Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beef fat, bees, and beetles

I'm not really an 18th century indentured servant. I just play one twice a week at a living history museum in Pennsylvania. Saturday was Fall Fun Day, and my job was to demonstrate to the public how to make tallow candles and how to dye linen.

Here I am stirring a pot of tallow and beeswax. In colonial times, candlemaking was done in the fall when the animals were butchered for their meat.

It took about four hours to render ten pounds of beef fat to make a quart of tallow.

This is the pot of tallow that resulted--all tallow, no liquid underneath (are you proud of me, Zach?)

Colonial farmers would harvest honey and beeswax from their skeps (hives). Beeswax is then added to the tallow as a stabilizer.

Hand-dipping the wicks. Candles are made by building layers. The fat cools and hardens between dips, growing in size. It takes about twenty or so dips to make a candle. Colonial candles are about the width of your pinky finger.

Huzzah, it worked!

This is my lovely assistant and friend, Miss S. Among other things, she helped me fill the dye pot with water. The water source being a distance away made for a lot of work. She's a hard worker, and always smiling, which makes working with her a pleasure.

This is cochineal, a dried insect used as a dye that was obtained by the colonies through trade with Spain. It produces a reddish-purple color.

It took only two ounces of cochineal and two tablespoons of tin (used as a mordent) to make this gorgeous pot of color. The longer the pot simmered over the fire, the deeper the color became.

I forgot to take a picture of the petticoat before it went into the dye pot. It had been a faded brown. I was very happy with the result.
For a 21st century woman, experimenting with 18th century farm chores is a lot of fun. I'm amazed by the ingenuity of our ancestors, and humbled by the fact that what I got to play with for demonstration was a matter of survival for them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

To celebrate the last day of summer, I thought I'd post about something you can make with flowers--namely, rose petal beads. It fascinates me that you can actually make wearable art from something as seemingly fragile as a rose petal. I had a string when I was young. They were deep red, and had the strength of wood and the light scent of roses. The art of making rose petal beads goes back to medieval times. I had always been curious about how they were made. Thanks goodness for the internet. There are many sources of how-to, but I liked the one from DIY Link the best.

Apparently there are two ways to approach it. One is gently cooking the petals in an iron pot. The other is pulverizing the raw petals in a blender. I tried both. The idea is to make a clay-like paste to form the beads with. It might sound difficult but it really isn't.

Cooking the petals in the pot causes them to react to the iron, resulting in the deep red, almost black, color when dry.

The raw petals keep more of their natural color, giving a brighter shade of red.

Take a small amount of paste, squeeze out any excess moisture, and form it into a ball the size of a marble.

Lay the beads on a paper towel to absorb any remaining liquid.

Put a straight pin through each bead before it dries to make a hole for the string. I didn't remove the pins until the beads were completely dry.

I put the beads in a dehydrator for a few hours until they have dried. If you don't have a dehydrator, let them dry overnight. Either way, they will shrink A LOT.

I kept the finished beads in a jar with dried rose geranium leaves for a few weeks. This intensifies their scent. Some people use essential oil to do the same thing. When I was ready to string my beads, I added some crystal beads from an old broken necklace to make a more interesting piece. I like the contrast between the smooth glass and the coarseness of the rose beads.

I store the necklace in a box with the dried rose geranium leaves to help it retain its fragrance. When wearing it, the heat of your skin causes the beads to give off scent, just like a perfume.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Short Cut to Mushrooms

This scrumptious mushroom pie would be fit for any hobbit's table. This recipe came from the very friendly Monix at the Random Distractions blogspot. I loved it, the hubs loved it, and we even won over the partner in crafty crime, who claimed to dislike mushrooms until now. Thanks, Monix.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A roller coaster is to a box of cookies as.....

Have you ever had a snack thrill you and chill you at the same time - a roller coaster ride of emotions? When it comes to Irvin's Famous Spice Wafers, they never fail to deliver. I don't know if it's the same where you live, but these cookies would turn up in the supermarkets on the east coast in early September, and disappear before Thanksgiving without a trace until the next year. My family wasn't big on treats, but this was one thing my mother would faithfully buy every year. Just the sight of the orange and black box would put butterflies in my stomach. There it would sit ominously on the kitchen counter, whispering to me that summer was over and school was starting (oh, dread!). Back in the day when corporal punishment was permissible in school I took a lot of smacks for being a daydreamer - until it was discovered that bad eyesight and dyslexia were the real issues - which was why I homeschooled all my children....but, I digress.
Yet at the same time, seeing that box also thrilled me because it meant autumn, my most favorite season, was coming. I so agree with you, Mr. James Whitcomb Riley:

O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

All of my romantic notions of fall are captured in that poem, along with the smell of burning leaves, candied apples, and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
So, here I am a grown-up, still loving autumn, but no longer able to be intimidated by impatient teachers. And yet seeing that box on the store shelf can still take me back to third grade. So I [bravely] grab a box and put it in my shopping cart.
How about you - is there any foodstuff that gives you a mixed jolt of nostalgia?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Journey (continued)

My husband, our youngest daughter and I took a cross-country journey to visit our son, his lovely wife, and our first grandchild. The transportation of choice was a slow train ride. We had taken such a trip many years ago with the three oldest kids. Since our youngest complained that "we did all the fun stuff before she was born" (oh, absolutely, and on purpose), we decided to treat her to the experience of traveling by train.

Last wisp of sunset from the sleeping car of the train...

Early morning breakfast at the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans...

Back on the train - heading west...

a back road find - old country church...Texas

I was told the church was no longer in use, but someone seems to care enough to decorate the doors...sad and sweet

Galveston (kept looking for that 5-cent Coke, but never found it)

Grampy and Granny...still in love

Creatures great and small

You're never too young for a little art appreciation, baby dear...

There were some wonderful moments I wanted to capture on camera but didn't: a man on the Mississippi River edge with a slide trombone breaking the morning silence with a heart-lifting rendition of Amazing Grace; watching through the train window pure white egrets flying over the Louisiana swamplands; walking along an empty beach on the Gulf of Mexico awed by the pelicans as they dive-bomb silver fish jumping through the surf. Still, the best part of the journey is the gift of seeing your children's children.


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