Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Votes for...Marshmallow Teacakes?

This post goes back a bit to our suffrage tea in September, but it's baking-related, so if you feel like adding a 1915 twist to your holiday baking, it still applies!

For the suffrage tea I made a recipe from Suffrage Cookbook, published in 1915 by the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania, called "marshmallow teacakes." This recipe intrigued me for a few reasons: first, it's from a suffrage cookbook, but it also uses some spiffy new popular tech from the 1910s--prepared foods.

a domestically-focused suffrage poster, 1915
Suffrage cookbooks were produced throughout the United States from the 19th century through the 1910s to raise funds, share ideas, and promote community within the suffrage movement. Cookbooks also helped strengthen the idea that women were masters of the domestic sphere, and therefore deserved the vote to be able to participate in politics (which affect domestic life) while countering the depiction of voting women as neglectful of traditional female tasks (like cooking). Diverse contributions to such cookbooks promoted varied representation for women from all walks of life fighting for the right to vote--as well as gave them a chance to network and advertise for their cause.

Cover of the first suffrage cookbook, 1886
In addition to supporting the image of voting women as still domestic and providing a perfect fundraiser, suffrage cookbooks also provided an avenue for exchange--leading to possibly my favorite parts of the cookbooks. First, each book lists its contributors. To modern eyes these lists range from a "who's who" of the suffrage movement (the book pictured above features contributions from Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwell, for example) to complete unknowns. Cookbooks were an equalizing platform--women who wouldn't get up and give great speeches at a rally could still show their support by submitting a recipe. Second, women (and a few men) didn't stop at recipes; they also submitted useful remedies, inspiring quotes, and satirical pieces. The 1886 Woman Suffrage Cookbook published in Boston includes a section called "Eminent Opinions on Woman Suffrage" along with sections on cakes, sauces, and meat preparation.
My recipe comes from a more contemporary cookbook for 1915, our year of choice for the September rally (it's really been less than 100 years since women could vote). In addition to popular recipes for the early 20th century, it includes two truly fabulous satirical pieces: "Pie for a Suffragist's Doubting Husband" and "Anti's Favorite Hash." To give you a taste (pun intended...) here's the latter:

"Anti's Favorite Hash
(Unless you wear dark glasses you cannot make a success of Anti's Favorite Hash.)
1 lb. truth thoroughly mangled
1 generous handful of injustice.
(Sprinkle over everything in the pan)
1 tumbler acetic acid (well shaken)
A little vitriol will add a delightful tang and a string of nonsense should be dropped in at the last as if by accident.
Stir all together with a sharp knife because some of the tid bits will be tough propositions."
cover of the 1915 cookbook
I think this really captures what I think is so interesting about these cookbooks. On the surface, they were in both in keeping with the common message (that women's domesticity was exactly why they should have the vote) and counter to the "anti" side (that voting would stop women from completing their household duties)...but underneath they were a tool for organizing, for sharing words of encouragement, for venting frustration, and for furthering their political aims. Suffrage cookbooks were more than domestic fundraisers--they were a political act.

Which brings us to the recipe I chose. Here's the recipe from the book (which you can check out in full over at Project Gutenberg):

"Marshmallow Teas
Arrange marshmallows on thin, unsweetened round crackers. Make a deep impression in center of each marshmallow, and in each cavity drop ¼ teaspoon butter. Bake until marshmallows spread and nearly cover crackers. After removing from oven insert half a candied cherry in each cavity.
These are excellent with afternoon tea."
tin for Blue Bird Marshmallows, early 1900s
Marshmallows were widely available as tinned treats in the early 1900s, and by 1915 were made using a very similar recipe to that used today (which uses gelatin for a more "stable" product). In fact, there was a local marshmallow and marshmallow creme factory in Melrose, which opened in 1913. The factory was run by Amory and Emma Curtis, a savvy brother/sister team. Emma was a businesswoman, with knack for marketing--she cultivated the image of herself as a kindly older lady with a gray bun, and became the face of "Miss Curtis' Marshmallow Creme." In 1915 the Curtis Marshmallow Company displayed at the Panama Pacific Exposition, where their marshmallow creme won a gold medal. The booth was staffed by women with gray buns--Emma Curtis's brand. So marshmallows are particularly apt for a Boston suffrage tea!

a coupon for "Melrose Marshmallows" from the Melrose Historical Society
 Similarly, candied cherries were also available for purchase in the 1910s. There isn't nearly as much information about their origin as a mass-produced item, but I found several patents for candied cherries from the period (such as this one for Fort Snelling products in 1915), so I feel comfortable saying it's quite possible a modern woman might have had them on hand. Not to mention they were quite the popular ingredient in 1915--everything from peach custard to Christmas cake to plain in a bowl--so the teacake recipe is a perfect period bite. I particularly like this description of candied cherries from the Ohio Farmer: "No decoration for cake or other confection is more vivid that preserved and candied cherries."

sheet music for the Candied Cherries Two-Step, 1911 (via)
So with the three main ingredients picked up at the grocer, it would be easy to whip up some marshmallow teacakes after a day of picketing, singing, and speechifying for woman's right to vote!

marshmallow teacakes at center front, at or suffrage rally and tea
 To make the marshmallow teacakes as instructed in Suffrage Cookbook, I started with store-bought marshmallows and "old fashioned" tea biscuits. The original recipe calls for unsweetened crackers, but I couldn't find anything unsalted that went acceptably with marshmallows. After some experimenting, the basically-unsweetened tea biscuits were easily the best choice, not adding unneeded sweetness and solid enough to support the marshmallow during and after baking.

Next, I needed candied cherries...but I couldn't find any! It turns out most stores only sell them around Christmas, and trying to find them in September was a lost I had to cheat and make my own. They're not nearly as vibrant or well-shaped as manufactured ones, but they tasted just fine. (I picked up a bunch at the store for next time, but you can also order them online if you give yourself time.)

To be honest, these were a little too sweet for me, but they went over better than I expected at the tea (I mean, they're basically just marshmallows and cookies so what's not to like?), and I was pleased to add something so perfect for the occasion. Here's my final recipe--it's a bit different than the original, but I think the spirit remains.

Marshmallow Teas, adapted from Suffrage Cookbook (1915):

standard-size marshmallows (on the small side is better than large)
tea biscuits (I used Nabisco Social Teas, but round* Rich Tea biscuits would be even better!)
candied cherries

Preheat oven to 200F.
With a small knife, hash one long side of each marshmallow so that the powdered coating is broken up, and the sticky inside can meet the biscuit, and make one hole in the opposite side (I cut a small "+"). Place each marshmallow on a tea biscuit, hashed side down. Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until marshmallow softens and begins to melt, attaching to the biscuit below. While marshmallows are still soft, place a candied cherry into the hole on the top side. Cool completely.

So easy you can do it and still have time to march!

they're not the prettiest...but they tasted good!
*if using round biscuits: eliminate the hashing, and cut the marshmallow in half the short way. Place the cut end of the marshmallow on the biscuit.

For more on suffrage cookbooks or Miss Curtis' Marshmallow Creme:
The Melrose Historical Society
"The Trojan Horse of Women Suffrage," Rare Books Digest
"How Suffragists Used Cookbooks as a Recipe for Subversion," NPR
"Hiding Spinach in the Brownies," Social Movement Studies
A list of suffrage cookbooks at the Old Girl Network
and weird but also related:
Somerville's Fluff Festival, honoring the invention of Marshmallow Fluff (but they don't mention the Curtises)


Monday, December 7, 2015

Holly for the Holidays

I'm alive! Well, mostly.

Everyone warned me that grad school is killer, and they weren't wrong. Turns out the thing that had to give was sewing...I haven't even started a project since my semester started. So no new projects and minimal time for research has led to a significant decrease in blogging. Boo!

But I am still doing things! The last few years of crazy sewing have paid off, and I can still make it to dance performances, balls, tweed rides, and random adventures without needing to make anything new.

Since my free time is so limited, I'm adjusting my sewing strategy for the upcoming year. Instead of my usual crazy sew-things-in-24-hours habits, I'm planning to make one fabulous outfit over the course of the next few months. It will be new and exciting! I'll also try to make some adjustments to the things I already have...maybe I'll even get around to closures. Hey, grad school may be the best thing that could ever happen to my poor ballgowns.

In the meantime, this Saturday the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers performed at Hamilton Hall as part of the Historic Salem house tours for Christmas in Salem. There were twelve stops on the tour, and each was decorated based on one of the "twelve days of Christmas." Hamilton Hall was the "nine dancing ladies" stop, so nine ladies (and three gentlemen) were dancing in the lovely ballroom for visitors! It was a long day, but really fun!
To keep with the holiday theme, I wore a white day dress (our performing standard) with a red ribbon at the waist and sprigs of holly in my hair. My plaid shawl is red and green, which was also perfect for the mood, but we're having an insanely warm December and I didn't really need it!

examining the seasonal arrangements in the ballroom

you can see a bit of one of the imported Russian mirrors above the mantle
outside were more lovely decorations
the holly around my bun was on super sale at the craft store, and flexible enough to bend into a curvy bun shape

We did some really amazing, hard dancing, and in between there was fencing, blind man's bluff, and picture-taking. I got to pull out my Petzval lens in a lull in the afternoon, which was nice because it's been a while since I did any photography just for the art of it.

(I filmed this on my phone from the musician's balcony above the ballroom floor. It really felt like hanging out in the Regency for a bit.)

I was particularly excited to play with the special star-shaped aperture plate, which sends light through the lens through a star-shaped hole rather than a circular one. (The aperture is like the pupil of the lens, if the lens was an eye.) That means that particularly bright points of light show up in the images as the star shape of the aperture hole!

the aperture plates--the star is second from the right in the bottom row
The Christmas tree's lights caught my eye for this experiment, and I am really happy with the way these turned out, even though the focus isn't super crisp. I look forward to more practice!

with a large round aperture plate, causing the swirly background (called the "bokeh")

Quinn in front of the tree, shot with a round aperture plate


I am lucky to have very tolerant friends, who hung out while I messed around with the lens!
I've got one assignment left for the semester, five figgy puddings to make, and our annual Fezziwig's ball this weekend! Here's to a good start to the holiday season.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rallying for the Vote

Back in September, I had a fabulous weekend dancing in pants and rallying for women's suffrage in 1915!

Then grad school kicked up, and I have been so busy with science I haven't had time to edit photos. I took a paper-writing break today and finally got around to it, so with very little ado here are some pictures from the women's suffrage rally and tea!

period materials about women's suffrage--we placed a selection on each table at tea for people to peruse, and read some of the oratories aloud during the rally

every attendee also found a ribbon at their teacup! yellow was one of the colors of the women's suffrage movement

treats laid out for tea

After tea, oratory, and singing, we went to the town common march and sing some more!

leading singing in the town common

I wore my wool plaid 1914 skirt with a modern blouse and jacket that had an acceptable period shape (plus American Duchess boots)

we had a wonderful, enthusiastic crowd! it was so nice to hear everyone singing together

at the end, we took some pictures with the picket signs and Julia's ribbons (thanks, Julia!)

One thing I couldn't capture here was how many generations attended this event, including my mom and her new puppy (just for the marching part!). Mothers passing on the world to their children was a huge theme during the women's suffrage movement, and it was nice to see such a diverse group getting into the spirit!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What About Tweed?

It's Fall, and with the change in seasons comes a change in tweed blazers and wool skirts, tall socks, and felt hats. Yum!
 So while normally this blog is the place to find tartan in the 19th century, today I'm taking a turn into the history of tweed (specifically, Harris tweed).

there is no excuse for this...but how could I resist multicolored sheep?! (via)
Like tartan, Harris tweed is a woolen fabric that has been woven in Scotland for hundreds of years. Where tartan was a common textile in the Highlands, Harris tweed is tied to the Outer Hebrides (islands off the west coast of Scotland including Uist, Lewis, Barra, and Harris). To this day, Harris tweed is still woven by hand on treadle looms--if it's certified Harris tweed, it comes from the homes of crofters in the Outer Hebrides--a truly living tradition.

a "Hattersley Domestic Weaving System," first sent to the Outer Hebrides to make Harris tweed in 1919
Tweed has an open weave, usually with a "tweel" (or "twill"), a diagonal line running through the fabric that increases the weave's strength making the cloth warmer and more stable. While this weave gives tweed its traditional "v" shape, tweed can also include a variety of patterns (even plaid!).

a lovely Harris tweed, showing the v-shaped twill
a Harris tweed with an additional plaid pattern
Like tartan, tweed was the durable cloth of farmers until the 19th century, when it was "discovered" by the landed gentry and its popularity exploded. In 1846 Lady Dunmore, widow of the Earl of Dunmore (the landowner of Harris), commissioned her family tartan to be woven out of the local tweed (or she wove it herself, depending on who you ask--I think it's more likely she commissioned it). Lady Dunmore turned out to be quite a good marketer, and her endorsement greatly increased interest in and sales of Harris tweed for sporting clothes.

tweed sportingwear for gentlemen from "The Gazette of Fashion" 1870
 One member of the gentry whose eye was caught by Harris tweed was beginning a love afair with Scotland we've already mentioned: Prince Albert. In addition to designing several tartans for Balmoral Castle (purchased in 1848) and the royal family, Prince Albert designed the Balmoral tweed.

a swatch of Balmoral tweed
 Just as tartans were associated with specific clans in the 19th century, specific tweeds became associated with estates, and special "estate tweeds" had their own color schemes. The end of the 19th century also saw a rise in women's participation in sports--golf, bicycling, hiking--which meant more sportswear! Tweed skyrocketed, becoming an integral part of a wealthy, fashionable wardrobe for both genders. It was in such high demand that by 1903 production had spread from Harris to other islands in the Outer Hebrides.

The Duke of York with pug, in tweed, 1895
tweed and velvet walking suit, 1895
By 1906, Harris tweed had become so popular and weaving technology had developed enough that the Harris tweed weavers were concerned that low quality copies would emerge. To prevent this members of the Harris tweed industry met in Stornoway, where tweed standards and an inspection system were developed to certify true Harris tweed (the stamp went into full effect in 1911). If you buy stamped, official Harris tweed today, it still meets those standards.

tweed and leather golfing skirt and jacket, 1908 (V&A)
tweed suit, 1895
But I mentioned that in the beginning of the boom, Lady Dunmore commissioned a tartan out of tweed--so what exactly is the difference? It's all in the weave. Tartan is a pattern--plaid, in particular--that is woven (or at least, is capable of being woven, and the official register has thread counts for every tartan), while Harris tweed is a particular weave--that includes the diagonal "twill"--and depending on the colors, could include a pattern. Which means that you could weave a tweed with a tartan pattern, but there are many many tweeds which aren't tartan! Oi vey.

the Lady Dunmore Plaid, the first official Harris tweed tartan (modern, 2000s)
Read more about Harris tweed and its history here:

Thursday, October 1, 2015


For some reason, I've been all about Poiret for the last couple of months. That turned into two projects: a dinner dress and a jupe-culotte evening ensemble.

Yep, you read that right. I wore pants to a ball.

Dowager Countess Grantham, queen of the judgmental side-eye
A pant-ed outfit seemed appropriate for this ball in particular, because it was paired with a women's suffrage rally (more on that soon) and it was our "Chelmsford Abbey Ball." A Poiret jupe-culotte outfit definitely fit with those themes!

look! my legs are separate entities!
all of the dramatic poses!

While I was researching jupe-culotte ensembles from the 1910s, I noticed a few trends I liked: metallic embellishments, stripes up the leg, over-robes (which I didn't end up making, but want to!), and elbow-length narrow sleeves.

the green  ensemble in the back
Poiret with model
But I have to admit that my favorites weren't actually Poiret.

Callot Seurs, 1913 (LACMA via American Duchess)
French postcard, 1911 (via)
Or in the case of Lady Sybil's season one costume, not even an original piece from the teens.

I ended up using a new source for materials for this project: a sari. I found a beautiful silk one on eBay that was being sold as-is (there were some damaged spots in the embroidery and some sun fading). It was such a great find! The silk is a dusty purple color with bronze sequins and gold, bronze, and copper couched embroidery patterns. I adjusted how I cut my pieces to use the embellishments to my advantage, which had the added advantage of meaning I didn't have to finish a single edge! Bonus!

The pants are just two big tubes with a curve at the top where they're sewn together and then gathered into the waist and ankle. The waist is cotton, and there's a structural cotton bodice that the embellished sari fabric is sewn to (and then also gathered into the waist). The sleeves are basically rectangles where half the rectangle is sewn into a tube and the other half is attached to the front and back of the bodice. After attaching the sari fabric, I added a pleated gold silk waistband to break up the purple a little bit.

sorry, ignore the messy progress snap of the pants and sleeves mounted on the cotton bodice
In the end I was really happy with the way this turned out! I have to admit, it was really weird wearing pants--both because normally I would be wearing a ballgown at a ball, but also because I don't wear pants in normal life. But also fun! I especially loved the way the pants moved when I danced.

And look! There's evidence of it!

blurry, but I'm dancing!

fluffy pants butt!

my hairband is leftover gold silk from the waistband

And just like Lady Grantham, Quinn judged my scandalous attire!

"look at her! in pants!"

"I don't think pants will ever catch on"