Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Truth can be stranger than fiction

In my next year's novel, The Rogue's Return, I decided to send my characters back home from Canada on a real ship, the Eweretta. She was a fur ship that arrived every spring and sailed in the fall, taking just a few passengers.

In 1820 she arrived on May 19th, having taken 47 days for the crossing from London, carrying a general cargo for Forsythe, Richardson and Co. But look at her passenger list.
Messrs. Cameron & Son, Capt. Snuff, Lady & family, J. Joseph & Son, Mr Walker, Mrs Mutton & Son, and Mr Summers

If I'd peopled my Eweretta of 1816 with a Captain Snuff and and Mrs. Mutton, everyone would have thought I was playing Clue!

1816 was the "year without a summer" due largely to the eruption of the volcano Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. The shipping record makes some mentions early in the year, when the situation hadn't truly sunk in.

Quebec, late May, 1816.
"The accounts received by the first arrivals at Quebec, this season, which stated that vast and unusual fields of ice were seen floating in the Gulph and along the coasts of Newfoundland, made us naturally apprehensive for the safety of the shipping bound to the St. Lawrence; the long list of so many vessels arrived since, without suffering much injury, must therefore be very gratifying.

The refreshing rains which have fallen lately, have occasioned a very favorable change in our fields and gardens, and give us room to hope, there will be yet abundance for man and beast in all our borders.–Who knows but that the chilly weather experienced at the beginning of this season, preserved the productions of the earth from the ravages of those insects which have so much injured the crops to the southward?"

The "year without a summer" wasn't literal, and the effects varied, but it came close in some areas, ruining crops and causing great hardship.
More here.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Instant Soup

I'm not actually obsessed by food, but it is often so different to what we expect. Instant soup in the 18th century. Who knew?

To make Veal-Glue, or Cake-Soup, to be carried in the Pocket.(!)

Take a Leg of Veal, strip it of the Skin and the Fat, then take all the muscular or Fleshy Parts from the Bones; boil this Flesh gently in such a
quantity of Water, and so long a time, till the Liquor will make a strong
Jelly when 'tis cold: this you may try by taking out a small Spoonful now
and then, and letting it cool. Here it is to be supposed, that tho' it will jelly presently in small quantities, yet all the juice of the Meat may not be extracted, however, when you find it very strong, strain the Liquor thro' a Sieve, and let it settle; then provide a large Stew-pan with Water, and some China-Cups, or glazed Earthen-Ware; fill these Cups with the Jelly taken clear from the Settling, and set them in the Stew-pan of Water, and let the Water boil gently till the Jelly becomes thick as Glue: after which, let them stand to cool, and then turn out the Glue upon a piece of new Flannel, which will draw out the Moisture; turn them in six or eight hours, and put them upon a fresh Flannel, and so continue to do till they are quite dry, and keep it in a dry warm Place: this will harden so much, that it will be stiff and hard as Glue in a little time, and may be carry'd in the Pocket without Inconvenience.

[Note - glue at this time was sold in hard cakes that were melted in hot water and needed to be kept hot for use. Fish glue. Pungent stuff, but strong when set.]

We are to use this by boiling about a Pint of Water, and pouring it upon a piece of the Glue or Cake, of the bigness of a small Walnut, and stirring it with a Spoon till the Cake dissolves, which will make very strong good Broth. As for the Seasoning Part, every one may add Pepper and Salt as they please, for there must be nothing of that kind put among the Veal when we make the Glue, for any thing of that sort would make it mouldy. Some of this sort of Cake-Gravey has lately been sold, as I am inform'd, at some of the Taverns near Temple-Bar, where, I suppose, it may now be had.

[It probably isn't necessary to think that the heads of the Scottish lords beheaded after the Jacobite rebellion were still on display at Temple Bar. No connection at all. None.]

As I have observ'd above, that there is nothing of Seasoning in this Soup, so there may be always added what we desire, either of Spices or Herbs, to make it savoury to the Palate; but it must be noted, that all the Herbs that are used on this occasion, must be boiled tender in plain Water, and that Water must be used to pour upon the Cake Gravey instead of simple Water: so may a Dish of good Soup be made without trouble, only allowing the Proportion of Cake-Gravey answering to the above said Direction. Or if Gravey be wanted for Sauce, double the Quantity may be used that is prescribed for Broth or Soup. I am inform'd by a Person of Honour, that upon this Foundation, there has been made a Cake-Gravey of Beef, which for high Sauces and strong Stomachs, is still of good use; and therefore I shall here give the Method of it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I want my mummy.

"Mummies were of several kinds, and were all of great use in magnetic medicine. Paracelsus enumerates six kinds of mummies; the first four only differing in the composition used by different people for preserving their dead, are the Egyption, Arabian, Pesasphalton, and Lybian. The fifth mummy of particular power was made from criminals that had been hanged: 'for from such there is a gentle siccation that expungeth the watery humor without dentroying the oil and sprirituall, which is cherished by the heavenly luminaries and strengthened continually by the affluence and impulses of the celestial spirits; whence it may properly be called by the name of constellated or celestial mummic."

The sixth kind of mummy was made of corpuscles, or spiritual effluences, radiated from the living body; though we cannot get a very clear idea on this head, or respecting the manner in which they were caught."

Footnote in the section on magnetic medicine in Mackay's MEMOIRS OF EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS, The Office of the National Illustrated Library, London, 1852

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Jane Austen -- fashionista!

Now that Jane Austen has achieved literary acceptance (which mean, of course, that she can't possibly be a romance writer) many people seem to want to think of her as above frivolity.

Her letters often refer to fashion, as here, from 1813.
"Miss Hare had some pretty caps, and is to make me one like one of them, only white satin instead of blue. It will be white satin and lace, and a little white flower perking out of the left ear, like Harriot Byron's feather. I have allowed her to go as far as L1. 16s. My gown is to be trimmed everywhere with white ribbon plaited on somehow or other. She says it will look well. I am not sanguine. They trim with white very much.[In London.]

I learnt from Mrs. Tickars's young lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion. I was really glad to hear that they are not to be so much off the shoulders as they were.

My cap is come home, and I like it very much. Fanny has one also; hers is white sarsenet and lace, of a different shape from mine, more fit for morning carriage wear, which is what it is intended for, and is in shape exceedingly like our own satin and lace of last winter; shaped round the face exactly like it, with pipes and more fulness, and a round crown inserted behind. My cap has a peak in front. Large full bows of very narrow ribbon (old twopenny) are the thing. One over the right temple, perhaps, and another at the left ear."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

More weird food.

From: Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, by Way of Lisbon, Athens, Constantinople, and Jerusalem: Performed in the Steamers of the Peninsular and Oriental Company. Contributors: M. A. Titmarsh - author. Publisher: Wiley & Putnam. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1846

"It was agreed that a party of us should land for half an hour, and taste real Spanish chocolate on Spanish ground. We followed Lieutenant Bundy, but humbly in the providor's boat; that officer going on shore to purchase fresh eggs, milk for tea (in place of the slimy substitute of whipped yolk of egg, which we had been using for our morning and evening meal), and, if possible, oysters, for which it is said the rocks of Vigo are famous."

Now the English have a strong preference for tea with milk, but if I had no alternative I'd drink it black rather than with whipped egg yolk. Ew!

And they already knew of a way of preserving milk for voyages by sealing it in a container then heating it, because I've come across that 50 years earlier.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

How to....

How to books have always been popular.

[The prices are shillings and pence. There were, of course, 20 shillings to the pound and 12 pennies to the shilling.]

The Art of Angling for Rock and Sea Fish 2 6
The Art of being easy at all Times and in all Places 2 0
The Art of pleasing in Conversation, Fr. and Eng. 6 0
The Art of Ringing 1 6
The Art of Painting in Miniature 1 6
The Art of Preserving Health 1 6
The Art of Speaking in Public 2 6
The Art of Speaking 4 6
The Art of Poetry, on a new Plan 6 0
The Art of Thinking (Introduction to) 2 6
The Art of Letter-writing 2 6

But in the middle of this innocuous list was:
The Art of Tormenting 3 6
What or earth was this? A torture manual?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Stone Soup

I trust you're familiar with the folk tale about stone soup, where someone offers to make soup from a stone, but persuades people to add a little of this and a little of that?

Well -- Egg Soup, or actually "dressed eggs", from a cookery book on Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/hwife10.txt

I'd put it in the early 19th century, but I couldn't find a date.

Boil your Eggs till they are hard, and cut the Whites only into Rings or large pieces; then cut some Parsley and Onions small, and stew them with a little Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg in half a Pint of Water, till the Onion andParsley is tender; when this is done, put in your Eggs [whites only, note] well flower'd, and as soon as they are hot, put half a Pint of Cream to them, and thicken them for serving at the Table.

The Yolks may be fry'd to garnish the Dish.

Or may not. I wonder if this was a plot to keep the good bits for the servants. There's another recipe for battered egg whites in gravy.... Ick. No mention of the yolks there at all.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Picture this next time there's a Jane Austen movie.

"There are some customs here not quite consistent with the scrupulous delicacy of which the English pique themselves. Towards the end of dinner, and before the ladies retire, bowls of coloured glass full of water are placed before each person. All (women as well as men) stoop over, sucking up some water, and returning it, perhaps more than once, and, with a spitting and washing sort of noise, quite charming -- the operation frequently assisted by a finger elegantly thrust in the mouth! This done, and the hands dipped also, the napkins, and sometimes the table-cloth, are used to wipe hand and mouth."

From Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain (1810-1811) by Louis Simond, a French born American.