Saturday, March 30, 2013

Historical Society in Society

I have a confession for you, my readers: I have never been to visit my local historical society. As far as I know, it is located less than a quarter mile from my house. I drive past it almost every time I leave my driveway. We’ve lived here since early 2009, we spend most of our free time driving all over New England to do history stuff, but neither Stephen nor I have stepped foot inside the local historical society.

Why oh why are we so neglectful? How could I claim to be into history and not at least stick my head in the door in the past three years? My current experience with history is exciting and adventurous; my past experiences with historical societies have all been pretty boring. Sometimes when I drive by there is an “open” flag out, but I’ve never seen anyone hanging out, any events happening there. I haven’t seen any flyers in town, or mailings about it, nothing on the municipal web page. I’m not sure if there is anything there beyond a little “schoolhouse.”

I really should find out. I think I’ll wait until the weather is better and I can walk down.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Perfect Vision

Last July I got Lasik eye surgery. I had been wearing glasses since I was either 14 or 16 depending on whether you want the long or short story. I decided to subject my eyes to lasers for two reasons, neither of which was a desire to look pretty. The first reason I did it was because it fixed my vision. All my friends with asthma out there would get a little laser surgery if it would fix their lungs. My friends with bad backs, shoulders, wrists etc often get corrective surgery, so I saw nothing wrong with getting it to fix my eyes.

The second reason was because glasses are not correct for every historical period I portray, and I have trouble wearing contacts. I have a friend who has written a long post about how glasses are not necessary, but I disagree rather strongly. I suffer from anxiety, not like stage fright but like diagnosable, life-impeding anxiety, and not being able to see the world around me can bring on panic attacks. So just being blind was not really an option. I’ve worn contacts at history events for almost ten years, but they are harsh on my eyes, I never felt comfortable wearing them more than a weekend.

The day I forgot to take my contacts out before falling asleep I woke up to a world I had never seen. I blinked my eyes and saw the face of my husband next to me. I saw the ribs of the tent overhead (I only wore contacts at history events) and saw the shadows of the leaves on the tree overhead. I saw that the blanket had slid half off Alysa’s sleeping bag, but she was peacefully asleep inside the sleeping bag, with just half her face sticking out. All I had to do was blink and I could see the world. That morning laying in our bed in camp, actually looking at the world around me was when I decided to look into Lasik.

The only qualm I had about fixing my eyes was it would make me more perfect in a way that most historical people were not. Nowadays we get things like bad backs and bad teeth fixed, but historically many people did not have that option. In the Guild of Das Geld Fahnlein we have some folks who have bad backs, but they take pain killers and do not walk around with canes. But wouldn’t it be more historical if they did hobble around? Am I doing our historical portrayal a dis-service by refusing to bring on my own panic attacks? This year my dentist took out several old silver fillings and replaced them with tooth-colored ones, because the old fillings were damaged and all new fillings are tooth-colored. So now my teeth look more perfect. But the silver fillings did not fit in with the 16th Century either! I am not going to refuse dental work just because I spend a lot of time portraying someone from the past.

But part of me wonders if I should have.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making Compost

In the couple of years that I have been doing historical cooking I have some recipes that I do over and over, that I have become known for in our camp, or at the museum. My pet recipes.

One of the things I really like to make for the weekends we’re portraying an army on the march is at least one pickled vegetable. Pickles keep well on a march, they can be made out of just about any vegetable, and are available almost year round. They can also be made up ahead of time. I like to be prepared for every eventuality, including the ones where we are unable to cook a meal as planned (like in the middle of a rain or snow storm) so having some pre-prepped things can come in handy.

There are a number of pickling and preserving recipes in various Medieval Cookbooks. My favorite is a mixed veggie pickle called Compost in one of England’s oldest cookbooks: Forme of Cury plus a number of other Medieval cookbooks, a nice list of which can be found on the Medieval Cookery website. There are also versions of this recipe with modern instructions in a number of published cookbooks including To the King’s Taste and The Medieval Cookbook.

The original in Forme of Cury looks something like this:
COMPOST. C. Take rote of parsel. pasternak of rasenns. scrape hem waisthe hem clene. take rapes & caboches ypared and icorne. take an erthen panne with clene water & set it on the fire. cast all þise þerinne. whan þey buth boiled cast þerto peeres & parboile hem wel. take þise thynges up & lat it kele on a fair cloth, do þerto salt whan it is colde in a vessel take vineger & powdour & safroun & do þerto. & lat alle þise thinges lye þerin al nyzt oþer al day, take wyne greke and hony clarified togider lumbarde mustard & raisouns corance al hool. & grynde powdour of canel powdour douce. & aneys hole. & fenell seed. take alle þise thynges & cast togyder in a pot of erthe. and take þerof whan þou wilt & serue forth.

I have made it a number of times, and make it differently each time, though the basics remain true.

Thinly slice a number of different vegetables, including:
At least a ¼ head of cabbage
Pears (definitely don’t leave these out!)

At various times I have included:
Parsley root

You get the idea, while the cabbage and pears make up the main body, any vegetable (or fruit for that matter) that can stand up to being pickled can be used.

I briefly boil the veggies in salted water to soften them up, but don’t over-cook them. After draining them I sprinkle them with kosher (or pickling) salt to draw some of the water out and to help preserve them. While the veggies sit in salt I make the pickling brine (liquid they’ll be pickled in.) Because of food allergies in Das Geld Fahnlein I do not use wine, nor a vinegar based on wine, though those are what was historically used. I use apple cider vinegar mixed with distilled vinegar as the base. Then I add:
Raisins (I prefer golden raisins, but that is personal preference)

And whole spices, at least some of these:
Black pepper
Mustard seeds
Juniper berries

Once the brine has simmered for a while, I pour in the vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes. Then I taste it all. It will be sour, but with a bit of sweetness. If you need to, add more honey and sugar. I usually don’t need to add more salt, but this would be the time to if you needed to.

Don’t simmer it for too long, the vegetables should retain their integrity. The Compost will need to cool before you put it in jars unless you are using canning jars. If you’ve done all the cooking, you can eat it the day you make it, but I prefer to let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days to blend a little. Usually I jar it up so it is easy to transport to events. This winter I bought a lovely ceramic jar from a potter that he had labeled an olive jar. I think it is perfect for pickles.

This is roughly the way I make Compost, but it is certainly not the definitive way. I highly recommend checking out the other published recipes to find the way that works best for you.
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Thursday, March 7, 2013


Two weekends ago I attended the New England Reenactor’s Fair and Swap Meet with Das Geld Fahnlein. We set up a table to hopefully recruit new members. Last weekend I attended the New England regional conference of the Association of Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums. I attended that one on my own, though the keynote speaker was from Strawbery Banke. I did not really have to explain my attendance to the folks at the swap meet, though most folks found it odd that a group depicting something other than American history would attend. At the ALHFAM meeting the opening question is always, “what institution do you work at?” I found it difficult to explain that I was not there in affiliation with a specific museum. 

I’m sure if the other folks at the swap meet had the opportunity to attend the conference, they would have learned a lot and could have added a lot as well, but there is a massive gulf between the “professionals” and the “hobbyists” and I seem to be stuck in the middle.

Why was I reluctant to tell the folks at ALHFAM that I work at SBM? Well, technically since the museum is not open, I don’t work at the museum. Also, the museum does not provide me with a living wage. I make just enough to pay for my gas and food. It does not cover housing, health insurance, my kid, phone, anything else.  At least Das Geld Fahnlein does not pretend to be something other an expense in the budget. I paid my own way into the conference, I was not there as a representative of SBM.

I had a lot of fun at both events. At the swap meet I met new people who also love dressing up and living history, got to spend time with some of my fellow guild members, and I got to purchase some round wooden containers for herbal medicine that I’ve been looking for for a very long time. I got to do some medieval cooking to prep and I got to feed my peeps, which I very much like to do. At the conference I learned how to butcher a turkey and make split-rail fence. I got to learn about 1870s knitting and 19th Century bee keeping, and hang out with a group of people who love dressing up and doing history.

Maybe it is just the yucky end-of-winter weather, but now I feel all ugh, and in-between-ish about my place in the world of living history. I’m not your usual reenactor because I don’t do Civil War or Revolutionary War, I’m not your typical Museum person because I don’t make my living by working full-time at a museum.

At the Saturday dinner that was part of the conference I sat down at a table that looked mostly empty so other folks could decide to join me, but I would not be crowding out anyone if I chose to sit at the wrong table (hello flashbacks to grade school.) There was only one other person sitting at the table when I sat down, so she and I chatted while everyone else straggled in. She has 4 part time jobs and is also struggling to make a life out of history (and textiles in her case.) I mentioned that one of the things that Stephen and I do is offer workshops to reenactors on any number of topics from historical portrayals, to research, taboo topics, and (our favorite) interacting with the public. She thought that was fascinating and mentioned “putting out her shingle” to offer the same workshops herself. Doh, I should not have mentioned it. We really don’t do enough of those to need any competition. Sigh. 

I really hope winter is over soon.

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