Cooking and Making Do

The feast for the troops!

Cooking on a hearth can be a lot of fun, even while being a lot of work. A couple of weekends ago we had a clean up day at our local historical fort museum, and as a volunteer there, I was tasked with feeding the troops. They had pizza for early in the day, and in the evening I made a decent sized feast. It was well received. Some of the volunteers are new this year (and I should note, so am I; I’m just already experienced with reenacting and organizing volunteers), and they were amazed at how much food I cooked over the course of the three days we were there.

That Friday, I was lucky enough to be presenting for a local wildcrafting school’s instructor, which was a lot of fun. I was dressed all in 18th century kit, using appropriate cooking pots and tools, as well as the right vegetables and meats for the era. I made squirrel stew, fresh bread, and added some beet and leek salad and some pickles to the table. The food was appreciated, and I managed to turn the wife of the instructor into a squirrel lover. She’d had his cooked before, but wasn’t pleased with the flavor, but found mine to be incredibly tasty. High praise indeed!

Sun setting behind the fort.

Friday evening, I caught a lovely image of the fort as the sun went down behind it. The night was clear and mild, and I was happy. I went to bed (for the first time!) on a rope bed topped with a down feather ticking mattress. I slept incredibly well, and I look forward to spending many days and nights there this summer. The moon was ridiculously bright on both Friday and Saturday nights, and you didn’t even need a lantern to make your way to the privy. It was much nicer than when we stayed there in February. The temperature on Friday night was about 45F, considerably more comfortable than February’s 11F. All in all, it was glorious! There was wine, song, camaraderie, and a lot of relaxing in the dim light of the fire. The cabin itself was very dark once we closed the shutters for the night, and there’s no electricity or running water there, so we had candles and the fire for lighting. I did have my solar lantern with me for privy runs, but really didn’t need it.

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The Dressmaker

I had an interesting talk with AWA the other day about dressmaking. Why, you ask, were we talking about dressmaking? Well, I was discussing the process of making my 18th century kit for the upcoming season at a local living history museum, which I am a part of. I had to order a pattern for a short gown that I’m making, because my skill level isn’t high enough to fake it for this type of garment. The pattern is somewhat complex, and based off an extant short gown that was disassembled a number of years ago and resides in a museum (in Boston, if I remember correctly, but I’m guessing).

AWA wanted to know why the pattern was considered so complex. After all, garments at the time really weren’t all that fancy, at least for working class women like myself. I explained that, in the 18th century in America (and likely in Europe, though I haven’t looked into it), there were no patterns. Women would simply sew their own clothing. Most women, even of the poorer sort, would have hired a mantua-maker, or dressmaker, to make an outfit for them, from which other items might be sized. A mantua-maker was a traveling dressmaker, who specialized in working with your body in particular. If you’re interested in seeing the process in action, there’s a great video on YouTube. Basically, she would drape your fabric over you, sketch out the pattern pieces for your body, cut them, and then sew them. Sometimes the customer would help with the sewing, and sometimes she’d just pay for the mantua-maker to do it.

The skill level required to draft a dress for someone with nothing more than draping fabric and chalk is huge. This goes back to my article on words, and how the meaning of them changes over time. At one time, someone who could make a dress, a mantua-maker, was considered a highly skilled, sought after person. They were well paid, well trained, and knowledgeable. Today, we say “dressmaker” as if the person is doing something quaint. People don’t make their own clothing, and those of us who do are looked at oddly. We’re just dressmakers, or seamstresses. We’re not considered skilled workmen.

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Words Have Meaning

BLUF: Words have meaning, and while that meaning can change over time, we need to take the time to understand. This means looking at words in context, at the time they were written, while still using a modern eye to examine them.

A number of years ago, I was attending a local church service, and the pastor alluded to the idea that shepherds were dirty social outcasts who everyone thought poorly of. His proof for this was that, when Samuel called David in from the sheepfold, he was filthy when he arrived, that David was, “just a shepherd.” I was a bit taken aback by this, because that’s not what history (or Biblical literature, btw) teaches us. I first learned about this from a Jewish scholar named Joel Hoffman, author of And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning. I went to a talk he was having at a local synagogue, and the history of shepherds was the first thing he talked about.

Shepherds were tasked with protecting their flocks of sheep, out in the wilderness at the edge of the farmland surrounding their cities and towns. So you had a social center, a city or town, and outside that was farmland, and outside that was grazing for the sheep. Out there, shepherds had to contend with wolves, panthers, hyenas, feral pigs, foxes, jackals, and lions. Today, when we face up to those kinds of odds, we go armed with an AR-15 or other firearm. They had, and I kid you not, a stick (shepherd’s staff) and a sling with whatever rocks they could find (and the shepherd’s staff became the king’s scepter, and the rocks became the orb, later in history). That was it. Shepherds were, to say the least, bad ass.

In Biblical times, shepherds were seen as a form of superhero. They were the combat veterans, the first line of defense in case of an attack (by animal or human enemy). They had to defend their sheep with their lives, because those sheep were literally their livelihood. They were, indeed, dirty fellows because they lived out in the fields with greasy and filthy sheep. They slept in the open. They didn’t bathe often. So yes, when Samuel called David in to proclaim him the new leader of Israel, he was probably stinky and dirty. When the High Priest of your people summons you, you don’t stop long enough to grab a shower and a change of clothes; you hightail it to his presence, at all speed. No one thought David was stupid or idiotic. He was just young, the youngest of all his brothers, with a lot less life experience.

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Not “just” a trophy…

This made me laugh! The last time we got a deer, I spent three days taking the large bits and trimming and cleaning and packaging them up. We have a bit less than the above (well, much less now, as we’ve eaten quite a bit of it), but we got a good size one. We had to discard the liver, though… it had been pulverized by the shot. No tongue, though. I don’t like eating food that tastes me back…

Whose Job Is It, Anyhow?

Now, I realize not everyone is able to have a house in the boonies with a wood stove. I am smug enough to think that anyone who considers the government to be in decline, and the cities to be largely unlivable, OUGHT to live in the boonies, regardless of their other foibles. What do I mean by that? Well, let me explain.

Years ago, I lived in the big suburbs of a big city. I was okay with it, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked it. Then I was given a nudge by the gods… I lost my job and my home in one fell swoop, and was forced to make a jump. In doing so, I miraculously landed not only on my feet, but in a much better situation overall. I wish I’d made that jump years earlier. Regardless, I found myself in a wonderful situation, living a life I had previously only dreamed of.

These days, I live in a sprawling home on the suburban/rural edge of a very small town. We only have an acre or so of land, but we back onto a multi-acre piece that is private and beautiful, and more importantly is not posted. This means we can hunt there, we can camp, we can play, and our kids can run amok. It’s been wonderful. I have gardens, sometimes more fruitful than other times. I have firewood galore, just from fallen trees out back (which we have permission to harvest). There’s potable water close by, and I have the means to cart it and filter it to make it safe (if it was unsafe). In some years, there’s a stream out back, if you know where to look, which isn’t huge but is big enough and is ground water and therefore pretty likely to be clean.

Our power went out for a day. Previously we’ve lost power for longer than that, but this time it was just a day. We knew it was likely to happen, though it hit us much earlier than I’d thought. Apparently a local transformer blew up and started a two alarm fire. Whee… exciting times. That’s aside from the usual branches taking down lines. When we get icy rain like we did, it’s just one of those things that happens. It’s the price of living in a place that has shade and privacy and lush, green beauty all around.

I’ve heard people say that the trees ought to be taken down. Why? To protect the power lines, apparently. While I sympathize with power lines being downed, that’s not a reason to be defacing my property. Your (the faceless mass of “your” here) desire to force me to address things that may happen will not cause me to do so. As an example, neighbors noted that one of our trees is dead. It’s standing firewood right now. Unfortunately, it’s not in a place that’s easy to bring it down, so we’ve left it alone. It’s not rotting at present, and it’s not causing any issues. It doesn’t sway nearly as much as the other trees. And unlike our neighbor’s trees, it hasn’t fallen and caused damage to a house. Regardless, we have insurance to cover just such emergencies. It’s our tree, and our choice. Our neighbors can “want” us to take it down all they like, just like the “want” us to not have firearms, or enjoy our firepit, or raise chickens, or any of the other fun things we do. They can “want” as much as they like. What they can’t do is compel.

When we get to the point of compelling people to do things, I have a problem. “Public safety” is the first thing that gun grabbers usually mention. It would be so much SAFER if the guns were just not in public possession. Leaving aside the fact that I disagree with that to the extreme, the thing is, I don’t care. My concern is for MY family. My firearms protect MY people. Going a bit further, my woodstove heats MY family, my food feeds us. Public safety only goes so far.

When I hear that I ought to have all my beautiful privacy trees cut down for “public safety,” I start squinting my eyes and looking sideways at people. No thank you. I said NO THANK YOU sir. Giving up my trees is one step toward giving up my other freedoms.

All that leads me to what I asked in the title: Whose job is it, anyhow?

Whose job is it to protect my family? Ours. Whose job is it to feed my family? Ours. Whose job is it to keep my family sheltered and warm? Ours. It is not the government’s job. The moment you give ground in that direction, you may as well slide all the way down the leftist hill.

When the power went out, I wasn’t actually at home. When I did get home, the kids had the wood stove going, and had pulled out some oil lanterns and solar lights to see. Our battery back up packs had been located and put on the dining room table for anyone who needed them. We didn’t bother firing up the generator, because it’s cold outside. The food in our freezers was going to stay frozen without any issues (our freezers are actually outside), and the food in the fridge just got packed up and put into raccoon safe boxes on the porch, where it was cold enough to keep it as well as the fridge. People were reading books. I came in and sat and sewed for a while while we listened to a book on tape that I have downloaded for just such emergencies. Dinner was switched from an oven meal to a stove top meal, one that could be easily made with the gas stove (which runs without electricity). If I’d been home, I’d still have made the oven item; I have dutch ovens, and I know how to use them. Honestly, the kids do too, but they were being lazy, and that was fine.

That night, I cuddled up under warm blankets, in my bed. If it had been colder (it was really only a little below freezing), I might have gotten out the military sleep system, but I didn’t see the need. I also could have slept in the living room, where the wood stove was banked for the night, but again, it wasn’t that cold. I wore my night cap, and so even my head was warm.

Water was still running in one of our bathrooms, so we continued to use that. If it had stopped, we had bucket potties we could have pulled out to use. We had the means to heat water, both on the gas stove and on the wood stove, so we were able to wash. Camp showers are wonderful things.

So yeah… If you are in a city, there are lots of things you can do, even if you can’t have a fireplace or wood stove. If you need help learning how to prepare for such things, I’m more than happy to teach. In fact, I offered to do so for a local lady who spent 24 hours straight complaining about how horrid it was she had no electricity. I was a bit shocked, because it’s a friend who is normally fairly balanced and thoughtful… but she just lost it. She was whining about “losing all the food in her fridge,” when I privately contacted her and suggested that the gods had provided a giant outdoor fridge, just for her. I offered to help her learn how to deal with this stuff. Why? Because everyone should know how to go a few days or weeks without power. We get snow here, and other areas get hurricanes or tornadoes or tsunamis or earthquakes, or whatever it is that endangers your area. Learning to be self sufficient for the common emergencies of your place of living is not just important, it is your duty.

IMO of course.

who recently spent the night in an 18th century fort on an 11*F night, by choice