Monday, October 9, 2017

Gold! Well, maybe not.

Recently myself and a couple other friends embarked on creating a simple gold prospecting camp in northern Michigan.  While highly unlikely it is not impossible to find gold in Michigan.  However, the shiny, heavy metal had really little to do with it all.
Camp on Friday evening. Photo by J. Bevard
Research was done to pick a “location” and “time” in history.  British Columbia was picked as there was a gold rush not long after the American Civil War.  A mining company called the Sheephead Mining Company was picked as who hired us.  The friend really leading this did a lot of research and recreated paperwork for the company.  This included items like our mining rights, pay receipts, and more.  Saturday after supper we were even paid for a week of our efforts.  Some of our equipment was marked as made by Kwong Lee & Co., which he found was a supplier of import goods in that area.  A wonderful touch!
Found by Robert Cook

One of the items purchased from Kwong Lee & Company. Photo by J. Bevard
I took on the primary role of  camp cook.  I wanted to stick with items that we could have had access to by purchasing from a store before pushing forward to our claim.  Friday’s supper consisted of salt pork, desiccated vegetables, and dumplings made into a soup.  The morning meal was bacon and fry biscuits made from Patent Flour (more on that in a later post) and coffee, instead of water, along with some canned peaches.   Down to the riverbank and into the water we went.  We dug, panned, and ran dirt through the sluice box.  The sluice box took some time to figure out a good technique that seemed to work.  After time panning and sluicing for gold we returned for a simple lunch of hominy, hardbread, and coffee.  Simple but filled the void to head back to the riverbank.  
One of our meal on the fire. Photo by J. Bevard
We had a system in place that seemed to be working.  We found various interesting geological items in the dirt we were panning but no gold.  A lot of fossils were found in the larger rocks.  These finds made me think about what this area must have looked like so long ago before these organisms shadows were embedded in rock.

The later afternoon we returned to our humble camp to dry out.  We knew some rain and possible storms were on the way.  We wanted to do what we could to dry out, eat, and clean up before it arrived.  We put together a simple drying rack for our socks and drove branches into the ground for boot drying racks.  Dinner was started after relaxing in the little sun we saw over two days.  The left over bacon grease in the skillet had a two potatoes and salt port added to start to fry.  A can of tomatoes with pepper was added to simmer.  As that reduced down and cooked the potato slices I started on a dessert.  Left over peaches was diced up with flour, patent flour, and little sugar mixed into dough.  This was rolled into balls and tossed into boiling water for a simple pudding.  The tomato dish turned out very well even if it was a bit salty!  The skillet was just about emptied out eating “family style” out of the pan to save on needing to clean dishes.  The puddings came out of the water with a can of condensed milk cracked open and drizzled on top. 
Setting sun on Friday evening. Photo by J. Bevard
The evening of nice weather came to a close with us sitting next to the river as the sun slipped behind the trees enjoying each other’s company.  We received our company pay and not long after the rain started to fall driving us into our shared quarters, a wall tent.   After the initial downpour we built up the fire and kept the tent doors open.  We passed sometime with a small bottle of whiskey going around through the evening.  Our pay was put into a pool for a chuck-a-luck game.  Matchsticks became betting chips with the last man standing with chips won the pot.  Being the dealer and a participant provide ample opportunity to bring the came into my favor but resisted the temptation.  That cost me most of my weeks pay!
View into our quarters. Photo by R. Huck
The rain continued through much of the evening and into the night.  At first we thought the night would never pass in that tent as it was still so early.  With good company, including a frog that found its way in, before we knew it the time was slipping past 10pm as we slipped under the blankets.

I was up early, before dawn, to get a fire going and coffee.  Once the fire was going and the coffee pot hanging over it the blankets called back to me.  With another hour of sleep achieved the sun was now just coming up.  I heard turkeys gobbling away not far away.  Tossing the covers aside, I caught a glimpse of the sunrise before pouring a warm cup of coffee and starting on breakfast.  This morning was a repeat of the previous mornings meal. 
Photo by J. Bevard
Once the meal was done it was time for modern reality to retake hold in our minds and actions.  Camp was broken down and packed away.  While gold was not found this time around we had a wonderful relaxing time back in history.  I look forward to the next time the Sheephead Mining Company needs some prospecting done!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Rich Ice Cream

At a small civilian living history this summer we gave making ice cream a shot.  It was so successful and tasty that I feel compelled to share it here.

It all really started with my fiancĂ©e and I getting a hand crank ice cream freezer as a wedding shower gift.  The manufacture claims that they have been making them since the early 1850’s.  Some quick research found that the first ice cream freezer or “artificial freezer” patent was in 1843 by Nancy M. Johnson. There is an image in the 1854 American Home Cook Book of another ice cream freezer.  With a little searching I can see that the models produced in recent times is a later concept in the details of the mechanics.  Each of these has differences in the inner workings with the basic concept being the same.  That being, put ingredients in one container that goes inside another, with the first being surround by ice and salt.  The contents are then stirred/paddled/scrapped and/or spun until frozen deliciousness is made.  Before the “artificial freezer” this basic concept was still done without any mechanics, just a wood spoon or something similar.

The next question was what type of ice cream to make!  Well, there is no shortage of recipes from period cookbooks on that topic.  We found ice cream directions in the Kentucky Housewife (1839), The American Home Cook Book (1854), The American Frugal Housewife (1833), and The Young Housekeeper’s Friend (1859).   Most involved some cooking such as warming the milk or working with eggs for custard.  We were prepared to do this until something came to mind, condensed milk.  The label for condensed milk from the New York Condensed Milk Co. has ice cream directions right on it.  These are very simple as you can see.  We did some online looking and decided to substitute water for milk.  Mixing 1 can of condensed milk with four cups of whole milk along with flavoring ingredients.  This would make it much easier to make the ice cream and would allow for much faster freezing since we would not be dealing with a warm mixture.  Huzzah for “modern” conveniences!  

The first flavor was an easy choice as there are multiple mature mulberry trees around the property.  Saturday late morning an expedition went out to fill a bowl with the ripe sweet purple staining berries.  Those were then washed, sorted and then smashed in some cheesecloth with a bit of sugar.  The can of condensed milk, three cups of milk, and one cup of cream was added to the freezer.  Yes, we changed the ingredients on the fly since we had cream and decided this would make a creamer and richer ice cream.  Then the sweetened mulberry juice was poured in and the crank turning began.  About 20-30 minutes later the purple ice cream was scooped into bowls as a success. 

Later in the day we choose to make one more batch since we the ingredients.  This time a receipt in The Young Housekeeper’s friend inspired us.  It read to take the juice of a dozen lemons and pour over enough sugar to absorb it and then add to three quarts of cream to make a “a rich ice-cream”.  We just about had the lemons squeezed when it hit me that it said “three quarts of cream”, that is a lot of cream!  In our heads I think we were thinking one quart.  We also realized how much lemon juice and sugar this was!  Here is why I say this inspired us!  We took the dozen lemons worth of juice and added enough sugar to make it a syrup texture.  Sorry, I didn’t measure and just poured it in till it tasted good to us.  We didn’t have that much cream so we did three cups of that with one cup of milk.  Put it all in the freezer to crank away.  The time came that it was a bright white frozen mass scooped into some bowls.  We all agreed this was one of the most refreshing ice creams we have ever had!  It was creamy, tart with some sweetness that instantly put a smile on our faces.  It turned out and is on the list to do again one day in the future!

While our ice cream freezer is not completely correct for the period we had a great time experimenting with this food in our history.  Without that compromise we would have missed out on some satisfying and guilt pleasure experimental archeology.  In that we adjusted things with what we had in ingredients compared to the receipts.  No doubt, in my mind, like they would have been doing as well.  This experience also taught us once again, like so many other things, that nothing was quick and easy back then.  Even making ice cream with then modern conveniences of an “artificial freezer” and condensed milk there would still be considerable time and labor invested.  This includes gathering the ingredients, preparing ingredients, breaking down an ice block, turning and freezing the mixture, and then the clean up.  In both of our cases it all seemed worth it!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

On to Richmond Event AAR

This past June, I attended the On To Richmond event as part of a progressive adjunct battalion.  With this post, I will touch on the event report and editorial descriptive used in this blogs synopsis.  The editorial portion coming from sharing both the positive and the not so much positive aspects of the event, like an event report should.  Not every event is the best ever and there are or should be learning opportunities from each.

With each event I attend my minimum hope is that I get to converse with and see friends, new and old.  I also hope to gain some new experiences or insights from an experimental archeology concept.  I deem this event a success on both of these aspects.  I have not included any photos with this post since I cannot stand seeing phones/cameras at something like this.  Plus, there were plenty of photos taken which can be found all over the internet to see. 

I was adjutant for Roscoe's 3rd PA Reserves adjunct and had a good time through Sunday morning.  Our camp on Friday and into Saturday was near perfect!  Men came in and got settled while rations were issued.  Some had to go out on picket even with food needing to be cooked.  Hopefully, these men took this as a real experience challenge and dealt with it accordingly in attitude and action.  Attitude meaning some complaining would be expected but hopefully in a period way!  We were just about out of sight of anything modern which was an achievement on this property.  The land seemed a but small to pull everything off and I know this was a greater challenge for the organizers because of a lot of recent rain making property limitations.

This rain and mud was one contributing factor that lead to the Saturday earlier scenario not working for us real well.  We had almost nothing to our front but were constantly being flanked on our right. Causing us to have to pull back or be cut off.  Not an inaccurate thing but I know the boys wanted to fight!  This pulling back, which eventually seemed to go too far back, put us behind the port-a-johns, right behind on the right, banging away. I repositioned first company (refused the line) so at least they were not aiming right at the damn blue boxes.  The reason they were in the way was explained later as an issue with mud so their location needed to be moved.  Putting them on the edge of the battlefield.  I can understand that with thoughts that we could have ended the scenario a bit sooner or stopped pulling back to still prevent that from happening.  Having them behind us is marginally better than in front. 

Our commander and adjunct organizer did what he could with the site for the adjunct participants and what they expect in that capacity. I think we had the best spot for the Gaines Mill scenario as we had the houses in our way of the cars and vendors behind us. The smoke and the setting sun helped hide it all some more. The Colonel did a good job "prepping" between things as to what we were doing and how it was rooted in history, for those that listened. For example, the Gaines Mill scenario, the 3rd PA Res. fought till they ran out of ammo and then pulled back. They made a stand with bayonets fixed and bluffed a fight which the Rebs backed down from taking on. He tried to recreate that and said many, many times that we should be out of ammo and tried to make that happen. When we made our stand he made a quick speech of how even without rounds we would hold the ground and commanded Arms-Port. A few yelled they had rounds or “I am loaded”.... completely missing the rooted history in it all.

For us I think the highlight was the night march Saturday. Everyone was tired from marching around and fighting during the day. Then we had a 5+ mile march to get to our next camp. That was something many, if not all, had never done. That being marching at night after a day of activity.  He arranged for us to get hit on the road as a rear guard retreating again in the campaign. It was some tough ground we marched on after that.  Much earlier that day we were ordered to drop our packs and haversacks, per the history.  It was amazing to meet our packs again that night about 1am. That dry shirt and socks was a blessing before bedding down to sleep.

Sunday during the Glendale scenario I feel we lost the momentum at the event. We deployed as a battalion skirmish line and everyone was ready. I felt energy as we deployed and waited.  Then the blue line fell back through us and the gray was formed in the trees to assault. Everyone was ready.  Then it stopped...for...a...long...time. We sat in the hot sun and that seemed to suck the life of the moment away.  The far left end of the battalion line said their goodbyes and headed out.  Then I got detailed to get a company to haul a cannon several hundred yards up a rise to Malvern Hill, after this scenario ended.  I thought we could treat it as a save the gun experience with how the task was presented.  That was not how it turned out.  While a new experience we were not excited to be a pick-up truck but we know they were appreciative of the help. Looking around for the Malvern Hill scenario, which I was looking forward to, more men had left. The battalion was melting since the big stall.  My traveling partner and I already had concerns going into it on how to make the 12 hour drive home and then I had over an hour after that to my house.  Some recent life changes made it not possible to not work that next morning as originally planned.  
We both admitted we lost the excitement and that we needed to get on the road.  Beating the traffic out of the event site.  Saving us a couple hours to get home. We said good-bye and walked to Endview to leave. Hearing the firing still in the distance as we pulled out of the parking lot. I felt guilt on the premature evacuation however not regret.  Especially after both of us needed to sleep in the car to keep going and it was still after one o’clock AM when I pulled in the drive.  

In the end, the adjunct that was planned worked in my opinion. He recreated history whenever possible (camp life, rations, dropping packs, mail call right before Gaines Mill as the 3rd had, fighting to no ammo and making a stand anyway, fighting by day and marching at night, surprise night fight, pay issued in the ranks before Glendale as the 3rd had). Everyone just had to listen some or know the history to understand the why. If it were not for all of those efforts I would be saying I am just glad I went to see so many friends. While that is still true, I also got some good experiences, which is what it should also be about, every time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cabin in the Little Woods

Looking back at the posts in this blog I got a walk down memory lane for the first event we did at a log house in Ohio.  That was in April of 2014 and we have had many more adventures there since then.

We do an event at the cabin not three times a year.  Generally in the spring, fall, and Christmas with occasional one that has been in February and summer.  In this post, I will share a bit from the last three times we stepped back in time there.

Summer Time
The most recent was in June and we had amazing weather.  Thankfully, the summer had been dry and the mosquitoes were not out of control!  This has been the case in a past summer event after a wet spring and summer. 

We used having a picnic on Saturday as an end of war celebration as the catalyst for the event.  The time was spent preparing for the gathering.  We had a plethora of food to enjoy in the shade on our sunny day.  This started off with mulberry ice cream (the mulberries being picked earlier that day) because I was concerned with the ice melting.  A visiting friend and daughter brought a plum cake and blanc mange.  Both of these were amazingly good.  Besides desserts we enjoyed ham, bread, pickles, hopping john, cucumber salad and other items that I am forgetting at the moment.  

 Afterwards we played various games such as graces and horseshoes.

Sunday we had just three of us with nobody visiting for the day.  We agreed to provide living history for any public until 3pm so we wanted to be prepared for visitors in any case.  We set up a smaller picnic that included a lemon pie from a friend.  We laid down on painted floor clothes while eating, drinking lemonade, and reading the news in the reprinted local newspaper from June 1865.  We then had a lot of kids came back to see us!  We showed them how to play with racing hoops, graces, and there was a sack race.  Even as adults we really enjoyed playing graces!  After they departed it was time for us to take our leave as well until next time.

Spring Time
In April we occupied the cabin on  the same weekend that a blacksmith was at the museum.  This was great as he adjusted the height of  my spider legs.  He did it for nothing but did offer him some of the maple candy we made.  This was something I wanted to try while we were there.  I really would have liked to have tapped some maple trees and boiled the sap down from the start.  But we had to start at the syrup stage already.  We took pure maple syrup boiling it down to a candy and then went on until it was pure maple sugar.  It was amazing! 

Christmas Time
Perhaps this event has grown to be my personal favorite.  It is a lot more work to prepare for which I am sure I complain about before!  We get the log house decorated for the holiday on Friday and early Saturday.  Including greenery around the windows outside and some inside. Along with other decorations such as a table top tree and stocking over the fireplace before we go to sleep.  We make a large meal that is German inspired to include sausage, sauerkraut, noodles, and stollen bread.

There are some highlights from the last few times we stepped back into rural Ohio cabin living in the 1860s.