January 27, 1852

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1852

Jan 27  Tuesday.  Mrs S Ames & Frederick were to dinner  had a roast

goose.  This afternoon Mr & Mrs Whitwell, Mr & Mrs

John Howard & Miss Jarvis    Mrs Witherell Augustus

& Hannah came this evening    Frederick went after the

ladies. Oliver & George carried them all home this

evening.  Baked some tarts in the other house stove

Have sewed but very little  Mr Wm Brown was also here.

Quite a sociable day for the Ameses, full of company.  Midday dinner was attended by Sarah Lothrop Ames and her son Frederick. (The absence of Oliver Jr. and Helen Angier Ames suggests that the former might have been away on business while the latter had returned to school.) Fred, like Oliver (3), was home from the Ivy League; their conversation at the dinner table probably provided some fresh subject matter. Perhaps they entertained family members with a modified description of life on campus.

Evelina served a roast goose (that Jane McHanna had cooked), a dish that normally denoted a special occasion such as Christmas or New Year’s. Were they serving it in anticipation of Oliver (3)’s 21st birthday, or was it just a whim? Either way, serving roast goose on an odd weekday signified wealth behind the larder.

Sarah Josepha Hale offered a recipe for roast goose in her popular household guide, The Good Housekeeper, suggesting that it be stuffed and roasted on a spit over a “brisk” fire for at least two hours. Otherwise, she had a qualified opinion of the dish:

“Geese seem to bear the same relationship to poultry that pork does to the flesh of other domestic quadrupeds; that is, the flesh of goose is not suitable for, or agreeable to, the very delicate in constitution. One reason doubtless is, that it is the fashion to bring it to table very rare done; a detestable mode!”*

Mrs. Hale would likely have approved of the baked tarts, however, that Evelina served for tea later in the day to the Whitwells and others.  It’s a happy note that Sarah Witherell ventured over at the very end of the day; she must have been feeling better after the extraction of her teeth some days back.  She was comfortable enough to let Evelina’s nephew Augustus and his wife Hannah see her face, which had been swollen for days.

 

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Housekeeper’s Guide, 1841, p. 52

 

 

 

January 9, 1852

Cake

1852 Friday Jan 9th

[…]Have had about 30 here this evening and

quite a pleasant time though the weather not

pleasant.  Lavinia came here with Augustus last

night and we ladies have had a nice time making

cake and getting ready for them  Helen & Lavinia

made the bed in the front chamber to suit themselves

Oakes and Evelina Ames hosted a wedding reception at their house for newlyweds Edwin and Augusta Pool Gilmore, attended by members of the extended Gilmore and Pool families who traveled through inclement weather to get there. The celebration, complete with cake and tea – but no wine – was “quite a pleasant time.” What a special occasion for a cold, dark time of year.

The preparations for the party had been fun, too.  Lavinia Gilmore, sister of the groom, had been driven back to Evelina’s, carried by her brother Augustus Gilmore, to help with the cake. More cake! Helen Angier Ames had walked over from next door, again. The two young unmarried women had a sleep-over at their Aunt Evelina’s.

What might the cake have been made of? Sarah Josepha Hale offers up quite a recipe for a wedding cake in her 1841 The Good Housekeeper:

Take two pounds and a half of dried and sifted flour, allow the same quantity of fresh butter washed with rose water, two pounds of finely pounded loaf sugar, three pounds of cleaned and dried currants, one pound of raisins stoned, one nutmeg grated, half a pound of sweetmeats cut small, a quarter pound of blanched almonds pounded with a little rose water, and twenty eggs, the yolks and whites separately beaten.  

The butter must be beaten by hand till it becomes like cream; then add the sugar, and by degrees the eggs; after these, the rest of the ingredients, mixing in at last the currants, with nearly a tea-cupful of rose or orange flower water.  This mixture must be beaten together rather more than half an hour, then put into a cake-pan, which has previously been buttered and lined with buttered paper; fill it rather more than three quarters full.  It should be baked in a moderate oven for three hours, and then cooled gradually, by at first letting it stand some time at the mouth of the oven.

If you fear the bottom of the cake may burn, put the pan on a plate with saw-dust between.”*

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, 1841, p. 100

December 13, 1851

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Sat Dec 13th  Have tried my lard cleaned hogs head

and fat and the meat ready choped & seasoned 

for filling  Have been to work all day on them

together with Jane & Mary.  Have 78 lbs meat

Mr Ames & Augustus have been to Boston.

Augustus got me some worsteds for hood

Frank & Oakes chopped my meat & Sarahs, she

had 28 lbs.

Sarah Witherell and Evelina Ames, sisters-in-law bent on taking care of some pork fresh from the slaughter of a few Ames hogs, had 106 pounds of pork between them to be turned into sausage. In addition to the capable hands of servants Jane McHanna and Mary, they had help from Evelina’s sons Oakes Angier and Frank Morton, who chopped the meat, and probably the fat, too,  into manageable chunks. Together with other ingredients – see below – the meat was forced into a grinder like the one pictured above.

Most likely, the women didn’t need to follow a recipe to make the sausage, having made it countless times before.  But if they did, they could have turned to Sarah Josepha Hale’s instructions in The Good Housekeeper.  They would have had to multiply the recipe times thirty or so:

“TO MAKE SAUSAGE MEAT. — Chop two pounds of lean with one of fat pork very fine – mix with this meat five teaspoonfuls of sale, severn of powdered sage, two of black pepper, and one of cloves.  You can add a little rosemary, if you like it”*

And sausage wasn’t the only product from the pork that Evelina, Sarah, Jane and Mary worked on.  They made lard and dressed a hog’s head. It was a most productive day in the Ames kitchen.

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Housekeeper, Boston, 1841

November 26, 1851

Rolling pin

Wedns Nov 26th  Have heat the brick oven three times

to day  Made Squash mince & apple pies

fruit & plain cake & seed cakes  did not

get the last oven in untill about four Oclock

Jane has assisted some about the work  Dr Swan

came to see her says she must exercise but

must not work hard  Oliver came home in the stage

The kitchen was humming today. Evelina baked pies and cakes to feed her family, now back at the full complement of six at table, as Oliver (3) arrived home from college for the holiday. She baked pies and maybe some side dishes to take to the other part of the house, where they would have Thanksgiving dinner the next day with Old Oliver, Sarah Witherell, and Sarah’s children, George and Emily. Jane McHanna “assisted some,” but was still sick enough to have a visit from the doctor – this time, the Ames’s personal physician, Caleb Swan.

In 1851, Thanksgiving was not yet a national holiday. That would happen in 1863, after lobbying by the indefatigable Sarah Josepha Hale convinced Abraham Lincoln to make an institution of a feast that was already celebrated in many – but not all – states. Although the country was suffering from the shock and carnage of a civil war, Lincoln saw good in the idea of a day of gratitude for “fruitful fields and healthful skies”** and, by Executive Order, proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national Day of Thanksgiving, in perpetuity.

The tradition of Thanksgiving evolved from the Puritan practice of holding days of thanksgiving or fasting, according to immediate need. The Puritans were inclined to see God’s influence in every part of their daily lives. When they were good, God would reward them. When they were bad, He would punish them. Depending on how things were going, their ministers were either making sure to thank God or beg for help. In the 17th century, a local congregation could call for a day of thanksgiving or a day of fasting on its own. As time went on, the practice became more formal and by the 19th century, governors, at least in New England, would call for a day of fasting in the spring (before the planting) and a day of thanksgiving in the autumn (after the harvest). In 1851, this was still how it was done.

Toward the end of the 19th century, as immigration began to influence and de-homogenize American culture, some of the old guard became concerned. Like many an established group, its members wanted to preserve their culture and honor traditions such as Thanksgiving.  The fourth Thursday in November became more than just a feast of gratitude with family members. It became a post-Civil War symbol of America’s beginning, an annual celebration that would help new immigrants understand how the country was first settled by white Europeans. Teaching about the holiday in schools became a priority and thus, for more than a century, an account of a first Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and the Indians has become an indelible, if occasionally controversial, feature of American history.

For Evelina and her family, Thanksgiving was the most important holiday of the year. They would celebrate it with Yankee gusto, which generally meant a gathering of family and a fine feast followed by a game of cards for the old folks and perhaps a dance for the young people.

* A wealth of information about Thanksgiving can be found in “Thanksgiving: A Biography” by James W. Baker, New Hampshire, 2009. 

** Abraham Lincoln, A Proclamation, October 3, 1863

October 12, 1851

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Sunday Oct 12th  Had a Catholic meeting at 8 Oclock  Jane went

Have not been to meeting to day on account of the

humour was affraid that I could not sit still.  Susan

went & all the rest of the family  Read in Goodeys

Ladys Book .  Quite stormy & could not go to

Augustus’ as I intended  Have had a very quiet 

day

For the third Sunday in a row, Evelina missed church.  Her nettlerash, or “humour,” still bothered her to such an extent that she had trouble sitting still. She stayed home and by her own admission, “had a very quiet day” while the rest of her family went to meeting. Even the servant, Jane McHanna, left the house to go to a service in the new Catholic Church on Pond Street.

Her father-in-law, Old Oliver Ames, who kept a daily record of the weather, reported that “this was a cloudy warm day and there was 2 or 3 small showers in all about one 4th or 3/8 of an inch southerly.” Evelina evidently studied the raindrops from her perch in the house and decided to postpone her intended visit to the village to see her nephew and his family. Instead she read from Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular monthly periodical to which she subscribed.

Published in Philadelphia by Louis Godey and edited by Sarah Josepha Hale (a high-profile writer who, among many other accomplishments, wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb), Godey’s Lady’s Book was, as its title suggests, targeted at women. It featured domestic fiction and household hints, sentimental poetry and architectural plans.  It showcased contemporary writing by authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving, yet also published three editions in which women, and only women, wrote the articles.  A testy Hawthorne actually complained to his publisher about the influx of female authors, calling them “a damned mob of scribbling women.”

By 1855, the magazine even carried a feature entitled Employment for Women. Each monthly volume of Godey’s contained various illustrations and at least one fashion plate, imperative for home-seamstresses everywhere who wanted to stay abreast of the styles in dress. It was a magazine perfectly aimed at Evelina, and she followed it loyally.

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.

 

 

 

May 4, 1851

 

Vintage Ad for 1887 Brecks Seed Catalog (Original)

*

May 4th Sunday  Went to church this morning and at

intermission called with Mother at Mr Whitwells

Mrs Daniel Clark went with us Heard two good

sermons from Mr Whitwell. Orinthia went

in the afternoon, staid at home this morning

Have been reading since church in the book of

flowers & called in the other part of the house

to see Mrs Stetson who came Friday night

 

The Flower Garden or Breck’s Book of Flowers is probably the book to which Evelina gravitated on her return home from church.  Its subtitle was “In which are described all the various hardy herbaceous perennials, annuals, shrubby plants, and evergreen trees, desirable for ornamental purposes, with directions for their cultivation” and it probably took her mind away from Reverend Whitwell’s sermons. Written by Joseph Breck, head of an eponymous gardening firm, the “book of flowers” was published by J. P. Jewett of Boston and was immediately popular. It met a need among a burgeoning population of female gardeners like Evelina who were happily creating “parlor gardens” for their homes.

Naturally, women had gardened before the nineteenth century, but earlier gardens, at least of the kitchen variety, were generally planted for culinary or medicinal purposes. Flower gardens existed, certainly, but tended to be presented within a larger landscape that was most often designed by men. Female participation in gardening was a more recent phenomenon, promoted assiduously by landscape designers like Andrew Jackson Downing, authors such as Englishwoman Jane Loudon, taste-setters such as Sarah Josepha Hale, and commercial gardeners like Breck. All were guided by “the nineteenth century urge for the beautification of the American home and its surroundings.”**

The Church, too, latched on to the fashion for flower gardening. As Godey’s Lady’s Book counseled, women needed to “[s]tudy the flowers and behold the wisdom, the goodness and mercy of the Almighty.” *** According to a diary kept by Oliver Ames, Jr., Easton’s own Reverend William Chaffin, a few years later, drew an appreciative “analogy between the cultivation of the Garden and of the Spiritual nature.” Religion was to be found among the pinks and pansies.

 

* Catalogue for Joseph Breck & Sons, 1887

** Ann Leighton, American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century, 1987

*** Godey’s Lady’s Book, May 1851