May 5, 1851

Laundry

 

Monday May 5th  Made some sponge cake this morning

& swept & dusted rather more than usual Jane washed

the clothes and put them out without rinsing & let

the hard rain come on them. Has been a driving

storm all the […] day Mrs Stetson & Mrs

George [Ames] were here to tea Harriet was taken sick

and went to bed. Charles Mitchell came to see

her in the stage[…]

Jane McHanna had an idea this morning.  If nature was going to keep throwing stormy weather at her on Laundry Day, she’d make it work for her rather than against her. Instead of rinsing them herself, she hung those towels, shirts and all else outside and let the rain rinse the suds off. The “hard rain” saved her some tub time, although hanging those heavy clothes with the suds still on them couldn’t have been easy work.

Meanwhile, Evelina stayed indoors sweeping, dusting and doing some light baking.  Instead of firing up the brick oven, she probably baked her sponge cake right in a tin stove that she most likely had in her kitchen.

Sponge cake was a dessert whose recipe the Puritans brought over from England.  In western cooking, it was one of the earliest iterations of a yeastless batter. Mary Peabody Mann wrote in her 1858 cookbook, Christianity in the Kitchen, that sponge cake “if made right, is the least injurious of any form of cake, because it contains no butter.”  She cautioned, however, that “it is very difficult to make it good.  Eggs must be perfectly fresh, in the first place. They should be kept in cold water the night previous, and the whites should be beaten in a cool place, separately, and to a thick froth, with a cork stuck cross-wise upon a fork, and without stopping once.” Sarah Josepha Hale, meanwhile, in her 1841 The Good Housekeeper, offered her own admonishment that cakes, “those tempting but pernicious delicacies [,are]…to be partaken of as a luxury.”

The man who called on the ailing Harriett Ames Mitchell was her brother-in-law, Charles, who had once lived with Harriett and Asa in Cambridge, before they moved to western Pennsylvania. Charles, younger by several years, was a good friend of the family. Mrs. Stetson was also a friend of the family and Almira Ames was a cousin. Everyone sipped tea while rain fell on the roof, the road, the garden and the white, wet laundry.

 

 

 

March 4, 1851

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March 4th  Tuesday  This forenoon finished a shirt for O Angier

Have got some old accounts books from the office

for scrap Books  Have been looking over some old

papers for receipts &c  Sarah came to pass the 

afternoon with Jane  Dr Deans & wife & Mr &

Mrs Whitwell spent the afternoon & evening in the

other part of the house  I was there at tea.

Augustus was here to dine  Pleasant but quite windy

Scrapbooks were a popular phenomenon in the 1800’s, as they had been for some time before. Sometimes called friendship albums, scrapbooks were assembled by individuals, usually ladies.  The books contained personal items as varied as pressed flowers, favorite illustrations cut out of periodicals, sketches or poetry, or special pieces of correspondence.  They were creative keepsakes, the “Pinterest” of the day.

Evelina’s approach to scrapbooking was more pedestrian than imaginative or sentimental. Her scrap books were pasted primarily with “receipts”, or recipes, cut out from newspapers, predecessors to the recipe boxes or similar notebooks that today’s cook might keep handy on a kitchen shelf.  These recipes supplemented, if not surpassed, the cookbooks available on the market by women such as Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Beecher, Sarah Josepha Hale, and Mary Peabody Mann.  With the articles clipped from periodicals, cookbooks and other household guides, a housewife or homesteader had a variety of options to refer to when it came to preserving and preparing food.  Even Old Oliver was known to pay attention to receipts; he hand-copied one for brining beef into his personal journal.

Always thrifty, Evelina used discarded account books or ledgers from the “Counting House” in which to paste her receipts.  She also used an empty ledger – the one illustrated in the photograph above, in fact – for her diary.  Its pages, meant for the posting of debits, credits or other accounting notations, were filled instead with her daily jottings.  Waste not, want not.

After a day of inevitable sewing and the more novel entertainment of working on her scrapbook, plus the company of her nephew Augustus at the dinner table, Evelina went to the other part of the house for tea.  There she joined her sister-in-law Sarah Witherell and their friends William and Eliza Whitwell and Samuel and Hannah Deans.

Dr. Deans and his family lived in Furnace Village, an area of Easton south and west of the Ames’s.  Dr. Deans, originally from Connecticut, had settled in Easton after studying medicine at the New Haven Medical School.  In addition to medicine, he also had “a warm and constant” interest in education, according to William Chaffin.  As a physician, Deans occasionally attended members of the Ames family when they took ill.

February 26, 1851

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Feb 26  Wednesday.  Have been baking  Heat the oven twice

made 18 mince pies.  Cake brown bread & ginger snaps

Mr Whitwell called & brought home some books.

I called to see Miss Eaton this afternoon she has failed

very much since I saw her nearly two weeks since.  Mrs. 

Wright is sick with the pleurisy & lung fever, both have watches

Abby & Malvina spent this evening here   The boys have

all gone to the meeting house to a sing  Pleasant & mild

A[u]gustus here to dine

Eighteen mincemeat pies! Hard to fathom a domestic pantry, pie safe or cold shelf  that could hold 18 mince meat pies all at once, let alone an oven that would bake even half that number at one time.  Cake, cookies, and bread, too.

The brown bread that Evelina baked today was a staple of the New England kitchen, and was made from some combination of Indian (corn) meal and rye.  While other geographic areas of the United States, like the south, the mid-Atlantic and the expanding west, had turned to wheat as their preferred grain for baking bread, Yankee housewives, “who valued and esteemed brown bread as the food of their Puritan ancestors,*” held to the familiar cornmeal and rye.  So it was in Evelina’s kitchen.

According to Sarah Josepha Hale, who published The Good Housekeeper in 1841, brown bread was “an excellent article of diet for the dyspeptic and the costive.”   Mary Peabody Mann, in Christianity in the Kitchen pronounced brown bread to be “a nutritive bread, though inferior in this respect to wheat,” and agreed that it produced “a laxative effect upon the system.”  Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, liked brown bread for its economy and tradition.  She advised that it “be put into a very hot oven, and baked three or four hours.”

After she got away from the cook room, Evelina was visited by Reverend Whitwell who either borrowed some books from her or lent some to her – the passage is unclear. Both of their homes must have housed a collection of books, and borrowing and sharing was common.  A decade or so earlier, Easton had boasted of two or three lending libraries but these institutions had pretty well ceased to operate.  Other, better organized libraries would be formed later that century, but in 1851, if someone wanted a book to read, he or she borrowed it from a friend or bought the publication.

In the neighborhood, Miss Eaton was still failing and now, under the same roof,  Mrs. Wright, mother of Harriet Holmes, was believed to be dying, also.  Neighbors were helping Mrs. Holmes with the care and feeding of the two invalids.

*Judith Sumner, American Household Botany, 2004, p. 48

January 18, 1851

Lid

/51 Jan 18 Saturday  I was very lazy this morning as usual after

being in Boston.  We tried out the suet & salted the 

quarter of beef & boiled the tripe  Jane has been

busy all day but I have not done much.  Have mended

the stockings painted Susans wooden dolls head & arms

Mr Robinson has at last finished painting our chimney

pieces.  it is 5 weeks since he commenced them & I could

not nail down the carpet  Mr Ames has been to Boston.  Pleasant.

It was back to domestic life today after an enjoyable trip to the city.  No more dining on oysters. The kitchen was humming with more familiar fare as Jane McHanna processed a huge gift of meat that Old Oliver had sent a few days back.  She may have kept it cold in the snow or in an ice house until today when they had time and table top to deal with it.

“Ox beef is considered the best,” noted Sarah Josepha Hale in her 1841 guide, The Good Housekeeper.  Lucky for Evelina’s family that Old Oliver raised his own oxen. Jane salted it, salting or “corning” being a time-honored way to preserve it. Typically, the beef was placed in a container – likely a barrel – and covered with a brine solution.  One recipe for brine in an 1858 cookbook* called for four gallons of water, two pounds of brown sugar and six pounds of salt.  Beef stored this way could keep for months.

The suet, which, strictly defined, is the fat from around the kidneys, was “tried,” meaning that it was boiled and rendered into lard.  The tripe, from the stomach, was boiled as well.  The odor from both these boilings was strong and would have been noticed throughout the house.

By her own confession, Evelina didn’t get too involved with anything going on in the kitchen today, leaving it to Jane’s good offices. Instead, she puttered here and there, unpacking, doing a little mending, painting her daughter’s wooden doll and standing over Mr. Robinson’s shoulder as he finally completed painting the mantels.   We might describe her day as “re-entry.”  Oakes, meanwhile, was in Boston on shovel business.

* Mary Peabody Mann, Christianity in the Kitchen