Sunday, February 28, 2016

Quilts that inspire

Close-up of heirloom quilt featured in the book "Florida Quilts"
This New York Beauty heirloom quilt was made in the 1860s
and is featured on page 60 of the book Florida Quilts.
I'm fresh from a visit to the American Quilter's Society Daytona Beach Quilt Week. I saw beautiful examples of fiber arts - both traditional piecework and art quilts - got inspired, and also got thinking about the threads of continuity that bind quilters.

The fiber arts today are a hobby for most enthusiasts and a career for some. I'm an experienced seamstress but a novice quilter, with one quilt, one star-themed block for the NASA quilt, and one table runner to my credit. For women on the Florida frontier, quiltmaking was a necessity. Homemakers crafted bedcovers for family members and young women stitched quilts for their trousseaus. One such person was Sarah Asberry Brown Anderson.

Sarah's story is told in the 1992 book Florida Quilts, by Charlotte Allen Williams (University Press of Florida). Sarah lived in Wakulla County in North Florida when she started making the New York Beauty quilt pictured with this blog post. She was 12, and she dyed her homespun cotton fabric with tree bark solutions before cutting the pieces and hand-sewing the quilt. Sarah began the quilt in 1865 and finished it in 1869.

Williams writes that New York Beauty was a popular pattern in the late 1800s. Other designs popular in the late 19th century included:

  • Friendship quilts that included embroidered signatures
  • Log Cabin
  • Irish Chain
  • Album block quilts
  • Crazy quilts
  • Applique quilts that featured stylized flower designs

Sarah's descendants reported that she was proud of her New York Beauty quilt and preserved it through the years. One look at the photo and the level of craftsmanship is obvious. I'd be proud, too, if I'd cut and sewn together those hundreds of pieces into a beautiful finished whole. Having experimented with natural dyes, I can also attest to the quality of the fabric's colors.

The care given the New York Beauty is why it survived long enough to be documented in Florida Quilts. The book profiles some of the women and quilts uncovered during the Florida Quilt Heritage Project. That project, which I've written about before, did a remarkable job of bringing many women's lost stories back to life through their quilts.

Today, quiltmakers receive their just due and are credited for their work. The fiber arts are celebrated. This post is to pay homage to all the unsung needlewomen of the past.

The Museum of Florida History maintains the digital files of the Florida Quilt Heritage Project. See the museum's Florida Quilt Collection website to view more heirloom quilts. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Chocolate: sweet in any century

old engraving that depicts chocolate flower, fruit and seeds
Illustration in The Chocolate-Plant is credited
to "an old engraving." The image depicts the
flowers, fruit and seeds of the chocolate plant.

February brings Valentine's Day, which brings chocolate. Yum.

Chocolate fandom surpasses century boundaries. I can imagine a character in one of my novels reading  The Chocolate-Plant (Theobroma cacao) and Its Products, an 1891 book similar to modern publications that trace a culinary product's history from the days of antiquity. 

Author Mrs. Ellen H. Richards also provides "suggestions relative to the cooking of chocolate and cocoa." Of course, I flipped right to that section. Flipped digitally, I should say. I've discovered a wonderful world of digitized public-domain cookbooks on various library and other websites.

The "receipt" for Chocolate Ice Cream in The Chocolate-Plant is so complex I got tired just reading it. And I like to bake and make sweets. 

Chocolate was often a treat and a luxury for pioneers on a frontier. That might account for a 19th century 
cook's willingness to follow an intricate recipe. 

Here is the recipe, for historical interest only. I haven't tried it and don't vouch for it. Especially because the instructions assume the cook is using a wood-burning stove.
For about two quarts and a half of cream use a pint and a half of milk, a quart of thin cream, two cupfuls of sugar, two ounces of No. 1 chocolate, two eggs and two heaping tablespoonfuls of flour.
Put the milk on to boil in the double-boiler. Put the flour and one cupful of the sugar in a bowl; add the eggs, and beat the mixture until light. Stir this into the boiling milk and cook for twenty minutes, stirring often.
Scrape the chocolate and put it in a small saucepan. Add four tablespoonfuls of sugar (which should be taken from the second cupful) and two tablespoonfuls of hot water. Stir over a hot fire until smooth and glossy. Add this to the cooking mixture.  
When the preparation has cooked for twenty minutes take it from the fire and add the remainder of the sugar and the cream, which should be gradually beaten into the hot mixture. Set away to cool, and when cold, freeze.  
The Chocolate-Plant, published by Walter Baker and Co. of Massachusetts, is the second version of an earlier release. A publisher's note indicates the first one was so warmly received it was expanded and reissued. 

The book is a fun read. I recommend browsing through it while munching on a chocolate bar. Which, by the way, cost 2 cents to buy in 1908. (Thanks, Food Timeline, for that factoid.)