May, 2009

“I’m from the future…”

May 21st, 2009 by admin

One of the oddest things that visitors say to us, but appropriate here in that I want to mention a couple of things we have been discussing for future possibilities.

Our Director of Education (etc.) and I went to a conference sponsored by the New England Museum Association on using Web 2.0 properties (like this blog) to enhance and expand our web presence. To that end we are looking into expanding our use of our extant FaceBook page for greater interactivity. More on this to come.

Thanks to Kathleen Wall for ongoing contributions to this blog, they are always appreciated. She and I have had several discussions about how we could bring the “foodie” (and gardening as she has done below) niche to a greater awareness of what we do here at Plimoth Plantation. Foodies are a great (and, I suspect, luctrative) demographic that we need to explore.

So, for you foodies out there, here is a neat resource (read:enjoyable time waster, if you are anything like me): The EGullet Society’s online forum


Pilgrim Garden Ways

May 21st, 2009 by admin

Back in March, the museum sponsored a Spring Clean Day. Denise from the Volunteer Program rounded up nearly 300 people. Teams were formed and everyone had work. Team Q was the English Village Gardens Team, and boy, am I a day late and a dollar short in extending my thanks.  Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. Or should i say “QQQQQQQQQQ” – Ten Q.

None of this was glamour work, by the by, it was moving compost piles, top dressing garden beds, taking out old, worn structures, moving the famous New England stones, creating new pathways and walk ways. Terry and Justin were great team leaders; I ran from garden to garden to try to keep track of what had been done and what still needed doing, moving the too few tools for the great number of people who showed up. Fuller and Hickes gardens were completely rebuilt and Allerton garden got a major face-lift as well.

The benefits of that work is very apparent in the gardens today. We’ve been planting spinach, turnips, radishes, cabbages and coleworts (coleworts are an older way of saying collards), lettuce, garlic, leeks… in short the things we’ll be using over the summer and into the winter. Things that are coming up, some as rabbit food (bad bunny) and some as ground hog salads (very bad woodchuck) and the cabbage family cousins as safe haven for flea beetle.  There’s so much life and death in a garden, it seems ironic that some people do it for relaxation. Although it is very satisfying, eating a plate of something that had once been a little seed in your hand. I’ve been advocating a 10 minute a day plan to keep up in the garden. Ten minute to pull a few weeds, plant a row of one thing, and just tromp around and see how things are going.  If I could just find ten minutes to follow my own advice at home!

We’re just now seeing the last of the asparagus, so it’s time to put in the cucumbers and pompions.

John Forti, Horticulturist  at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth NH – and formerly here – has an article out in Early American Life magazine on seventeenth century kitchen gardens, including directions on how to build your own.

Or you could stop in and ask a pilgrim.


Colonial Foodways Culinarian

The Masks We Wear…

May 12th, 2009 by admin

I, and another female interpreter, had the pleasure of speaking with a small group of fourteen and fifteen year old female visitors last week. That age group can be somewhat difficult to make a connection with, as they are not generally interested in speaking with anyone over the age of eighteen. But after some basic small talk we began to have a great dialog about life as a colonial woman. Marriage, children, women’s roles and most importantly, clothes. Then the girl closest to me looked over and said, “Wow, they (meaning the colonist women) were so pretty without makeup.”

Now, this comment broke my heart. It was the way she said this, so longingly, as if she could never achieve a sort of plain beauty. Sadly, these girls were beautiful and I truly desired to take of the mask of my character and tell then no was forcing them to wear the masks of medis hyped products.  I answered her comment by saying that there were women in the 17th century who wore makeup, chiefly in high society and at court. We had a good laugh at “those sorts” of women and the things they were required to be for others. My hope is that as she leftthe conversation feeling as though she did not have to wear a mask if she did not wish and she was just as beautiful as any colonist woman without her makeup.

This is not a rare comment/question and many women of all ages have inquired of the colonist women’s “beauty routines.” Most just to marvel at the healthfulness and simple beauty that the women here impart. If you were to follow a colonist woman’s beauty routine I would suggest… Wake up early, wash hands and face in cold spring water, tie back your hair from your face that you have only washed once this week, don’t look in a mirror, put your hat on when you go outdoors, and spend the day smiling.

Rebecca Gross (Fear Allerton)

Apprentice Colonial Interpreter

Baking bread is like riding a bicycle

May 6th, 2009 by admin

One of the common themes throughout Good News from New England is the lack of food in 1621 and 1622. The first lack – not the heralded First Winter – is the second winter . The second ship that comes, the Fortune , arrives in Novemeber 1621 without sufficent supply. The harvest had come in earlier and William Bradford (back to Of Plymouth Plantation) and reckons it at a peck of meal per man a week. That works out to 2.28 pounds of grain per day. A pound of bread and a good helping of porriage “to fill in the chinks”. That and fish or venison, some pork or wildfowl, some cabbages and turnips, good spring water to drink – not the daintiest of diets, but these are hardworking men (and they’re mostly men, and young men at that) is certainly good enough to write home about. The arrival of the Fortune puts them at half rations , which works out to 8 pounds of meal a week or 1.14 pounds or 18 ounces per day. But several more ships come to Plymouth that winter, and they all have people who need to be fed, so by February “…it rose but to a quarter pound of bread a day to each person…” This put the weekly total at 1.75 pounds. That’s less bread in a week then they had in a day back in October. They still have pork, and venison and wild fowl and fish, but bread is a significant source of  calories for them and that’s gone.

So what is this bread that’s so important to them? There aren’t a whole lot of recipes for bread. And you can be all ‘oldie timie’ and call them receipts, which means the same thing. The thing it means is written down. This is how baking bread is like riding a bicycle. How many of you learned to ride a bike from reading about it? If you did, I really want to hear from you. But most of you probably knew big kids who had bike and you wanted to be just like them, and finally, someone relented and let you sit on the seat and held on to you while they pushed you around, and then, when your feet reached the pedels, you could start to move yourself and eventually, you were riding all by yourself, no one holding on, no training wheels. You proably also fell down a few times, maybe crashed into something or someone, all part of the learning curve. Even if you haven’t been on a bike for years, you could hop back on and give it a spin.

Bread is easy. It’s flour and water and yeast and salt. Add time and heat and you have bread. Nothing simpler. In the last year there’s been a movement for no-knead bread, where you mix up the flour, salt, water and yeast and put the dough in the fridge to rise (it also hydrates and then there’s the enzyme actions), which in many ways isn’t different the  seventeenth century way. What makes the difference in differernt kinds of bread is the kind of flour and how much water and what you want it to be when it comes out of the oven…

My timer’s going off, got to go check the bread I’ve put in the oven…


Colonial Foodways Culinarian

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