Friday, November 20, 2015

Food for the Heart

We hear a lot about heart-healthy recipes, but sometimes what we need is sustenance that feeds our inner being. With Thanksgiving coming, Marissa and I wanted to share a recipe for you to enjoy. Normally, I look for nineteenth century recipes, but this year, I decided to share a family recipe for a dessert that would have been around in the nineteenth century, on both sides of the pond.

My mother makes the best apple pie, hands down. Her pie even won a ribbon years ago at what is now our state fair. The secret is the addition of lemon juice, I’m convinced. It’s a family favorite and never fails to win smiles of approval. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Pastry for 9” two-crust pie
1 to 2 tsp of lemon or pineapple juice
1 to 2 Tbsp flour, depending on the fruit’s juice
2/3 to ¾ cup of granulated sugar
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, cut in small pieces
6 to 7 cups thinly sliced, pared, cored tart apples (Granny Smith were my father’s favorite)

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine juice with flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Line pie pan with one of the pastry crusts. Place half of the apples in the pie pan. Sprinkle with half of juice/sugar mixture. Top with remaining apples, heaping in center, then add the rest of the juice/sugar mixture. Dot with butter; top with remaining crust. Poke holes through crust to let steam escape. Bake 40 to 50 minutes.

Marissa and I will be off next week, celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. As for me, I had news that gladdened my heart this week. Would-Be Wilderness Wife has been nominated for a coveted Reviewers Choice Award from RT Book Reviews, the premiere review magazine for the romance industry. I’m hopeful that means the book touched a number of hearts. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Death and Dyeing

A few weeks back in the Fashion Forecast for 1835 we saw a lovely Evening Dress in a vibrant green fabric. Charming, yes...and, as it happens, extremely dangerous.

The dye that created that lovely fabric--and similar green tints in things from shoe leather to wallpaper—was created from arsenic. Before the early nineteenth century, there was no color-fast green dye; in order to get anything vaguely green, fabric had to be dyed yellow, then overdyed with blue...which though popular (readers of Regency fiction will recognize this if I call it by its name of the time—Pomona green), generally didn’t hold up very well.

Then a German chemist created the first colorfast green dye using copper and arsenic; known as Scheele’s Green, it was a hit, though it did tend to blacken in the presence of sulphur compounds. A later refinement in 1814 led to the creation of Paris Green, also known as Emerald Green—and green became an immensely fashionable color, as we’ve seen on some of the prints I’ve posted. Everyone wanted green dresses, green shoes, artificial greenery to wear in headpieces and millinery. They also wanted Emerald Green décor, so upholstery and drapery fabrics, green carpets, and most of all wallpaper became The Thing right through the 1870s. Even Napoleon in exile on St. Helena had green wallpaper in his house...which may have contributed to his death.

Everyone loved the new, rich green dye, but didn’t entirely understand its toxicity. When the recipe was first published in the early 1820s, a few far-seeing physicians cautioned against its use. Dye manufacturers tried tinkering with the ingredients to mitigate and conceal the deadly nature of Emerald Green...and eventually resorted to the simple expedient of changing its name.

By the 1870s, synthetic green dyes began to be developed and the demand for Emerald Green decreased...but not before thousands died from wearing green clothes, living in green rooms, eating confections dyed with Emerald well as the workers who made those clothes or otherwise came in contact with it. For anyone near Toronto, there’s what looks like a pretty cool exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum called Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century that details the dangers of Emerald Green and more. It’s open through next June—if anyone gets to it, let me know!

Friday, November 13, 2015

How Many Rustlers Does It Take to Steal a Steer?

No, that’s not the latest joke to make the rounds on social media. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my beloved editor has requested I take on a special project, which has plunked me down in 1895 Texas. And for the last few months, I’ve been taking a crash course on raising cattle in Texas Hill Country around the turn of the century. But this week, one of the holes in my research became glaring obvious.

See there’s a rustler. He’s stealing cattle. And my hero is determined to catch him and bring him to justice.

Sounds like a pretty simple scenario, right? Actually, it’s proving to be amazingly complex. To start off with, these aren’t the nice little brown and white cows you see grazing in their fields while you zip by on the highway. By 1895, some ranches were beginning to introduce more genteel breeds. But on my ranch, we raise Texas longhorns, tough, determined, stubborn.

And massive. One rustler isn’t going to make off with a whole herd of them. They’re simply too big and too unpredictable. So, he’s going to need help.

Right, enter a gang of rustlers led by the villain. They sneak onto a ranch and make off with 20 to 30 head of cattle. Except where exactly are they going? The area around them is crossed by ranches and farms. Not a lot of open range left in 1895. Wouldn’t someone notice strangers getting away with cattle?

Okay, so this gang of rustlers steals at night. They drive the cattle up into the hills where no one normally goes, and then . . .

Well, yes, and then. Then they have to sell the silly things, don’t they? Who’s going to buy cattle up in the hills? Not to mention the fact that the steers have brands on them. No self-respecting cattle buyer is going to buy cattle that is clearly stolen.

Unless the cattle buyer is somehow in on the theft. So, there’s an unscrupulous cattle buyer hiding in the hills, taking possession of 20 to 30 longhorns and paying off the rustlers.

So how does the cattle buyer get the steers to market?

Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he has another reason for wanting those cows. Yes! That’s it!

What’s the reason? I’ll never tell, until the book comes out next summer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Regency Fabrics, Part 7

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics!

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

We have four fabrics from December 1809; overall condition is very good, considering their age, with almost no apparent damage.

No. 1. A gold Jubilee muslin, particularly adapted for the dinner or evening party. Sometimes this article is constructed in a slip, with short white satin, or long lace sleeves; at others, it is blended with velvet, corresponding with the spot. The dress, formed of this animated article, should be made to sit close to the figure, where a natural roundness exists. Where the form is spare, we recommend introductions of satin or velvet, rather than a fulness constructed from the material itself. It is sold by W. and D. Jeremy, No. 148, Strand, at three guineas and a half the dress.

My comments: The ground fabric of this looks almost like a silk twill, due to its sheen; the dots look almost like an afterthought, woven in with a tapestry needle. Even without the heavier dot thread (which looks a lot like a strand of 6-ply embroidery cotton) the fabric is opaque and of a nice weight to drape well. The cost seems high--three and an half guineas!--I wonder what amount of this constituted a dress's worth?

No. 2 A Jubilee twill-shawl cambric, calculated for the wrap pelisse, round domestic jacket, and for all garments which come within the intermediate order of decoration. No trimming can be introduced with the brilliant assemblage of colours displayed in this article, except black velvet; which we particularly recommend as a becoming contrast, and sober chastisement of its attractive, but somewhat glaring colours. It is to be purchased at Waithman and Everington's. No. 104, Fleet-street, corner of New Bridge-street.

My comments: Um, yes--"somewhat glaring colours" indeed! Do you maybe get the feeling that the writer wasn't too pleased at having to feature this fabric? However, unlike some of the cambrics we've seen this twill-weave fabric is of a reasonable density and has a nice, silky hand, but the colors and pattern are unexpected, aren't they? I've begun to wonder why we don't see these printed fabrics in fashion plates; it could be that many clothes were busier than one might guess from the prints in Ackermann's or Belle Assemblee.

No. 3 is an article of much novel elegance, and is called a gossamer cloth. Its texture, of silk and wool, is more happily blended than any article of prior introduction. It is calculated for robes, mantles, or pelisses: the two latter should be lined with sarsnets of agreeably contrasted colours. The adhesiveness of its qualities will not fail to recommend it to our fair country-women as an article particularly adapted to the present style of drapery. it is to be purchased of all colours; but since the happy celebration of the British Jubilee, gold and purple seem to continue to hold fashionable pre-eminence. it is manufactured by Wm. Preston, of Leeds; and sold, wholesale, at 49, Basinghall-street, and retail at all the respectable woollen-drapers and fancy-waistcoat warehouses.

My comments: This is what we might today call a dress-weight wool--it is of a nicely fine twill weave, though somewhat scratchy--hence the warning to line pelisses with sarsnet!  The "British Jubilee" referred to was the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of George III's assession, which would come to a close the following July.

No. 4. is a reasonable article for gentlemen's waistcoats, comprising at once the qualities of comfort, fashion, and elegance. This manufacture was formerly recommended in the first number of our work, as best adapted to defend the form from the chilling effects of a severe winter. It became the prevailing vest for gentlemen of the turf and whip-club; and since the present embellishment of the Indian-shawl figure on its ground-work, it is sought for with so much avidity, that the original inventor has innumerable hands employed to answer the present public demand. As imitative beings (of which the universe is composed), we see respectable citizens copying the garb of these youths of fashion. In the present instance, we commend them: for, though not exposed to the chace or the warring elements, there are situations of utility and fatigue to which they are exposed, which will render this a safeguard and bosom friend. Messrs. James Harris and Co. of Coventry (to whom we are indebted for the present pattern), are the inventors of this stylish article; which is also to be purchased of Messrs. Maunds and Co. Cornhill; and sold by the principal drapers and fancy-waistcoat warehouses in London, &c.

My comments: Well. Somehow, I was not expecting fake fur printed with a pattern, but this is more or less what this looks like. I can imagine that it was quite warm and cozy when worn as a waistcoat, but somehow I think I'd prefer Col. Brandon's flannel waistcoat in Sense and Sensibility to this one. I'm not quite sure what the inch-long fibers are made of--wool, probably--while the woven backing could be either linen or wool. Rather surprising, don't you think?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Four Things on a Friday

Sometimes things just appear online or in my inbox, and I have to share them! Thus, here are four things you need to know about, this Friday:

The Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia. Oh, what a treasure trove of terminology by Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian, sewing teacher, writer, and speaker, otherwise known as the Dreamstress. She offers definitions for types of fabrics and styles, and gives you dates of first use, if known. Priceless! 

Food in Season in 19th Century England. Could a lady eat carrots at Christmas? Mussels in March? This wonderful blog entry pulls together information from period literature to show us what was available to eat when. 

New Blog for Clean Romance Reads. Eight authors of clean romance, ranging from contemporary romance to romantic suspense and our beloved historical romance, just launched a new blog, Clean Romance Reads Café. They’re giving away a Kindle Voyage to celebrate. You might want to show them some blog love. J 

Free Online Romances About Thanksgiving. And speaking of sweet reads, 13 authors from the Heartwarming line are sharing free online romantic short stories between now and Thanksgiving. They are contemporaries, but nobody is perfect.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Eye Candy, NineteenTeen Style

On some sites, “eye candy” might involve, say, sculpted male torsos. Or a handsomely-filled-out pair of jeans. On NineteenTeen, however, eye candy usually means one thing: amazing historical costumes!

I recently ran across what may win the Best Eye Candy Award for 2015 in a perfectly gorgeous book called “London Society Fashion 1905- 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank”, published this year by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. If you have the remotest interest in the fashions of the early part of the twentieth century, this book is for you.

Heather Firbank (1888-1954) was the only daughter of a wealthy upper-middle-class family which included her brother Ronald, who would one day become a well-known author and playwright. She was attractive and well-connected, and when she made her debut in London in 1908, her future seemed assured: marriage, probably into the lower tiers of the aristocracy, and a respected place in society. Financial reverses a few years before her coming-out sent the family on a downhill slope, but Heather’s wardrobe allowance did not feel the pinch; her family knew that making the right impression in society would be vital for her future. So the young woman (twenty the year she made her debut—two years later than usual) was launched into society with a most elegant wardrobe...and interestingly, seems to have tried to create a “brand” for herself, frequently wearing clothes in shades of purple and mauve and using heather as a personal emblem on everything from her notepaper to the embroidered monograms on her underwear.

The death of Heather’s father in 1910 meant further belt-tightening...but Heather and her mother seemed to have continued to spend prodigious amounts of money on their clothes. Though she embarked on a few secret love affairs, Heather never married, and spent the years after the war in Richmond, nursing her dying mother. With her beloved brother Ronald’s death in 1926 she packed up her extensive wardrobe and put it into storage...and upon her death in 1954 at the age of 67, the untouched trunks were offered to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This book is a record of that wardrobe...and it is simply sumptuous.

The Heather Firbank collection contains not only garments for every conceivable occasion, from ballgowns to tennis dresses, but also the accompanying undergarments, stockings, shoes, purses, and hats, representatives of which all appear in this book...not to mention ephemera like photographs of Heather wearing some of the depicted dresses, couturier bills, and sketches. The photography is beautiful, showing garments in both full length and in detail (that cover image is what first caught my eye.) The accompanying text, which details Heather’s life and examines the London fashion industry, is well-researched and written...but it is the photographs that make this book. Highly recommended!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Ghost Ship

It’s the day before Halloween in the States, and things have already been going bump in the night on television and in movie theatres. But one of the spookiest things about the nineteenth century were the legends that sprang up, including one about the Mary Celeste.

The Mary Celeste was a merchant ship from America. She sailed with a crew of ten and the captain’s family from New York City in November 1872 on her way to Genoa, Italy, carrying a cargo of industrial alcohol. But after what appeared to be an uneventful journey based on the ship’s log, the vessel was discovered on December 4, 1872, off the Azores, abandoned. She was sailing along, all by herself, with cargo, supplies, and crew’s belongings largely intact, although the navigational instruments were missing and so was the lifeboat. The last log entry was dated 10 days earlier. No one who had sailed on her was ever seen again.

So what happened?

Over the centuries, theories have abounded. Some of the barrels of alcohol were apparently empty. Had the crew drank the foul stuff and mutinied? (Note to conspiracy theorists—have you ever tried drinking denatured alcohol? It isn’t pleasant, and I would think the crew would be too busy throwing up or running to the head to mutiny.) 

Was it piracy? Unless the pirates decided after slaying all the crew that the aforesaid alcohol wasn’t worth the effort to pilfer, not likely. Besides, there was no sign of a struggle, no damage to the hull from canon fire.

Was it insurance fraud? Not a particularly good one. The salvage award wasn’t particularly lucrative, because both the ship and the cargo were in good shape.

Had they abandoned ship because of a natural phenomenon such as submarine earthquakes, storms, or a water spout? None were recorded in the area, and at the time of the ship’s last log entry, the Mary Celeste wasn’t too far from one of the islands. Surely the life boat could have made it to shore.

Even more far-fetched theories have been suggested. Was it a giant squid? Sorry, he was busy that day. Bermuda Triangle? Nowhere near where the ship was found.

Oblivious to the consternation around her, the Mary Celeste continued her career, passing through several hands before being wrecked off the coast of Haiti in 1885. That captain actually was attempting insurance fraud. But her demise didn’t stop the stories. Newspaper and magazine pieces popped up in England and America from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. In January 1884, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of Sherlock Holmes himself, told the tale in a British literary magazine, from the point of view of a supposed survivor. He blamed the abandonment on the vengeance of a former slave, who rose against the white crew. The Strand published another “survivor story” in 1913, stating that the crew had fallen into the sea from a temporary platform and either drowned or were eaten by sharks. In the 1920s, other stories from so-called survivors claimed that the crew had colluded with that of the ship which found her to win salvage or the crew had found another ship abandoned with a rich cargo and sailed off on it instead. Radio plays, a stage version, and novels have also been written about the mystery. The Smithsonian sponsored a documentary as late as 2007; it disproved many theories but reached no conclusions.

So what really happened to the Mary Celeste?

The Brits have an answer. It seems their venerated hero the Doctor may have been involved, according to the accepted canon for the long-running Dr. Who franchise. I understand the Daleks were involved.

Now, that explains everything.

Happy Halloween!