Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Raspberry Jelly and Tattler Lids

It's just a bit early yet for raspberries here.  You can see them starting to form on the plants, but mine won't be ripe yet for another week or two.  I did have a bunch of raspberries left from last year in the freezer, which desperately needed to be used.  I put the frozen blocks of berries in a large saucepan, with just a little water, set it on the stove and turned it on very low.   A while later, the fruit was defrosting and the juice was starting to be released from the mushy raspberries.    I had looked for a period 19th century raspberry jelly recipe, but they seem to all require currants, which were not ripe yet.  After a bit of research which suggested raspberries are fairly low in pectin, I used a commercial pectin and the packet recipe.  I always use the liquid pectin if I'm using it, as it seems to set up better than the dry crystal stuff.
 I needed a new canning jar rack or a canner for smaller jars.  The jar rack I had, had wires spaced to far apart to support smaller jars.  I was tired of makeshift methods of keeping the small jars from touching the bottom of the pot, so I headed out to the hardware/department store to see what I could find.  I found a rack which would suit my purposes and was much less than a new canner would be.  What I also found were some packets of Tattler reuseable canning lids.  

I've read about these but never found them locally.  I didn't want to mail order these from the U.S., just for an experiment.  But, here they were, right in front of me at the store.   They were expensive.   The rings which hold the lids down are re-useable and until they get rusty, they don't need to be replaced.  The metal lids though, need to be replaced every year.   The ones I just bought before I found these, cost $2.88 for a dozen.  These plastic lids with rubber rings cost $9.99.  That is pretty steep for a product which seems to have mixed reviews, and a fair learning curve to get to work properly.  However, the re-useable nature of the item and the advertised BPA free made me want to try them.   I used two of the lids on the larger jars, since those are the ones I can guarantee I'll keep for home use.  The small jars may or may not end up as gifts, but I didn't want to give away the expensive experimental lids, just in case.

I had no issues getting the two lids to seal.   It will take over 3 years for them to start paying for themselves though and by then I imagine I'd have to start replacing the rubber rings.  So for a preparedness aspect (you know, for when the zombies eat the electrical grid and nobody makes metal canning lids anymore) and the less product in the landfill, they are an enticing product.  For the immediate financial outlay, I'm not so sure.  Plus living where we do, I may never be able to find them again, or replacement parts in the future, which would make them very expensive.

Will I use them?  Yes, sometimes but until I know that I can purchase them regularly locally, it will have to be the very once in a while extravagant purchase.   Besides, they are hard to label.  I can't just write on them with a Sharpie, like I do the metal lids... and they're a tad on the ugly side, but that may just be because I am not used to the look yet.   You know though, if a case fell off a truck and landed at my feet, I'd use them for sure because the possibilities for environmental benefits would work for me, even if the economics don't.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

1830's dress

 I knew I would need an 1830's dress when I started working at the 1830's inn at Westfield.  Their costume department only had dresses for tall people and there was no way to conveniently and temporarily hem up 4 - 6 inches on a dress for a one time use. Last fall I was hunting around at a warehouse fabric store in the quilting department.  They have the reproduction prints shoved in with all sorts of other prints.  At least they are sorted by manufacturer though, so I had a starting point.  I found this madder/turkey red, 1830's roller print reproduction.  It was obviously discounted as it was just $7 a yard.   I really didn't care if I loved it or not.  At that price, a dress length came home with me.  I actually did like it well enough though.   I washed it, hung it out on the line and when it was dried, it had no wrinkles, so I rolled it up on a cardboard fabric tube, and set it in a corner.

Finally this spring, once the main part of the laundry room was done, I could move my sewing machine back to it's lovely little, brightly lit corner.  After my first day working at the Lockhart house, an 1830's farm house, I decided I needed my dress for the next weekend, when I would be there again.   I'd spent a few days researching extant examples.   Most but not all of the bodices had some sort of pleating or gathering on the front and the skirts could be either cartridge or knife pleated to the bodice.  There were a lot of boat necklines, but a few regular ones as well, especially on the few work dresses that I found.  I knew that I needed big, pouffy gigot sleeves. The gigot sleeves would take about a yard each. I knew I'd need that much because the 1838 copy of The Workwoman's Guide, had direction for making a variety of sleeves, most of which said to start with a square 15 nails on the cross, which turns out to be 33 3/4 inches, a nail being 2.25 inches.

I drafted out several different sleeves.   I was going to go with my second choice, a slightly less puffy sleeve, which I thought would be suitable for a farm wife to wear.  However, I couldn't get the numbers to work.   A much larger sleeve drafted out perfectly though and I settled on a third option which said it was included because it worked up so nicely.   It drafted out perfectly but I had to do a bit of thinking as it was almost a full circle of fabric to pleat into the armscye.

I assembled the lining of the gown as a mock up draft.  Then I tried 3 different methods of knife pleating the sleeve into the armscye.  There was no way around it.  I was going to have to cartridge pleat the sleeves.. ick..   I ripped apart the lining and reassembled the bodices, flat lining as the originals were done.   After sewing the sleeve and lining together at the bottom and underarm,  I found the only thick and sturdy thread I had on hand, a lurid purple buttonhole twist and started running my gathering stitches.  I did two rows of gathering stitches and I eyeballed it for regularity instead of marking them all.   It was close enough.  After gathering up the pleat, the sleeve fit in the armscye perfectly.  I stitched in each pleat by hand, although I only used 2 stitches per pleat instead of 4 as I'd have done for a cartridge pleated skirt.   7 hours later, I had 2
sleeves stitched into the bodice.  It took 3 1/2 hours per sleeve.  I did it over an afternoon, took a break and finished up the second one the next morning.   It was a lot of work, but the sleeves took spectacular.  I lined them and many of the sleeves weren't lined, but used a framework around the arm to support them.  Since that wasn't on my list of stuff to make, the lining adds enough support to hold the sleeves out.  The disadvantage though is that it adds a fair bit of warmth to the dress.  That will be appreciated in the cooler weather, but not so much when it's 30 C and humid!  It's bearable though and does look pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself.

Now to make a new day cap.  The old one is a wearable mockup.  I don't like it.  It's in some sort of cheap broadcloth, probably a poly/cotton blend.  I've a nice, half-white cotton muslin which will make a lovely cap.  I'll get the pattern from the Workwoman's guide, since they have a number of cutting diagrams and assembly instructions.

When worn, these sleeves puff up to a nice ball on the upper arm, with the lower arm being cut tight and form fitting.   Several other striped gowns, in similar patterns had the sleeves on the bias like that.  It was such a nice look I added it.  Not remembering how much fabric I'd originally purchased and not knowing if I could get more, I left off any pleating for the bodice.   There is always next time though :)

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Around the garden - Colours of July

I took the big girl camera camera out to play today, to capture a few of the sights around the garden today.

 Black tomatoes are starting to ripen.  Cherry type tomatoes always come on early here.  There is one large tomato already ripening too.   Since the weather has been cool, I mulched around them with black biodegradeable landscape cloth.  I think it has helped a lot, holding in the heat.

 A goldfinch snacking on weeds.   I leave them for this purpose.  I'm glad I got the photo when I did though because hubby weeded them out the other day.

 I was disappointed last year when my hollyhocks didn't come back, but then I realized they are biennials.  If I want them every year, I'll have to plant more seed so they can come back alternating years.

Bergamot monarda, or bee balm.  I finally got this to bloom in the garden, after trying for a couple of years.  It should be easier but the chickens do tend to dig up my garden beds sometimes.  Once the plants are established, it isn't a problem.  I'd like to get some of the pink or purple ones as well, but the red is gorgeous.
I started these back this past February.  They are finally done, thanks to remembering to drag them out with me when we have campfires.  Once I got to the heel, they practically knit themselves.  I'm glad they're done though.   Next pair of socks on the needles will be potato chip socks - that require no brains to knit, so I can drag them around with me and not have to think about the pattern. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A Sweet Little Ride

So we were out and about on Sunday and sitting under a table at a flea market, was a slightly battered bentwood Singer case.  Inside was a little 99k handcrank sewing machine which I've since dated to 1934.  I've wanted a hand crank sewing machine for years but not only are they difficult to find here, they're either in perfect shape and way out of my price range, or so beat up, rusty, corroded and broken that they'd never work again. 

I did a quick check of this little machine and the needle bar went up and down, the handcrank mechanism sort of worked and it had a complete bobbin race assembly.  I decided to take a chance on this little girl.  I offered $65 for her and my sweetie lugged her to the truck.  For a portable sewing machine, she does weigh a fair bit.

I found my little container of tools for cleaning vintage sewing machines.  Really, it's a tube of metal polish, some soft cotton rags, 2 nasty toothbrushes, tweezers, toothpicks, cotton swabs and a bottle of sewing machine oil.   This girl was remarkably clean for being born in 1934.   She was well used though.  There are lots of wear marks on the machine and bed.  Some of the gold decals are worn in places and the Singer badge is bent.  There is a bit of corrosion on some of the plated pieces too.  The underside though had hardly any oil build up and other crud to clean off.   All the parts moved and after cleaning, I gave them all a really good oiling.
The outside was a bit more work.  Between the sewing machine and wooden case, I spent a lot of time scrubbing.  The sewing machine itself was cleaned with sewing machine oil, to keep from damaging the gold decals.   I might hunt through the hardware store for something to protect and polish, but since it's a holiday weekend here, I was limited to what was on hand.
Murphy's Oil Soap was what I had to clean the woodwork.   80 some years of gunk came off with a bit of scrubbing.. icky....

I need to pick up a few little cork pieces to replace supports inside the base.  Right now I have pieces of folded paper, because today's a holiday and I'm still limited to what is on hand.   However, this little girl is a charmer!   Definitely not built for speed but the handcrank and slower speeds are very relaxing.  It's easy to get very accurate stitch lines with this baby.  Curves are going to take a little practice, but they were pretty good right off the bat.  This is a stress free way to sew.  I just need to remember to stop reaching for the foot pedal when I sit down to sew.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Split Rails

At the end of the driveway are two ancient half barrels.  The wood has eroded away at the tops and it's spongy.  We priced new decorative containers for the end of the driveway but we couldn't even find real wooden barrels, only resin ones, at prices which made me expect that they should come with house elves or self weeding soil.  For another year, we left the rotting barrels, because at least they still hold soil and plants. 

  But my man had a plan....

There are too many trees on our property and an amazing number of dead ones, which had been left standing for years.  An old laundry line post had been tossed aside at the fence  line.  An old Christmas tree had been stuck in the ground as if someone thought it might spontaneously root and start growing again.  One pine, which stuck out at an almost 45 degree angle, was tied to a tree behind it, with a rope and a nylon jacket!   So over the past few years, much of this has been removed, because we were both worried about safety and keeping the yard a bit tidier.   All of the trees downed were softwoods, so we weren't going to use them for the woodstove.  Lots of the useable wood has been split and set aside for next spring's maple  syrup endeavors.    A few though, were set aside for another use.

It started with some shorter pieces, two splitting wedges and a sledge hammer.    The wedges were being alternated along the length, like they were playing leap frog.

Longer logs required two sets of hands, taking turns.

As the afternoon progressed, the pile of split rails got bigger.

And all of a sudden, a new decorative split rail fence was being positioned at the corner of the driveway.  It was a few hours work, with only materials found around the yard, with a few bits of leftover wire and nails from other projects.   It's awesome.  I can dig up the ground and put in gardens inside or around the fence and we won't need to replace the barrels at all.   Any bets on how long it takes to get the matching fence on the other side of the driveway?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Strawberry jam, 1832 style

The Cooks Own Book from 1832 is set up a little differently than many cookery books.  It has an alphabetical listing of different dishes and ingredients, with the recipes after each heading.  Thus the  section on Jam, starts with Jam, Apricot, goes trough a variety of fruits ending with Jam, White or Red Currant.  The Jelly listings start with a plain jelly, which is wine based ending with Jelly, Strawberry with everything from Rum Jelly to Calf's Feet jelly in between.  It seemed like a good time to try the strawberry jam recipe since I had some strawberries which needed to be used up.
I'd love to know where all my  250 ml or 1 cup jelly jars go every winter.  I could find only 5 jars and only 1 of the 125 ml jars too!   There should be more of those but nope, they've probably gone off to party with my iPod, which is also currently in hiding.    However, I was pretty sure I had enough for the quantity of berries I had in the fridge and besides, jams need to be made in small amounts as well.

Strawberries an sugar just starting to mix together.
I weighed out my berries and I had 2 pounds of them - well, 900.6 grams.   The recipe calls for equal parts of sugar and fruit, so I weighed out 2 pounds of sugar, which was just under 4 1/2 cups.   When I mixed the two together, the strawberries quickly started become juicy.  I changed up the recipe a little bit, by adding the juice of one lemon.   While the recipe calls for more juice of strawberries, I didn't have any but some of the berries were a bit on the very ripe side and some were imported, rather than Ontario berries.  Those just don't work the same way for me when I use them to make jam, so I don't normally but I didn't want these to go to waste.  Higher acid levels will help the pectin set and help cut the sweetness a bit.
Syrup is starting to become more transparent as sugar dissolves.

Once the sugar started dissolving properly, I turned the heat on under my big jam pot and  kept it on low, stirring constantly, until the sugar completely dissolved.  Then I turned up the heat a bit more in increments, until I was someplace between medium and high heat and my jam was starting to boil.  

 DO NOT STOP STIRRING!   'cause if you do, the jam will burn.  I stirred for about 15 minutes when a candy thermometer said it was at 220° F.   This is supposed to be the temperature at which jelly will set.   I pulled it off the stove, skimmed the foam off the top of it and ladled it into jars, wiped the rims and popped the sealer lids and rings on.

Then I went to put them in the water bath and realized that the canner was still under the kitchen table and it sure wasn't full of hot water, waiting for me.   Luckily that is a mistake that I will only make once a year and there are only a few jars of jam to worry about.

The jam is tasty but it didn't quite set as much as I'd like.   Next time, a bit longer of a boil.   The aim is to get it to 66% sugar content which should be 220° F.   Perhaps my thermometer needs to be recalibrated.   Interestingly, the 1 : 1 ratio of fruit to sugar still seems to be an accepted standard for regular jam making today.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Sunday at Westfield - Cooking 1830's

 On Sunday at Westfield, I was asked to interpret in the Lockhart house, rather than the bake oven.  The Lockhart house is an 1830's farm house as was typical in Ontario at that time.   I can't believe I didn't take more photos, but as soon as I started, people came in and I was distracted.   At any rate, the Lockhart is set up with the facilities to accomodate open hearth cooking.  There are utensils, crockery, cast iron pots, pans and dutch ovens.  There is a hanging flat iron griddle, and even a reflector oven with a removable spit, so you can use it for meat and baked goods.  The best thing is that we are able to use the items to demonstrate for the public.

I had a variety of items to cook, not knowing how many people would show up that day.  I started up the fire and pre-heated the griddle.  I need to find one of these toys for home.  It was so totally awesome for cooking over a fire.  It would be great to hang from my tripod over the firepit!   Anyway, I got out the dough board and rolled out the Muffin dough I'd made before I headed out for the day.   I let them rise on the dough board and cooked them slowly throughout the day, so there were always fresh ones for the visitors to sample.   There weren't enough visitors to warrant making the oat cakes and cookies, but they were packaged so I could save them for other times if needed.

I heated water in the old steel kettle to wash up with in the basin in the dry sink.   If it hadn't been so warm, I would have made tea from herbs in the gardens.  I have lemon balm and spearmint here and a bit of lavender.  In the 1830's, tea and coffee weren't always available in the general stores, so herbal alternatives were used.  Mint and lemon balm is a really yummy combination for an herbal tea.

It was a lovely day outside and it was an interesting change to work in a different venue at the village.  I will quite look forward to working here some more and trying out different cooking techniques.   At the bake oven, I surf the decades for baking.  At the Lockhart, I'll limit the decades to about 30 years, but be able to do so many other techniques that it shall be worth it.   There are apple trees too!  I've been trying to find a way to get a hold of a bunch of the apples when ripe,  to do an apple jelly demo in the autumn.    I shall have to get started on my 1830's costume.  I've had the fabric sitting in a corner for a year now.  Surely it's aged enough to be ready to sew with now!

1830's Muffins - (English Muffins)

5 cups flour
1/8 cup butter
 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsn sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 - 2 cups water or milk (more as needed)

Proof the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water mixed with 1 tbsn sugar.  Just dissolve the sugar in the water, sprinkle the yeast over it and let it sit for 10 minutes.  If the yeast is puffy and bubbly, then it's good to go.   Put the 5 cups of flour in a bowl, ( I use my stand mixer).  Add the salt, the butter and then pour in the yeast.   Turn the mixer on low and start to mix, or start to mix the dough by hand.  Slowly add in the rest of the water.   Knead or mix the dough until it is elastic.  I prefer this dough to be slightly softer than I might normally use for bread as it's easier to roll out.  

Grease a bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around so that the ball of dough is completely covered in oil.  This will keep the dough soft and prevent a crust from forming.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled.  I just toss it in the truck and it rises while I drive to Westfield, but any place that is draft free, warm and the cat won't get it, is a good place to rise bread dough.

When it's doubled in size, gently punch it down to remove the large gas bubbles, roll it out on a floured board or table.  Use a biscuit or cookie cutter to cut rounds.   Don't twist the cutter!  Just press straight down.  Sometimes twisting the cutter can seal the sides together and the muffins or biscuits don't get as light and puffy as they should.   Let the rounds rise a bit while you preheat a pan or griddle (medium heat?)  .  Lightly grease the pan's surface.   Put the dough rounds on the pan and cook until nicely browned on the bottom, flip and continue cooking until cooked through .  
Take off the pan and serve!  They can be split with a fork or just ripped apart.  You can toast them or not as you choose.  I like them freshly cooked, split and slathered with currant jam!