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Monday, July 20, 2009

Lavender...the stuff of romance

I think one of the most wonderful scents is lavender, and I use it often as the scent of my heroines’ hair because it smells divine and it was commonly used in Regency England.

According to The Naturalist's Diary, lavender is in blossoms in July.

English Lavender, or Lavandula Angustifolia, contains essential oils with sweet overtones, frequently used in perfumes, a final hair rinse, balms, salves, and cosmetics. It was and still is often used in sachets for bedding and clothing.

Because of its soothing scent, it was a favorite of European royalty. Charles VI of France reportedly required lavender-filled pillows wherever he visited, and Queen Elizabeth I of England required lavender conserve at the royal table and bunches of lavender in her rooms.

Lavender has a reputation of being a miracle plant, used to treat just about everything; insomnia, dizziness, nerves, stomach problems, poor vision, infections, convulsions, viper's bites, swooning fits, and palsy. It’s also an insect repellent for fleas, flies, and midges.

So not only is it a lovely scent, it’s practical, too. And what Regency hero wouldn’t want his lady to be insect-free?!

Here’s a home recipe from the Regency era:

Put two pounds of lavender pips into two quarts of water, put them into a cold still, and make a slow fire under it; distil it off very slowly, and put it into a pot till you have distilled all your water; then clean your still well out, put your lavender water into it, and distil it off slowly again; put it into bottles and cork it well.

Lavender is also the stuff of songs of course and one we all know. Lavenders Blue Dilly Dilly......

It emerged as a children's song in Songs for the Nursery in 1805:

Lavender blue and Rosemary green,
When I am king you shall be queen;
Call up my maids at four o'clock,
Some to the wheel and some to the rock;
Some to make hay and some to shear corn,
And you and I will keep the bed warm.

Similar versions appeared in collections of rhymes throughout the nineteenth century.

But the earliest version I found is in a broadside printed in England between 1672 and 1685, under the name Diddle Diddle, Or The Kind Country Lovers. It is quite different that the one I grew up singing. The first of ten verses are as follows:

Lavenders green, Diddle, diddle,
Lavenders blue
You must love me, diddle, diddle,
cause I love you,
I heard one say, diddle, diddle,
since I came hither,
That you and I, diddle, diddle,
must lie together.

The scent invokes visions of romance, contentment and peace. No wonder people wax poetic when they smell it!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

14th century Clothing

The fourteenth century was a period of change and experimentation in the fashion world, as evidenced by extant paintings. Men began to wear tightly fitted clothing, sometimes so short as to be immodest, while other more conservative men kept to the long gowns and robes. Hats, like the chaperon on the right, took on more importance.

Wool was the most common fabric, because it could take dye, and served as a good insulator in a time when the only window covering was often a wooden shutter.
Fabrics could be printed now, most commonly by woodblocks. Other decorative fabrics were embroidered wool, and gold and silk threads, only obtainable by the rich.
Edward III established an embroidery workshop in the Tower of London, to provide suitable garments for the royal couple.
Linen was commonly worn next to the skin, and cotton was used for padding and quilting. Silk was most desired, and most expensive.
During the middle part of the 14th c. people began to wear parti-colored clothes (see right), even two different colored hose, especially at the English court.
Belts crept lower and lower, and by the end of the century, were worn low on the hips, as they are now. So you see it’s true; if you wear a style long enough, it will come back into fashion!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Regency Chocolate

What was candy, and more specifically, chocolate, like in Regency England? They had quite a variety, actually. These were not the chocolate drops such as we can buy today and were not like a box of Russell Stover chocolates. But there WERE candies. In Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to1789, culinary historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton cites a respected 1750 cookbook that specialized in desserts:

"There are also some chocolate candies: the still familiar diablotins -- flat disks of bitter chocolate, thickly sprinkled with nonpareils, chocolate "olives" (which we call chocolate truffles), and a conserve of chocolate, which turns out to be very like fudge."

There were also ices, ice creams, and custards flavored with chocolate, though of course Wheaton adds that (as we all know), "dipped chocolates... were not invented until the nineteenth century."

Unfortunately, there aren't any chocolate recipes included in the two dozen or so Wheaton reprints. Although this is a book about France and not England, many French chefs employed by aristocrats decamped for England after the revolution, so it makes sense to use it as a resource for writing Regency Romance Novels.

"In 1657 the first chocolate house was opened in London by a Frenchman. The shop was called the The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll. Costing 10 to 15 shillings per pound, chocolate was considered a beverage for the elite class. 1674 - Eating solid chocolate was introduced in the form of chocolate rolls and cakes, served in chocolate emporiums. (So what we refer to as candies, although they did not refer to them as such, but rather "rolls" from my understanding)
1730 - Cocoa beans drop in price making it within the financial reach of those other than the very wealthy."

It was a known fact that the French were always savvy in their cooking and invited into British society way before the French Revolution. As an example with our chocolate discussion, in 1657 (way before the revolution) the first chocolate house was opened in London by a Frenchman. The Brits were reputedly horrible cooks and even today, most culinary schools are extentions from French culinary cuisine. When the Brits did roasts during medieval times, the French already had fine cuisine. The French like to think they were born with it.

I have read about the chocolate houses which preceded the coffee and tea houses and know that many had the habit of drinking chocolate. In fact, many authors say quite definitely that up to the through the Regency period, chocolate was a drink and that it was not much used in cooking and not eaten by hand. However, I have also discovered that since we have more access to more records and period papers, many old "facts" have been exploded. I think a large part the information about chocolate is not so much exploded as in need of a footnote. I have only tasted modern block baking chocolate and not 18th century chocolate but I don't imagine plain chocolate was any sweeter then than now.

Perhapse England's damper and colder climate affected the candy.

When one considers all that had to be done to the chocolate and the sugar it is a wonder they made any chocolate anything.

We are still discovering their food habits as documents, diaries and so forth are still being discovered. As far as chocolate not being sweetened since its induction, the Spanish started adding cane sugar and flavorings such as vanilla and spices to cocoa beverages which caught on across Europe at the very beginning of the 1600's. So they realized the potential of chocolate with sweet. And I'm certain people experimented on their own, which of course unless it was recorded no one would know about. The problem with a lot of recipes back then is that most of them had ingredients but lacked amounts, as it was assumed how much was needed/used. Which makes it difficult to replicate, obviously.

Chocolate had to be sweetened and they did find ways to sweeten it,( honey is eons old, after all,) even though supposedly it was more bitter than we would like. Sugar was also sold in bulk and was not as refined as it is today. Chocolate we know had to await further refinements of sugar and chocolate as well as stabilizers or emulsifiers or something and that this later development is the time from which most historians date eating chocolate. I like my chocolate pretty sweet. There are those that prefer it very dark and hardly sweet at all.

I would think drinking chocolate would be similar to drinking coffee. Some people prefer black coffee; others like theirs fairly sweet with cream. It always amazes me that anyone would like coffee without sweetener, but they do, and even say they could not drink it any other way. Maybe the caffeine in chocolate gave a rush people craved just as they do from coffee.

Without a doubt chocolate is indeed an art. Refined sugar is key, cocoa butter (the emulsifier we used, anyway) is key and temperature is key. Too cold, it screws you up, too warm, it screw you up. The temperature of your own fingers and body affected rolling, molding and shaping. Trial and error is what you use now, so back then, even more so.

So the next time you enjoy fine chocolate, spare a thought for the science, and art, that goes into its creation.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Deciphering the Symbols on Coats of Arms

A Brief History of Heraldry

Heraldry has been defined as the art of blazoning, assigning, and marshalling a coat of arms. Its origins are uncertain, but Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, has drawn his own conclusion: “[T]he registry of its birth may be found among the archives of the Holy Wars, ...its cradle was rocked by the soldiers of the Cross, and... its maturity was attained in the chivalrous age of Feudalism.”

Between 1135 and 1155 A.D., seals show the general adoption of heraldic devices in Europe. Historians once theorized that a coat of arms enabled a knight to be recognized by his followers during battle. The coat of arms became hereditary just as a knight inherited the right to lead or the duty to follow another leader in battle.

Later historians dispute this theory based on the small numbers of knights who had any followers. "The service due from a military tenant in the feudal system was well-defined. He held his land by service of two knights, one knight, or half a knight,.... A single knight, let alone a fraction of a knight, had no band of followers, so he had no need to identify himself to them." [Source: The Oxford Guide to Heraldry by Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson (Oxford University Press, 1988)] Woodcock and Robinson suggest that it was much more likely that the depiction of arms on a shield was a form of "individual vanity" rather than a practical military device.

One historian (Beryl Platts, author of Origins of Heraldry) notes that "family identification" was practiced in northern Europe even before the Norman Conquest, and she believes that all heraldry in England is the derivation of the heraldic devices brought by the families who accompanied William the Conqueror.

The oldest documented example of a coat of arms borne on a shield is where King Henry I of England is said to have bestowed on his son-in-law, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, in 1127 A.D.: the azure shield bore four gold lions rampant. [Source: The Oxford Guide to Heraldry by Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson.]

Regardless of their origins, coats of arms became military status symbols, and their popularity increased along with the popularity of the tournament, which was developed in the mid-eleventh century in France (reportedly by Godfrey de Preuilly). The tournament became a training ground for knights, and its pageantry became more elaborate as time passed. Some knights made their living (and their reputations) roaming from tournament to tournament. William the Marshal and Roger de Gaugi were two such enterprising men, not only excelling at tournaments but extorting ransoms from the families of knights they captured.

By 1400 A.D., bearing a coat of arms had become a prerequisite to participation in a tournament, and due to the importance of social standing in such pageants, a coat of arms also became a mark of noble status. In the early days, most coats of arms were assumed by the bearers and not "granted" by any authority. King Richard I changed his coat of arms from two lions combatant (or a lion rampant) to three gold leopards (or lions passant guardant).
The earliest coats of arms were fairly simple -- bars or wavy lines, a lion rampant or an eagle displayed, or an arrangement of fleurs-de-lis. The designs became more complex as the years passed, and the practice of quartering (incorporating the arms of other families acquired through marriages) developed.

The word “Heraldry” is derived from the German “heer” -- a host, an army -- and “held” -- a champion. The term “blason,” by which the science of heraldry is denoted in French, English, Italian, and German, is probably derived from the German word “blazen” -- to blow the horn. Whenever a new Knight appeared at a Tournament, the herald sounded the trumpet, and as the competitors attended with closed visors, it was his duty to explain the bearing of the shield or coat-armour belonging to each. This knowledge of the various devices and symbols was called Heraldry, and as the announcement was accompanied with the sound of a trumpet, it was termed “blazoning the arms.” Source: Burke, Bernard, The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales (Heritage Books, Inc., 1996).
A Brief Explanation of the Blazon of Arms
As depicted below, a "coat of arms" consists of several parts: the shield, the mantling, the helm, the wreath, charges, and the crest (note that not all arms have crests). The official, written description of the coat of arms is called the "blazon of arms." The designs in our database are made precisely in accordance with the registered description ("the blazon of arms"). The blazon may seem like a foreign language, but it is simply a system of code words to denote colors, placement, and styling by using an economy of words.

Much of the printed design for a given coat of arms is more the artist's preference or the style of a particular herald, and not a part of any particular blazon. The mantling and the banners for names and mottoes, for example, are not an official element of the blazon of arms. The helm, likewise, is not a part of the official blazon. Some historians attach a significance to the design of the helm or helmet as representative of a certain century or social status, but there are differences of opinion on this matter.

The blazon of arms for this coat of arms would be as follows:

Arms: "Argent, a saltire azure, cantoned with four markings of ermine sable." (Silver or white shield with a blue saltire or 'X' and in four-equidistant places the marking of the ermine 'fur' in black.)

Crest: "A lion's head erased azure langued gules." (A lion's head cut off at the neck with a flourish, in blue with a red tongue.)

Elements of a Coat of Arms :

Shield: The colors and charges (lions, designs, etc. that appear on the shield) are a part of the official blazon, but the shape of the shield is not. Shield shapes vary according to the geographical origin as well as the time period.

Crest: Also a part of the official blazon, the crest is whatever appears above the helm. (Note that there is not always a crest for every coat of arms.)
Helm: Not a part of the official blazon, the helmet varies with the bearer's rank, the century represented, or the herald's or artist's preference.
Wreath: Not a part of the official blazon, the wreath usually consists of the primary color and metal.

Mantle/Mantling: Not a part of the official blazon (except that sometimes the colors are specified), the design varies with the herald's or artist's preference. This is said to represent the cloth that hung from the wreath and protected the back of the head and neck, even though it may often be depicted more like the leaves of a plant.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

With the 4th of July coming up, I thought my readers may want to get a glimpse of 4th of July celebrations past. In browsing the internet, I ran across this picture taken in Ashville, Ohio. These men participated in a wrestling match during the town's 4th of July celebration.

Below is an excerpt from a letter written July 5th by John Adams to his daughter, Abigail, describing what he saw the very first 4th of July.

"I went on board the Delaware, with the President and several gentlemen of the Marine Committee, soon after which we were saluted with a discharge of thirteen guns, which was followed by thirteen others, from each other armed vessel in the river; then the gallies followed the fire, and after them the guard boats. Then the President and company returned in the barge to the shore, and were saluted with three cheers, from every ship, galley, and boat in the river. The wharves and shores, were lined with a vast concourse of people, all shouting and huzzaing, in a manner which gave great joy to every friend to this country, and the utmost terror and dismay to every lurking tory. At three we went to dinner, and were very agreeably entertained with excellent company, good cheer, fine music from the band of Hessians taken at Trenton, and continual vollies between every toast, from a company of soldiers drawn up in Second-street before the city tavern, where we dined. The toasts were in honour of our country, and the heroes who have fallen in their pious efforts to defend her. After this, two troops of light-horse, raised in Maryland, accidentally here in their way to camp, were paraded through Second-street, after them a train of artillery, and then about a thousand infantry, now in this city on their march to camp, from North Carolina. All these marched into the common, where they went through their firings and manoeuvres; but I did not follow them. In the evening, I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise, and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows. I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw; a few surly houses were dark; but the lights were very universal. Considering the lateness of the design and the suddenness of the execution, I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendour of every part of this joyful exhibition. I had forgot the ringing of bells all day and evening, and the bonfires in the streets, and the fireworks played off. "

Hope all of you have a safe and happy 4th!