Jane Austen

Housewifery skills at Riversdale

Last Saturday I attended an event at Riversdale House Museum, Maryland, where historians taught us the skills of the Georgian-Federal era housekeeper. Kate Dolan, who was our guest last Thursday, was also there–here she is with an apron full of herbs.

The house boasts a beautiful garden where herbs, flowers, and vegetables are grown, often sharing the same space, and most of my pics were of the garden. If you’d like to see some really good photos of the costumed participants, go here.

After a short presentation on herbs we gathered them to make our own herb vinegars in the kitchen of the dependency (behind Kate)–it’s a mid nineteenth century building outside the house which is now used for open hearth cooking demonstrations.

We had a delicious lunch we prepared that featured produce from the garden, using some American eighteenth century recipes and a couple from Mrs. Beeton. Joyce White, the Foodways expert on staff at Riversdale, emphasized the importance of setting the table correctly and making sure that each dish (served a la francaise) was beautiful in appearance, garnished with flowers, herbs, and asparagus fronds from the garden.

Here are some pics of the garden. The right one shows the house and the monster asparagus plants on the right.

In addition we experimented with authentic cleaning substances and techniques for brass and mahogany–guess what, they worked!

We were very lucky to have Katy Cannon, an expert in historical cosmetics giving a demonstration. Check out her website at AgelessArtifice.com. She burned some pastills for us, which were thought to perfume the air and therefore prevent infections, and we learned that our ancestors enjoyed making pastills embedded with gunpowder for innocent fun in the parlor. I bought some of her products, and here is my loot from the event:

From left to right:
A Ball to take out Stains (and it does. In use. It’s soap, lemon, and alum.)
Bags for preffe or clothes, that no Moth may breed therein. Snappy name! From a 1653 recipe, juniper wood, cloves, rosemary, wormwood. It smells delicious!
My very own rosemary and thyme vinegar.
In front, it looks like jam but it’s mahogany polish.

Tell us if you’ve tried any historic recipes or cleaning methods. Did they work?

Also if you’re in the greater Washington DC area, please come to Riversdale’s Battle of Bladensburg Encampment on August 13. It’s free, with house tours, kids’ activities, food, music, uniformed historical reenactors, and loud explosions. More details here.

And in the Blatant Self Promotion department, here are two places where you can comment to enter a contest for a copy of my erotic contemporary TELL ME MORE: Snap, Crackle, and Popping Blog and Write About.

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Isobel Carr
11 years ago

I’m so jealous about the historic cosmetics lesson! Thanks for the link to her site. I’ve done a lot of historic cooking and I always have a good time with it. I’ve also done some historic cleaning, and almost everything has turned out to work quite well (and most of it is very “green”).

11 years ago

I’m so envious!! I love this stuff, because it does work. Lavender is my all-time favorites. I’m chemical sensitive, but have found that the historic recipes are tolerable and work well. I wish I could have been there. Thanks for the link, and for sharing!

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

Hi Isobel–I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying your historic cooking.

Judy, we had a discussion about lavender and apparently the culinary lavender is organically grown, which I didn’t know. It’s not a different species. So if you grow your own you can eat it.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Every time you post about this house, Janet, I think I have to visit there the next time I’m in DC! Thanks for the link–I had so much fun on her site

Jane George
11 years ago

Love the anti-moth recipe. What a fabulous day you had.

11 years ago

What a wonderful day you had! I especially love the herb garden, and the part where you made your own lunch. Too cool! And do share a recipe or two of the cleaning remedies sometime, won’t you? I’m a regular Monica Gellar when it comes to that kind of stuff. 😉

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

Alyssia and Amanda, you must come visit me and Riversdale!

11 years ago

I wish we lived closer. We get up that way every once in a while, but this August will not be one of them. I wish I had known about this place when we lived in the DC area 20 years ago. Of course, the kids were younger and with the cost of living, we didn’t get out much unless it was free.
I have lavender in my garden and use it for sachets. Our town has had a lavender festival the past couple of years. You can get home made soaps among other things. They also have lavender wine. Our grandchildren have little lavender pillows they keep on their beds and take with them when sleeping elsewhere. It is calming and must give them a felling of security.
I have tried old recipes for both cooking and cleaning. Most have worked pretty well. Vinegar show up often in cleaning recipes and works well.
If you have had a cat or dog go on something, you know how hard it is to get the smell out. Add white vinegar to the wash water. It does a good job of deodorizing. Of course baking soda (saleratus) has been around for a while and is most handy for many cleaning chores.

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