October, 2009

A Whole New World

October 31st, 2009 by admin

Our little bull calf is exploring his world. Two days ago, he seemed like he really wanted to come closer to us, to come and say hello, but he was a bit too scared. We were too far away from mom I guess. Yesterday he got brave and came right up and sniffed and licked us. Today, he is licking everything. Licking different plants his mom eats. Licking the fences. Licking my apron. Licking my hand. Licking the dirt I’m working in (putting in a new fence post) which leaves powdery brown smudges on his nose. Then he gallops around in circles.
We were visited by 1800 schoolchildren today, and he even went up to the fence and licked them from in between the pales. And somehow, either in his mind or mine, his work here at this museum became clear: he’s going to spend his life around kids, families, and guests to our museum, pulling loads and maybe even plowing. (Not bad when most little guys look forward to becoming a tasty steak!) He’s going to be a bovine interpreter, hopefully making it possible for kids (or anybody) to see what cattle feel like, or look like, or smell like; or for a museum guest to learn how a cow thinks. Hopefully he’ll educate people how the colonists used animal power to do things beyond the capabilities of their own musculature—moving heavy loads of wood or hay, taking stumps out of the ground, plowing (not to mention totally transforming the indigenous landscape into what it is today, but that’s a different post…)

Final Exam for a Milk Cow

October 30th, 2009 by admin

Earlier this week, we posted from the Village Farm about the arrival of our newest interpreter, the calf born to Damson, our red and black cow. In that post we mentioned the training Damson has gone through over the last 4 years to become the excellent exhibit animal she is today.
In all learning processes, some of steps in training are strange and mysterious to the student until they have enough background to put everything into context. In the same way, I think parts of our morning and afternoon cow handling routine (which is an essential part of how we teach our exhibit animals) must have seemed odd to Damson. I mean, I’m sure she enjoyed the part where we brush and rub her down. Lifting her legs every day may have made sense to her the first time she got her hooves trimmed. But why, she probably wondered, do they insist on reaching under me and touching my udder? Isn’t that sort of personal?
Over time, Damson stopped feeling tickled when her udder was palpated, and she learned not to move away. And yesterday, the fruits of four years of training came true, as Damson stood still for her first milking- without rope or stanchion or anything to restrain her. Her training enabled us to make milking her an exhibit that looked just like the images we see from 17th century paintings and woodcuts, dairy maids milking their cows freestanding in the fields.

Out, Standing in the Field

October 28th, 2009 by admin

This past June, we attended the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums’ (ALHFAM) 39th Annual Conference at Old Salem Museum and Gardens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. ALHFAM is an organization of people who bring history to life. They achieve this through the exchange and sharing of ideas, information, tools and experiences centered around accurate, active, participatory, object-based historical interpretation. ALHFAM’s membership includes museum interpreters, educators, researchers, administrators, curators and volunteers. The Annual Conference is hosted by member institutions in the United States and Canada, and includes formal papers, interactive workshops, site visits, and networking.

This year’s conference was hosted by Old Salem, a museum of the 18th and early 19th century Moravian community in Winston-Salem, NC. Their unique site includes original and reproduction structures, costumed interpreters, craft demonstrations, and formal exhibit galleries, including MESDA, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Visit their website at www.oldsalem.org. Pre Conference Workshops included hands on baking, a tour of the Seagrove area potteries, apple grafting, 18th and early 19th century men’s tailoring, and many more. Justin attended a historic plowing workshop, which allowed attendees try their hand at using replica plows from the 18th through the 20th centuries brought by ALHFAM members.

The conference theme was “From Strangers to Friends”, and was opened with a keynote address by Robert Morgan. Presentations and lectures included:
· A report on ALHFAM Farm Schools in which ALHFAM members promote the sustaining of historic agricultural skills for fellow ALHFAM members through intensive, hands-on workshops at an ALHFAM agricultural site.
· An insightful look at what surveys and studies of museum visitors show to be the “Best Practices in Live Interpretation”.
· A formal paper presented by Dr. Danae Tankard on “Representing the Medieval Past at UK Heritage Sites”. Dr. Tankard is a historian at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex, UK. Weald and Downland have several exhibits that are relevant to our 1627 English Village site. Check them out at http://www.wealddown.co.uk/.
· Other presentations included topics that ranged from Collection Management to Utilizing 21st century technology in museum exhibits.

A full day was dedicated to exploring Old Salem. The museum was opened especially for conference attendees on a day on which the museum is typically closed, where Old Salem’s staff offered their fantastic, regular public programming, as well as behind the scenes tours. We were very impressed with the effort made by the entire museum and staff. The breadth and variety of programs offered and the welcoming attitude of the staff was inspiring. The Conference also included several opportunities for social networking (face to face, not face to Facebook), including an opening reception, “Salted, Smoked, and Pickled”, in which members can offer foods distinct to their region, (jar of pickles, salt fish?), an evening at Old Salem’s 1789 tavern with games, music, gingercakes, and a kiln firing, and a Live Auction to benefit ALHFAM. The Auction is an ALHFAM tradition in which Rebecca’s father Blake Hayes is the official auctioneer who recruits lovely ladies (Rebecca), as auction “Vannas” who assist Blake display and sell items donated by members and museums. I (Justin) took home a great reproduction 18th century buttonhole cutter made by Old Salem’s blacksmith.

The Conference closed with a panel discussion on the future of Living History by representatives from several different museums. We left the Conference thinking about what we do here at Plimoth Plantation, how we do it, and how we can continue to improve our ability at making the 17th century colonial experience meaningful, relevant, and personal for our museum’s visitors.

Next year’s conference will be returning to Old Sturbridge Village for it’s 40th Anniversary on June 20-24, 2010. ALHFAM’s beginnings were at OSV, and this year’s conference theme is “Roots and Branches of Living History”. We’re very excited for next year’s conference which will include visits to Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH, historic Lowell, MA, and an opening keynote address by Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who’s research helps inform our understanding of 17th century New England. Visit www.alhfam.org for more information about the organization, conferences, and membership. For more information contact New England Regional Representatives, Kathleen Wall and Rebecca Gross.

Hope to see you at the conference in 2010,

Rebecca Gross and Justin Squizzero
Colonial Interpretation Department

It’s a Bull!

October 27th, 2009 by admin

Four years ago, just about this time of year, a three-month old calf was introduced into the 1627 Colonial Village site. She was the size of a German Shepherd and red with brindled red and black head and legs. We called her Damson (like the plum) and trained her to be an interpreter. She learned to follow commands when led by the halter or horns. She got used to being poked and prodded from all sides by countless schoolchildren. She took on the role of the heifer William Bradford called “Raghorn”.
Well, she’s all grown up now. You see, last winter, Damson spent our museum’s off season in the company of a delightful, mild-mannered, if somewhat undersized Kerry bull named B.B. Nature took its course, and this past Sunday (St. Crispin’s Day in the 17th century English Church,) Damson gave birth to a beautiful chocolate-brown bull calf- the first calf born at Plimoth Plantation since 2003. Mother and calf are currently resting comfortably in the animal pen next to Mr. Brewster his house.
Both are healthy and well and would love to entertain guests.
-Jonny Larason, Agricultural Exhibits

Retrench… or What We Do Is An Ongoing Process {w/o mentioning Pilgrims or Thanksgiving Recipes)

October 24th, 2009 by admin

Or how blogging is like Intrepretation and how it’s not
So I looked trencher up in the Oxford English Dictioneary (OED) again, and discovered I somehow have managed to overlook and/or forget part of the definition for decades. Seems one of the definations of trencher is ‘a cutting or slicing instrument’ . Actually it’s the first defination…. How have I missed this? There are several recipes that use trenchers to cut, often spinach. So it seems in my copious free time I should be noting the trencher/spinach and/or leafy greens ratio. And since the OED only has references from 1330-1553, for the chopping trenchers and the ones I’ve seen are later then 1553, I might have something to send them for their on-line updates.
Now, about other trenchers. It seems where ever I read (and I can see the words in front of my eyes, so I’m pretty sure I read it SOMEWHERE) that trenchers and treen ware are related is NOT from the OED.
Fie! Fie and for shame! Creeping factiods taking the place of information. Fie and for double shame!
The word trencher comes from the Old French ‘to cut’, more closely related to digging trenches then bits o trees. The second defination of trencher is a flat piece of wood, square or circular, on which meat was served and cut up; a plate or platter of wood, metal, or earthenware. Trenchers show up in colonial probate inventories, in Eurpean inventories, in all sorts of records where people are eating, and show up in all sorts of paintings.
There’s also a third kind of trencher that has become it’s own sort of creeping factiod, which is a shame because it’s cool in it’s own right. This third trencher is a slice of bread that’s used for a plate. The references date between 1380-1513. The 1513 citation is a translation of Virgil, so I’m not sure how current they were even in the 16th century. But eating the plates is one of those curiosities that some people can’t let go of, and want to put all over in the past. Trenchers made of bread weren’t the plates that most people ate off of most of the time; they were a product of a very specific times and places.
In royal and noble households, there were the officers of the table. These were the servents who had very specific duties.We still know butlers, but how many of us have one? If you had a butler, chances are you also had a panter or a pantler. These were not the servants in charge of the pants – they were in charge of the bread or the pane (remember 1066? Normans everywhere?) Norman French was the language of royal and noble households, pane was the word for bread, hence the man in charge of the bread was the panter. And the bread was kept in the pantry. (Butlers were originally in charge of the buttery, which was were the butts (as in casks) were kept, not the butter or whatever.
Anyhow, the pantler was in charge of cutting the cheate bread into trenchers for his lord’s table. These bread dishes would be gathered up at the end of the meal to put out to feed the poor. Generally, the people who ate off the trenchers didn’t eat the trenchers – other people did. People who didn’t have anything to put on a trencher, just the bread with whatever sauce or other bits was clinging to it were the ones eating the ‘plates’, which were really dishes….
So how is blogging like interpretation? A casual, conversational tone. A dialogue. A sense that none of this is the last word, the only word, the complete and the absolute. That anyone passing by can put two cents worth in. That it’s OK to ask a question.
How is blogging not like intrepretation? It’s in writing. And in writing I want to quote the books, not paraphrase them. It’s really hard for me to write without footnotes and you might have noticed I often slip in source citations anyhow. It’s not really a dialogue because I can’t see if you’re nodding in agreement or looking bewildered and I get to do a big bunch of talking before you get to slip a word in edgewise. And since I can’t count on the tone of my voice or the smile on my lips to let you know when to take me with less then a grain of salt….but I get re-dos.
It’s not just the food, it’s the ways.
Colonial Foodways Culinarian

Boiled Salad, Lesson 3

October 16th, 2009 by admin

This is the throughly modern version
Butter, Vinegar
Cinnamon, ginger, sugar, currents
Bread for sippets

Hard boil eggs. When cool peel from shells and cut in fourths.
To make sippets: Use a bread that is sturdy enough to not sog up completely when the spinach is put on it. French bread (baguette) sliced thin and toasted is nice. Think great big crouton! Toast bread.
Pick through and wash spinach. Pull off large stems and chop leaves.
With the water from the last rinse clinging, put into a heavy bottomed pot and add butter and vinegar. Cook on medium heat until wilted.
Add spice and currents. Warm through and keep on low with the lid off if it’s too watery.
Put sippets on a serving dish. Top with spinach. Top spinach with quartered hard boiled eggs.

And, as they say, serve it forth.
Colonial Foodways Culinarian

Investigate The “First Thanksgiving”-An Interactive Exploration For Kids

October 9th, 2009 by admin


Many of you are probably unaware that our Education Department has an online interactive site for kids to investigate the “First Thanksgiving” or Harvest Feast between the English colonists and the local Wampanoag people. It’s a fun way for kids to explore this fascinating and often misunderstood event. You can access it here:

Investigate The First Thanksgiving


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