Wednesday, 17 October 2018

100 Years of Food - 1928

1928 - Vinegar Loaf (no eggs)

Sue and Dorothy's vinegar loaf looked at tasted much like fruit cake, or a bread with dried fruit in it. I didn't get a recipe down, but you can search online and find several Vinegar Cake (no eggs) recipes. Most of them seem to be chocolate cakes, but this one wasn't.



I don't remember what Sue had to say about life in Britain during this year. However, I know from my British citizenship studies, 1928 was the year that saw women given the right to vote at age 21, the same age as men.

According to this blog vinegar (1 TBS) and baking soda (1tsp) can be used as a substitute for one egg. Who knew? I do know from the Tightwad Gazette that a heaping TBS of soya flour and a TBS of water is also a fine substitute, one I've made plenty of times in baking. All of these ingredients (vinegar, baking soda, soya flour) have many uses but, sadly, none of them replace the wonderfulness that is an egg fried over-easy (a phrase that flummoxed Bill for years).

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

100 Years of Food - 1918

My friend Pat and I got to attend a centenary celebration for Northumberland Women's Institute. Two ladies there who are apparently well known for their excellent food, Sue and Dorothy, put on an event that combined two of my most favourite subjects: Food and History. They set out to cook dishes that recognised each of the decades between 1918, which marked the birth of this WI Federation, and the present 2018.




We were given a tea/coffee upon arrival and offered our choice of biscuits/cookies. We could have either some sugar free Fruit and Nut Bars (recipe from a 2016 Sunday Times) or Ginger and Oat Biscuits (from a 1924 cookbook, Home Baking). Though the sugar free option appealed, history won out and I didn't regret it.



During the presentation I scribbled notes, as usual, and grabbed photos whenever possible. I'm so glad I did, as there were too many fabulous dishes for me to recall without help. Before I begin, you need to appreciate that for the most part two ladies (plus the help of one other on a specific dish) prepared all of these dishes for about 40-45 women in attendance. The sheer effort demonstrates a real labour of love. So let's get started!

1918 - a Pork and Suet Pudding
Sue said she had to get up at 5 am to put this on. I've heard about these steamed dishes since coming to Britain. They never crossed my path in the US. So far as I can tell this dish is strictly English cooking.

Sue made a pastry and lined a bowl with it. This was filled with a mixture of pork shoulder, onions and a some shredded suet (brand name Atara, yes, you can buy this stuff in a supermarket). I don't know if it was beef or vegetarian suet. The bowl and its contents were all wrapped in some sort of fabric and set it to steam over a pan of boiling water. I would need to explore a lot more to replicate this dish. I'm pretty sure she said the bowl couldn't touch the bottom of the pan with water. I'm not sure of the function of the fabric, other than perhaps to hold in the heat. I can tell you it was delicious.  Poor folks' food in the past was always about long slow cooking.



1918 was the year WWI ended. Many men didn't come home and quite a few that did were seriously wounded. Women had gone to work to replace the men but many returned to being homemakers when the war ended. A lot of the women of that generation never married, having lost fiances and there being a shortage of men. The good news, however, was the women in Britain were given the vote; well, some women of means who were over 30. They couldn't give all women the vote as then female voters would outnumber men. Then again, not all men could vote before 1918 either. Typically British, nothing was simple. Read more about it here.

To be continued...

Thursday, 4 October 2018

September Birthdays

It was on Thursday the 13th of September when I realised what I'd missed: my usual blog posts for commemorating the birthdays of my Grandpa, Grandma and Aunt Rita. I was rather stunned that this had happened and yet I knew why:

On the 10th (Grandpa's birthday), I went to take my Life in the UK test, part of the process of applying to be a British citizen. The test was cancelled. I found my notification of this cancellation when I returned home. I sat down and drafted a letter to the local Member of Parliament, but the significance of the date didn't get my attention.

On the 12th (Rita's birthday), I attended a Treasurers' Forum held at the Northumberland Federation on behalf of our WI's treasurer who was away on holiday. I came home and typed up my copious notes, but the date didn't ring any bells.

I remember sitting at the breakfast table remarking that it was the 13th but, thankfully, not a Friday. And that was when the penny dropped: it was Grandma's birthday

Of course the blog posts could have been written well in advance but you'll notice I've not written much here of late. Just yesterday my Uncle Pat in Ponca City messaged me on Facebook. It was 2:20 am and he wasn't sleeping, so took the opportunity to check if I knew where he might get a reasonable deal on a barrister's wig for a play he's doing soon, The Witness for the Prosecution. As part of our conversation he asked if it wasn't high time I did a blog post? That was just the nudge I needed.



What have I been doing all this time instead of blogging? I've spent weeks studying for the Life in the UK test (have a go at some of these tests yourself, see how you do). I've memorised answers to test questions such as How many miles is it from John O'Groats to Lands End; How long is the Bayeux Tapestry? How long does Diwali last? In 2011, what percentage of the population claimed the Muslim / Christian / Hindu / Buddhist / Jewish religion... My brain has completely lacked space for Where did I put my handbag? Why did I come upstairs? Where did I park the car?

I've also been trying to support our WI President so well she'll stay on for another year. I can't really talk much about what goes on behind the scenes, but it has been challenging at times. Someone kindly pointed out that by allowing myself to be given the title of Vice-President, I might be in danger of being expected to stand for President when the incumbent resigns. This is nowhere on my bucket list, not a responsibility I want, so I'm hoping if I make things as easy for her as I can, she'll stand again next year. Then I can ease myself back. I'm a worrier by nature and I don't need another thing to worry about. I'm a better lieutenant than leader.

I've been preparing for Brexit by trying to buy a little extra food each time I go shopping. I know stockpiling food is generally frowned upon here in Britain, from the times of rationing and previous world wars. However, my rationale is that food is plentiful now and supermarkets can easily restock. Also, if there are shortages in future I will be able to leave the food on the shelves for the people who didn't plan ahead. Bill was a bit flummoxed by this decision, but we've always kept a fairly deep pantry. I just suggested we enlarge it a bit, then 'shop' from the pantry while also obtaining replacements with longer sell by dates. If all goes well and there is no need, I'll be able to contribute to the local food bank. I really would prefer not to switch to a high carb diet if I don't have to.

We prefer fresh fruit and veg and of course one cannot stock up on those. Frozen is the next best alternative, but our freezer is quite full already. I've only bought the odd tin of corn or jar of mushrooms so far. Green veg are fairly easy to grow here and we have a good supply of kale in the ground. Bill planted some out front of our fence without mentioning the plan to me. I mentioned that someone might help themselves to these unguarded plants. He expressed the view that kale is not one of those things people who steal are likely to want. So far he's been 100% correct.

I'm really hoping that we don't end up leaving the EU. Or if we do, that the tragedy will not extend to food and medicine shortages (I can't stock up on my asthma medication, which is a little scary). I am really hoping that it will be no bigger a blip than the Millennium. Remember when people worried that all the computers would fail, unable to change the year from 1999 to 2000? Bill and I sat at the kitchen table and tried to imagine life in survivalist terms. We'd have to grow our own food, find firewood, boil river water, set traps for animal, fish the river and pick up winkles and seaweed. Bill reckoned he'd have to become a vegetarian if it meant killing and cleaning animals. I figured my childhood experience of helping my dad clean fish and my professional experience of dissecting rodents as part of the US hantavirus investigation would stand me in good stead. Part of me hoped that I would be made unemployed, forced to live without a paycheck, I hated my job so much by then. I don't wish for repercussions from Brexit, though. We'd probably be OK, but I don't want to watch the suffering of so many others less well off.

We've been foraging for blackberries and rose hips. I always seem to forget that within a day of picking I have to be washing and freezing or cooking the harvest. I don't normally use a lot of sugar and this nearly always involves an emergency trip to get some for syrup or jam. This is no different to our usual autumn. If anything we've foraged less, wanting to make space in the freezer for something other than turkey stock, blackberries and mysterious boxes of leftover something. I see a very long session of making crab apple jelly in my near future.

In addition to studying for the Life in the UK test, I've been completing the 19 page application for British citizenship. I also needed to dig out my birth certificate, all my marriage licenses and divorce papers. The application required me to remember my ex's full names, places and dates of birth. Heaven only knows why the government needs to know about men who never put foot on British soil. I was amazed that those bits of detritus remained in my brain. No wonder I can't remember the new neighbour's name.

Another thing I have not been doing besides not blogging is sewing. I've not sewed more than a button back on in months, possibly even a year. I'm quite sad about this as I still daydream about what I would like to make. It has probably been about the same length of time since I exercised regularly. I used to run but haven't, used to do pilates but quit, used to do zumba but got bored. I still walk a mile or two without any thought but often never leave the house for days. Pat, next time you're up at 2 am, nag me about those things, too, would you?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Mom's Birthday

Inconceivable that Mom would have been 100 today. The words 'wizened' and 'frail' come to mind. I've heard it said - even just the other day - that older people benefit from having a bit of spare weight so that in the event they fall ill they will have 'something to fall back on'. Whether that is true or just an excuse, Mom never had spare weight in her life, in spite of being an excellent Southern cook. She just never seemed to eat much. Since I was a teenager I thought of her as just this side of fragile.





The other day when I was picking up around the house the thought occurred to me that perhaps had my Dad been better 'house broken' I might have grown up in a tidier home. Mind, Mom never was big on housework but she was ALL about creating beauty. Had she any hope of having a pretty house I think she would have. It's just that my Dad was spoiled rotten and never picked up after himself. I rather followed suit for more years that I care to admit until I decided I wanted to have better habits. I remember asking Mom why she never 'made' me do housework. Her reply was that she wasn't prepared to 'make' me do something she didn't want to do herself. Couldn't really argue with that. Her priority for me wasn't housework so much as homework. She was very keen for me to be educated and financially self-sufficient. I can't disagree with that either.

Mom never really saw herself as a 'housewife'. She was more a business woman (she was a photographic colourist) who happened to work from home and who also had a certain set of artistic homemaking skills that didn't necessarily include the drudgery of cleaning. I always had clean clothes, enough to eat and no one got food poisoning so I guess she did pretty well after all. 

Funny that Mom's been gone 28 years and yet she is always in my thoughts. Guess that just goes to show how very important mothers are.


Friday, 11 May 2018

Mary's Birthday

Today my Dad's birth mother, Mary, would have been ... 139!  It sounds crazy to write, but she was 39 when she had him, he was 38 when I was born and I will be 62 the end of this month.




She was born on this day in 1879 on the family farm at Cerro Gordo, in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota. Cousin Don kindly shared this photo of the barn on that property. The barn was notable  not just for its enormous size but for its amenities. Apparently there was a ramp to the upper level so that horses and a hay wagon could go 'upstairs'. There was also a turntable to allow them to exit facing front rather than backing out. 

I mentioned last month on the blog for my Dad's birthday that I had a copy of his adoption file. The phrase that has haunted me since was from one of Mary's letters to the officialdom that removed her children from her care in 1919. Having learned that her elder son died, aged 24, by drowning she was frantic to know the whereabouts of my Dad. She says

 'my bright happy days are taken away'. 

That letter was written in 1939, when she was 60, twenty years after she lost her children and was committed to a mental institution for eight years because she had two children out of wedlock. 

How much of these decisions were concerning the welfare of the children and how much it concerned upholding the morals of the middle-class Lutheran society, that of her background, I may never know. I am, however, awaiting receipt of what I think will be the last of the documentation from officialdom, about the Bethany Home for unwed mothers into which I understand she and her children were initially taken. 

I can't for one moment regret the grandparents who adopted my Dad and helped raise me. On the other hand, this woman who had such a painful life intrigues me. I wonder how much I might have inherited from her, what I might have learned from her, had things been different. I can't know any of that of course, but what I can do is to honour her memory and to uncover as much about her as possible.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

My Dad's Birthday

Goodness, my Dad would have been 100 years old today! I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have enjoyed it much. He always made it clear to me that he valued the quality of his life over longevity. I see the sense in this but I'm not sure I would say the same. Perhaps I'll hold his view if and when my health is such that it interferes with enjoying myself.

Working with the volunteer lawyer over this past year, he was able to obtain a copy of my Dad's adoption records from the courts. It is a surreal experience reading the letters my Grandma B wrote asking to adopt a child, written in her familiar handwriting. I found it amusing that she initially asked for a little girl. Mom always led me to believe they were disappointed that I wasn't born a boy, as Grandpa and my Dad were the last of their surname, at least going back several generations. They asked for a healthy, bright looking child between one month and one year of age. They asked on 4 December 1918 and received on 24 Mar 1919, only a few days after my Dad, his brother and his birth mother, Mary, were brought to the Bethany Home.  Grandma's letters are lovely to read, with hope and happiness - tinged with a bit of anxiety, that's how she was - over the course of the adoption procedure.




The terms of the adoption are rather strange. They had 90 days to return the child (at their expense) if dissatisfied with the product (my word). The Minnesota State Public School (at which my Dad was never actually a ward) could take him back anytime until he was 18 years old.  They were agreeing to keep him until his 18th birthday, 

'maintaining, educating, and treating him properly and kindly as a member of the family, to provide him with suitable and sufficient clothing for week days and for attending public religious worship and with suitable food and other necessaries in health and sickness; to have him taught the occupation of (blank completed with) something useful and the branches usually taught in the common schools, causing him to attend the public school where he resides, fully complying with the compulsory school laws of Minnesota.'

At the expiration of the agreement (the 18th birthday presumably), they were to 

'furnish said child with two good suits of clothes, and will pay for the benefit of said child on the order of the Superintendent of said school, the sum of   $75 ($50 for a girl) and if said child shall not remain in his family the full term of said indenture, he will pay pro rata for the time he does remain, such pro rata to be paid promptly when this indenture is terminated.'

I'm not sure I follow all this, but it does sound as though my Dad was considered indentured rather than 'adopted'. That said, it was early days in the history of legal adoption and they may have been finding their way. I know from my visit to the Owatonna State School that children could be either 'fostered' - which was definitely a form of indentured servitude for many of them - or they could be adopted, which may in some cases not have been a permanent arrangement.   It was certainly a permanent arrangement with my Grandparents and the letters that follow are full of joy (from Grandma) and satisfaction (from the school). My dad is a 'fine boy' who is 'developing splendidly under their care'. 

Then comes October 1939 and a letter from my Dad's birth mother, Marit/Mary. He is now 21 years old. She is distraught as the people who adopted/fostered her elder son, Albert, have contacted her to tell her he has died at the age of 24 years, drowned in the Mississippi River. I cannot really imagine what possessed them to contact her. I've tried to find a good motive in their actions and the closest I can come is 'Just thought we'd let you know you needn't worry about Albert any more. He's dead.' Can you put a better face on it?

In her letter, Mary feels they failed him in their care and is frightened for the well being of her younger son. It seems clear that her children were taken off her, she didn't relinquish them. Considering that women in the US didn't have a vote until 1922, I'm not terribly surprised that she had little recourse once the State was interested in her situation. She and her children were apparently taken into the Bethany Home, her children were sent to the Public School (Albert) or their new home (my Dad) and she was committed to a State institution for the feeble minded on the basis that she'd had two children out of wedlock. Her letter is rambling and she references the kidnapping of the child of aviator Charles Lindbergh, which occurred in 1932. On the other hand, she spells better than Grandma B...

There is another letter from her, then another letter written on her behalf by a family friend at the Lutheran Seminary and a final document in the file recording Mary's visit to the State School on 3 Jan 1957.  I was chilled when I read the date, as I was 7 months old then, my Dad was 38. Mary was 78 years old, drawing old age benefit.  She is described as a 'most unhappy person and has a considerable dislike of all "welfare agencies". Small wonder, that. Mary couldn't understand since her child had reached majority why she could not be made known to him. Of course the adoption system didn't work that way.

They sent her away with the assurance that should he get in touch, they would help make the connection between her and her son. This never happened as my Dad was never told he was adopted. I'm in little doubt that my dad had a better life with my Grandparents than he would have had in the family of a single mom with a potential mental handicap. Her family doesn't seem to have supported her very much and so far as I can tell she made her way alone in the world as much as she could. I also believe she loved her children as much as any mother could and I think her story is among the saddest I've come across.

I'm waiting for records about her case from the Bethany Home. I'm also looking through DNA matches to find a paternal grandfather. My guess is that Albert never had children and perhaps he and my Dad were the only children of said grandfather, so it will be a long reach back with no name to hunt. But I have a couple of leads on which I'm working...


Friday, 23 March 2018

Dress Advice from 1928 via Miss Fisher

Phryne Fisher has taken a job at a ladies' magazine as part of a murder investigation. A Miss Herbert is attempting to write a fashion column and mentions she admires the Fuji print dresses currently all the rage. Phryne thinks the dyes will fade quickly and they are a passing fad anyhow. 





They give themselves an imaginary £10 budget and see what each can come up with for a summer wardrobe.

Miss Herbert, who greatly admires Phryne's style, comes up with

- 2 cotton dresses
- 1 Fiji print dress
- a pair of cheap shoes and
- a cloche
for sixteen shillings and six pence for the dresses; the hat was expensive, but she said there is a shoe sale at Clark's. Last year's handbag will have to do.

Miss Fisher comes up with

- a tailored suit from Craig's - eight and a half guineas - in a lightweight fabric, eg crepe de Chine, in a solid colour such as leaf green, lobelia blue (or oatmeal for the timid); wine would be good for someone with dark hair. It must fit properly.

She will buy the following from  Treadways Colosseum

- a pair of pump shoes for three shillings elevenpence; 

- two tunics in pale or constrasting cotton for three and eleven each

- a straw hat, four and eleven. She will replace any cheap decoration with one of several scarves (eleven pence)

- a straw basket for 2 shillings to carry her purchases

- the remainder of her £10 will go to the poor.


Next summer, all that will be needed is to buy (or make) more blouses, scarves, gloves and stockings. 

Careful thought should be given to the colour of the suit, as it can last up to ten years. Hemlines can be followed with a new hem unless they drop too far, in which case a new skirt is a matching or contrasting colour will be needed. 

My thoughts:
 - Sadly, Phryne was wrong in predicting fashion would never expose our ugliest joint, the knee. Not that I'm fussed about this one way or the other these days.
- The story is much more entertaining in Kerry Greenwood's words.
- I must think about how to translate all this into a uniform for my retirement lifestyle.
- I'm eternally grateful for the decimal system.