Monday, January 30, 2012

History Pulling on my Heartstrings

A Betty lamp in the Dutch Out Kitchen of the Bergen County Historical Society.

Who am I? I love a great many things from different eras: 1920s and 30s music and films; 1950s and 60s architecture and clothing, campy 1970s sitcoms like the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family. My teen years were in the grunge rock music era of the early 1990s so I still for old times sake put on Pearl Jam's Ten and some alternative rock like Lush, James and other bands on 120 Minutes that I'd tape on my VCR when MTV still played music. I'm drawn to many things Irish, British and French. But above all else, I find the strongest heartstring pull toward early American history. I'm not sure if I lived during these times. I'd rather read pioneer diaries than Facebook updates. Yes, I dream about going back to Paris, but I'd love to go to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, see Jefferson's Monticello and Washington's Mount Vernon, visit Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House sites. If I had my dream yearlong American road trip, I'd see all of these. Steve and I are hoping for a few days in Philadelphia this spring, since my third grade self really didn't appreciate the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall when I was last there. I think my 36-year-old self will see it in a different light.

I attend many events at the Bergen County Historical Society in River Edge, New Jersey, which is very close. They recognize a lot of old festivals related to the seasons. This time, as last year, we celebrate Brigit's Day and Candlemas. View my post, Cause for Cheer, Midwinter is Here, for last year's festivities. Here, Mary in the Dutch Out Kitchen with a batch of homemade beeswax candles.

From their web site,

"Brigit's Day and Candlemas come midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, when snowdrops, the first flower of spring, make their appearance, signaling nature's awakening from winter's sleep. Candlemas is named for the blessing of candles, used to protect homes from lightning, evil spirits, and for procession through farm field and orchard.

As evidenced by Groundhog's Day, weather prognostication was commonly practiced in anticipation of spring sowing. Good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later. Hence, the saying, If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year. Another old English proverb proclaimed, If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.

Rush crosses, woven on Brigit's Eve, were believed to protect the house and livestock from adversity. The feast was celebrated with a supper of pancakes taken from a plate laid on a rush cross."

Candlemas fare: apple crepes and mashed potatoes.

The Black Horse tavern. Wouldn't it be wonderful to gather here to discuss our thoughts on the State of the Union address? I sure have some. The future of the country? What so concerns us as America's sons and daughters?

I couldn't help think of the Little House series when I saw this wooden slate in the gift shop.

A harpist and fine storyteller performed in the Steuben house. I had no idea Mary Malone was about a girl who died in the plague, or that Danny Boy was about a father who longs for his son who he sent abroad for a better life. As I gazed out the window I felt a sudden chill. A ghost? Just the cold January day?

Watching this historical reenacter cut potatoes for a potato cheddar corn chowder, my blood pressure went down the same way it does when I pet the family dog Scotty.
There's something almost meditative about cooking a pot of soup or stew from scratch on a cold winter's day. Do you know what I asked for as a birthday gift? The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker. We devalue tasks like cooking in modern life. I think we've become far too disconnected. Walker writes, "There was...a strong movement spreading westward to give recognition to housekeeping as a profession requiring scientific training. Catharine Beecher, with help from her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, not only wrote outstanding housekeeping manuals but also founded schools where women studied domestic arts along with academic subjects."

The "domestic arts." I love that term. There's something to be said for the domestic arts, and also how financially empowering they are. In modern life many of us don't or can't do much or anything our fore mothers and fathers did. Woodwork, making our own clothes or even simple sewing, gardening. Think how heavily we (I include myself in the we) really on convenience foods. We don't have any widespread festivals hoping for a good crop. The local ShopRite or Trader Joe's is a short drive away.

Maybe it's that connection to these things that so pull on my heartstrings. Do you feel a heartstring pull toward a certain time in history? Where would your time machine stop?


  1. So funny, just this morning I was feeling so revitalized about the fact that I've been writing a lot lately - freewriting every morning and then working on various stories and novels in progress plus the writing I get paid to do - and I wrote in my journal that I was also really happy about getting more into "domestic arts". Even as I wrote it I felt funny - like an imposter? I'm not crafty, can't sew, don't cook well, apt always has a dorm-room schlumpy look to it - but I've been getting so into baking and even making my own bread...and other home ec type stuff esp seasonal crafts w /my toddler. I think part of this is b/c I've made such an effort to cut back on social stuff there's a little more time and space for quiet activities (which I love, just not always too good at).

  2. Hi Rachel. I love the addition of "arts" after domestic. I'm much like you, my place isn't so clean (okay truth: looking around really it's an awful mess and I think if someone came over they'd think I've been robbed!), I can't sew or do crafts and such, but I think of the pleasure of a clean home, a home-cooked meal (even if it's a simple soup with a few ingredients), tending a garden. We get so bogged down in our modern, harried lives. I think of "modern conveniences" that are supposed to be time savers, but how come there seems to be so little time?