October, 2008

What’s Cooking in the 1627 English Village

October 29th, 2008 by admin

I’ve managed to knock out two computers in the last two weeks, which hasn’t made me calmer about this whole blogging business.

The flocks of geese flying overhead, those lovely Canada geese, the “grey goose with a black neck and a black and white head, strong of flight, and these be a great deal bigger than the ordinary geese of England, some very fat, and in the spring so full of feathers hat the shot can scarce pierce them.” Of William Wood’s 1634 New Englands Prospect. He goes on to mention that they can be shot both flying and sitting.

But how to cook them? There are possibilities – roasting being a good choice in 1627, what with all the wood for fuel. And roasting with oats and sage in the belly is mentioned in Markham’s English Housewife – in the section on oats, not in the cookery section on roasted meats, go figure. And then there’s a recipe in a Dutch cookbook, The Sensible Cook, of a roasted goose with chestnuts in the belly. It’s easy to forget that chestnuts were once such a prominent feature in the wooded landscape of New England.

Chestnuts also go well with turnips, which grow to prodigious size in New England in the seventeenth century. And we’ve got some really big turnips in our 1627 gardens now. Turnips don’t do well after freezing weather, although they will tolerate light frost, so they’re something that needs to be eaten up soon. Since this is the end of the turnip season, they can be a little – lets say strong. Some might say outright rank, but in defense of the humble turnip, let me say right cooking makes all the difference.

From a 14th century manuscript: “Turnips, small turnips should be cooked in water without wine for the first boiling. The throw the water away and cook slowly in water and wine, and chestnuts therin, or, if one has no chestnuts, sage.”

The secret to good turnips is to throw the first boiling water away. All the rankness goes away with it. Finishing them up in wine is very nice. A little vinegar and sugar added to water can substitute for the wine. I’d cook the chestnuts first, either boiling them or roasting them, and then add them to the wine. But considering the lack of local chestnut trees and the price of imported one, sage – just a little fresh – is also very good. Let the wine/water cook down to make a nice sauce.

How much wine? How much water? It depends on how much turnips/chestnuts. The old recipes don’t give amounts, but they assume that you know how to cook things already. As someone who almost never follows modern recipes, this has always suited me just fine.

Now turnips (which also go well with stewed ducks) got me thinking about skirrets and sops and pompion and pottages and bag puddings and black puddings….but I’ve got to go get some cheate bread out of the oven, so it will all have to wait until later.

KMWall, Colonial Foodways Manager

The Season’s Winding Down

October 27th, 2008 by admin

While I am not currently in the 1627 English Village (see, I didn’t use Pilgrim…) as I am mostly on the road for the Education Department, and since my co-workers haven’t sent me anything from them to post (Kate and Kathleen…), I thought I’d comment a little about this time of year as I remember it.

It’s Autumn and it is my favorite time of the year in New England. Sure, it’s school groups and leaf peepers galore and we love every one of them. But it’s red and yellow and orange sugar maples, rusty red-brown oaks, bright and brilliant colors on the rivers’ edges, and the chill and promise of winter in the crisp smell in the wind of the coming holiday season.

As New Englanders we know to anticipate the long winter coming, to put away the Aloha shirts and bring out the flannel sheets. It starts with the pirate and the ghost and the ninja stashing candy in their bags on the front porch. Then we look for the perfect turkey, the cranberry sauce and potatoes and gravy. We’ll smell apple and pumpkin pie and good strong coffee in the morning.

Then, after the time for giving thanks, it’s the time for giving. We’ll give to those we love, those that need it most and we’ll say goodbye until next year to those who only work the Pilgrim season, our friends.  Then there is a long sojourn into the sometimes white, sometimes not, but almost always cold and leafless trees and frozen driveways of winter. And the promise of the coming spring.

It sure is good to be home.


Pilgrims Cleaning Up-17th Century Laundry Tools

October 22nd, 2008 by admin

The role-playing staff in the 1627 English Village is doing a fabulous job representing the washing or ‘bucking’ of linens in the period.  They have done a number of experiments with this process and this year have chosen a site near a water source, which is a more accurate place to do this task. It makes it easier to access the water for heating it and rinsing the linens. Not only is it a wonderful period place for the staff to do their work, but as the location of the new entrance to our English site our visitors are often greeted by the role-players going about their daily business, doing a chore that all people can relate to!

This photo of Shelley Jo and Rebecca wringing linens by the spring makes us realize how easy we have it these days with washing machines and dryers, but the role-players look fabulous, like a painting come to life with the heat of the fire, the smoke and steam rising off the linens, possing about in the spring – with strength and ease they make a difficult task look beautiful!

(We recently changed our visitation pattern, having our visitors start their visit at the Wampanoag Indigenous Program, then walk along the Eel River and enter the Village by a side gate. The new route allows visitors to experience the culture of the Wampanoag People who have lived on this land for hundreds of generations, before encountering the newly established English colony.)

Justin mentioned in an earlier posting that the research for the laundry or bucking process was done as part of a presentation I did for The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife: Women’s Work in New England, 1620-1920. On the presentation of the paper in June 2001, I had still not figured out the period name of the tool for the step in the bucking process that Randle Holme described as ‘Batting, or beating cloths to get the Bucking Stuff out’ (Academy of Armory, 1688). Edward Pinto, a modern writer, refers to this type of implement as a ‘bat’ in his book Treen and other wooden bygones, (London: G.Bell and Sons, ltd. 1969, p.), but I could not find corresponding period terminology in any source or in the Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest reference to a bat for laundry was the 19th century.  So when the article was first presented and published, I went along with the term ‘bat’. I had a number of visual references for a flat, square-ish, handled ‘bat’ with a short handle and have been on the lookout for what that washing implement should be called in the 1627 English Village.

The first possible reference of something related to this tool was mentioned in Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife.  He reviews the process of beating hemp to soften it and make it pliant. The tool he suggests using are ‘beetles’.  Here is the full reference:

41 Of beating hemp

After the second swingling of your hemp, and that the hards thereof have been laid by, you shall take the strikes, and, dividing them into dozens, or half dozens, make them up into great thick rolls, and then as it were broaching them or spitting them upon long sticks, set them in the corner of some chimney, where they may receive the heat of the fire, and there let them abide, till they be dried exceedingly, then take them, and, laying them in a round trough made for the purpose, so many as may conveniently lie therein, and there with beetles beat them exceedingly, till they handle both without and within as soft and pliant as may be, without any hardness or roughness to be felt or perceived; then take them from the trough, and open the rolls, and divide the strikes severally as at the first, and if any be insufficiently beaten, roll them up, and beat them over as before.
(The English Housewife. Gervase Markham. ED. By Michael R. Best. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 1986. p. 159)

Of course Markham is not talking about the washing of the hemp, but, the term ‘beetle’ is related to manufacturing cloth and with a little searching in the OED there is a reference to a beetle used for washing and also specifically a ‘washing-beetle’.  Then washing-beetle led me to battle-dore and I searched for a visual image of a beetle or battledore in Randle Holme’s Academy of Amory. After Justin’s posting I took a harder look at some of these references.

The first reference to ‘beetle’ as possibly used in the washing and linen process is:

1608 in N. Riding Qr. Sessions Rec. (1884) I. 136 Betling.& stretchinge three webbes of lynnen cloth, etc.(OED. Beetle, v2)

The next are for ‘washing-beetle’:

c1440 Promp. Parv. 517/2 *Waschynge betyl, or batyldore, feritorium. c1566 Merie Tales of Skelton in S.’s Wks. (1843) I. p. lxiii, Skelton..sayd to the wyfe, Geue me a washyng betle. a1625 FLETCHER Woman’s Prize II. v, Have I liv’d thus long to be knockt o’th head, With halfe a washing beetle? (OED. Washing, vbl.n.)

So following up the 1440 reference that calls it a ‘Waschynge betyl, or batyldore’ I searched then for battledore and found these references:

c1440 Promp. Parv. 27 Batyldoure, or wasshynge betylle, feretorium
c1555 HARPSFIELD Divorce Hen. VIII (1878) 276 [She] all to beat her yokemate with a wash~beetle or battledore. 1617 F. MORISON Itin. I. 11 Boats of a hollow tree, driuen..by battledores. (OED battledore,n, 1)

The 1617 reference above suggests the boat is driven by some type of paddle, presumably flat at one end. Another OED reference suggests a ‘batyldore’ is shaped like a hornbook:

1693 W. ROBERTSON Phraseol. Gen. 215 A battledore book, or Horn-book (OEDBattledore,n,3)

The term that most defines the flat, square-ish tool with the short handle in the period illustrations is the ‘batyldore’. The above terms suggest that the batyldore is a word for a flat-ended implement like an oar and a horn book.  Randle Holme’s version refers to a game of shuttlecock and the ‘battle-dore’ used to hit it. He describes it as ‘a flatt peece of wood of some made round, other ovall, but the gentilest way is to make them top like, the better sort of gentry haue them couered with Leather and gilt on the back side like to a childs horne booke. With this Instrument the Shuttle cock is tossed vp and downe.’ His illustration looks like a slightly elongated ping-pong paddle  and a rounded version of the square-ish laundry bat illustrated in the period sources. (from Randle Holme Academy of Armory. Games  Book III, Chapter 16, Section 2.) There is also a wonderful drawing of ‘Two Women Playing Battledore and Shuttlecock’ in Adriaen van de Venne’s Album by Martin Royalton-Kisch. (Amsterdam: Prins Bernhard Fonds, 1988. For the British Museum Publication Ltd.)

On the other hand, Randle Holme’s illustrations of beetles look like a type of mallet with the “length of it as long, if not longer than the handle” While some mallets have round heads, others square heads, Holme specifically notes that this tool’s head is eight-sided.

So it is quite possible that there are two implements for batting and beating the laundry, or it really may be that the two terms mean one item. Until we find more evidence the term that seems to fit the flat square-ish tool best is ‘batyldore or battle-dore’.

Another challenge was deciding about the reproduction battledores for use in the English Village. We had an idea about the general shape, but what about the size, proportions, etc? Working just from some rather vague descriptions and equally non-descript artwork leaves a lot to be desired. As it happened, we literally stumbled upon a seventeenth-century example while on a research trip to England.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to England on a material culture tour with Victor Chinnery a noted 17th-cenutry furniture historian and author of Oak Furniture: The British Tradition.  He and his wife Jan are well known for their work in recreating 16th and 17th century British interiors (Their work is similar to what I do at Plimoth Plantation), most notably Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Stratford-upon-Avon. The Chinnerys lead the ‘re-presentation’ of the Birthplace in April 2000. The rooms are furnished as accurately as possible to recreate the interiors as they might have been in the 1570s and include a glover’s workshop. They have also been instrumental in the preservation and restoration of The Merchant’s House, Marlborough, Wiltshire. This house museum was the home of Thomas Bayly, a middleclass silk merchant. Bayly had the house built in 1653, following a fire that destroyed much of the High Street in Marlborough.  http://merchantshousetrust.editme.com/Home

It was at the Merchant’s House that we saw the period example of a battledore. Peter Follansbee, Joiner at Plimoth Plantation, also on this tour, said…

“We saw this laundry bat on a trip to England in 2004. Victor Chinnery was showing us the restored Merchant’s House in Marlborough, Wiltshire. While poking around the upstairs rooms, looking at furniture, books and other things, we noticed this paddle sitting on a table. When we asked Vic what this was, he off-handedly replied ‘Oh, one of those things for beating laundry…’” as if you saw them everyday.

It’s made of oak, the working end is about 7”x10” and it’s carved all over with geometric chip carving on both faces. The side view shows the thickness, only about 3/4”. If you squint right, it is dated 1649 on the handle.”

We have chosen to reproduce simple, plain batyldores like those in the period illustrations, for our exhibits in the 1627 English Village. Peter has made a couple to get the exhibit going. We are a little leery of representing an item like the chip carved example.  Although it is beautiful and artistic in our modern minds, we’re not quite sure that someone would employ these simple though specialized craft talents during the first years at Plimoth Plantation.

I will continue to post information about the material culture of the colonists and new information about 17th century laundering and washing that was not published in the Dublin Seminar Proceedings.

- Maureen Richard, Curator of the Colonial Reproductions Collection

If you are interested in purchasing The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife: Women’s Work in New England, 1620-1920 it is available by calling our mail order department 508-746-1622 x8332.

First Person Singular-What It Takes To Be A Pilgrim

October 12th, 2008 by admin

There have been a couple of questions about what sort of training we undergo to transform ourselves from 21st century historical interpreters into the 17th century people we portray. This is by no means an exhaustive answer and I hope some of my colleagues will comment further.

First, obviously, you have to apply for the job, get interviewed and accepted into the Colonial Interpretation Department. Then the training begins…and never really ends. Someone coming in mid-season is given an intense, compressed week and a half or so of primary sources, dialect training, character study, historical reference, and an understanding of public deportment, to name just a few of the subjects one has to tackle.

World view is a critical part of a new interpreter’s learning as we don’t always know as much as we’d like to about everyone we portray. In that we don’t know everything about these people we sometimes have to answer questions the way we think they would, given their economic and social status, nationalistic pride, period prejudices, and even gender.

Passages from primary sources such as William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, Edward Winslow’s Good News from New England, as well as Mourt’s Relation, and Three Visitors to Early Plymouth are given to study. Eventually interpreters are expected to read as much as all of these as they can. It’s from these books that a large part of what we know and how to interpret what we know comes from.

Of course facts and even world view are one thing (if plural can be said to be one thing), interpreting (from a first person perspective) is another thing all together. It takes a particular type of person to do this and I’d be lying if I said everyone finds it easy. You have to be outgoing, unafraid to approach strangers, have and keep an even temper in difficult situations (hundreds of excited school children?) and frankly it doesn’t hurt to have a quick and ready wit.

The job is often (to quote a much repeated “pilgrim” metaphor) “menial outdoor labor in a burlap suit” (thank-you Scott). You must be prepared to answer the same question over and over…and over again. Yes, you will be hot in those clothes. Your mouth may ache at first trying to wrap it around 17th century syllables. You might have to pretend not to notice the airplane, the helicopter, the church bells, the siren from the nuclear plant, and even the occasional ambulance trundling down the dirt street when a visitor gets a little too overheated.

But, if you are fortunate, as I have always been, you get to eat great food while people from all over the world oggle at you wondering “are you really going to eat that?” As I sit at my table in my thatched-roofed house on a crisp autumn New England afternoon, while my “wife” serves up a boiled hen, colewarts (collard greens), the grits of native corn…I think, “Am I going to really eat this?”

You BET I am.


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The Pilgrim Road Show

October 3rd, 2008 by admin

I am now working as a museum teacher in the Education Department here at Plimoth Plantation. I’ll be away from the 1627 English village until spring of next year. Being in the Ed Dept. means plenty of travel this fall and winter. I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting schools in South Dennis, MA, and Medfield, MA. Both were very enjoyable and successful visits, I think. I notice that there can be a stark contrast between the ways we are able to teach in the Village itself from that of classroom visits.

Sometimes the Village can be a bit overwhelming (and I mean that in a good way) for students and teachers alike. Compared to the classroom it’s a much bigger expanse of space. It’s not difficult at times for folks to undergo a sort of sensory overload with all the sights and sounds and smells of a 17th century village and we do our best to accurately reproduce all of them.. From chickens wandering freely to cows in the pastures and goats on the roof of their barns, it’s easy for children to forget that they’ve come to learn something, in addition to having so much fun. Certainly we want for them to be entertained, but we want to educate them as well.

In the classroom when I arrive, it feels like a palpable sense of anticipation coming from the children. I always get the sense that they really want to be there, and really want me there as well. As we, as museum teachers, weave our stories about the Mayflower voyage, the Pilgrim’s arrival, encounters with Natives, the First Thanksgiving, and acting out daily life, they fall into the spell of actually participating in “the show”. We show them the joys and even sometimes the sorrow of what this brave and disparate bunch went through, coming here to New England.

I’ll be going to New York City soon, and then on to Wisconsin. Some of us will be heading to Utah in December. If you are out there when we get there, be sure to say hello. And if you aren’t a part of those trips, we’d really like to hear from you here. Let’s have a conversation. Is there anything you’d like to know about “behind the scenes” here at Plimoth Plantation? We’ll do our best to respond.


PS Look for the Education Department’s own blog upcoming soon!

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