Page edits done

Page edits for Devils Cold Dish are complete.

Page edits are the final time I see the manuscript before it is published. Hard as it is to believe, I still find little corrections that need to be done.

Digression warning: I watch HGTV obsessively. My favorite is Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. I love her design work. But I watch them all. Love it or List it because I think David is the King of Snark. (It is annoying that the majority of people choose to love it though). Property Brothers and Flip or Flop.

Tarik always ends each show with the phrase: “Time to find another house to flip.”

So, to paraphrase, time to start another book.

January thaw

I know climate change is not good and will have many problematic consequences for us in the future. With that said, I am loving this winter. we had barely two inches of snow from Jonas and yesterday we went walking at the Rockefeller Preserve. Last year I left the house to go to work, the gym and to shovel. I couldn’t plant my peas until April; this year I am hoping I can get them in in March.

Yesterday we walked. OK, the footing wasn’t great; a combination of mud and packed snow. But still.

january thaw

Hired Help: the Shaker challenge

Farming is hard work even now with all the modern equipment we use. (Both good and bad don’t you think, but clearly a topic for another time.)   In the 1790s farming was even harder. It remains and was certainly even more so then a very people intensive profession. Lots of help was required, and that is true even now. So hired help was a common feature of early America. Sons and daughters hired themselves out to the neighbors until they had homes and farms of their own. Younger sons, who often never obtained a farm of their own – the older sons inherited – frequently hired on to other farms.  Unattached males traveled from farm to farm exactly as migrant labor does now. This is a long standing practice, continuing right up to modern times. Think of Lennie and George in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and the current use of migrant labor. Farms really couldn’t function without this kind of a labor pool.

As usual, I digress.

So Rees and Lydia would have employed help, both inside the farmhouse and outside in the fields. think of Abigail and the boys David took on to help him brng in the harvest.

Even the Shakers employed hired help, primarily men. During the nineteenth century the number of hired men increased as the flow of male converts decreased. (The Shakers always attracted more women than men for a variety of reasons.) The use of hired men within the Shaker community created a number of consequences. Since the men were ‘too much of the World’, they slept in a separate building and were required to eat alone. I would guess that there were still unexpected and forbidden attractions between Sisters and the men. Human biology is very hard to resist and one of the primary sources I read discussed the problems of keeping the boys and girls adopted into the community separate. The attraction the adolescents felt to one another and their efforts to attract attention was a great trial to the Shaker caretakers.

But some of the problems were cultural, if you will. After the Believers had become teetotalers, the Families in Canterbury (New Hampshire), were much exercised over whether to brew beer for the hired men. The community worried that by brewing beer they were risking not only their ideals but also the consequence of drunken men living in the heart of the village. (Described in “The Shakers, Neither Plain nor Simple”. Even though Sisters took on ‘male’ tasks, men were still required.

Shakers and alcohol

With a group, particularly a religious group, that has had such a long history, I think there is a tendency to see them as they are and extrapolate backwards. Attitudes toward drinking alcohol have changed so dramatically in the intervening few centuries that that approach is impossible.

Rees’s period, the Federalist period in American History, was a hard drinking age. Ale was used almost like water and was consumed by women and children as well as by men. Cider, which was usually hard cider (it could hardly be anything else without refrigeration) was a common breakfast drink. Many of our founding fathers took a glass of cider first thing in the morning in the same manner we drink our orange juice. Rum was used as part of sailors’ wages. (Rum is made from molasses, a byproduct in the refining of sugar. The more molasses in the sugar, the browner. Sugar has a dark history. Planting and harvesting the cane required more slaves. Cane exhausts the soil so more land was needed. And of course we are all familiar with the health risks of sugar. But I digress.) In any event, rum was the drink of the Colonies. After the Whiskey Rebellion of 1793, whiskey became more popular, more American if you will, just like coffee did in comparison to tea.

The Shakers brewed cider and like the society around them drank ‘spirits’. It was the custom for every Brother and Sister who wished to take a glass in the morning before breakfast and then through out the day. For dinner the Brothers were permitted two gills and the Sisters two thirds of a gill. (Does anyone but me wonder about the livers of all those drinkers?)

But with the Millennial Laws, especially from 1845 (and the rise of the temperance movement) the drinking of spirits (along with coffee and tea – that would have killed me) was forbidden. No cider was made and no liquor was brewed. One of the primary sources I read discussed the struggle among the Family about brewing beer for the hired men.  (More about hired men in another post.)

Eventually spirits had to be offered medicinally from the Doctor and then were banned all together. Like other cultural changes, however, this prohibition changed again and later on the Shakers both made and consumed wine with meals.

So the Shakers, like the World around them, changed as prevailing attitudes changed.

Shakers and Pets

Although the simple life is certainly a draw in this hectic over-scheduled modern life, I would find living as a Shaker difficult, if not impossible. For one thing, I am not obedient. But also the shakers do not have pets.

The Milennial Laws of 1821 and then again in 1845 laid out rules governing every aspect of Shaker lives. They were not allowed pets, primarily because their focus was supposed to be upon God.

For me, this is a deal breaker. I have had a dog since I was ten, with only a few years here and there without. Plus a few cats scattered among the dogs.


Shelby is my current dog, although she actually, emotionally, belongs to my husband. I wanted a dog for my birthday. When we went to the rescue, she raced to him. Once she’d chosen him, we couldn’t leave her behind. So, I got a dog for my husband for my birthday.

But I digress. Sandy was my previous dog. She looked similar to Shelby – a little lighter in color. Sandy was my best friend. She went everywhere with me. Although a medium dog (65 pounds) she lived to be 17 1/2. The vet was astonished she lived so long. by then she was blind, deaf, and had hip displasia. I was so heart broken I did not get another dog for a few years.

So, having a dog is one thing I could not surrender.






cooking language from 1797

Cooking in 1797 was a much different affair than it became even a few years later. Benjamin Franklin had invented a stove but it was not yet commonly used, for cooking especially, so much cooking took place over an open fire. In a previous post I discussed leavening. Up to this point, yeast or beating to incorporate air were the methods to achieve lightness in baked goods. But sometimes in the 1790s an American cook discovered chemical leavening, i.e. pearlash. we now use baking powder, a combination of an acid (cream of tarter) and baking soda (a base) to make carbon dioxide and raise the dough. Failing baking powder, which had not been invented yet, cooks used buttermilk for the lactic acid.

But I digress. Besides the new foods with their own (usually American Indian names such as squash), some of the names for tools and methods are not familiar today.   I’ve already mentioned Hannah Hill, the name for sea bass. And pearlash. What is that? Also called potash, it is potassium carbonate (lye) and is the result of soaking wood ashes in water. It is bitter beyond belief!

Other terms:

amber gun, probably ambergris, from the sperm whale. It is now used in perfumery but once was used as a cooking ingredient.

Bladder and leather – the items used to tie over jars of jelly. (Give me paraffin wax any day!)

calavance – an early variety of bean

calapash – the part of the turtle adjoining the upper shell

emptins – semi prepared liquid yeast.

gallipot – a small earthen pot

jump in the pan – a characteristic action of eels when cooked in a pan.

What it tells me is how difficult  time travel would be, even a few hundred years in the past. Not just the clothing is different but even simple homey actions like cooking.