles on a side table before the hearth.

Peering through the glass boxes that house the collection, one is transported to another time, another place. Many date around the late 1700s/early 1800s. A Regency hero or heroine would be right at home. I certainly feel at home. Thorne’s English Dining Room of the Georgian Period formed the basis for Sir Nicolas Rotherford’s dining room in The Courting Campaign. Margaret Munroe slept in Thorne’s Massachusetts Bedroom, c. 1801, at the Marquis deGuis’s home in the Lakes District in The Marquis’ Kiss.

The Art Institute of Chicago holds the most of these wonderful rooms (68 in all), many of which you can find online to view. The Phoenix Art Museum and the Knoxville Museum of Art also have collections.

Highly recommended. You may never look at a room description the same way again.

Photos in this post were used under a Creative Commons license and taken by Joseph Reagle

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What’s on Your TBR Pile?

Ah, books.

They’re lovely things, aren’t they? Lying provocatively on coffee tables, just inviting visitors to leaf through them...standing at attention spine-out on shelves, their colorful bindings drawing the eye...and of course, piled in tottering stacks next to bedside tables, patiently waiting their turns to be read. And we aren’t even going to discuss e-readers, which lose in the aesthetic appeal department but gain in the sheer number of volumes that can be hoarded stored on one device.

For extreme booklovers, TBR (To Be Read) piles can often assume alarming proportions. Friends of mine on the book cataloguing site LibraryThing (if you’re a member, come and friend me there!) refer not to their TBR piles but their TBR hills and mountains (my favorite nickname for a TBR pile there is “Mount Toober.”) ☺

With a TBR pile of such epic proportions, the problem is a complicated one: how do you choose what to read next? Some acquaintances close their eyes and try for a random pick (possibly dangerous if choosing a tome near the bottom of the pile.) I’m not made of such stern stuff; I have to be in the mood for a particular type, so pulling out a cozy mystery won’t do when I’m in a humorous fantasy or a historical non-fiction mood.* Which means I often get lost in my TBR pile, looking for exactly the right book to scratch the reading itch of the moment. It can take a while...

So tell me about your TBR piles, NineteenTeen readers. Are they actual piles lovingly accumulated, or neatly typed lists of your next library borrows? Do you have a system for choosing what next to read, or is it a spur of the moment thing? And after you’ve posted here, go check out the Twitter hashtag #TBRDive, where readers are posting about their latest forays into the wilds of their TBR piles.

Have fun!

*Contrary to what I wrote here, my current reading is actually in the mystery realm--the Calleshire novels by mystery writer Catherine Aird, a series of semi-cozy procedural mysteries set in a fictional English county in the 20th century. Though I may pause my sojourn in Calleshire for Kim Newman’s new release, The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School. Decisions, decisions!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Always Kiss at Christmas

Yes, it’s true. There’s something special about a Christmas Kiss. And a Christmas Regency collection, featuring a Fortune's Brides prequel.

Curl up by the fire, sip your favorite hot drink, and enjoy A Yuletide Regency: six brand new Regency romance novellas by Sarah M. Eden, Jen Geigle Johnson, Annette Lyon, Krista Lynne Jensen, Heather B. Moore, and yours truly.

Mary Rose has one goal for her mother’s annual Christmas Eve party: convince her childhood friend Julian Mayes to marry her. She has always admired Julian. Surely one moment under the kissing bough will convince him they were meant to be together. Newly hired by a prestigious London law firm, Julian is ready to shake the dust of the countryside off his polished boots. But he’s always had a soft spot for Mary. As the danger to her future becomes clear, will one kiss be enough to prove to him how far he will go to protect her?

Famed matchmaker to the ton, Adelaide Northrup cannot imagine a more perfect way to spend Christmas than answering the desperate call of Mr. Porter Bartrum: widower, young father, dunderhead. The young gentleman’s first marriage was an arranged one and he hasn’t the first idea how to find a wife on his own. His dear friend, Chloe Munson, has watched his attempts with amusement and finds this latest approach, the clandestine hiring of a matchmaker, his most entertaining yet. If Adelaide plays her cards right, and she always does, she might very well manage to secure two happy endings.

THE FORBIDDEN DUKE by Jen Geigle Johnson
They weren’t supposed to meet, but now that they have, nothing will ever be the same. The Duke of Salsbury blames her family. Lady Catherine blames his. Will an age-old dispute between the Salsburys and Asters rip apart any hope they have to be together? In this game of secrets and lies, can their love for each other conquer even the most tightly held family prejudices?

On Christmas Eve, Eleanor Hadfield, who works as governess at her childhood home of Willowsmeade, is stunned to learn that the love of her youth, Julian Phillips, is coming back after a decade’s absence. Once the gardener’s son, he has elevated his station to navy captain. Making a match with a mere governess would lower his position, if he were to still love her as he did as a young man, which is unlikely. Unable to bear the idea of noble Julian keeping an old promise out of obligation or pity, Eleanor decides to leave the only place that has ever been a home.

FOLLOW THE RIVER HOME by Krista Lynne Jensen
With her beloved home entailed away to a wealthy cousin, spirited Arabelle Hyatt has resigned herself to marry the arrogant man, if only to save her family from destitution. But before an understanding is reached, a childhood friend returns from war, wounded in more ways than one. With Christmas coming—what may be their last at Hybrigge—holiday traditions are celebrated, memories are revisited, and Arabelle learns what lies in a man’s words is not always what lies in his heart.

THE NEW EARL by Heather B. Moore
Celia Thompson knows she can’t live with the new earl who’s come to take her brother’s place. Before she can pack her belongings and reconcile herself to a fate of living as a spinster in her aunt’s home, the new earl arrives. Yet, Aaron, now Lord Banfield, is not the pompous, arrogant man she’d imagined. In fact, he’s quite . . . interesting and handsome. Celia decides to help the man acclimate to his new role. But the longer she stays on at Banfield, the more she realizes the new earl might be the answer she’s been looking for. 

What more excellent company could you ask as we near the holiday season?

You can find the book in ebook and shortly print at fine online retailers such as

Happy early Christmas!