Sunday, December 28, 2014

It's Fashionable To Hate Fruitcake; So I Guess I'm Not Fashionable

During the Medieval Age, a soup was created using mutton stock as the base, to which various types of chopped up fruits were added. Plums, in the dried version of prunes, became the favored ingredient of this soup because of the flavor they imparted to the mix. Eventually the dish became known as Plum Soup. By the 16th century, the soup evolved into a pie with the addition of meat and suet, and baked within a pastry shell.

According to the Mother Goose's nursery rhyme: "Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, Eating his Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, and pull'd out a plum, And said 'What a good boy am I!'." It was the Plum Pie, descended from Plum Soup, that became the Christmas pie eaten by Little Jack Horner. Tradition claims that Plum Pie became associated with Christmas by being formed into a rectangular, rather than a round, shape to represent the manger-bed prepared for the Christ Child.

During the English Interregnum, while Oliver Cromwell was in power as Lord Protector, the Puritans frowned on any sort of extravagance. Unfortunately for Plum Pie, it was identified as one of those extravagances, and was outlawed throughout the British Isles and the British colonies in North America. In order to avoid trouble, but to still enjoy the dish, the people of England disguised it by forming it into a round ball and calling it minc'd pie. To 'mince' something means to crush or shred something. Beef suet was minced before adding it to this pie, and so the name would have been appropriate. Plums continued to provide the pie its distinctive flavor.

By the 1800s the name of the dish had been changed to Plum Pudding, being baked without the pastry shell. The dish has remained in that form to the present-day, and is uniquely associated with Christmas. To many people, myself included, plum pudding is the quintessential Christmas treat. I've never tried it, but I am sure that plum pudding made on July 4th would probably be bitter.
Now, most people today have no idea what is meant by the name 'beef suet' or why it was added to plum pudding. The suet is a fatty substance that surrounds a cow's kidneys. When the cow is butchered and cut up into pieces for human consumption, the fat surrounding the kidneys is sold as 'beef suet.' When steaming a pudding, the cook crumbles (crushes or shreds) the suet into tiny pieces to be mixed throughout the pudding batter. The purpose of using suet in the pudding is to create hundreds or even thousands of tiny air spaces throughout the dish. The suet melts late in the cooking process, after the starchy batter has begun to set, and therefore tiny spaces are left where the suet particles had been.

In order to make a proper plum pudding, actual beef suet is used, and the pudding must be steamed in boiling water for about four hours. Water must be continually added as it boils away, and therefore making a plum pudding using suet is not undertaken by most cooks.  In recent years, a type of jelly or sauce, composed of diced apples mixed with various spices and marketed as 'mincemeat', has been substituted for the actual minced suet/meat. Although it reduces the baking time to about forty-five minutes, the product has a heavier texture.

Recipes for plum pudding varying from cook to cook. Some recipes call for every type of fruit available along with a couple spices, while others limit the variety of fruit to two or three mixed with seven or eight spices. Some recipes insist that only fresh fruit be used, while others call for glace fruit (which is candied fruit: diced and covered in concentrated sugar syrup). Regardless of the particular ingredients, most plum puddings contain diced nuts, especially almonds or walnuts, in addition to the fruit: hence the alternative name, fruit and nut cake.

Plum pudding, or Christmas pudding, contains a certain amount of alcohol, imparted by the ingredient of plum brandy. Any brandy will do, but plum brandy is the only one that would, of course, contribute to the 'plum' flavor of the dish. I guess you could leave the plums out, and add peach brandy to the mixture, but then the dish should bear the name: peach pudding, and it certainly would not be very 'traditional'. It should be noted also, that just prior to serving the dish, additional brandy should be spooned over the outside surface, which is then set afire so that a beautiful bluish haze envelopes the pudding.

While the traditional plum pudding, from the 17th Century onwards, was baked in a round bowl, giving the product a domed shape; the dish can be baked, like I do, in a bundt pan (sometimes referred to as an 'angel-food cake pan') or in any other baking dish.
And so now we come to the 10,000 pound elephant in the room. It has become very fashionable to dis (i.e. disparage) plum pudding, (or rather 'fruit cake' or 'fruit and nut cake') these days. Television personalities will not be caught dead claiming that they like the dish. And events are publicized in which 'fruit cakes' are loaded into catapults and trebuchets and launched hundreds of feet into fields by fanatics declaring that that is the only thing that can be done with them. Granted, the 'fruit and nut cakes' produced by commercial bakeries tend to be poor imitations of the original plum pudding; they sometimes are so dry and tasteless that they deserve to be destroyed.

Whether those fashionable people who zealously gloat about hating 'fruit cakes' have ever eaten real, homemade plum pudding is not known. I bet they, like myself, would come to love the dish. The surprise of biting into a fragment of walnut, followed by the sweet juiciness of biting into a piece of candied cherry, is something that makes Christmas: 'Christmas.'

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

With A Flick Of The Wrist

In 1827, at the age of twenty-five, Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy established a business at #15 on the Rue de la Paix in Paris, France to produce hand fans. Although the company changed hands (no pun intended) over the years, and although the demand for hand fans dropped drastically when electric operated fans came into vogue, the Duvelleroy company is currently still operating. Hand held fans were very fashionable in France and elsewhere, including the United States.

The object of this post is a hand fan that I purchased for a few dollars at a local flea market a couple years ago. As with any item that comes into my possession, I inspected it carefully to discover more information about it. The inspection of this item revealed that it was constructed of two layers of paper pasted together with fourteen blades between them that appear, at first glance, to be ivory, but upon closer inspection seem to be bakelite. Bakelite, invented in 1907, was an early precursor of plastic. The blades have swirling line designs etched into their surfaces, part of which are then painted with a gold colored paint. The two ends are given sturdiness by the attachment of bakelite 'guards' which also have swirling line etched designs on their surfaces.

The paper mounts, or solid paper surfaces, of the fan have what appears to be a lithographed scene on one side and an engraved design on the other. The 'front' mount bears a colored scene of seven ladies in a garden. At first I thought that the scene depicted the Seven Muses ~ but then I remembered that there were nine, not just seven, muses: Calliope (the Muse of Poetry), Clio (the Muse of History), Euterpe (the Muse of Song), Erato (the Muse of Lyric Poetry), Melpomene (the Muse of Tragedy), Polyhymnia (the Muse if Hymns), Terpsichore (the Muse of Dance), Thalia (the Muse of Comedy) and Urania (the Muse of Astronomy). I then thought that maybe the scene depicted the Seven Graces ~ but then I remembered that there were only Three Graces: Aglaia (the Grace of beauty), Euphrosyne (the Grace of Mirth) and Thalia (the Grace of Charity). Although I can't identify them, the seven ladies are dressed in beautiful, flowing gowns, and the garden in which they meet is dense with vegitation with an ancient stone temple in the background. The back mount of the fan is plain with an engraved border of musical instruments positioned amid gracefully arching flourishes in imitation of acanthus leaves. On the back is attached a small rectangular piece of the same color paper as the fan mount and printed with the wording: With Best Wishes from Penn Alto Hotel George D. Worthington. It would appear, from the similarity of the paper and ink color of the attached rectangle to the fan mount, that the attached piece was not added as an afterthought, but attached at the time that the fan was produced.

And finally, on the back mount, in very small print at the base of the mount, is the wording: Maquet Grav  10 Rue de la Paix, Paris (meaning that it was 'engraved' at that address).
As noted above, the Duvelleroy hand fan company was established at 15 Rue de la Paix. Whether a portion of that business was also located at 10 Rue de la Paix has not been determined. What is known is that the address had a long history of culture. In the late-1800s Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) maintained a business titled: Frederic's at 10 Rue de la Paix. Mr. Worth is credited with having created the so-called "fashion industry" and "haute couture". Then, in 1903, the perfume company, Caron, established by the brothers Ernest and Raoul Daltroff, moved from Rue Rossini to 10 Rue de la Paix. Perhaps the Duvelleroy company produced fans for Caron, who might have marketed them along with their fragrances.

What I later discovered was that George D. Worthington managed the Penn Alto Hotel circa 1923-25. He might have had the fans produced and stamped with the message: "With Best Wishes From Penn Alto Hotel George D. Worthington" to celebrate his taking over the management of the hotel. The fan would have been a very fashionable accessory for the lady who stayed at the most fashionable hotel in the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

The hand fan was ostensibly used to generate a breeze of air, but it also provided the lady who wielded it with a 'language'. This language was invented as part of its advertising by Jules Duvelleroy, a son of Jean-Pierre who managed the company's London House.
A fan extended all the way open, and held in front of the face just below the eyes said "Follow me". But if the lady opened her fan all the way and covered her left eye with it, she was saying "I am engaged". A fan only partially opened and held below both eyes said "I love you", and if the lady then closed the fan as she dropped her hand forward, she was asking: "Do you love me?" So, with a flick of the wrist, the lady would let her feelings be known.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

That Polecat Stinks To High Heaven

My home is located in the valley formed by the South Dry Run creek (pronounced crick, rhyming with 'pick'). Our three to four mile long valley, originating with a number of springs in the vicinity of Smith Corner, and culminating where it empties into the valley cut by the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, is one of the many hollows that cut into the Appalachian mountain range in this south-central part of Pennsylvania. On the other side of the hill that forms the south wall of my hollow lies Singer Hollow, and on the other side of the hill that forms the south wall of Singer Hollow lies PawPaw Hollow. Benton Hollow and an unnamed hollow lie farther to the south. And then, about three miles south of my home, "as the crow flies," stretches the Polecat Hollow.

And, in case you haven't guessed it yet, the polecat is the subject of this blog post. Many people, even many of those who have lived in this corner of the world all their lives, believe they know what a polecat is. Polecats, they believe, are those stinking varmints covered in black fur with blotches of white on their heads and stripes of white down their backs or sides and sometimes on the tips of their tails. What most of those people, who believe they know what a polecat is, don't know, is that those black and white animals are skunks; they're not now, nor ever were polecats.

The polecat ferret, or rather Mustela putorius, a member of the Mustelidae family (which includes otters, badgers and weasels), was common in Europe. Skunks, which were somewhat unique in the animal world for their jet black and pristine white fur, were native to North America. The skunk was originally believed to belong to the Mustelidae family, but more recently was moved to the Mephitidae family (which consists of mammals having a stench). Although the polecat ferret was similar to the skunk in many ways, it differed in that it bore cocoa brown fur over its back and lighter colored fur on its belly. The polecat ferret, having a strong musk odor, could easily be mistaken for a skunk at first smell.

When our ancestors came from the Old World, they found the black and white animals that sprayed an horrendous smell when startled, but they also found similar stink-spraying animals covered in fur that was a dark cocoa brown color with tan stripes or spots. They apparently weren't true skunks but they smelled alot like skunks. The immigrants from the European regions of Germany and Switzerland remembered the 'polecat ferret' of their homeland. When those immigrants encountered the foul-smelling brown and tan varmints, they associated them with the polecat ferret they knew back home. They probably assumed that the two animals, black/white and brown/tan were two different things, and so they called the black/white ones 'skunks' and they called the brown/tan ones 'polecats.' What the early European settlers in North America did not know was that the skunk did not necessarily have to be covered in black and white fur: the animal can bear cocoa brown and tan fur, just like the European polecat ferret. And so, the names of skunk and polecat became intermixed here in the wilderness of America. Eventually, as such things sometimes go, the names got so intermixed that the Euro-American settlers tended to call them all 'polecats'. It has come around to the point that today a large percentage of Americans call the black and white animal: polecats, and don't even know that a brown and tan variety exists (unless they encounter one in the forest).

The name polecat is believed to have been derived from a combination of the French word poule, meaning 'chicken' and puant, meaning 'stinking'. On the other hand, the name skunk is believed to have been derived from an Amerindian word seka-kwa, meaning 'urinating fox.' An English translation of that word, squunck is claimed to have been used as early as the 1630s in New England. 

Polecats (or rather, skunks) are generally avoided if at all possible. The threat of startling one, and being sprayed as a result, contributes to their being avoided by human beings. But in the past not all of them were avoided; sometimes baby ones would be treated as pets. In more recent years, laws have been enacted protecting these mammals, but in the past the scent glands would be removed from baby polecats. The animal, without its noxious odor, acted like an affectionate cat (that is if such a thing could actually exist ~ please don't hate me, cat-lovers). My mother told me stories about how her brothers would 'unscent' a baby skunk and it would become a very playful and fun pet. The current laws prohibit removal of the scent glands, and so you can't legally own polecats as pets. Unfortunately for them, polecats / skunks have very poor eyesight. They can only see about ten feet away, and that is a contributing factor in why most people only see one when it is lying dead on a road (having been hit by the car it couldn't see and from which it could not get away). The title expresses the concept that the polecat's odor was very strong ~ strong enough to reach as high as Heaven ~ which is indeed a very long distance away.

Monday, July 7, 2014

If You're Going To The Store, Get Me A Poke A Cherries

In 1978 Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes and Bruce Woolley wrote a song that was first recorded by The Camera Club, and later by the Buggles. That song took its title from its opening line: Video Killed The Radio Star. The song bewailed the end of the popularity of radio occasioned by the rising popularity of video. My lament is that 'television killed regional dialects'.

In the United States, where the primary, though not official, language is English, there are a number of regional dialects and accents. An accent is a variation in the way certain words are pronounced, whereas a dialect is a distinct variation within a language that encompasses more than just pronunciation. Pennsylvania Dutch is a well-known dialect within the English language. I'm sure that most people reading this post already know what is meant by 'Pennsylvania Dutch', but for those who do not, I'll provide a brief explanation. The word 'Dutch' in the name Pennsylvania Dutch is commonly believed to have been derived from the German word Deutsch, meaning German, or the German people. Although that sounds good in a folklore sort of way, in actuality the word Dutch had been in use for centuries (by the English, that is) as a name for the people who settled all along the Rhine River, which flows from the Swiss Alps in Canton Graubunden, Switzerland to the Netherlands, where it empties into the North Sea: the Low Dutch for those residing in Liechtenstein and Netherlands and High Dutch for those residing in Germany and Switzerland. Most of the Mennonite immigrants to the New World came from Switzerland and the German principalities of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse (i.e. High Dutch), and they settled primarily in Pennsylvania. Those emigrants retained their appellation of "Dutch" even after they established their new homes in Pennsylvania: hence they became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. As noted, Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of the English language, and therefore employs English words, albeit in variations of grammar and syntax. There are even dialectical variations of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect ~ the Bedford sub-dialect, variously called the Central Pennsylvania dialect, being one of them. This region was settled by many Ulster-Scot, Irish and Scottish families in addition to German and Swiss ones who migrated westward from the Pennsylvania Dutch region of eastern Pennsylvania. It was inevitable that they should intermarry. And when they intermarried, their speech became curiously intermingled.

There are numerous websites on the internet and many books in libraries which provide examples of the idiosyncrasies of Pennsylvania Dutch, so I won't list them all here. The point I want to make here is that for many years my ancestors and I got to enjoy the uniqueness of our language. The way my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents spoke was familiar and comfortable to me. And then television came into our lives. Suddenly everyone was speaking an homogenized form of English. Regional dialects and accents were reserved for the hillbillies and hicks of the movies. Suddenly, Pennsylvania Dutch, and its sub-dialects, had become a joke. And that was definitely something to lament.

So last night ~ on the TV ~ on a show titled Our Secret Slang, devoted to telling about the origins of words we use every day, they talked about the word 'poke'. Many of the people they interviewed thought that the word referred to the verb meaning to prod, as with a finger, but I instantly knew they were talking about a small container. I remembered the many times that we went to a grocery for a poke of black licorice candy or to a hardware store for a poke of nails. Of course now, as I compose this post on my computer, I prefer to spell words as they should be spelled. Therefore, I choose to spell out 'poke of nails', denying my Pennsylvania accent to be revealed; but when I was younger I would have pronounced it 'poke a nails'.

The word poke comes from the 12th Century Old French poche, which meant 'purse', from which was also derived the Old North French word poque. The French comes possibly from the Germanic word puk, which was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root beu- meaning 'to swell'.
When I was a child, and pokes were in common use in south central Pennsylvania, they tended to take the form of small brown paper bags that measured roughly four inches by two inches by eight inches high, when fully opened. One of those pokes could hold ten or twelve pieces of delicious black licorice candy or 15 six-inch-long 20-penny nails. If you needed to buy a gallon of milk, three cans of peas and a loaf of bread, there was no way that you could expect to carry it all home in a poke; you needed a bag. And that is where the phrase a pig in a poke comes from: it would be quite an impossibility to fit a pig ~ any size pig ~ into a small bag. And so 'a pig in a poke' was used to describe some impossibly incredible claim.

Now the thing about a dialect, as compared to an accent, using the word poke as an example, is that it was used for many years in the region of south central Pennsylvania where I grew up. And it was certainly not an example of an accent. It wasn't a matter of us pronouncing the word slightly differently from the way the people down in Alabama did; it was more of a matter of us using the word while those Alabamans didn't. Those of us and our ancestors who lived in this portion of Appalachia that cut through the center of Pennsylvania used a number of words that most people elsewheres did not ~ or at least in ways most did not. For example, some of them pertained to food. Most people used the two words of 'buttered' and 'bread' to express what we knew as a single word: butterbread. When we covered the butter on our piece of butterbread with about a quarter inch layer of sugar (enough to track a rabbit according to my grandfather, Eldon Smith) it became sugarbread. It is possible that our word butterbread was simply derived from the German word butterbrot and that our word sugarbread likewise came from a German word: suikerbrood, but who knows for sure? And our sense of the time-space continuum sometimes got skewed because we would think nothing of saying "I'll meet you somewhere around eight o'clock tomorrow at the church." The word somewhere referred to the time, not the place. The little nuances of our dialect hinted towards its relationship to Pennsylvania Dutch, but it wasn't as heavy on the 'Dutch' part as you might hear down east (such as the way we would add an 's' to the ends of words like 'toward' and 'end' that functioned just fine without). While we were comfortable when we spoke all of the usual, peculiar Pennsylvania Dutch words and phrases, such as 'redding up the room' when we knew that guests were coming, or that we planned to 'put up' (i.e. can) twenty jars of applebutter. But where Pennsylvania Dutch was practically one hundred percent German in origin, the dialect that thrived in our neck of the woods was German mixed with Irish and Scottish words. We thought that gas prices were 'gettin awful dear' each time they rose and we didn't like anyone 'messing around' when we wanted to be serious, so we'd tell them to 'scram'. Those words and phrases came from our ancestors that could trace their lineage back to the British Isles. So when mother ordered us to stop messing around because she needed to get the room all redd up, she was not strictly speaking Pennsylvania German.

You probably noticed that I used the past-tense of the verb 'to go' above when I remembered getting pokes of stuff. That's because we very seldom get pokes of anything anymore ~ they've become a thing of the past. It's partly because all of the stores you go to use the same size (different color) large plastic bags. Even if you all want is a pack of chewing gum or one birthday card, the clerk puts it in one of those same size (different color) large plastic bags. But it's also partly because of the fact that you never hear the word poke, in regard to a small bag, spoken on television anymore. The homogenized English spoken on television killed the regional dialects. Oh, and the photo at the top of this post is of a poke a cherries.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

There's Not Enough Room For A Bed In There

The invalid room was one of a number of rooms that once occupied homes, but which have almost completely disappeared from the modern contractor's lexicon. The word invalid was derived from the negated form of the Latin word validus. Validus meant strong, and the negated form was created by adding to it the prefix in: producing in-validus, meaning un-strong, or infirmed. Although seldom used today in our super-pc (i.e. politically correct) society, a member of the family, often elderly and terminally ill, was referred to as an invalid. The invalid room was the bedroom in which the family cared for their invalid member.

It's hard to believe, but at one time we residents of the United States of America, like residents of many other countries, cared for our loved ones, when they became elderly and/or terminally ill, in our own homes. The elderly family members were not exiled to 'nursing homes' as soon as they started to cough. They were provided with a bed in a room on the ground floor of the house, often close to or beside the kitchen. In some cases, a side room would be converted into an invalid room simply by the addition of a bed, in others a room would be dedicated to the function. During the Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries, houses were often constructed with an invalid room included in the original design. Until it needed to function as a bedroom for the infirmed member of the family, an invalid room might be employed as a 'den' or 'pantry' or a storage room. As noted, the invalid room was often close to the kitchen, making it convenient to provide for the needs of the infirmed person. Rather than having to carry trays of food or buckets of water to an upstairs bedroom, the family members simply needed to carry them from the kitchen into an adjoining room. 

Perhaps the reason that many modern day families do not even consider caring for their elderly and infirmed members in their own homes is because their houses are not equipped with a room that can even be converted into an invalid room. Accomodating their invalid loved ones needs may seem so overwhelming because of the lack of a space that can function as an invalid room. It's a shame that houses are no longer built with long-term care of our elderly family members in mind.

The diagram at the top of this post shows the plans for a house typical of the early 1900s. The room highlighted in red could be used for any purpose; it was perfectly suitable to be used as an invalid room.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kindest Regards And Greetings Gay

Merry Christmas; Happy Birthday; Easter Greetings; Be My Valentine; Congratulations On Your Graduation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. There are many holidays to celebrate and many sentiments to express, and there's a greeting card for every one of them.
And if you have a unique sentiment to express to a loved one (such as "Congratulation for advancing from party-pooper to grumpy-guss"), there's bound to be a blank card on which you can write that personal sentiment. There's even greeting cards shaped and sized specifically in which to hold a monetary bill or personal check (which the receiver hopes is at least a twenty), as if the cash won't fit in a regular card.

And not intending to offend the poorer residents of Planet Earth, I would venture to say to say that nearly everyone alive at this time has probably received at least one greeting card in his or her life. Greeting Cards tend to be ephemeral; they're like wisps of smoke from a fire, appearing to us and then vanishing as quickly as they came. Well the situation with Greeting Cards is not exactly like wisps of smoke. Greeting Cards don't really just vanish into thin air like smoke does. They get stuffed into drawers; they get stacked on shelves; they get pasted into scrap books; and they get bound together, fifty to one hundred perhaps, with a rubber band holding them tightly, and then placed in a box that is pushed into a corner of the attic.
Some recipients cherish and keep the Greeting Cards that brighten their day, while others detest having them invade their personal space, and throw them in the trash as quickly as they can (that is to say, as soon as all of the party guests leave).

I must admit that I am a cherisher of Greeting Cards. The serene, idyllic, snow-blanketed forest-scape that fills the six by eight inch surface of a Christmas card not only fills me with joy when I receive it in the mail on December 22 ~ it also gives me a warm fuzzy feeling on August 14 when I again fall under its spell it while looking for a relative's address on the envelope.
I also must admit that I just made that up to make my point ~ that is, the part about looking for a relative's address "on the envelope", because if the truth be told, I remove all my cards from the envelopes and throw away those disgustingly banal hindrances to my speedy enjoyment of the cards. I have saved most of the Greeting Cards that I have received since I was in my teens. Perhaps in another fifty years they'll seem as quaint and charming as the ones exhibited on this post.

The Greeting Cards which are exhibited on this post date from the 1890s through the 1930s. The predominantly popular art style for that period was Art Deco, and some of the cards are fine examples of that style. The Christmas card shown here which bears a ship sailing through frigid waters and the Birthday card which contains a turreted castle on the hill are examples of Art Deco that one finds in 'readers' and other children's books from the early 1900s.
Many of the cards were manufactured in Germany, and of course although the verses are in English, the style of those cards cannot help but to have been influenced by German culture at the time.

Notice the swastika that appears on one New Year's card; it had nothing to do with the German Third Reich. The card was produced in the year 1908, and the swastika was simply borrowed from the ancient Hindu symbol for peace ~ it actually at one time represented the sentiment of 'well-being', and was derived from the Sanskrit words: su (meaning 'good') and asti (meaning 'being'), combined with the diminutive suffix: ka.
Other cards bear visual symbols popular at the time, which stood for the sentiments of love, friendship and so on. For Christmas cards, the roly-poly figure of Santa Claus, popularized by Thomas Nast in his 1881 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was prevalent by the 1920s, but less jovial images of the bringer of gifts still appeared occasionally, as depicted in one card.

And it might not be readily noticeable from the images, but all of the cards shown here consist of a single layer of heavy card stock, printed only on the front side ~ as compared to modern day folded paper cards that are printed on the inside in addition to the front.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In The 1970s, Many People Got Their Clothes At The Fripperer

I'm sure that every reader of this blog post already knows what a frippery was ~ assuming, that is, that we are living in the 1700s. And therefore every reader will also know, again assuming that we are still living in the 1700s, that a fripperer was a person who worked at the frippery. What? You don't know what I'm talking about? Well apparently you're the only one, because everyone else knows that the frippery was where you took your old, worn out or damaged clothing to be refurbished and resold to someone else. Now, does that ring a bell in your memory?

The fripperer, according to the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, was a 'dealer in cast-off clothing'. Clothing has always been expensive. Look at today's prices. A man's dress shirt costs around sixty dollars; a pair of children's shoes can cost over sixty dollars. If you want three pairs of pants and two shirts, you better take two or three hundred dollars with you when you shop. Two hundred years ago, clothing was just as expensive, though in a different way. In the day and age when the lady of the house had to spin her own thread from flax plants or sheep shorn wool, the 'cost' of producing the material to be used for clothing, in addition to the actual making of the clothing, was expensive in terms of her physical labor and time spent. And even after spinning the thread, the housewife had to either weave the thread into cloth herself, or barter with the local weaver to have her cloth woven. And then, on top of that, she had to cut and sew the cloth into pants, shirts and coats for her husband and children. 

The fripperer, usually a man, in trying to make a living, provided a much needed service to people who couldn't afford, in time, material or skill, to make their own clothes. Townsfolk, who couldn't raise either sheep or flax, or at least couldn't raise enough of it to produce the amount of cloth they required for their clothing, might take advantage of the services provided by the fripperer. In the same way that a cordwainer made new shoes while a cobbler repaired old shoes, the tailor made new clothes while a fripperer mended old ones. The fripperer not only collected the 'cast-off clothing', by accepting free donations or paying a fraction of their true worth, but would sew and darn any holes in them.
He would sew on buttons where missing and replace lace where it was torn. He would have washed the clothing and perhaps even ironed them in an effort to make them desirable to his customers.

Certain sources note that fripperers dealt not only in 'cast-off clothing', but also in used furniture and household goods.

So do we have to be living in the 1700s to avail ourselves of the services of a fripperer? Certainly not ~ I can find great bargains in used and refurbished clothing at the local fripperer ~ the Goodwill store. That explains the title of this post. After the 'summer of love' in 1969, as young people cast off the shackles of conventional society in favor of becoming hippies, many found that their newfound lack of money left them without the means to buy expensive clothing. The Goodwill Store became a mecca where they could find cheap, but good clothing. And today, this modern-day fripperer still provides that service to either people who can't afford the high cost of new clothes, or who want 'vintage' clothing.

By the way, the shirt and pants exhibited on this post did not come from a fripperer, although they look like they might have. They are just some of the clothes I wore in the 70s ~ in my 'hippie' days. I simply thought they'd illustrate some clothes that might have been mended and resold by a fripperer ~ they certainly were 'mended'.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let's Try To Win A Prize On The Midway

People spend money on carnival glass items most every day. The beautiful bowls and drinking glasses and goblets and vases shine in iridescent golds, like the breast feathers of a ring-neck pheasant or in iridescent bronzy-purples, like the head feathers of a grackle. This glass artform, which was variously called rainbow or aurora glass, supposedly got its name from the fact that it was often given away as prizes at carnivals. Despite its exquisite colors and designs, this type of glass, the poor-man's Tiffany, was inexpensive to produce, and therefore could be purchased by common people.

The item which is the subject of this post, and pictured above, is also carnival glass. I'm not joking; it is truly carnival glass. I know this because my father told me of how his mother, Jennie, had actually won it as a prize at a local county fair or carnival in the 1920s.

The type of glass shown here is more formally called "red cut to clear" glass. Cut glass is not actually 'cut'. It is produced by taking pressed glass (i.e. glass blown or pressed into a mold) and sanding (i.e. cutting) certain parts with a sanding wheel. In this case, the glass is clear with a thin layer of red over the surface, and when the glass is sanded, the thin layer of red is sanded or cut off 'revealing' the clear glass underneath.

So although an antiques dealer would probably refuse to acknowledge that this goblet is carnival glass, there is no denying that it was won as a prize at a carnival. And you know the saying: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a probably is a duck.

Friday, June 13, 2014

These Shoes Are Enough To Curl Your Toes

The phrase used for the title of this post is one that has, traditionally, been used to describe a taste sensation that is extremely sour or bitter, such as eating a lemon. We're not eating any lemons here, but the shoes pictured on this post surely look like they could force your toes to curl if you wore them all the time.

The fact of the matter is that this style of shoe was (and still is) considered comfortable in some parts of the world. It's called a Jutti, and originates in the Punjab, a portion of the Indus River Valley in (what is today with recent geopolitical divisions) northwestern India and southeastern Pakistan. The shoes are just one example of the fabulous leatherwork that has come from the craftsmen of the Punjab over many centuries.

Jutti resemble what we in the United States of America would call a 'loafer', usually having a flat sole and a closed upper (meaning the top portion covers not only the top of the foot, but also wraps around to encompass the heel). The Jutti's cousin is the mojari, which has an open back and resembling what we would call a sandal. Both, jutti and mojari, are distinguished by elaborately decorated uppers in which colored beads, pieces of mirror and shells are used to create bold designs. Juttis for men and women are made in practically the same shape, but with the one exception that for men, the toe of the shoe is extended toward a point and then folded, or curled, back upon the vamp.
Tradition states that the curled toe was meant to mimic the curled tips of Punjab men's moustaches.

The example exhibited here is possibly dated to the 1800s. The pair had been part of a collection exhibited in the Crawford Museum in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. When the museum was closed, many of the items in its collections were sold, and that is how I came to possess this pair of shoes. As can be seen from certain of the photos, the soles and heels of these shoes are fabricated from layers of leather sewn together with leather thread. The uppers appear to have been constructed of a combination of leather and fabric.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Pot To Piss In

Pardon my words, but the title of this post is from an old saying, the entire phrase being: "We were so poor, we didn't even have a pot to piss in." That, of course, implied that the speaker was not just poor, but rather was very, very poor, or as it might have been said: dirt poor. The phrase, and its sentiment, came from a time not so long ago, perhaps only one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ~ when few families had indoor plumbing, and mostly everyone had to walk (or run, as the case might be) from the house to an out-building, aptly named the 'outhouse', to empty their kidneys and bowels. At night, a trip to the outhouse might be dangerous because of wild animals prowling around, so everyone owned one or more chamber/piss pots. If you didn't have even one in your house, you were indeed poor.

There was one aspect of a chamber pot being kept and used in the bedroom that everyone instinctively thinks of when the subject is brought up ~ the smell of urine.
 In a day and age before the producers of television commercials began to convince everybody that what they were selling was less intended to make them money than to benefit the viewers' lives, people put up with many things that were natural and ordinary. Ordinary smells were accepted as natural; they weren't considered offensive. They just were there and you had to deal with them. In those pre-industrial-age days, people rode in carriages or wagons pulled by horses ~ those beasts of burden who gave off certain smells. They resided in houses warmed by fireplaces or furnaces that burned wood, kerosene or coal, and coincidently produced the smells of wood smoke or kerosene and coal fumes. And those people bathed themselves and washed their clothes with unscented soap made from lye. Television commercials for products that a few entrepreneurs decided everyone needed (or could be convinced to need) changed all that. Few people grasped the fact that the sale of a particular product was the primary motivation of the television commercials that told us that teeth of any color other than pristine white was the horror of all horrors, and that we should buy toothpaste-XYZ in order to be able to function in society. Few people realized that it was simply a company trying to make millions of dollars when they pushed soap detergent-XYZ, which promised to make dingy red teeshirts more brilliant and redder with each washing. And when the television commercials dwelled on the fact that BO (that thing that was too terrible to even speak its name aloud) was so offensive that a single whiff of it would drive mankind insane, shelves and shelves of products reeking of 'lavender potpourri' or 'vanilla-rosebud' appeared in stores. And as technology advanced, all things natural and ordinary became taboo. The chamber pot, which harbored the natural and ordinary smell of urine, became taboo after plumbing (and television commercials for air fresheners) made that smell unfashionable.

Suddenly there was running water being piped into houses ~ plumbing; and the next thing you know, water closets ~ renamed commodes in later years ~ were hooked up to the pipes of running water. There suddenly was no need for outhouses ~ or chamber pots. And that smell that emanated from the thing pictured in this post became a thing of the past.

The chamber pot was a standard item found in all houses for centuries prior to the introduction of plumbing in homes throughout Europe and the United States of America. They tended to be kept in the bedroom, usually under the bed, within easy reach, but they might also be kept in other rooms for handy use. Emptying the chamber pot was a daily chore usually assigned to one of the children of poorer families, or by a maid in a wealthier household.

Chamber pots were predominantly made of ceramic, including white ironstone china such as the one shown here, but they were also constructed of metals, such as tin and enameled tin. Richer households boasted of chamber pots made of silver. Chamber pots to be found in antique stores today often are missing their lids, but originally all of the pots would have had lids to prevent the odor of urine from constantly wafting into the room. As one of the photos shows, the lid was formed with an inner ring that helped in trapping any smells within the pot, sort of like how the "s" trap in a sink's plumbing works. Ceramic chamber pots tended to have one handle, but ones with two handles existed. The two-handled style was sometimes called a 'marriage pot'; the two handles supposedly facilitated handing the pot from one spouse to the other. The metal chamber pots often had a wire handle and resembled nothing more than a metal bucket with a lid.

My father, Bernard Smith, often told the story of how, after he had gone off to army training in Florida during the Second World War, he had written to his mother. In his letter, my dad noted that the one thing he missed (i.e. or rather wanted, but couldn't have), being in the army, was the chamber pot. Jennie, his mother, wrote back and simply said: "The floor shows that you often missed it when you were home too."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard

Some, but not many, aspects of child-rearing has changed over the centuries. Today children are revered and adored, their status being just below that of angelic cherubs. But at one time, children were tolerated, at best. They were, as noted in the famous proverb, 'meant to be seen and not heard'. 

Children were, no doubt, loved as much by their parents in the 1700s as they are today, but daily life was quite different in the 1700s than it is today, and children were, understandably, treated differently. Men and women, alike, worked from sunrise to sunset: the men in the fields, planting crops and harvesting the same, or taking care of livestock and performing farmwork; the women cooking, washing the family's clothes and spinning flax and wool into thread.
There wasn't much time left for either of the parents to spend playing with their children, and so the children were left to fend for themselves. But guess what? We're alive today ~ proof that apparently not all of the children of the 1700s died because they weren't coddled or pampered.

Coddling and pampering aside, one thing that has not changed through the centuries is the desire of parents that their children would be safe from harm. It is often claimed by historians that the infant mortality rate was high, and to compensate for that, parents gave birth to numerous children. But there are other sources that confute that claim, countering that the percentage of children who died in infancy then was no greater than now: the lack of contraceptives might have been a greater factor in the size of families.
Whether a family included three children or thirteen would not have influenced how much the parents loved those children. And the loss of any one of their children would surely have broken the hearts of those parents as much then as now. One difference between the 1700s and today, in regard to child-rearing, is that we currently have the results of many studies that show us what works and what doesn't. Ensuring that our children are safe from harm doesn't have to rely on trial and error any longer. But trial and error, with infant deaths resulting here and there, was the only thing parents had in centuries past. Instead of being able to reap the benefits of an extensive study, as parents can in the present day and age, parents of the 1700s either had to discover their own way, or learn from their elders.

The object displayed in this post is one of the things that parents learned from their elders and used to ensure that their baby did not die in its sleep. Although it appears to be just a fancy cloth item, similar to a doily, which is an ornamental cloth or paper mat used to protect furniture surfaces or to contribute, visually, to the presentation of something.
The primary reason this object resembles a doily is due to the lacey border material. But if not a doily, what is it? It looks too delicate to be a wall hanging. And besides, dating from the late-1700s to the mid-1800s, the item's age would preclude it from being a miniature quilt created solely for the purpose of being hung on the wall as a decoration. Prior to the recent century, women did not waste their precious cloth scraps or thread to create miniature quilts and such to hang as artwork on a wall. Perhaps the item exhibited here was a 'sampler' ~ a cloth article created by a young girl on which to practice, and show off, her skill at sewing and embroidery. But, although the item certainly exhibits a variety of stitches and sewing techniques, the 'standard' structure of a sampler is absent.
Samplers tended to be constructed of linen material; this item is comprised of silk and velvet. Samplers tended to showcase the letters of the alphabet sewn onto the linen in order to reveal how proficient the young girl was in using the needle; this item bears no letters at all. The actual purpose of this item may surprise you. 

The object of this post was intended to be placed in an infant child's cradle or crib, on which to rest the baby's head. The object is completely flat, and does not resemble what we today would call a 'pillow', but a baby's pillow is just what the object is. Through trial and error, mothers learned that a baby's head should not be lain on a fluffy or plush pillow with the risk of the baby suffocating. But all the same, mothers wanted to fawn over their little ones, and so made these cloth items to brighten the baby's cradle. The mother who sewed together this beautiful example used various types of cloth, including velvets, satins and silks, and then added a border of intricately designed lace. The back, shown below, was constructed of a piece of red silk. The baby whose head rested on this beautiful pillow was very fortunate to have a mommy who loved him or her very much.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Idiot Bushes Are in Full Bloom

My father, Bernard Smith, was very knowledgeable about many things. He could quote passages from Shakespeare and other authors; and he could discuss (intelligently) theological matters with the best of theologians. More than a few times I witnessed my father doing mathematical calculations in his head. He encouraged my own interest in biology and, at a very young age, dinosaurs. Of course I adored him and believed, as most kids probably do of their own fathers, that he knew Everything (that's everything with a capital "E"). Always possessing a keen sense of humor, he would tell me and my siblings that if I ever had a question about something, all I had to do was to ask it. If he didn't know the correct answer he would respond: "That was a very good question, why don't you ask me another?"

Despite all of the things that my father knew, one thing stumped him ~ the idiot bush. The idiot bush suddenly appeared one summer in our yard ~ not among the other wild bushes that covered the hillside behind the house ~ not along the creek ~ not out of the way anywhere, but smack dab in the open space of the yard. Okay, so it wasn't in the front yard, but in the portion of yard that bordered the garage, so it was kinda out of the way. Maybe that is why my father didn't immediately mow it down. It really didn't bother anyone. It just was there. And boy did it grow!
The bush was almost six feet tall by the end of the summer, with seven or eight long, slender 'branches' sprouting upward from the base of the primary one. Suddenly there was another, similar bush, growing just three feet away from the first. Although there were now two distinct bushes, we always referred to them as 'the idiot bush'.

My brother and I were warned not to cut down the idiot bush, so when we mowed the yard we had to work around the two space-grabbers. Every time that I mowed the yard, and had to dodge the arching branches, I muttered a word or two of disapproval. In those days when I mowed with a push mower, I preferred simple yards ~ yards that required only a few swipes, straight up and down, without being slowed down by trees or bushes. So suddenly there were two bushes standing in the middle of the very yard that I preferred to mow in a few swipes, straight up and down.

Why did my dad name the bushes that suddenly appeared in our yard: the idiot bush? Probably because it was one of those few things that he did not know the answer to. And I'm sure if we would have asked him why he named them that, he probably would have responded: "That's a very good question; now do you have any others?"

My father passed away thirteen years ago. The idiot bush (both of them) had to be cut down when I constructed my house and needed to use that portion of the yard for my septic drainage field. But that wasn't the end of the idiot bush; over the years I watched them sprouting just about everywhere. They grew on the hillside, along the creek, and by the side of most of the roads on which I drove my car.

Times change. Instead of being able to ask my knowledgeable father questions about things like "What kind of bush was that?", I now have to find the answers elsewhere. So I searched on the internet and discovered the true name of our idiot bush: Japanese Honeysuckle.

The photos on this post are of the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). The United States Department of Agriculture has listed the Japanese Honeysuckle as an invasive weed. That's a shame, because the delicate flowers that cover the bush are very beautiful. Depending on the type of soil, some of the plants bear white flowers with yellow stamens, while others bear pink or even purple flowers. On my property, the plants that grow along the creek tend to bloom with white flowers, while the ones that grow along the slate outcropping of the hillside tend to bloom in a beautiful pinkish purple.
The flowers of the Japanese Honeysuckle have a fragrance similar to vanilla. According to many sources, the plant produces many berries that ripen from green to black; all of the bushes in my area produce red berries that don't change color before falling from the plant. The plant spreads rapidly. The plant is considered a vine because it will intertwine itself with trees or other structures in which it comes in contact. Because of their capacity to grow anywhere, in good or bad soil alike, and because they propagate by either rhizomes underground, runners aboveground, and/or seeds, they tend to grow right where you don't want them and are large bushes before you know it.

I'm older now than my father was when he christened the honeysuckle plant as: the idiot bush. I think of Bernard Smith everytime I see the idiot bushes blooming.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Here's My Card, S'il Vous Plait

You might think that you're a real sociable person. You have 327 'friends' on Facebook (a dozen or so of whom you have actually met in person), and you honestly believe that your Twitter followers really care where you went last weekend. And so, as you sit in front of your computer or with your android tablet or phone in hand, tapping out your tweets and posts, you are convinced that you are connecting with others. The fact of the matter is that despite all the advances in technology, and irregardless of all the gizmos and doodads we have on our phones, we human beings are becoming less and less truly sociable.

Years ago, unlike during the present age, people were genuinely sociable. They met and interacted with each other in physical reality ~ not just in virtual reality. Many human beings engaged in an archaic ritual that was known as 'visiting' ~ travelling to another person's house and talking to that person - in person. I know that it might sound unusual to some readers, but people actually did that at one time.

The object of this post is an ephemeral relic of that sociable ritual of 'visiting' ~ the calling card (often referred to as the visiting card).
Back then, in that genteel age named for Britain's Queen Victoria, of the House of Hanover, there existed what was known as polite society. Gentlemen opened doors for ladies and assisted them in being seated at the dinner table. In return, ladies said "thank you", instead of calling the men 'sexist pigs'. Friends and associates met at parties for the purpose of enjoying each other's company ~ not just to get drunk and pass out. Men, and women alike, used their fingers to grasp things, not to convey bad thoughts toward one another.
Arising out of the air of politeness that imbued mankind's social interactions was the announcement of the arrival of visitors at parties, other social events, or just on a summer evening. And that is where the calling card came into use.

It is claimed by some sources that calling cards came into general use in China as early as the Fifteenth Century. Within two hundred years, they were in vogue throughout Europe. The cards were quite popular in Great Britain and the United States of America from the Georgian to the Victorian eras.

Despite eventually becoming popular with the middle and lower classes, as anything in vogue tends to do, the calling card's use, originally, was confined to the aristocratic level of society.
It was not just from a desire for exclusivity; the etiquette of the calling cards required that there be servants to make them function properly. A person who wished to visit the home of another would present his card to the maid or doorman of the intended party, and then either wait there, or return home to wait, for a response. The gentleman's address might be written on the back of the card if the lady he wished to visit was not already an acquaintance. If given an approval, by the receipt of the other party's card, the intended visitor would present himself at her door once again, and he would then be admitted.
Oh, and I wasn't being sexist a sentence or two ago when I stated that a "gentleman" would present "his" card... In polite society, a woman did not make such a bold move, unless she wanted to be labeled a 'tart' or something worse. The ritual was only completed if and when the lady instructed her servant to hand-carry one of her own cards to the gentleman. If she failed to do this, or mailed his own card back to him in an envelope via the postal service, it was a sign to him that she did not wish to have his company.

Similar to the present-day business card, calling cards were printed on heavy card stock and were generally under two inches by four inches. A common size was one and one-half by three inches. Initially, calling cards were white, with the person's name printed in black ink, such as the one given out by Hannah A. Burger, and shown at the beginning of this post. The name might be printed in a standard font, such as Times New Roman, but in italics for effect, or it might be fancied up by employing a script font.

As shown in the examples illustrating this post, sometimes the initial letters were printed in a different, more elaborate font for emphasis. Some individuals wanted more extravagant cards, and to that end they paid the printer extra to fill the empty space around their names with images of flower bouquets, animals or, as shown in one example above (that of Hezekiah Cobler), the card owner's own likeness. It should be noted that Miss Cobler also gave out cards with only her name on them ~ I wonder how she decided to whom the picture ones should be given?

In the examples shown here, the two full scenes (of the boy coaxing the lobster, and the puppy with a ribbon) are unique. The card of Harry Reininger includes a scene in which a boat sails past three palm trees along the shore. Perhaps he had visited a South Seas island at one time and longed to return there, or perhaps it was just a dream of his to someday sail past a beach lined with palm trees. The images on the cards undoubtedly revealed something of the person's character.

The card of Cora M. Walter is unique in this collection, because it contains not only a scene in addition to her name, but also an inspirational poem.

Also, quite unique, is the card pictured below, which has an overlay of a hand holding a rose, from which a child, or perhaps a cherub, is emerging. The overlay lifts upwards to reveal Catharine Grabill's name. The purpose of the semi-circular cutouts is unknown; perhaps they were included simply as a design element.

The last card exhibited here is the business card of D. Miles Walter, who advertised to print a pack of visiting cards for only 10 cents for forty of the nicest cards ever brought before the people.