Monday, July 18, 2022

June - At Home on the Range 

The stove is a model 8-20D  Riverside, blue porcelain, manufactured by Rock Island Stove Company,  Rock Island,  Illinois. It features a hot water reservoir on the right and a warming oven on the top. 

    Back in April of this year, my friend Scott Johnson of the Low Technology Institute taught a workshop on refurbishing old tools at Schumacher Farm Park.  While he was there, someone affiliated with the park inquired whether he knew of anyone who knew how to cook on a wood cookstove.  Scott mentioned me.  I called them, and after tossing around a few ideas here and there, we had two workshops set up, one in June and one in October.  

    Schumacher Farm Park is a small historical museum in Waunakee, Wisconsin, just north of Madison. The farm sits on a small rise overlooking the fields below it.   It was the childhood home of Marcella Schumacher.  Marcella's father, Henry Schumacher, built the house for his new bride in 1906 for only $5,000. As an adult, Marcella left the area for some years but then returned and  lived in her family home until her death at the age of 83.   She created the Friends of Schumacher Farm to preserve the house and farm as an historic site after her death.      
    The house has been restored to how it would have looked about 1920, with four bedrooms, a large parlor and dining room.

The dining room sits eight comfortably.                                                                 The beautiful parlor stove would have burned coal.

    The house also boasts a nice-sized kitchen complete with the wood cookstove shown above, a sink with working taps (both hot and cold, what luxury!),  a dry sink, a Hoosier cabinet, and the latest gadget: an electric refrigerator. Based on the design alone, I imagine this  last probably didn't arrive until 1930 or so.

The dry sink, a Victorian leftover but still useful                      The refrigerator was a huge step up from the Victorian icebox.

    The weather had vacillated wildly between cool and blazing hot in the weeks just before the workshop.  There was a nice flow-through of air from the front door to the kitchen and out the back windows of the house, but slaving over a hot stove on a stifling June day is only for the seasoned, dedicated, and desperate.  I love cooking on a wood cookstove, but the very idea of cooking during July and August makes me feel faint.  Still, women did it every day, freezing cold or blazing hot outside, up to three times a day, though most of the heavy cooking and baking in the summer was done in the morning before the heat of the day, and dinner and supper would be lighter foods eaten at room temperature or cooled in the icebox or the refrigerator once that newfangled appliance arrived on the scene.  Those women were of much stronger stock than I am.  My own stove, Milly, hasn't been fired up since it got up to 80 degrees consistently.  I hoped for moderate summer weather for the workshop.  If it wasn't, we'd cook more than just food.

    I wanted to test the stove before the day of the workshop, so I tootled out to the farm the weekend prior.  Good thing I did, too.  Each wood cookstove works differently, and the drafts and dampers on this one worked completely differently than my own cookstove at home: this one was built in 1920 in Illinois, and mine was built in 2018 in Italy.  I had brought Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range by Jane Cooper with me, for which I was immediately grateful.  This book is for people who want to install a wood cookstove, usually antique, in a modern home and includes everything you need to know about antique stoves.  Without it I would have been flummoxed.   

    This stove had burned both wood and coal, which would have been handy, but the firebox, the place where you put the wood in the stove, was only a third the size of the one in Milly.  This meant that the size of wood had to be pretty small - that's a lot of chopping - and wood had to be added frequently to keep the fire burning.  Coal would have been far preferable.  In addition, there was a sizable crack in the wall of the stove.  This didn't affect the stove when the park demonstrators wanted to burn a fire for show, but it did affect how the oven worked.  

    And there were three things the people at the farm hadn't thought of: matches (I had brought my own, just in case), kindling, and some paper to put under the kindling to light the fire.  When a kitchen like this is just set up for visitors to look at, rather than to function, things like this tend to get overlooked.  It had rained the night before, and I scoured under the trees for something that wasn't waterlogged to start the fire with.  I didn't come up with much - a few sorry branches that weren't quite as soaked as the rest was all I got for my trouble.  As for the paper, I tore sheets out of my notebook, one after another, until I could get the fire lit.  After that, it was relatively smooth sailing, and I made a dandy batch of biscuits from the 1908 Rumford Complete Cookbook (the recipe is below) which I shared with Rebecca Ressl, the volunteer who was coordinating the workshop, her son, and a couple of visitors.  I also wrote down a note to bring more matches, newspaper, and kindling.

    Equipping a museum kitchen into a functional one was an experience that required a long list, several large tubs, and about every 1920's-ish and earlier piece of cookware I could manage to stuff into them.  This sample will give you an idea: a sifter, rolling pin, measuring cups, enamel pans and enamel bowls of various sizes (every one I had), a hand egg beater, knives, cutting boards, cooking spoons, cast iron pans, soup pot, bundt cake pan, cooling rack, an oven thermometer (a critical piece of kit) and more.  I also brought all the ingredients for a meal of soup (Ukranian green borscht), biscuits, and coffee cake.  I even brought along a teapot and tea so we could have some tea while waiting for the coffee cake to bake.   

    Never let it be said that I'm not thorough.  Every plastic or modern item was squirreled away out of sight, so when the students arrived, they walked into a 1920's kitchen.  I had learned how to cook on a Victorian wood cookstove at a workshop held in one of the restored buildings at Old World Wisconsin, a much larger living history site, and I hadn't appreciated until the day of my own workshop the effort my teachers had put into turning the kitchen there into a working Victorian kitchen.  

    I must take a brief detour here.  Readers of this blog will know by now that I wear Victorian-style clothing much of the time.  Since Schumacher Farm has been restored to 1920, I had to update a piece of my wardrobe by about 30 years.  The 1920's are much more than flappers and women in long fur coats dangling cigarette holders that look like they're about two feet long.  There were plain old farm women, too, but compared to chic city women, photos of these average women were few and far between.

    I managed to find something approximating the period without having to have it made, and I found a reasonably accurate apron as well.  Rebecca Ressl dressed in period style as well, though her outfit was far more stylish than mine.  I've dressed in a lot of period clothing, but I think the 1920's has to be the height of dumpy fashion.  Unless a woman is tall and thin, everything looks like a potato sack.  Still, needs must. 

    The students arrived, and off we went.  There were six students: four adults and two children aged 12 and 14.  Counting Rebecca, there were eight of us in a kitchen that would have comfortably held three or four, and we spilled over into the dining room at some point.  

    I've never wrangled seven people in a kitchen before, and I began to feel a little bit like one of those cooking show chefs: "Chop this fine.  That's great."  "Beat the eggs a little more.  Excellent."  "We need more wood here."  "Where's the spinach?"  "Are the potatoes cooked yet?"  "What's the oven temperature?"  "Here, try this. You can do it." This last one was for one of the kids who had never lit a match before.  He was baffled.  It took him a few tries, but he managed it in the end, and now he has a skill he didn't have before.  Manual egg beaters also seemed to be something of a mystery.  
        As I mentioned earlier, that crack in the side of the woodstove affected the way the oven was going to work.  I had made a great batch of biscuits the week before, and I had tried the coffee cake in Milly, my own wood cookstove, with success, so I placed the coffee cake in the same part of the oven as in my own stove.  The sugar in the batter crystalized too quickly, leaving the outside of the cake overdone before the inside was completely baked.  The coffee cake was the only flop in the meal, but everybody loved it just the same.  It wasn't exactly burned, but it was much, much darker brown than it should have been.  Still,  it wasn't half bad, and it looks glorious in the photo.  

    And after we had chopped and beaten and stirred and sifted and kneaded and simmered and baked and fed the fire over and over, we sat down in the dining room to a real family meal served on china that was as close to 1920's style as we could make it.  It's moments like this that make living history come alive.  We sat around the big dining table, and everyone had something interesting to say.  We talked about where the children wanted to go to school and the pros and cons of electric cars (newfangled cars are eternal, be it horse and buggy or auto-mo-bile), and chickens and small farming and conscious living.  I felt like I'd been living in this house rather than just working in it for a day.

                                                       Lunch served family style in the dining room

        I will leave you with two recipes from the day.  The Rumford Complete Cookbook is fast becoming my "go to" cookbook for the late 19th and early 20th century in addition to the Fanny Farmer Cookbook 1896 Edition.   The biscuit recipe is from the Rumford Complete Cookbook, and it is, by far, the best biscuit recipe I've ever made.  The biscuits are light and fluffy, and they serve up beautifully hot out of the oven or warmed up the following day.  I even like them cold.  The coffee cake recipe is from the Richards House where we spent a weekend in April (see the April 2022 post "The Great Escape for that adventure).  

    I also learned an important lesson in baking: there really is a reason to sift flour.  It makes all the difference in how light the finished baked goods will be.   If you don't have a sifter, go get one.  You won't be sorry.  You can have my sifter when you can pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    Rumford Biscuits
(Page 116 of The Rumford Complete Cookbook)

(This recipe can easily be cut in half.  I used half milk and half water for the liquid, Clabber Girl baking powder, and butter, not lard.  I also didn't add in all the liquid at once but started with 1 1/2 cup of liquid and increased it in small amounts until the proper dough consistency was formed.)

                                2 quarts flour                        2 tablespoons butter or lard
                                1 teaspoon salt                     2 rounded teaspoons Rumford Baking Powder
                                            Milk, or milk and water, to mix (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups)

        Sit well together the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Rub in the fat as lightly as possible with the fingers, just working it until the fat is well blended with the flour.  Then mix to a very soft dough with the milk or milk and water, leaving this always as cold as possible.  Mix with a flexible knife (I used a dough blender/pastry cutter) in preference to either a spoon or the hand as the steel blade of the knife is colder than the spoon and also because it cuts and mixes the dough more thoroughly.  Turn the dough onto a well-floured board, and roll or pat it with the hand until about three-quarters of an inch thick.  Cut into biscuits and lay them, not touching each other, on a baking pan.  Bake in a quick oven (about 375 - 400 degrees on modern ovens) for twelve to fourteen minutes.
        The requirements for good biscuit are: 1.  A very soft dough, so soft as to be almost sticky; 2. Very little handling because  much manipulation destroys their lightness; 3.  A very quick oven.  If biscuits are not allowed to touch each other in the pan, they will be lighter and more delicate than when placed close together.

Sour Cream Cinnamon Swirl Cake

(recipe from The Richards House, Dubuque Iowa)

Note: The original recipe calls for 1 box Betty Crocker yellow cake mix.   This wasn't available in 1920, and it's got an alarming number of non-food ingredients.  I have substituted a recipe for a homemake yellow cake mix instead (see below) which is simple, tasty, and keeps well.  The directions indicate that the coffee cake should be baked in a bundt pan, which we have, but I'm not sure that's absolutely necessary, though the baking time may vary.

1 batch of homemade yellow cake mix (see recipe below)

4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown  sugar

3/4 cup oil

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional - slivered almonds are divine)

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla (needed for homemade cake mix above)

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.  Generously grease a bundt pan and set it aside.

Mix together the homemade cake mix ingredients in a large bowl, adding nuts if desired.  

Beat eggs until thick and fluffy.  Add white sugar, vanilla, and oil and beat again.  Add sour cream and stir to mix well. 

Pour half the batter into a bundt pan, then sprinkle with brown sugar.  Mix in with a knife blade to form a swirl.  Pour remaining batter on top.  Bake at 350 degrees (a moderate oven) for about an hour.

Homemade Yellow Cake Mix (makes the equivalent of 1 box of Betty Crocker yellow cake mix)

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 cup non-fat powdered milk

Combine these ingredients and store in an airtight container.  It will keep well in the pantry for months.  When you use it, you will need to add 1 tsp of vanilla to the recipe as the recipe will assume that vanilla was included in the store-bought mix.




Wednesday, June 22, 2022

May - Bringing Back the Sun

    May is always a dodgy month in Wisconsin.  It invariably starts out cold and bleak.  When, and whether, it warms up is anybody's guess. This year we had periods of wretchedly cold days followed by a few days of unusually warm weather and then a plunge back into near freezing temperatures again a few days after that.  It didn't snow, but it has thrown everybody's planting schedule off, from the corn farmers to the backyard gardeners.  The apple trees and lilacs bloomed in spite of it all.  They didn't seem to care, and for two weeks the entire town smelled of lilacs everywhere you went.  Breathing was heavenly.

    The first day of May is a holiday at our house.  I get up well before dawn to go watch the Madison morris dancers while Harvest resolutely burrows further under the blankets.  It's a longstanding tradition in England for troupes of morris dancers to go out to the countryside and "dance up the sun" on May morning, also known as Beltane.  The origins of morris dancing are lost somewhere in the mists of rural 16th century England, and there is a decided element of pagan ritual in the dances.  The tradition was imported to America about 60 or so years ago, and there are morris dance teams, called "sides," all over the US and Canada now.  Some groups are positively progressive and allow women (egad!), although this still appears to be a bone of contention among some diehard traditionalists in England.  Some things never change.  The dancers wear bells on their shins and fling hankies about or clash sticks or swords together while doing something that looks an awful lot like really complicated, airborne solo square dancing to music played by, of all things, an accordion (often badly).   It's not as easy as it looks: I tried it once and nearly put somebody's eye out with a stick.  Where there are maypoles, there are often morris dancers.  It takes a village to bring in the summer, especially in Wisconsin.  

    I've loved morris dancing ever since discovering it at the Southern California Renaissance Faire.  Finding morris dancers in Madison, Wisconsin was just dumb luck.  I didn't know there were any dancers at all in Wisconsin until an attorney I worked with sheepishly confessed that she was part of the Madison morris side, the Oak Apple Morris.  I think she was shocked to discover that not only did I know what morris dancing was; I was positively ravenous to see it.

     Seeing the Oak Apple Morris side dance up the sun on May morning involves getting up far too early in pitch darkness, putting on every possible warm layer you have knowing that it won't be enough, remembering to bring a thermos of hot tea, and then driving up the empty highway and through the deserted streets of Madison to find the gathering place by one of the lakes where the Oak Apple Morris will dance up the sun.  The event used to be by word of mouth only, like a secret society.  One had to be "in the know."   Even with Facebook, it's still something of a mystery.   

    The location can change unexpectedly, and this year I found myself at one of the regular dance locations only to discover it was happening somewhere else.  You know you have arrived at last when you can hear the rhythmic jingling of people with bells on their legs walking down the path through the gloom somewhere ahead of you. 

    This year the wind blowing off the lake was frigid, and because of rain the previous day, everything was damp as well as cold, so the fire that would usually be burning brightly to warm all of us wouldn't stay lit.   Still, we were there, and the sun came up, and we were grateful to be able to go have the traditional pancake breakfast and warm up at a local restaurant after a job well done. The Oak Apple Morris always does one dance at the restaurant, using table knives instead of sticks.  Some customers come every year to watch while others try to pretend there's nothing at all unusual about seeing eight people dressed in white, wearing hats with flowers on and bells on their legs jumping around with cutlery in their hands to a  tune from a battered accordion held together with duct tape and hope.  Nothing to see here.  Carry on.
Daffodils in our front yard defying the frost

            Harvest and I made our regular spring trip up to Cashton to drop off another clock for repair at the Amish clockmaker and find plants for the yard.  Many Amish farms run a thriving side business selling garden plants in the spring and mums in the fall.  There are so many greenhouses in the area that it doesn't really matter which road you turn down; there will be at least one greenhouse somewhere on it.  Two farms just across the street from one another might each have a greenhouse, but each one has their specialty.  One will be particularly good for vegetables and seed potatoes, another one has great perennials, a third specializes in spectacular hanging baskets.  We've been there enough times that we know where we want to go.  Of course, I hadn't even been looking for roses, but at one greenhouse I found two more to park in the front yard.  Harvest likes them, but she's getting a bit worried about where the next ones are likely to go. There are far worse addictions than flowers, I suppose: "What do we want?"  "All the plants!"  "Where will we put them?"  "We don't know!"  

     As I mentioned in a previous post, there is an elderly Amish lady who has the most exquisite perennial garden I've ever seen.  All the plants for sale are labelled, and if you like something, her granddaughter will dig it up for you in big clumps.  I bought several miniature iris, hens and chicks, and a smattering of other flowers.  Most of them now occupy the Fairy Garden on one side of the barn. 

               The Fairy Garden just beginning to bloom

    I keep adding a little something here and a little something there in no particular order.  I moved the sweet woodruff from the place where it had been sulking and sullen for years, split it up, and used it to line the front edge of the Fairy Garden.  This may have been a mistake.  The plant has now gone rogue and requires some aggressive maintenance to keep it from taking over.  Sweet woodruff is an herb associated with Beltane and May Day, and its sweet scent is such a blessing after the sterility of winter that I feel almost guilty pulling up any of it.  Almost.   
    I didn't have the heart to tell the Amish grandmother who owns the perennial garden that the poppy seeds she has given me twice now failed yet again.  Not a single sprout emerged even after the care I lavished on the area I planted the seeds in.  I have the large, oriental poppies growing quite successfully in that spot, but the European ones refuse to grow.  I may try again somewhere else with commercially packaged seeds, but I so wanted hers to become part of my garden.

    I hadn't thought anything about it when I got dressed the morning we went up to the Amish area, but I had chosen one of my solid color Victorian work dresses to wear.  The granddaughter of the elderly lady and I were walking through the perennial garden, and I was choosing plants to purchase, when two women dressed in t-shirts and shorts came directly up to me and started to ask me about the plants.  I had no idea why they would ask me when the granddaughter was standing right there, clearly visible, until I remembered what I was wearing - a full length burgundy dress.  They had mistaken me for an Amish woman.  I told them that she, the granddaughter, was the one to talk to, not me, and I felt pretty embarrassed.  However, as we were boxing up my purchases, the old lady's daughter came out of the house to chat, which was unusual in itself, and said she liked what I was wearing and thanked me for wearing clothing that was modest.  Modest, simple clothing is a cultural norm for the Amish, especially in conservative communities.  We both agreed that current fashion for young women is decidedly on the scanty side, to put it delicately.  I would never deny any woman the right to wear what she likes, but I can't help thinking that a lot of it looks like underwear.  

    It would never be my intention to imitate Amish clothing, but I was  glad that what I was wearing made people in that community feel more comfortable.  This has happened once before when I was at an auction in the same area while wearing a similar dress.  A young Amish woman came right over and sat down next to me, and we had a good, long talk about knitting and farming.  I'm sure neither of these women would have given me the time of day but for the Victorian work dresses, and I've learned a lot from these encounters.  Take away modern technology, and women in the country have a lot in common.

    May is also the first month of the reenactment camp events.  Harvest and I have been going to reenactor events for years - anything from the Renaissance to the Victorian age.  In Wisconsin, most of these events are called rendezvous and are attempts to recreate the fur trader or Revolutionary War period of American history.  This necessitates the wearing a lot of tricorn hats or leather breeches and the occasional volley of gunfire.   We tried taking Bear and Juju, our other corgi, to one of these events.  Many dogs are completely indifferent to the sound of cannons, but corgis are a bit put off, that is to say terrified, by the noise.  So Bear stays at home, and we go shopping.

    These evens are not nearly a elaborate as renaissance fairs, but they are also far less commercial and exist mostly for the enjoyment of the attendees. They're great place to shop for the kinds of things we like to buy. There aren't many places can you find a brass candle lantern to use for walking safely upstairs at night, and finding the right hand-forged striker for flint and steel isn't something you can pick up at a local hardware store (see "Matchess" from March 2021 for more about how flint and steel fire starters work).  There are interesting people to see and talk to, and some are real experts.  There is an entire series of events throughout the warm months in Wisconsin and the surrounding states, and we've gone to a number of them.  This May we visited the Bloody Lake Rendezvous in Woodford, Wisconsin.  I don't know why it's called Bloody Lake, and it's probably better not to ask.  

    We had hoped to find an iron worker there who could make us a pair of custom fire tongs, but the blacksmith who had been there for years wasn't there.  We did, however, find a cresset fire basket.  These are the original tiki torches.  You put a good amount of wood in them, the more resinous the better, set them aflame, and they'll burn like mad and light up the entire yard.  No, it's not specifically Victorian, but it's a great ambiance piece, and it will warm you up nicely if it's cold outside.  We would have welcomed one on May Day in the cold and wet.

    We also purchased a new salt jar for use in the kitchen.  We far prefer this to using a salt shaker since we can either dip a measuring spoon in or grab a pinch with the fingers.  Unless I'm baking, the finger method works best for me.  The jar was made by a potter who was selling her wares for the first time.

                                  And I did mention that there are interesting people to see?

                             This charming little girl could have easily ridden this dog.  For years.  

    In closing for May, we must bid farewell to Isis, the white Prairie Blue Egger chicken.  She laid the loveliest pale blue eggs, the largest of the whole flock.  She loved to fly and could get pretty well airborne for a short while if she ran like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk just before takeoff.  She aways had her own mind about things and was prone to solo walkabouts, so when she didn't come in with the rest of the girls, I figured she was strolling somewhere in the shrubbery and would come when it got pretty dark outside.  Dusk came.  No Isis  It occurred to me then that I had seen her the prior morning, but I wasn't sure I'd seen her at all that day, and I wasn't certain that I'd seen her go out with the rest of the girls for an evening stroll.  Perhaps she was already on the roost.  I opened the back door of the coop to check, and there she was, still as a stone.  There wasn't a mark on her, and she hadn't exhibited any signs of illness. Sometimes chickens are fine one day and gone the next.  We will miss her antics and her eggs.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

 April - The Great Escape

The Richards House Bed and Breakfast, Dubuque, Iowa

    First, a heartfelt apology to the readers of the Victorian Technology Institute blog for the absence of a post last month.  As regular readers know, each month's post is a story about the adventures of the month before.  March was a difficult month for many, and I found myself caught up in world events to the extent that I wasn't able to focus on much else.  I hope this month's post will make up for the lack of one last month.  We had some wonderful adventures in April to share with you.  

    As a lifelong and avid golfer, Harvest makes it a point to watch the Masters Tournament each year.  I am not a lifelong or avid golfer (having no depth perception will do that to a person), but I do enjoy watching the tournament as it is held at the lovely Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, in early April.  The snow here in Wisconsin is largely gone by that time, but it is still quite cold outside with nary a leaf in sight on the trees nor a green blade of grass on the ground, so watching people wandering about in shirtsleeves on green lawns with beautiful landscaping, blooming azaleas, and leafy trees is a temptation even I can't resist.  I even like watching the game.

    It has become something of a tradition for Harvest to arrange a getaway weekend for us on the weekend of the tournament where she can indulge herself in watching the tournament and we can go antiquing or sightseeing as well - something for her; something for me.  This year Harvest outdid herself by arranging a stay at The Richards House in Dubuque, Iowa.  Dubuque, located on the Mississippi River, has a large historic area including the stately home in which we stayed.  The Richards House is only one of the truly magnificent houses right downtown.  
    Mr. Richards was certainly well to do by all accounts  He was a banker and a legislator, and the home built in 1883 is a testament to his wealth.   This is the sort of home a local historical society will fit up to look as it did when the owners were living in it.  The public is then invited to walk through, carefully guided up and down stairs by a docent whose eyes are sharp for mischief makers, while being prevented from getting at all close to anything by an endless string of satin barrier ropes.  It's lovely and completely untouchable, like being in the Louvre.  Now imagine being able to get beyond those barrier ropes.  Imagine no barrier ropes at all.  Imagine being able to stay there, eat there, sleep there.  This is the Richards House.  It's absolute heaven for me.  Harvest showed me just a few photos to whet my appetite, and I nearly swooned.  I packed some of my fancier Victorian dresses and nice Victorian boots - the ones that are too formal for wearing out here in the country - and the three of us (Bear was welcome to stay as well) tootled down the road.

    The owners, David and Michelle Stuart, are still in the long process of returning the exterior of the house to its former glory, but the interior is stunning.  David is even more fond of center draft oil lamps than I am, and they are everywhere.  Some have been electrified, but very carefully so as not to spoil them.  There are coal burning fireplaces everywhere that really work.  Every room except the kitchen - and I do mean every room - had stained glass in it somewhere, and true to grand Victorian houses, there were lovely pieces of period bric-a-brac on almost every available surface.  The Victorians loved clutter; the more the better.

The stained glass windows  in the reading nook of the Library Suite

    Since there was only one other guest there when we arrived, we were able to see all but one of the rooms, each one just as beautiful as the last, including the one which had been the children's nursery, where the marks on the wall used for measuring a child's height were left in place, complete with names and dates.  Michelle gave us not only the history of the house itself, but she talked about their experiences in restoring such a grand old lady.  It's been a labor of love. 

    Harvest had chosen the finest room in the house, the Library Suite, for our stay.  This had been the actual library in the house, complete with a reading nook and floor to ceiling bookshelves.  There was a  small bathroom off one of the rear walls, and it had the biggest clawfoot bathtub I've ever seen comfortably situated next to one of the two working fireplaces in the room.  Of course we used it. I never waste an opportunity for a soak in a clawfoot bathtub when I can find one.

One of the two fireplaces in our room.                                                       My dress and shoes, not props, next to the clawfoot tub
    As you may well imagine, I felt right at home.  More at home, in fact, than I feel almost anywhere else.  It was such a pleasure to wear my "full Victorian" clothes and to fit right into an environment that suited them.  I had dropped back in time.

                           Bear and I enjoying  the reading nook and reading The Five Little Peppers All Grown Up

    Being fond of old books, I browsed the collection in the bookcases in the library and found, to my surprise, an 1890 edition of one of Margaret Sidney's books: The Five Little Peppers All Grown Up.  I had read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew as a child, and I hadn't known that it was part of an entire series of books.  My chances of finding one of the books was infinitesimally small, yet here it was.  So while Harvest watched the Masters Tournament in the afternoon, I snuggled down into a chair in the reading nook with a cup of tea and the book and had read nearly half of it before we had to leave.  Of course, upon arriving at home, I immediately went in search of the 1890 edition and had it in the house within a week so I could finish it.  Alas, I seem to have far less time for reading here at home, but I'm enjoying it a few pages at a time, and it has given me a renewed interest in reading more obscure novels of the period which seem to be found only in antique stores now.  

    We didn't lack for good food and beverages while at the Richards House.  Each room had a tray with Victorian style wine glasses which could be filled with wine or other beverages located on the second floor right next to covered glass plates of homemade cookies or small cakes available for munching on at any time.  Breakfast was served in the music room or the formal dining room each morning.  There was always juice, coffee, and tea followed by a fruit dish such as pears stuffed with blueberries and poached in red wine, an egg dish or some kind such as an egg and cheese bake; and on the two days we were there, we were treated to homemade pancakes one day and homemade waffles the next.  Michelle makes all of it from scratch by herself.  I don't know how she does it, but it was wonderful.

    No vacation is complete for us without a trip to a vineyard or cidery and at least one antique shop, so we did both.  I was delighted to find a beautiful center draft oil lamp with nary a scratch and which needed nothing at all to make it work properly. 
The new center draft oil lamp
    It came home with us, packed to within an inch of its life to prevent breakage.  It works perfectly which can't be said for most center draft oil lamps since most of them are at least 100 years old.  I was very lucky to find one in such great condition.  

    Once back from our luxury weekend, it was time to get back to planting. Last fall I had asked Scott Johnson from the Low Technology Institute to allow me to help with planting this year's flax crop.  Scott and I co-taught a two-weekend workshop on flax growing and spinning last year, and I wanted to learn the growing end of the process (see the September 2021 blog post Flax to Linen the Low Technology Way).

On a chilly, damp day in mid-April, Scott got out the seeder and we measured out the rows using a cord stretched between two poles.  We measured out the rows one a a time, and I ran the seed spreader along a row before we measured out the next one.  As it's pushed along, the seeder creates a furrow and then drops a pre-measured amount of seed into each furrow.  Scott kept reminding me not to be so precise in trying to line up the seeder along the measuring cord: "Field crop, remember.  Field crop."

                                                                                My maiden voyage with a seed spreader

     I wish I could say that I was faultless in my use of the seed spreader.  It looks simple, but there is a knack to using it, particularly on ground that is cold and wet.  The harrow would get clogged with clods of cold earth from time to time which prevented the wheel that drops the seeds from turning.  This required Scott to pry the goo loose so I could carry on.  Early on, I accidentally tipped the spreader to one side while navigating the end of a row, and Scott and I scrambled to gather up the precious seeds I had lost in the tip.  If you've ever seen dill or fennel seeds, flax seeds are about the same size, which is to say they're barely visible and hard to get hold of.  It could have been worse: carrot seeds are impossible.  The end of that row will have a clump of flax as a visible testament to my learning curve.  We lost very little of the seed, though,  and there was even a little left over to hand broadcast seeds in the corners of the field, so maybe it won't look as bad as I fear.  Scott was incredibly patient with me, as he always is, and assured me that the flax would come up regardless, which it has.  He has said nothing about the clump, and I haven't asked.  I bask in my current ignorance knowing that I will inevitably cringe at my error later.

    We have recently been enjoying a batch of dandelion shortbread baked by Harvest.  Although she baked the shortbread  in May, I thought I would add it here while I write April's post and while dandelions are still in the yards and fields in abundance.  They will largely be gone by June when the May post is written, so if you want to make dandelion shortbread, now is the time to do it.   Dandelions have a number of medicinal properties, but they also make a delicate jelly which can often be found in the Amish communities farther up the state and delicious shortbread.  The dandelion alters the flavor of the shortbread only slightly, so don't add anything like almond essence or you'll drown out the dandelion entirely.

Dandelion Shortbread
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 cup dandelion petals (yellow part only)
2 1/2 cups flour
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Beat butter and sugar together with a mixer or by hand until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add dandelion petals and beat to incorporate.  Gradually add flour and salt, beating to incorporate fully.  Dough will be crumbly at first, but then it will begin to come together.  Once all the flour is added beat slowly for  another minute or two then knead gently with your hands until the dough comes together.  Roll cookies out and cut with your favorite cookie cutter or press into a shortbread mold if you have one.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes until they are fully cooked on top and brown on the bottom.   Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.



June - At Home on the Range   The stove is a model 8-20D  Riverside, blue porcelain, manufactured by Rock Island Stove Company,  Rock Island...