A few months ago I was browsing through an antique shop with a good friend of mine when I came across several baking manuals that dated to the beginning of the 20th century. These were the kind published by a company to demonstrate the many ways to use their product in recipes. This particular book was the Ryzon Baking Baking Book (1918) by Marion Harris Neil which was described as “a practical manual for the preparation of food requiring baking powder.” The other book was Borden’s Prize Recipe Album (1925) which featured recipes using the Borden’s Evaporated Milk.
Not only were these books absolutely fascinating because it’s a glimpse at how baking was approached over 100 years ago, but these books were filled with handwritten recipes! So of course these had to come home with me!
After going through the handwritten recipes, I came to the conclusion that both of these books were owned by the same woman due to a good handful of recipes having the same name on them: Louise.
Who was Louise?
There was no other information given … only her first name. No last name or initial initial, no address or general location … nothing but these recipes. The only clue I may have to which era these came from is that one recipe is written on the back of a sheet of a calendar note pad with the date Wednesday, December 17, 1930. Most were written in English, but a few appeared to be in German. Once I went through the piles of recipes, I decided to tryout the Baking Powder Coffee Cake recipe that bore Louise’s name on it.
Below you can find a copy of the recipe and my thoughts on the resulting coffee cake. 🥰
My dear reader, it can be daunting to stand at the precipice of beginning a new hobby, looking over the edge at all of the possibilities that lay before you, and freezing up because you don’t know what path to take and are afraid of messing things up from the start. Hello analysis paralysis, our untimely friend. (I’m currently suffering from this ailment in terms of getting my first garden off the ground, BUT that is a story for another time.)
When I first began historical sewing, I was just a baby sewist in 2016 trying to cobble together an 18th century dress inspired by Claire’s wedding dress from the TV series Outlander. The patterns I Frankensteined together was more 17th century pirate wench with lots of sparkly metallic machine embroidery. The petticoat wasn’t even properly hemmed and the raw edges were fraying like crazy. I had weird gapping in the bodice around the neckline. And let’s not mention how much I was lacking in the appropriate foundational garments department (i.e. my corset was a fashion corset I purchased online, my chemise was a nightgown, and I was definitely wearing yoga pants underneath it all).
As you can imaging, it was overwhelming and a bit of a hot mess, but at the time I was absolutely thrilled with result and wore it proudly to the Renaissance fair. Through this endeavor, I learned a handful of new techniques and skills that I still use in my projects today even though I don’t have the dress anymore.
As a sewing novice, you may read the above anecdote and think to yourself, ‘There’s NO WAY I’m going to tackle a project like that! There’s too much going on and quite a bit of investment in time and money.’ And that is perfectly fine.
In the place of a giant project like the one above, I would like to guide you towards a handful of relatively small sewing projects that are historical, involve a low investment of money and time, teaches you new hand sewing skills without overwhelming you, and are absolutely useful for a modern homemaker.
My dear reader, Spring has fully arrived in Central Illinois! Flowers are blooming, trees are budding, birds are singing, and everything is green again. This fervor of new life and buzzing energy always gets me into a Spring cleaning mood. This year I wanted to do more than just an overwhelming overhaul of deep cleaning in my home. Instead, I want to create a cleaning routine that I can sustain throughout the year so my Spring and Fall cleaning won’t be the ordeal it seems to always be.
Historically speaking, there were handfuls of household management manuals from the 19th century that would help the housewife or the housekeeper run the home smoothly, and sometimes they would include a rather vague cleaning, or task, routine. Looking at the 20th century, it’s a bit easier to find the ‘ideal’ routine for a housewife, especially from the 1950’s era. These lists can be daunting with the number of tasks a single woman was supposed to complete by herself each and every day.
Instead of following a vintage routine, I wanted to take the time to make a cleaning schedule that best suited my home and family. I invite you to do the same! To help, I made a small workbook (under 20 pages) to walk you through the 5 steps I took to make my own cleaning routine.
My dear reader, over the past year I have endeavored to create a historical wardrobe to wear everyday based upon the fashions of the 1890’s through to the 1900’s. This of course has been a slow process, but one that I have greatly enjoyed! At this point, I am ready to add a very sensible staple piece to my wardrobe, a black wool walking skirt.
In the 1890’s, you can see shift in the ‘ideal silhouette’ from the protruding bustle skirts to the puffed sleeved bodices, nipped-in-waist, and bell-shaped skirts. This was to be the era of readily available ready-to-wear clothing, female independence, the New Woman, bicycles, sports wear, the Gibson Girl, and new technologies. In essence, this was a transitional decade from the rigidity of the Victorian era to the New Century. (Franklin, 2019)
With more women joining the workforce and engaged in athletic activities at the turn of the century, these women needed an outfit that was practical, comfortable, and casual to wear. This gave rise to the skirt and shirtwaist (blouse) combination. As we look at this ensemble with our modern sense of what we deem as comfortable and practical, a long, full skirt doesn’t appear to fit the bill. However, for these women transitioning away from the bustles and hoops of the previous decades, wearing a skirt that doesn’t require either (except for some light padding to support the weight of the pleats or gathers in the back of the skirt) is very practical indeed! Not to mention, the hemline of the skirt could either be at a fashionable full length or up to ankle length for practicality.
Here in Central Illinois, we are beginning to see small signs of Spring peeking through the remnants of winter’s hold upon the land. Sporadic warm days (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) and the melting away of snow have sent me into a tizzy for all things Spring related. Windows have been thrown open to air out the house, the garden is being planned, spring cleaning is on the brain, and I can feel the buzzing of renewed energy after a long Winter hibernation.
One of my favorite springtime activities is to make a batch of linen spray. This simple spray helps lift the mood and freshen up the house after a long winter being cooped up indoors. Below is the recipe I have been using for several years now.
The home-maker will then have time to devote to the other side of life, to the things that bring inspiration and joy and peace into this little circle of love which we are proud to call “our home.”
Georgie Boynton Child on the science of homemaking in “The Efficient Kitchen”
As a stay-at-home mom and a homemaker, I find that a good portion of my time is spent in the kitchen, be it cooking, cleaning, or planning. It is not lost on me how important it is to have a warm and welcoming kitchen as well as one that is well managed. Several months ago I was introduced to the book The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child (1914) after watching this video from Paige at the Farmhouse Vernacular YouTube channel. This manual was intended “as a book of practical directions showing how to so build new kitchens or transform old ones that the work of the home may be accomplished with a sense of master, instead of remaining the hopeless problem it has become” in the early 20th century.
Georgie Boynton Child was an American efficiency expert who took great care in assisting the homemaker, be it a man or a woman, to run an efficient and economical home , no matter what their household income level may be, so they could spend time away from the “villain kitchen vassalage,” and devote their time to the things that bring inspiration and joy to them and their family. It amazes me that the domestic issues we face today were very much in the forefront of the issues homemakers well over a century ago.
In the middle of 2020 we made the decision to move our small family back to Illinois to be closer to family during the pandemic. We were thrilled to find this old farmhouse in the countryside built about 1903. The summer and fall were splendid as we got to know our knew home. I baked an apple pie using the apples from our apple tree to celebrate the autumn equinox and made a jar of blackberry jam using the berries I harvested from our blackberry bushes. And now winter has settled in and we are experiencing our first bout of cold weather in our new home.
We have learned quickly that our windows are a bit drafty and certain rooms are a bit colder than the others, depending upon which side of the house the wind is blowing on. In our small family, it appears that I am the only one who gets cold rather easily; our daughter is as warm blooded as her papa! Having a cooler house during the winter doesn’t bother me too much because I can put all of my knitted goodies to good use during this time of the year. However, my hands and my fingers tend to freeze, even when the rest of me is bundled up! To help keep my hands warm while I go about my daily tasks, I’ve decided to knit up a pair of muffatees.
Muffatees is a tube of fabric sewn up the side with a hole left open for your thumb. This can be made of warm cloth or it can be easily knit up. After browsing the interwebs, I was eventually led to The Workwoman’s Guide by A Lady for a pattern to make a pair of muffatees. This manual, first published in 1838, contains “Instructions to the inexperienced in cutting out and completing those articles of wearing apparel, &c., which are usually made at home; also, explanations on upholstery, straw-platting, bonnet-making, knitting, &c.” In it I was able to find several different patterns for knitting a pair of muffatees.
Below I will include an image of the original instructions and my interpretation of the pattern to suit my needs. This pattern is great for any beginner knitters and I will provide optional pattern designs too.
Here in Central Illinois, it feels like winter has finally settled in for the season. It was about a week ago that we had freezing rain coupled with our first blanketing of snow. With the change of seasons comes the seasonal affliction of dry, chapped hands, which has been exacerbated by the extra hand washing during the pandemic. To combat the chapping of my hands, I have turned to making a small batch of hand cream that will moisturize and heal them.
I took inspiration from Ruth Goodman, one of my absolute favorite domestic historians, when she was partaking in The Victorian Farm series. (If you haven’t seen any of the farm series’ that she is a part of, please take the time to do so. They are absolutely fascinating and filled with a wealth of knowledge of daily life in different eras.)
In the third episode of The Victorian Farm, Ruth makes a hand cream for her chapped hands and a lip balm (with a hint of color for some undercover cosmetics). Her recipe calls for lard, honey, oatmeal, egg yolks, and rose water to be mixed thoroughly and stored in a jar. Note that she did not give any measurements or her source for the recipe within that video.
At this moment, I do not have all of those listed ingredients to make a batch for myself, however, I was able to create a hand cream using ingredients that I do have in my small apothecary cabinet. Thus, I am able to abide by a Victorian moral code of economy by using what I already have!
My dear reader, it would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year (plague, murder hornets, political and social unrest, and fire everywhere… need I say more?). I’m sure that I had high hopes for the start of a new decade like many others have. Perhaps 2020 would be reminiscent of the Roaring 1920’s, the Jazz Age, a Golden Age? But alas, this decade has a mind of its own and refuses to bow to the expectation of mankind.
Even with the pandemic looming over our everyday lives’, I still feel the need to revel in this time of year. For as long as I can remember, New Year’s has been one of my favorite holidays to celebrate. The appeal for me was the ritual of wrapping up the year in a neat little bow and beginning the next with a clean slate. It’s also a conclusion to the busyness of the the past few months with their respective holidays; with the promise that soon I can take a deep breath and relax into the coziness of winter’s embrace and just be for a moment, without social obligations hovering overhead.
With 2020 being such an unusual year, we can’t expect it to end in our usual way. Perhaps, this year we can look to the past at how previous generations have celebrated the start of a new year. And just maybe, we can try out a new-to-us tradition this year.
As we enter cold and flu season, dear reader, it is good to have a small batch of elderberry syrup in your refrigerator at the ready. This small addition to your home apothecary is an excellent supplement for boosting your immune system and can be used to help improve the symptoms of the cold and flu.