Friday, November 30, 2012

Casual Friday: Picture of Lillie

Friday, November 30, 2012
Lillie Langtry
Loretta reports:

This is simply an image of a famous beauty of the Edwardian era, Lillie Langtry, and the story is not in the picture but in her life. She definitely belongs in the Intrepid Women category.

The photo, dated c1882, is described, rather than titled: Lily Langtry, 1852-1929, half length portrait, standing, right profile; in matching turban and dress.  The LOC entry is the Americanized spelling of her name; Wikipedia gives her birth year as 1853, but my Chambers's Biographical Dictionary (1926) gives it as 1852.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Return Engagement: Harriette Wilson just wants to have fun

Thursday, November 29, 2012
Loretta reports:

The following encore presentation of a 2010 post may serve as a preface to tomorrow's feature about another fun-loving girl.

The Regency era courtesan Harriette Wilson belonged to the sorority called Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  Here’s her take on virtue:
There certainly was much aggravation of sin, in my projected criminal intercourse with the Marquis of Worcester.  Many women, very hard pressed par la belle nature, intrigue because they see no prospect nor hopes of getting husbands; but I, who might, as everybody told me, and were incessantly reminding me, have, at this period, smuggled myself into the Beaufort family, by merely declaring to Lord Worcester, with my finger pointed towards the North—that way leads to Harriette Wilson’s bedchamber; yet so perverse was my conscience, so hardened by what Fred Bentinck calls, my perseverance in loose morality, that I scorned the idea of taking such an advantage of the passion I had inspired, in what I believed to be a generous breast, as might, hereafter, cause unhappiness to himself, while it would embitter the peace of his parents.

Seriously I have but a very confused idea of what virtue really is, or what it would be at.  For my part, all the virtue I ever practised, or desire to learn, was such as my heart and conscience dictated.

Now the English Protestant ladies’ virtue is chastity!  There are but two classes of women among them.  She is a bad woman the moment she has committed fornication; be she generous, charitable, just , clever, domestic, affectionate, and ever ready to sacrifice her own good to serve and benefit those she loves, still her rank in society is with the lowest hired prostitute.  Each is indiscriminately avoided, and each is denominated the same—bad woman, while all are virtuous who are chaste.

…The soldier’s virtue lies in murdering as many fellow creatures as possible, at the command of any man, virtuous or vicious, who may happen to be his chief, no matter why or wherefore.

The French ladies’ virtue is, generally speaking, all comprised and summed up in one single word and article—bienséance!*

Excerpt from The Memoirs Of Harriette Wilson, which were first published in 1825.
You can read the first two volumes from the 1909 edition online here.    And for further insight into this fascinating woman, you might want to look into The Courtesan’s Revenge: The Life of Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King.

Postscript: Isabella/Susan sent me this link to one of the illustrations—which definitely captures the insouciant spirit of the book. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Lion's Daughter & the Albanians

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Loretta reports:

This month we’ve released eBook editions of my out-of-print works.  The collection includes my very first full-length historical romance (as opposed to traditional Regency), The Lion’s Daughter.

It might be the only historical romance set (partly) in Albania, and the heroine may be the only half-Albanian historical romance heroine.  When the book came out, some people asked me if Albania was an imaginary country.

Barnes & Noble is promoting The Lion’s Daughter 11/16-12/14, in a fine example of good timing.  Today, 28 November, is the 100th anniversary of Albania’s Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

It’s the Albanian version of the U.S. 4th of July.  The former's road of independence, though, has been as rocky as its landscape.  The century has included monarchies, invasions by various powers, a lengthy isolation under a Communist government, and, most recently, the growing pains of building a democracy.

The declaration itself is quite short:

In Vlora, on the 28th of November 1912.
Following the speech made by the President, Ismail Kemal Bey, in which he spoke of the great perils facing Albania today, the delegates have all decided unanimously that Albania, as of today, should be on her own, free and independent.

This is the English version.  If you’re curious about what it sounds like in Albanian, here’s a clip from a movie version of the event.

And a bit more here, as well as Wikipedia and elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"When the Duke Found Love" On Sale Today

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Isabella reports:

At last, at last: today is publication for When the Duke Found Love, the third and final book in my Wylder Sisters series of historical romances. Published by Ballantine/Random House (and by Eternal Romance in the UK), the books are available in both print and ebook formats.

Set in Georgian London, When the Duke Found Love follows Lady Diana Wylder, the youngest of the sisters and the last to wed. Unlike her sisters, Diana wasn't betrothed as an infant, and without a husband chosen for her, she has made some unfortunate decisions of her own that have left her reputation a bit tattered. When her mother presents a respectable but dull suitor, Diana dutifully agrees to the match – until she kisses the anything-but-dull Duke of Sheffield. Handsome, charming, and scandalous in his own right, Sheffield is exactly the sort of man she needs to avoid, just as Diana is exactly the sort of lady that Sheffield has no business pursuing. Yet soon it's clear for them both that seduction is no longer the game. Something deep and lasting has come to bind their hearts, and the stakes are nothing less than true love.

One of Amazon's Ten Best Romances of 2012.

As a preview, you can read (and download) the first chapter here.

Click here for Amazon.
Click here for Amazon UK.
Click here for Barnes & Noble.
Click here for Books-a-Million.
Click here for The Book Depository

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Inspiration in a Stylish Couple, 1765

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Isabella reporting:

Tuesday is the publication day for my new historical romance, When the Duke Found Love. It's the last of my three-book series featuring the Wylder sisters, all published by Ballantine/Random House. I'll share more about the book tomorrow, but in case you're busily participating in Cyber Monday, you can still add a copy of When the Duke Found Love to your shopping cart today for delivery at midnight, just like Cinderella herself.

Since I've always written novels set in the past, I'm often asked how I choose the time period. Sometimes I'm inspired by an especially interesting historical event that will determine the setting, and other times it's a certain historical figure that I'd like to feature in my story. But the one constant for me is the clothes. I know it may sound hopelessly shallow, but I have to like the clothes my characters will be wearing, or all bets are off.

When the Duke Found Love is set in London in the 1760s, and yes, the clothes for both the gentlemen and the ladies of that time are quite glorious. There are ruffles and laces galore, silks and jewels and extravagant hats: what's not to love? As an example of the Georgian splendor that I found so inspiring, I'm offering the double portrait, above, of Peter Perez Burdett and His First Wife Hannah, by Joseph Wright of Derby. Clearly Mr. Wright enjoyed 18th c. fashion every bit as much as I do, for this painting is filled with stylish detail (click on the image to enlarge.)

While ostensibly out for a country stroll, Mrs. Burdett is dressed to the nines, or maybe the tens: a rich silk gown and petticoat, bow-trimmed bodice, lace-edge pelisse, and fine linen kerchief. Her wide-brimmed straw hat is edged with more lace, and tied with a wide silk ribbon over a lace-trimmed cap. Her sleeve ruffles are truly amazing - see a beautiful close-up detail here - as are her jeweled bracelet and sunburst earrings.

Her husband is not to be outdone, however. He's wearing a double-breasted striped waistcoat, a velvet coat, and a gold-laced cocked hat, with more stripes knitted into his stockings. Another close-up shows the wrapped death-head buttons on his coat as well as his heart-shaped shirt-buckle. (In fact his shirt and shirt-buckle look very much like those worn by tailor Mark Hutter of Colonial Williamsburg.)

But while this painting may have inspired my characters' wardrobes, I'm afraid the real-life marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Burdett has no place in a romance. Peter Burdett was a celebrated map-maker and surveyor who made a favorable match by marrying the older Hannah, a wealthy merchant's widow. Joseph Wright was Peter Burdett's friend and likely privy to his true feelings regarding Hannah, so that the emotional distance apparent between the couple in their portrait is probably not accidental. By 1774, Burdett was deeply in debt, and fled England to work in Germany, where he remained for the rest of his life. He took this painting with him – but left the flesh-and-blood Hannah behind to face his creditors.

Above: Peter Perez Burdett and His First Wife Hannah, by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1765. National Gallery of the Czech Republic, Prague.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of November 19, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012
With the feasting behind us, we're back with your weekly offering of Breakfast Links. This week's links have a decidedly Thanksgiving flavor, but there's also plenty more gathered from Twitter, including blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you won't want to miss.
• This week in 1603, Sir Walter Ralegh stood trial for treason, & his eloquent defense made him a national hero.
• Evening glamour, 1922.
• What was on the Pilgrims' menu at the first Thanksgiving?
• Fantastic images from the Duke of Wellington's funeral, 1852.
• Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam was upset. His wife was upset. Cambridge officials were conciliatory. But why?
• The woman who became a witch-pricker in Scotland, 1662.
• Every day except Christmas: Covent Garden, London.
• The colorful story of an American locomotive that ended up on Exmoor.
Six myths about Thanksgiving revealed.
• More about that first Thanksgiving in Texas.
• This 1869 dressing gown is the perfect garment for Thanksgiving (or any) morning.
• The strangeness and splendor of Elizabethan "It" girls.
• NYC's grand Windsor Hotel burns on St. Patrick's Day 1899 in one of the city's most horrific disasters.
• Rich and satisfying Sippet Pudding - 18th c. recipe plus modern version.
• The game board King Charles I carried with him to the scaffold.
• Special bat refuges built into bridge after old roosting places filled in during repairs.
• A serial killer in the regiment? A curious Civil War hanging.
• How to cook a bird like Norma Jeane: Marilyn Monroe's handwritten turkey recipe.
• Early color photographs of Paris, 1914.
Lady Sarah Archer, definitely not winning "Mother of the Year."
Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) on her wedding day, 65 years ago this week.
• The UK's last typewriter produced - and promptly sent to a museum.
Dog in joyful air - "Lady Londonderry's Dog."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Excess: Thanksgiving Dinner, 1900

Friday, November 23, 2012
Isabella reporting,

If you are feeling diner's remorse today, rest assured that whatever you ate at your Thanksgiving dinner can't hold a candle to the quantity that prosperous New Yorkers consumed for Thanksgiving in November, 1900.

This is a menu for the holiday dinner from the Park Avenue Hotel, New York. I hope you'll click on the image and enlarge to read the staggering variety of offerings. The traditional turkey is almost lost amidst the two kinds of oysters, suckling pig, larded tenderloin of beef, boiled Kennebec salmon, sweetbreads with trifles, saddle of lamb, potted quail....

Left: Thanksgiving Day Dinner [held by] Park Avenue Hotel, New York, NY, November, 1900. From the Rare Books Division, New York Public Library.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Break

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Loretta & Isabella reporting,

Americans will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday, November 22. For many of you the entire week will be devoted to preparations for visiting friends and relatives, shopping and cooking for the dinner, or perhaps making the trek yourself over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house much like these turkeys, motoring off in an 1907 postcard to, we hope, a vegetarian feast.

Since Thanksgiving also always seems to coincide with our deadlines, we'll be keeping one hand on the keyboard and the other on the pumpkin pie. We'll be taking the week off from blogging, too, since we imagine you're all just as busy as we are. But please know that whatever the season, we're endlessly thankful for you, our readers all around the world. You're the best.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Above: Thanksgiving day, postcard published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1907. From the Picture Collection of The New York Public Library.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of November 12, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012
Fresh off the grill - your weekly offering of Breakfast Links! Our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you won't want to miss.
• Evocative photographs: the dinners (and dining halls) of Old London.
• Man finds his doppelganger in 16th c. Italian painting.
Medieval drugs: the drugstore in Paradise.
• Gilding the gingerbread, with 18th c. recipes.
Fashionable details make the woman, even in the Great Depression.
• Not all First Ladies have been married to the President.
• Secrets of a Hans Holbein portrait revealed after 400 years.
• It's that time of year: 19th c. nutting parties.
• Ebay find: an 18th c. love letter storage facility.
• Who needs the NHL? Ice hockey games held in ancient Roman amphitheater.
• Tricks from The English Horseman, 1607: "If you will have your horse fetch and carry a glove."
• Tick-tock: video of Elizabethan one-fingered lantern clock.
• Wonderful informal street photographs, 1906: An Englishman abroad: Sambourne in Holland.
• The Fox sisters and the rap on Spiritualism: how Spiritualism's founders faked their 'spirits.'
• For all your carrot information: the World Carrot Museum. Continuing the carroty theme: tiny bunny enjoying carrot.
Apothecaries and druggists in Georgian Birmingham.
• Calligraphic cats.
Industrial tourism, early 19th c. style: the silk mills of Overton and Whitchurch.
• Follow preparations for an 18th c. style Christmas masquerade at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC.
• The shifting Lancaster sands & the dangers of 19th c. travel in the Lake Country.
Abraham Lincoln to Mary Owens: "It's not you, it's me."
• Opulent textiles from the California missions.
• Angry commuter, 1863: "People are so slow getting on and off the train."
• Men who battled boredom in church services by doodling on the 1575.
• Scandalous love-nest: a comely showgirl receives a New York mansion (or two) from millionaire George Gould.
• The ghost of the Panama Canal, 1908.
• The Drury Lane Theatre riot: the mob and Mr. Garrick.
• Brutal 1920s script rejection letter from company who made many of Chaplin's films.
• Diary of Confederate girl during Civil War: "Death seemed inevitable & I thought it was well to take it coolly."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter for fresh updates daily!

Shameless Self-Promotion: We've Been Listed

This has been a surprisingly wonderful week for us – surprising because we as writers never expect these kinds of honors, and we're completely, delightfully shocked and grateful when someone else tells us.

On Wednesday, Isabella learned that her newest historical romance, When the Duke Found Love, was named as one of Amazon's Ten Best Romance Books of the Year. This was doubly amazing since the book won't be released until next week, on 11/27. But still - very nice indeed.

And on Thursday, Loretta learned that her historical romance (second in her Dressmakers series) Scandal Wears Satin was named to Library Journal's Best Books of 2012: Romance list. Librarians know their books, so being included on this list is especially rewarding.

Five minutes of celebration before we both dive back into deadline distress....:)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday with The Reluctant Bride

Friday, November 16, 2012
Loretta reports:

If ever a picture told a story—or a face did—this one speaks volumes.  Someday I'm going to write a story for her.  Until then, she's yours.

Auguste Toulmouche, The Reluctant Bride, 1866

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Sharp-Dressed Man, 1778

Thursday, November 15, 2012
Isabella reporting:

As Loretta noted yesterday, researching fashionable males from the past is a much greater challenge than finding stylish ladies. There simply isn't the same quantity of fashion plates or magazines devoted to manly style, and while sometimes it feels as if every bride preserved her wedding gown (just see how many are on our Pinterest board), there's virtually nothing surviving from the nuptial wardrobes of all those grooms. But whenever I feel that long-ago men must have had as little interest in dressing themselves as their modern counterparts dragging through the mall, I come across a splendid example of a sharp-dressed man like this, left.

This is twenty-five-year-old John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor and 19th Thane (1753-1821), painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1778. John had recently inherited his grandfather's estates, lands, and mines, which have made him quite a wealthy young gentleman. In the course of his long life, he will become quite an interesting gentleman, too, traveling widely and amassing such a sizable collection of well-chosen classical art that he established his own London museum. He served in Parliament, supported the abolition of the slave trade, improved his lands and mines, married and sired two sons, and gave generously to the poor. Somehow he even had time to serve as the commander of the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry to help defeat Napoleon.

Yet all that is in the future when John posed for this portrait, a young gentleman dressed in the height of fashion. I love the choice of luxurious fabrics for striding across open country (or at least for posing out-of-doors.) Over black silk breeches and white stockings, he's wearing a vermilion coat extravagantly lined in imported Italian fur, with fur cuffs and facings. Best of all is that waistcoat, a super-stylish leopard print to add a touch of exotica to the Pembrokeshire countryside. His hair is dressed in the 18th c. equivalent to the mullet, with neat side curls in front and the back long and blowing freely in the wind. He's standing elegantly with one one leg turned forward so as to best display his well-turned calf - an important attribute for any Georgian male - and yet the way he's pointing towards the distance shows his youthful impatience to be off with his dog on the adventure that will be his life. Stylishly, of course.

Above: John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor and 19th Thane, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778. Collection of The Dowager Countess Cawdor, Cawdor Castle.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

19th Century Men's Opera Boots

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Loretta reports:

Thanks to Isabella/Susan for sending me the link to this wonderful item of male attire.  As you’ve heard us mention/complain from time to time, men’s historical clothing as well as info about same are not so plentiful as information about women’s.  This dress boot was new to me, and I do agree with the anonymous Cavalry Officer that it’s a great concept.  Also great looking.  I would wear these!

The photo is courtesy the Victorian & Albert Museum, and you can learn more about this item by visiting the site here.

The description is from a delightful book, The Whole Art of Dress!, by a Cavalry Officer, 1830.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Working Clothes for 1800

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Isabella reporting,

While our mantua-making friends from the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg spend their working days recreating clothes from the 1770s, on their own time they turn their accomplished scholarship and seamstress-skills to other time periods as well. They've shared their work with us before, including this gorgeous white muslin gown with the purple silk turban c. 1800.

The clothes shown here are also from around 1800, but represent everyday wear, a kind of fashion-conscious working clothes. Think sensible Elinor Dashwood, out to get things done. The jacket (also called a short gown) is cut from printed cotton fabric. A drawstring adds shaping under the bust, and helps create the newly-stylish high-waisted silhouette.

The back of the jacket, right, has a small pleat for ease. The linear pattern of the cotton is carefully matched to make a flattering V shape that emphasises the high waist.

But that same silhouette created a challenge with the linen petticoat (skirt). Separates are hardly a modern invention. Jackets and petticoats had been the mainstays of English women's clothing for generations, with the petticoat gathered and tied to sit at the natural waist. The new fashion for a raised waist, however, meant the petticoat had no place to settle securely.

Ingenuity prevailed, and now woven shoulder straps (acting like suspenders) held the petticoat comfortably in place, lower left, over the woman's shift and corset and beneath her jacket. The side slits made the petticoat adjustable both for ease of movement and to adjust to match a woman's changing figure. If she still chose to wear a now-old-fashioned pocket around her waist, she'd have convenient access to that through the slits as well. This petticoat is a replica of one in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, but similar petticoats would have been worn by both English and American women.

The white muslin cap would have worn to protect the hair and to cover it modestly, again continuing the style for women to cover their heads that had lasted for hundreds of years. But the small, neat caps and coifs of the past were giving way to the extravagant, ruffled excess of the early 19th c., with puffed crowns and trailing lappets, and more to do with fashion than modesty.

Many thanks to apprentice mantua-maker Sarah Woodyard for once again being our ever-patient model.

Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Medical Report October-November 1812

Monday, November 12, 2012
Dagley, Taking Physic 1821
Loretta reports:

Along with the fashion plates I show so often, Ackermann's Repository offered its readers a little of everything, exactly as the full title claims: The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics.

Looking over this report of the ailments a physician encountered in 1812, I can't help wondering how it would compare with a month in the life of a primary care physician today.  If you're a doctor and you're reading this, please feel free to enlighten us.

Illustration:  Taking Physic, (medicine), Richard Dagley caricature, 1821.  Courtesy Ancestry Images

Please click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Breakfast LInks: Week of November 5, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012
After a fortnight's hiatus, the Breakfast Links are back! We're offering up a tasty serving of links to web sites, photographs, blogs posts, and other assorted goodies, gathered for you this week from Twitter.
• Fantastic story from London Times 1796: girl in boy's clothes on the run from wicked stepmother is press-ganged into Navy.
• Ancient princess's tomb discovered in Egypt.
The Spinster Book: "Notes on Men" from 1901.
• Lovely photo of stained glass window in the Burns Club in Irvine - like melted toffee with words!
• "A Turtle-feast is equally relished at both Ends of the Town": 18th c. Turtle Mania.
Regency assembly rooms in Birmingham.
• Not just for Halloween: a bat hat, c. 1916-18.
• Elegant toothpick cases: are they handsome enough to tempt Robert Ferrars?
Fire over England, 1605.
• Niccolo Machiavelli, the cunning critic of political reason.
• The secret lives of kitchen spices: nutmeg repels fleas *and* the Black Death!
• Sorry, no fur coats: strict listing of what women could (and couldn't) wear as yeowomen in the US Navy, 1918.
• The art of hair.
La Marseillaise in an English satirical print, 10 November 1792.
• Medieval beavers on the run.
• Of heffalumps and hunny: the language of Winnie-the-Pooh. More Pooh in original E.H. Shepard illustrations.
• For British Sausage Week: recipes for making sausages the 18th c. way.
• Beautiful early 20th c. cape with elaborate gold embroidery.
• A virtual wander through Wimpole Hall.
• All aboard for lunch: 1920 menu of the T.S.S. Columbia of the Anchor Line.
The Female Detective, 1864, first crime novel with a lady sleuth, now republished by the British Library.
• Ale, gambling, and dragon's blood: all part of young Humfrey Wanley's life in London, c. 1700.
• An unusual Austen sighting: Mr. Knightley's Gaiters.
• "The sacrifice is not in vain": An American Red Cross nurse writes to the mother of a deceased young soldier, 1918.
Bram Stoker, the father of the modern vampire.
• Seventeenth century household management: making a peacock look like a porcupine, napkin folding, and cooking Eggs a L'intrigue.
Fifth Avenue from start to finish: the 1911 equivalent to Google street view.
• Own a piece of fashion history! Madonna's corset, much more, at auction at Christies.
• The amazing floating bath and glaciarium on the Victorian Thames, 1870s.
Want more? Follow us on Twitter for fresh updates daily!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Casual Friday: Mr. Wolfe, 1901

Friday, November 9, 2012
Isabella reporting:

I can't offer anything about this gentleman except for his name - Albert Wolfe (Wolffungen) – and that he sat for this photograph in Berlin c. 1901. The twinkle in his eye along with his general manly beauty have already made him a popular guy around the internet's tumblr circuit, but with that well-curled 'stache, I thought he'd also be a splendid Mr. Movember. And, of course, he's just all-around sigh-worthy, which makes him perfect for our Casual Friday.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fashionable bed for November 1816

Thursday, November 8, 2012
Loretta reports:

I'll admit there are times when the prose style in the early 19th C ladies' magazines seems impenetrable.  In this case, instead of the expected description of the plate, we get a lecture about how much better this bed is than the old, overdone style.  Would anybody like to try turning the last sentence into the kind of English the modern reader wouldn't have to read more than once?

From Ackermann's Repository, November 1816.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Time to Bake Your Rich Cake for Twelfth Night

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Isabella reporting:

If you were the cook for a great house in the 17th-early 19th centuries, or simply a woman who lived in a sufficiently prosperous household, you'd be baking your Rich Cake, left, for Twelfth Night celebrations now. The Christmas holidays were also a popular time for weddings,and the Rich Cake would be the wedding cake of choice, too.

Celebratory cakes of the past were not the frothy, towering constructions of piped and colored icing that they are now. What made them festive was the lavishness of their ingredients, not their outer display. These cakes would be rich with eggs and butter and sugar, candied fruit and costly imported spices, brandy and sherry. With eggs as the only leavening, the texture would be dense to modern tastes, more of a cross between our pound cake and a fruit cake. But because the ingredients were fresh (or freshly ground), there'd be none of the chemical-preservative flavor that makes many 21st century fruitcakes such bad jokes.

Rich Cakes were often baked in a Turk's-head pan, shaped much like contemporary Bundt pans. Once unmolded, they could be wrapped in cloth and soaked with more liquor to develop their flavor and moistness. By the time the cakes were served in late December or January, they would truly be worth their star status on the holiday table.

During my recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg, the cooks in the kitchen of the Governor's Palace were baking the Rich Cakes for Twelfth Night. I was there for the final unmolding, right, a process that apparently involves exactly the same held-breaths and crossed fingers familiar to modern bakers. But as you can see, the cake slipped free with nary a crumb left behind.

If you'd like to try making a Rich Cake yourself, Colonial Williamsburg has put the recipe that they use (from Hannah Glasse's classic 18th c. cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy) on their Historic Foodways site. In case the non-specific nature of an 18th c. recipe is too daunting, the site provides a modern version, too.

Loretta and I wish we could serve you all a big slice of festive Rich Cake today, for this is our thousandth post for for the Two Nerdy History Girls. Who'd have thought we'd ever have so much to say? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fashions for November 1825

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Garden Costume
Loretta reports:

This is the first time I've come across "Garden Costume," and it's obviously not meant for digging in the dirt.  An interesting feature of women's daytime dresses at this time is the buckle or strap on the sleeve.

From Ackermann's Repository, November 1825.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Keeping Georgian Gentlemen Neat: Sherryvalleys

Sunday, November 4, 2012
Isabella reporting:

While visiting with tailor Mark Hutter on my recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I spotted these curious trousers, left, lying on the shop's counter. They looked thoroughly modern to me, more like the break-away warm-ups worn by N.B.A. players than anything from the wardrobe of a proper Georgian gentleman.

But according to Mark, that's exactly where they would have belonged. They're called sherryvalleys, a curious word that is traditionally considered a French garbling of a Turkish term – though as Mark pointed out, there's a certain phonetic similarity between sherryvalleys and chevalier, a French word with an early definition of horseman, so perhaps the garbling is more English from French than French from Turkish. From about 1750 through the 1830s, a gentleman's wardrobe would definitely have included a pair of sherryvalleys, especially if his day included riding.

Sherryvalleys were customarily made of heavy linen, cotton, or even leather, with rows of metal or horn buttons down each side to join the fronts to the backs. They were worn over breeches and stockings to protect these clothes from the dust and general splatters of riding as well as the smell of leather and horse. Much like an overcoat, they would be removed at the rider's destination. Any English or American gentleman riding on horseback from one country house to another (including all of Jane Austen's gentlemen) would be sure to wear his sherryvalleys, or risk offending the ladies at the neighboring tea-table.

Sherryvalleys were also worn when riding through rougher terrain as a kind of heavy-duty working pants. According to Mark, these sherryvalleys are a copy of a surviving pair that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, who wore then when surveying the wilder regions of his Monticello plantation.

But sherryvalleys weren't limited to country gentlemen. There's documentation of cotton duck sherryvalleys being a practical part of the uniforms worn by cadets of the United States Military Academy, West Point, in 1814. In a way, they're another variation of gaiters, buttoning over shoes and legs, and of chaps, worn by later cowboys to protect their legs and clothes.

Now, if someone would please tell LeBron James the proper name for what he's wearing when he leaves the locker room....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Surviving Super-Storm Sandy (or, Why There Are No Breakfast Links This Week)

Saturday, November 3, 2012
Isabella reporting:

I'm back on-line at last, and gratefully unscathed, too. My corner of Pennsylvania was directly in Sandy's path, but we were very lucky to suffer nothing worse than a few small branches down and a refrigerator full of spoiled food when we lost power for the better part of this week. My thoughts and sympathy are with all those in New York and New Jersey who lost so much. The images of the damage are staggering, and heartbreaking, too.

The reason for our power outage was instantly clear when I crept out to survey the damage on Tuesday morning. My house is at the dead-end of a rambling U-shape, and several very large, old trees were blown over, taking power poles, lines, and a couple of cars with them. Workers from the electric company, cable provider, telephone, and various tree surgeons and landscapers are still toiling today to clean up the mess.

One of the casualties was Halloween for trick-or-treaters. Although I stood at the end of my drive with a basket of candy and a flashlight, ready to deliver to this year's crop of princesses and pirates, most parents wisely kept their kids inside and away from downed wires and inky darkness.
But amidst all the gloom and destruction, there was one charmingly bright spot on our street. Power outage or not, one of my neighbors was clearly determined that his Halloween treat go as planned, below. I'm assuming that the fact that the pumpkins are still sitting before the house means she said yes!

Storm photographs copyright Jay Scott. 
Pumpkin photograph copyright Susan Holloway Scott.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday at the British Institution

Friday, November 2, 2012
Loretta reports:

Today you get to make your own movie.  The scene is the British Institution, which has inspired episodes in two of my Dressmakers books, Scandal Wears Satin and Vixen in Velvet.

Here's the picture.  You can make your own story—or just enjoy the view.

Alfred Joseph Woolmer, Interior of the British Institution (Old Master Exhibition, Summer 1832), 1833. Courtesy Yale Center for British Art.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Candy Corn, a 19th Century Treat

Thursday, November 1, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Admit it: how many of you are in post-Halloween-sugar-shock today?

While modern candy-makers offer scores of new treats every year, there's one that's stood the test of time: candy corn. According to the food experts at Gourmet magazine, candy corn was first created in the 1880s as the culinary brain-child of Philadelphia's Wunderle Candy Company. Nineteenth century candy-lovers were already gobbling sugary treats in the shapes of vegetables, fruit, and other plants, and Wunderle owner George Renninger suggested the company try kernels of corn next. This was more a marketing challenge than a candy-making one, for Americans at the time regarded corn as feed for livestock, not people, and very little was consumed on polite dining tables. But Wunderle's tri-color layering captivated buyers, and the new little candies were an immediate hit. Originally linked to harvest and available only in the fall months, candy corn soon became connected with Halloween as well, and as Halloween as a holiday grew in popularity in the 20th c., so did candy corn: today the industry sells more than 35 million pounds of candy corn each year. That's one sweet treat.

The delightful Halloween postcard, below, comes from the collection of the Toronto Public Library. Printed in 1909 in Germany for the American market, this postcard is only one that the library shared on its blog here - definitely worth a look!
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket