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Monthly Archives: April 2010

I’ve been doing a lot of baking lately which has included experimenting with different butters. I can represent to you-all that the butter makes a difference. Irish butter, for example, results in a denser texture while our locally made butter produced a lighter, fluffier texture and a more delicate taste, too. It so happens I live in an area that’s fairly famous for the quality of its dairy products, so I’m lucky.  Butter that’s not from our local dairies or that is otherwise mass-produced tends to be pretty dull, I’m sorry to say. The Danish butter, Lur-Pak, which is available here is also a very good butter.

From the New Family Receipt Book, 1815.

237. Improved Method of making Butter.
If the dairy consist of three or four cows they should be milked in summer thrice a day; in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Each milking must be kept by itself, in flat wooden vessels, to cool in like manner ; and thus in succession for two or three days, according to the temperature of the air, the milk thickening, and thence is fit for churning, soonest in the warmest weather. The quantity of butter will be generally in the proportion of a pound (twenty-two ounces) for each ten pints, or five English gallons of milk. In winter the cows are to be milked only twice a day, and the milk is to be put into the churn warm from the cow, where it must stand a day or two longer than in summer before it becomes sufficiently thick; although to promote the coagulation, it is sometimes brought near the kitchen fire, particularly on the preceding night before it is churned; and in intense cold, it will be necessary to add a small quantity of boiling water. The operation of churning is performed with the plunge churn, from two or three hours, for thirty or forty pints of milk; and at the last stage of the process a little cold water thrown in has the effect of promoting the separation of the butter from the milk, and making it twice a day: and even before the cloth is taken off, the top and bottom are well rubbed every day.
N.B. The dairy-maid must not be disheartened if she does not succeed perfectly in her first attempt.

So, interesting things here. Number one, that poor dairy-maid! Churning butter twice a day for 2-3 hours each time? Talk about your upper arm strength. And my goodness but that’s 4-6 hours of work right there. I’m guessing that dairy-maid was responsible for more than churning butter. We ended up with organized labor for a reason, folks.
What’s with the 22 ounces in a pound? (There are 16 ounces today) And ten pints in 5 gallons of milk? (There are 8 pints in a gallon, so what quantities is he talking about if his ten pints equals 5 English gallons? By his calculations, that would be 2 pints to the English gallon)

A little Googling proved fascinating: English Wine Gallon. Today we don’t think about the consequences of accurate measures too much, because we have them. But in the day, England taxed wine, for example, by the gallon. There darn well better be an agreed upon definition of a gallon — which by the way, involves using pi since they needed the circumference and then the volume of a container plus the temperature of the room. And it turns out that the definition was a bit loosey-goosey. Merchants got a pit peeved to discover they’d been overpaying their tax.

And then I found This Page over at Wikipedia. Oh my God. This page is heaven for history geeks. There’s a FLOW CHART! A league is three miles, and that is information I have long wished to know.

All right, so I got a little off topic, kind of, but there’s a quite dramatic entry following the butter advice one, included below for your pleasure. One puzzle, though, is that this penultimate phrase of the first paragraph, they discover the secret, What the heck does that mean? Does anyone have a guess? Opine in the comments, please. I understand that he’s saying a slattern will not keep the wooden dishes clean enough, but grammatically how does discovering a secret work into that? The secret of good butter? The secret of life? What?

238. Dr. Anderson’s Method of keeping Milk and Butter
The pernicious method of keeping milk in leaden vessels, and salting butter in stone jars, begins to gain ground in this country, as well as elsewhere, from an idea of cleanliness. The fact is, it is just the reverse of cleanliness ; for in the hands of a careful person, nothing can be more cleanly than wooden dishes, but under the management of a slattern, they discover the secret, which stone dishes do not.

In return, these latter communicate to the butter and the milk, which has been kept in them, a poisonous quality, which inevitably proves destructive to the human constitution.  To the prevalence of this practice, I have no doubt (says the doctor) we must attribute the frequency of palsies, which begin to so much prevail in this kingdom ; for the well-known effect of the poison of lead is, bodily debility, palsy — death!

 Death by butter. Now that’s a turn of phrase.

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Happy Tuesday, everyone! If you have some online time on your hands today, come and visit me at the eHarlequin forums. I’ll be talking about the “Muses” all week this week (book 2 of the trilogy, To Deceive a Duke, will be on the shelves in May, and next Tuesday I’ll be here talking about it and giving a copy away!). And I found out that, due to a snafu, the ebook of Countess of Scandal will finally be out on April 30. Yay!

Now, last week I blogged about Handel’s Messiah and its big premier in Dublin. This week marks another anniversary for Handel–the date he was interred at Westminster Abbey in 1759. I have one great enjoyment in life that strangely enough I have found non-history geeks and non-history readers think is a bit odd. I enjoy wandering around old cemeteries. I like reading the epitaphs and imagining how the people lived, I like deciphering antique symbols, and I even like visiting the resting places of historic figures I admire. I guess I think that by some kind of osmosis I can communicate with them (though that has never happened, and would scare the bezeesus out of me if it did)! There is no better cemetery for a history buff than Westminster Abbey. It’s full of the great, near-great, famous, and people who just somehow had the pull to get themselves big tombs there when they died but no one knows them now. There are royals galore, scientists, artists of all sorts, politicans, all sorts.

On the Splendors of the Regency tour Diane and I went on a few years ago, we got to go to the Abbey (not as part of the tour, just as something to keep us busy when we first got there). Despite a torrential rainstorm as we tried to leave and my jet-lagged daze, it was an amazing experience just to wander around and find people I “knew” as well as look at the sites I remembered from royal wedding and coronation videos. I stood on top of the marker where Cromwell once was (before Charles II dug him up and hanged him), and cried at the elaborate tomb of Elizabeth I. Here are just a few of the luminaries you can see there:

Samuel Johnson, d. 1784 (who happens to be right next to Ben Jonson, d. 1637, and actor David Garrick, d. 1779)

Henry Purcell (d. 1695) and his wife Francisca

Poets’ Corner, where you can find everyone from Chaucer to Olivier, and memorials to many who are buried elsewhere like Shakespeare and Eliot (it’s quite crowded there)

Explorer David Livingstone (d. 1873)

Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York (in, appropriately, the Henry VII Chapel)

Also in the Henry VII Chapel, his granddaughter Elizabeth I (and Mary I, too, but only Elizabeth gets an effigy)

Eleanor of Castile, d. 1290 (I just think this effigy is so beautiful)

Edward the Confessor, d. 1066

Charles Darwin, d. 1882

Anne of Cleves, the only wife of Henry VIII to be buried at Westminster (d. 1557)

Frances Brandon Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, mother of the unfortunate Jane Grey (her youngest daughter Mary is buried with her)

Playwright Aphra Behn (d. 1689). Proof that wit can never be defense against mortality.

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII

She is right next to her great-granddaughter Mary, Queen of Scots, who has one of the biggest tombs in the place (put up by her son when he became James I)

And Elizabeth, Duchess of Northumberland, a famous hostess of her day who died in 1776–I think it’s so gorgeous!

This is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg to the sites found in the Abbey. Have you been there? What are some of your favorites? And if you share my historical hobby, what are some great historical cemeteries you’ve visited?

One of my bestest writing friends, Melissa James, who hails from Australia but is now living in Switzerland, came to visit me and attend the Washington (DC) Romance Writers Spring Reteat. Melissa writes for Harlequin Romance and can pack emotion in her writing better than anyone I know. We’ve been great online friends and, once in a while, I’m lucky enough to see Melissa in person.

She arrived a couple of days before the Retreat, so we took advantage of beautiful weather and went to tour the Hillwood Museum. The museum is actually the house that Majorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, built in DC as a place she could display her huge collection of art.

I’ve visited Hillwood several times and it always reminds me of an English country house, especially one built in the 1700s. In truth, it was built in modern times and inside there is art from all time periods, but, to me, it feels like a country house.

Here is the dining room:

And the drawing room.

Post’s bedroom is a replica of a Robert Adam room, but they didn’t have a postcard showing it (my inside photos are photos of postcards I purchased, because they didn’t allow photography inside the house).

Marjorie Merriweather Post had marvelous collections of porcelain, among so many things, like pre-communist Russian religious vestments and icons.

And 18th century art, like this painting, L’Enfant Cheri by Marguerite Gerard.

Outside the house are beautifully kept gardens, in glorious bloom on this lovely spring day.

I never tire of visiting this place.

What about you? Do you have a favorite historic house or museum you could visit over and over again?

Wednesday on Diane’s Blog, I’ll tell you about Melissa’s and my experiences at the WRW Retreat. My prize for that day will be a signed copy of The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor, which, of course, has Amanda’s and Deb Marlowe’s RITA finalist novellas…and my novella, too.
Blogging at

Today we welcome debut author Emery Lee. Emery’s The Highest Stakes is set earlier than the Regency, in the 18th century racing world. I first “met” Emery when she sent a frantic email asking for advice. An editor had made an offer for the very first book she wrote. I’m not sure if my advice is responsible, but that book is here!

Read what some reviewers say:

The Highest Stakes is a rich and rewarding read, with the history of
the times neatly sewn in. The real meat of the book, though, is its
relationships: not only between Charlotte and Robert, but between
Robert and Phillip Drake, and a handful of lesser players. Emery Lee
lays it out cleverly, sometimes humorously, with period sensibility
and restrained sensuality–A Historical Novel Review

Emery will give away a signed copy of The Highest Stakes to one lucky, randomly-chosen commenter.

Welcome to the Riskies, Emery! The Highest Stakes is your debut novel! Tell us about it.
The Highest Stakes is a tale of drama, danger, thwarted love, and retribution set in the high stakes gentleman’s world of 18th century horseracing, when racing and breeding were the obsession of the uppermost elite, and a match race might replace a duel in settling a point of honor.

Charlotte Wallace leads a cold and lonely existence a sympathetic stable groom takes her under his wing and teaches her everything about horses and horseracing. Robert Devington’s singular desire is to claim the girl he has loved since he first spied her riding hell-for-leather over the Doncaster heath, but these star-crossed lovers are destined to be thwarted at every turn. Determined to have Charlotte at any cost, Robert risks everything in a wager …for love.

Throughout this story the history of the English Thoroughbred is also told, from its creation by mares imported as part of a queen’s dowry, to the breed’s perfection through the progeny of the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Barb. From Doncaster’s Cantley Common to Newmarket’s Rowley Mile, and across the Atlantic to the American Colonies, the English blood horse emerges from the stables of the powerful elite to dominate the turf.

We love debut authors! Tell us about “The Call” when you found out someone wanted to publish your book.
Shockingly, The Highest Stakes is the first and only novel I have ever written, and it was begun at the tender age of forty-three! I wrote the novel during an extremely turbulent year that included the accidental deaths of four beloved animals, my father succumbing to lung cancer, and the loss of my job. Although the details are now hazy, I may have been in the process of sticking my head in the gas oven when “the call” came!

Seriously, “the call” came at a very pivotal moment in my life. I had finished The Highest Stakes with the intention of entering a major writing contest. I mailed off my manuscript with a kiss and a prayer that somehow my masterwork might fall into an admiring editor’s hands. Being a somewhat obsessive/compulsive woman of action, however, I couldn’t just sit and wait. I began firing off query letters to literary agents left and right, with rejections following on every last one of them. I then discovered two publishers who still accept unagented queries and decided to give it a go.

Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks replied with a request for the full manuscript, and called a couple of weeks later with an offer. I was thrilled…dumbstruck… and mostly terrified. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing, and needed someone experienced to guide me. I frantically emailed a group of author bloggers asking for help. One kind soul referred me to my present agent Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary. The rest, as they say, is history.

What inspired you to write about horseracing and horses?
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, and like most young girls, always dreamed of
owning my own. This dream came true at age thirteen, when I managed to save five hundred dollars and secure a steady baby-sitting job that paid just enough to cover the cost of board.

Since then, I have owned about thirteen different horses of various breeds. I have shown, trained my own mounts, and taught all of my family members to ride. These days my schedule only allows for pleasure riding, and I own two geldings, a gorgeous grey Arabian, and a palomino Quarter horse.

I have always heard that one should write what one knows. I also believe one should write about one’s passion. I know horses and they are one of my passions.

Did you come across anything in your research that surprised you?
Absolutely! I am such a geek that I have spent a great deal of my life researching things just for the fun of it – simply because something piqued my interest.

I admire horses, and have owned several different breeds. I am, however, most partial to the Arabian for his gentleness, beauty, and perhaps in part, to his ancient lineage. A long time ago, I learned that the thoroughbred racehorse actually descended from the Arabian. I was curious to learn more and began digging.

It was fascinating to learn that the Thoroughbred was created specifically for racing in 18th century England. Another little-known fact is that nearly all of the Thoroughbreds in existence can still trace their blood lines back to three specific Eastern bred stallions. This is how the premise of the novel came about.

Here at Risky Regencies we’re all about risky. What is risky about The Highest Stakes?
Although The Highest Stakes is unquestionably a love story, it is not at all in the traditional mode.

Although I am an unapologetic romantic who devours historical romance novels by the bucket load, I just knew that traditional romance was not my writing style. I have always been most drawn to stories with a darker side, heavily empathizing with the “tortured” characters in some my favorite novels – Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. I also believe these kinds of characters work best with a foil. In my world, Robert Devington could not exist without Philip Drake.

My other “risks” were to attempt what I felt was a grand-scale love story with not one, but several antagonists, whose Machiavellian moves against Robert and Charlotte would tug on the readers’ heartstrings. Lastly, I wanted to tap into the excitement and adventure of horseracing.

Although these elements are seemingly at odds, I hope my readers will find it a winning combination.

What’s next for you?
Professionally speaking –
Although The Highest Stakes is already a big read, I can’t help feeling the story is still only half told! I am very pleased to say that Sourcebooks recently concurred with me, and the second novel is well under way. Fortune’s Son (Philip Drake’s story), should be released late 2011.

On a more personal note –
I am celebrating the publication of my first novel by realizing a lifelong ambition – to attend The Kentucky Derby. I’ll see y’all soon at Churchill Downs!

Are you ready for a good horse story? Did you devour horse books as a child? Ask Emery questions or make a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of The Highest Stakes.

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