Hi! I’m Lucy, the Historic Dinner Program Coordinator at Living History Farms. I wanted to share a few behind the scenes tidbits about our winter historic dinners.
One of the unintentionally best-kept secrets here at Living History Farms is our Historic Dinners Program. While many of our guests return year after year, people new to our programs are often surprised to hear that Living History Farms serves a historically-based meal in three of our historic homes throughout the winter months. These programs have been successfully running for 30 years at the 1900 Farm, close to 20 years at the Tangen Home, and the newest dinner program at the Flynn Mansion is just beginning its third year.
Each dinner program offers guests an opportunity to experience a meal in the historic sites, almost as if they lived there. Dinner is a set menu, chosen ahead of time. The recipes are adapted from historic cookbooks and heritage family recipes. Many of the historic interpreters find these intimate dinners to be their favorite programs, providing a chance to interact with guests in a relaxed and personal atmosphere.
The historical interpreters at Living History Farms share many interesting historic side notes when you attend one of these dinners. Topics for discussion at the dinners vary from historic foods, manners, and chores, to farming and historic events. For example, did you know that the average farm wife would walk more than 50 miles a year to bring water into her house from a water source? Or that a million people were living in Iowa by 1875?
But there are many interesting aspects about historic dinners that aren’t mentioned as often. Here are a few highlights about our dinner programs:
Homemade yeast rolls are probably our most iconic recipe on every table at the 1900 Farm and Tangen house. These rolls are the starting point to all the dinner menus and none of us could imagine a dinner program without them. You need to look no further than the numbers to tell you that these rolls are an essential part on the menu. Between the 1900 Farm and Tangen house, we serve 1232 rolls per month! That’s 6160 rolls per dinner season. We estimate that we’ve made over 150,000 rolls since the dinners programs started!
Next are the work horses of the historic dinners. Well, not the real work horses of our farm (even though they too play an integral part of our 1900 Farm historic dinners.) What I refer to are the wood-burning stoves that we use day in and day out for these programs. Our stoves at the 1900 Farm house and the Tangen House were cast in the 1870s and 1880s! No one can argue that these stoves aren’t excellently engineered machines that can run all day, year after year with few operating issues and that they provide tasty food every day. You cannot say that for many modern kitchen appliances!
The Tangen House and 1900 Farm wash all of their dinner dishes by hand. The program houses do not have added modern dishwashers. In one winter season, 1900 Farm dinner staff will wash almost 3,000 forks!
The draft horses and mules at the 1900 Farm are something akin to celebrities for this historic program. Living History Farms has had many different horse teams make the half mile walk back and forth from the guest greeting area to the 1900 Farm since the beginning of the 1900 Farm Historic Dinner program. If we added it all up over 30 years, the horses have walked 1800 miles which is roughly the distance from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angles, California.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the wonderful food. The recipes we use for these historic dinners are based on recipes we have found from cookbooks from the time period. What is notable about this is we have over 150 recipes in our database that we can mix and match to create menus for new delicious dinners each year. We don’t stop there though; we are constantly developing new historic recipes to be added to this lineup. Many of the food demonstrations you see during the summer in our historic kitchens are recipes being perfected for use in winter programs.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit us for a historic dinner this winter, there are still opportunities. Guests make their reservations online at www.LHF.org/HistoricDinners. Each house seats up to 12 guests at each dinner. Smaller groups are combined to create a full table. More information can be found here.
It is almost 2016! Many people are planning a New Year’s Eve party on December 31st and then a solid day of parades and football watching on January 1st.
In the 1870s, our Mr. and Mrs. Flynn would have had a slightly different take on ringing in the new year. New Year’s day was a day for gentlemen—especially young, eligible bachelor gentlemen—to go from house to house making New Year’s day calls. Ladies would get together to hold open houses on New Year’s Day, with punch and buffet snacks at various homes. The men would go from house to house sampling the food and punch, and making eyes at the various young ladies. Of course, the men would leave a calling card and sign an autograph book at every home they visited.
The Des Moines Leader newspaper listed before New Year’s in 1874 that:
“Our New Year’s callers will not be disappointed this year, for the ladies will very generally throw open their houses, and New Year’s will be a merry day. We have not been able to obtain a complete list of those intending to keep open house, but give those we have and will publish a complete list before next Saturday. The following ladies will receive at their homes . . .” What followed was a list of four social matriarchs in Des Moines and all the ladies that would be assisting at that house. Such as “Mrs. Dr. Baker and daughter” assisted by “Mrs. Judge Rice, Mrs. J.S. Polk, Mrs. Alex Talbot, Mrs. F.M. Hubbell, Mrs. W.L. Bird, Mrs. Clarke Shackleford, Miss Alice Cooper, Misses Mary and Maggie Shackleford, Miss Nellie Griffith, Miss Mary LeBosquett and Miss Kate Johnson.”
Holiday calling was not limited to the big city. Winterset, a bustling county seat town at the time, reported in their paper The Weekly Madisonian, on January 6, 1876:
“A Happy New Year—. . . .a large number of our gentlemen put in the afternoon calling. We again insert the names of those who kept open houses for our list of last week was not complete [following was a list of eight houses and all the ladies present at each one]. At all these houses tables were spread, loaded with the delicacies of the season and weighted down with all that could make them look inviting. In many of the houses the dining room was darkened and then brilliantly lighted with lamps. Some were also elegantly and tastily wreathed and adorned with mottoes in evergreen.”
“The whole contrasted most delightfully with the elements outside, not least of which in making the contrast were the smiles of fair women, and the words of welcome and wishes of joy. Vocal and instrumental music made the time pass still more pleasantly in many of the houses. On the whole it was a most enjoyable day, long to be remembered by the people of Winterset.”
“In the midst of the snow a dozen or so of young men procured bells and gave us a street concert, a la Swiss Bell Ringers. Marching around the square singing John Brown’s Body, and keeping time with the bells, the snow and the sleet heightening the effect it added to the general jollity…”
The bell ringing may be explained, perhaps, by pointing out that a great many punch recipes for the 1870s did contain alcohol. The Temperance movement of the time did offer housewives other fruit only recipes, but a good rum punch was pretty common. If you think of young men attending four or five houses and imbibing a cup or two of punch at each one, it’s a pretty good thing that they were driving sleighs with horses that probably knew their own way home.
Thanks to the Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project historic food research site, we are able to share with you a couple of punch recipes for your own celebrations. The first, a strong Roman Punch, is from The Ideal Bartender, published in 1917 by Thomas Bullock, a bartender at the St. Louis Country Club. This very strong punch is meant to be cut with shaved ice and served to a good sized group of people who will sip it slowly while chatting together.
The second recipe can be served with or without alcohol. It is from La Cuisine Creole, published in New Orleans by Lafcadio Hearn in 1885.
Have a very happy (and safe and responsible) New Year!
Everyone is getting into the holiday spirit by now, and starting to make time for festivals, soirees, and visits amongst friends.
These are often full of food and revelry, and sometimes friendly competitions. Some families get together and play cards. Euchre and Spades tend to be quite popular with Midwestern families now, while some families prefer “Minute to Win It” style games and yet others get pulled into never-ending games of Monopoly.
While researching holiday traditions at the turn of the century from magazine called The Delineator, Erin at our 1900 Farm came across a delightful article on games to play in the holiday season. The author notes that these games are particularly useful as they take little set up and are nice to have on hand in case visitors happen to arrive.
Hostesses in 1901 were just as concerned as ever that everyone have a good time, and to that end would provide merry entertainment, sometimes in the form of games, for the visitors. This was helpful, as winter was a social time when there was not as many chores to do on the farm and people could spend time in amusement. Without an endless supply of holiday movies to put them in the spirit of the season, people would look to their host for direction. Charades, word games, and trivia were popular forms of leisure, with prizes being handed out to the winners or forfeits being paid by the losers.
Mary Howard cleverly names her gathering, “A No-L Party for Noel Tide.” Take a look at some of her game ideas, which have been edited for ease of reading below. Try them out with your friends and family this holiday season.
“A NO-L PARTY FOR NOEL TIDE
If friends drop in unexpectedly during the Christmas season surprising the hostess without a plan for their entertainment, a No-L Party may be devised for them on the spur of the moment and will keep the room in a gale of merriment for an hour and a half at least. The fun of the evening consists in a series of games in which L is a tabooed letter. No L is recognized in the proceedings and from the first game to the last the person giving a word containing L forfeits a point. Guests are first seated in a row or circle and a book provided. The character of the book is of no importance. Some person is asked to read aloud during the space of two minutes by the hostess’s watch. If in reading he comes upon on any word containing an L this word must be omitted and another conveying the same sense substituted. If the player fails to notice that a word included contains an L and reads it aloud, or if he cannot supply another word to convey the meaning, he is banished from the circle. Each player reads for two minutes, the person at his left hand then receiving the book in turn. The player who unluckily slips into an L word is not tripped by the hostess but by his fellow players. This makes it necessary for each contestant to be alert. The reading is continued until all persons but one have dropped out of the circle. This last survivor receives the prize, a book about Christmas.
The second game is an exciting variation of the foregoing. A box of anagram chips is needed in playing it but if these are not at hand slips of paper may be substituted each having a letter of the alphabet written upon it. All letters are represented in this way except L. The hostess then announces a subject, which we will say is Famous Men. The player first in line then picks up at random one of the letter slips which have been jumbled together and placed face downward. On seeing the letter he has received the player must immediately name a great man beginning with that letter but containing no letter L. If the letter drawn is N, and the subject is Great Men, Noah will be correct, but Napoleon would banish one from the circle. The fun in this feature arises in the perversity with which the mind immediately reverts to words containing the letter L. An appropriate trophy for the clever person who cannot be overcome in this merry bout would be a well written book on any of the subjects proposed by the hostess. . .
While a No-L party is especially good on account of requiring no preparation for an impromptu affair, it serves exceedingly well for any Christmas entertainment – MARY DAWSON.” The Delineator, Vol LVIII, 1901
The staff and blog writers here at Living History Farms wish all our friends and followers a very happy holiday season!
Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite holidays. Generally filled with food and family, and often football, it is a time to reflect on the blessings of the year and share our table with each other.
Iowans in the late 19th century prized the holiday as well. They were already filling it with prized traditional recipes and visits from family. As for museum guides at Living History Farms, we love being able to see how that food tradition evolved through historic cookbooks and magazines. By the 1860s, many cookbooks already listed suggested bills of fare for Thanksgiving day laden with pies, roasted vegetables, oyster soups and, of course, Turkey. With that in mind we share a favorite adaption of a historic dressing recipe, for those who are still in need of inspiration for that course of their own Thanksgiving feasts.
3 cups (8 oz.) mushrooms
1 medium Onion
9 cups Bread Crumbs
2 Tbls. Chicken Bouillon Paste
1 cup Butter
1 tsp. ground Sage
2 tsp. Leaf sage
1 Tbls. Parsley
1 tsp. Pepper
Chop fine, onion and mushrooms. Melt butter in a shallow pan. Add herbs and bouillon to pan. Cook onion and mushrooms in butter mixture until tender. Add mixture to breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly. Bake in covered dish at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
–Adapted from Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867.
Not everything on Thanksgiving was about food in the 19th century. The editorial staff at The Iowa State Register reminded readers on November 27, 1890:
“This is Thanksgiving Day—one of the best days of all the year. It has a mission all its own and a blessing all its own to bestow upon all who open their souls to its eauty and good cheer. It should not be wholly given up to turkey and cranberry sauce. To eat, ddrink and be merry is a good way to give thanks—better than long prayers rendered with long faces, but it is not all that one ought to do today. A kind word kindly spoken to some one in distress; a worthy gitt worthily bestowed upon some one more unfortunate—these are thanks acceptable on earth and in Heaven alike . . . There is no man or woman so humble that their thanks to you for a gift bestowed to-day is not an incense that will rise to Heaven.”
—As quoted by William Petersen, in “Thanksgiving in Iowa”. The Pamimpsest. Vol XLIX, December 1968 no. 12. Pg 569.
Living History Farms wishes all our blog readers, members, museum guests, friends, and family a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Now that the inevitable chill of winter is beginning to set in, it’s time to start getting out the fleece petticoats, wool bonnets, and knit hats, gloves, and shawls. Our museum guides offer several cold weather programs at the 1850 Pioneer Farm and cold weather means we need warm clothes! In 1850, Iowa pioneers would have been doing the same around this time of year! In fact, they likely would have started the process of making and repairing warm clothing months before the chill set in. In Iowa, you learn pretty quickly that unseasonably warm weather at the beginning of November is not going to last long – it’s going to get cold fast.
Unlike today, when a trip to a nearby department store to pick up a few more winter clothes is in the realm of possibility, pioneers would have had to make their wool clothing by hand. One way to ensure a large supply of wool for constructing the necessary cold weather clothing and accessories was to own a flock of sheep. Although not a large cash crop, over half of Iowa’s farmers did raise some sheep in 1850.
Sheep were easy enough to keep (if you didn’t mind their baa-ing). They required open pasture to graze, a water source, and protection from predators, but generally didn’t require a lot of other tending. The most maintenance a sheep would need was their spring shearing, usually occurring sometime between May and June.
Processing wool was often a bigger undertaking than raising the sheep themselves. The wool after shearing was fluffy, but coarse in spots, and often quite dirty. The first step after shearing this raw wool was carding. Carding is a term used to describe the process of brushing and cleaning the wool.
Using carding paddles made of wood with prickly metal wires as essentially two big hairbrushes, pioneers would pull the paddles in opposite directions with the wool stuck in between. Carding cleaned the wool by getting rid of little bits of grass, dirt, and grime, but also served another purpose. Carding got the fibers in the wool going in the same direction, so when the wool was peeled off the carding paddles it was ready to be used on the spinning wheel and made into yarn.
Carding can be a tiring job, and if you’ve ever visited the 1850 Farm while we are carding then we’ve probably asked you to help out and give our arms a break! This is a good job to do while waiting for bread dough to rise, or on a somewhat easy-going Sunday afternoon. The need to card larger amounts of wool gave rise to several water-powered carding mills in eastern Iowa as Iowa settlement progressed. Small amounts of raw wool could be hand-carded into bats for spinning, but large amounts would be sent to a carding mill to be machine-combed into a long, continuous piece of fleece called roving. Roving allowed a spinner to spin continuously, instead of stopping often to re-splice the smaller combed bunches that were made with hand-held wool cards. One early Iowa City carding mill accepted, “Cash, wheat, wool, dry hides, and beeswax,” as payment for carding roving. Another took bacon, flax seed, tallow, beans, and goose feathers.
Pioneers were not the first people to card and process wool into warm clothing, and wool carding as a trade dates back to the agricultural revolution of the early 11th century. Today, we take for granted the convenience of going to buy warm clothes when we outgrow them, lose them during a move, forget where we put them at the end of last winter, or just want a change of style. It’s important to remember that for centuries before us, our ancestors have had to make all of their own clothing, and many would have had to grow, in a way, the materials that they would have needed to make those clothes. If you’d like to give carding a shot, come give us a hand at the 1850 Pioneer Farm! This winter, there’s also a chance for you to learn the basics of transforming wool into yarn in a “Spinning with a Spinning Wheel for Beginners” class, held at Living History Farms. Find more info on this and other adult education opportunities at www.LHF.org/AdultEd.
It’s the first week of November. For many people, this is the beginning of a wonderful harvest and holiday season running all the way into January. For many others, this is the beginning of a hectic two months of busy schedules, lots of demands to shop, work, be seen, and overall, a time of stress. As we head into this busy time, we often think of the pace of modern life as a recent affliction and the pace of past rural life as a quiet, stress-free environment.
We assume that living before the internet, cell phones, and even electricity automatically made life less stressful. When guests come out to the museum for programs, they often tell our historic interpreters, “Oh, life was so much simpler back then.” Well, not exactly. Farming had it’s own special stressors–the weather, the markets, food production for the family, and the health of livestock and crops. Much of this stress was beyond the farmer and his family’s direct control. Emily Hawley Gillespie, an Iowa farm wife, wrote in her diary on August 5, 1882, “we are all tired. I get so nervous when I am warm cooking over the hot stove, it seems just as I burned up twenty years of my life by the heat off the stove, but for all I must try to always be pleasant.”
Even in the 19th century, Iowans had a perception of life moving on too fast. After the Civil War (which in itself caused any number of stresses on both the home front and the battlefront), Iowans felt pressured by the pace of their own “modern” life-styles. Industrialization pushed farmers to buy new machinery, farm more land, and keep up with consumer culture. They were pressured to produce more and sell more and to buy more things. In 1855, a Dutch Farmer in Pella, Iowa wrote to friends in Holland, “Farming here is entirely different than in Holland. Whatever can possibly be done by machine is done by machine. Wheat, oats, hay…(are) all harvested by machines. I have one myself which cost $160…I expect to purchase a threshing machine in the fall, with which we can thresh 360 to 450 bushels a day.”
Horse-drawn mowers and reapers were only the beginning. Farm machines cut down on the number of workers that were needed on a farm. Cities continued to boom with industry and new opportunities. Throughout the country, farm youth were already feeling the call to leave the farm and move to the city to seek jobs and wealth. New-fangled inventions arrived, seemingly every day. Telegraphs, trains, sewing machines, printing machines, gas lights, then telephones, then electricity, and so forth. These new inventions made laborious tasks easier, but were already creating new consumer demands and production expectations—in the workplace and at home. For every new home cleaning product, washing machine wringer, and sewing machine, a new ideal followed of how clean the house should be, how perfect the baby should look, and how much cut glass should appear on the Sunday dinner table.
In the midst of all this stress and expectation, 19th century doctors were facing a new trend. Their patients suffered with cases of mental exhaustion ascribed to the busy lifestyle many faced. Considered very much an American ailment, stressed-out women and overworked businessmen were being diagnosed with “neurasthenia” or “Americanitis”. Iowa’s cities, such as Des Moines, echoed the fast pace in bigger cities.
Even our own wealthy farmer and businessman, Martin Flynn, felt stressed by his lifestyle. He and his wife Ellen made regular trips to the mineral spas in Colfax, Iowa and retreats for rest and relaxation to health spas in Michigan.
Defined by Dr. George Beard in the 1880s, “Americanitis” was considered a result of the pressures of city and modern life, characterized by migraines, depression, and general nervous exhaustion. The cure prescribed at that time was often bed rest and a retreat from work and society. The “cure” had mixed results. Complete bedrest was often more trying to busy minds than the pressures of society. Author Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote a well-known short story about a woman placed on bedrest for her nervous exhaustion in 1892, titled The Yellow Wallpaper. The heroine of the story is locked in her bedroom with no mental stimulation to “rest”. As a result of nothing to do, she suffers from hallucinations—seeing people in the patterns of the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom.
For better or worse, doctors treating patients with “Americanitis” suggested a refocusing on simple pleasures and simpler lives. Perhaps, that simple life we think about for the 19th century was not so simple. Whatever our thoughts on 19th century simple life, the next few months will certainly be a hectic rush for many of us. How do we combat the modern stress?
This past month, Living History Farms embraced an emerging trend in stress management with an adult coloring party event in the Flynn Mansion. We asked guests to come drink tea, listen to relaxing music, and most especially to COLOR! Recently, psychologists have recommended coloring as a way for adults to de-stress and relax. The act of focusing on choosing colors and the repetition of coloring in spaces are thought to help the mind relax and let go of troubling problems. Museum staff made coloring pages from 19th century fashion plates, merchandise catalogs, and architectural drawings for guests to color.
These Adult Coloring Party – “Get Happy” Hour events at the Flynn Mansion are offered periodically and are by advanced reservation only. Keep an eye out on the Living History Farms’ website and Facebook page for upcoming coloring parties as the holiday season progresses! Life may not have been completely simple in the past, nor is it completely simple now, but a few minutes to stop, relax, and refocus can help any generation keep their sanity in busy times.