Monday, December 19, 2011

A tribute to Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company in Paris is an icon among booksellers and bibliophiles. Its owner for decades, George Whitman, passed away last week, 14 Dec. 2011, at age 98. My bibliophile friends sent me a link to a movie about life in the bookshop:

(Note: YouTube has this video in piecemeal. The Google link above is the entire 52-minute documentary.)

I'm not sure where the original S&C (also in Paris) starts and this continuation S&C begins, but one of them started hosting writers in the early 20th century, including Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. George Whitman either started or kept up that tradition and invited all kinds of people to stay in the bookshop in exchange for work. The movie above shows the bohemian life of writers and backpackers who actually move books out of the way at night and sleep and live in the shop.

Ironically, the first time I heard about Shakespeare and Co. was from its namesake, a bookshop in Kernersville, NC, which I visited in 2009. The owner has gradually switched over from coffee and books to wine and kitchen supplies and, as of last week, no longer sells books.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Soldiers Ate: A Trip to the Past - Part 6

The daily rations for a British soldier were: 
     1 lb. flour or bread
     1 lb. pork or beef
     7 oz. peas
     1 oz. rice
     1 1/2 tbsp. butter
     1 1/2 tbsp. vinegar
     1 gill of rum

Vinegar? Yes, soldiers considered vinegar very important and became disgruntled if they didn't get it. People didn't know about germs in the 18th century, but they considered vinegar a "cleansing" agent — meaning it was good for the digestive system. In modern terms, they used it to purify their drinking water. The vitamin C in vinegar also prevented scurvy.

The British transported meat preserved in brine from Ireland. Sometimes it wasn't very palatable by the time the troops got it.

Soldiers didn't get rations on a daily basis, and it wouldn't be very practical for every soldier to be making bread every day. About six soldiers, who shared a tent, were called a "mess." Each mess assigned one man to do the cooking, and he picked up the rations for all of them once a week.

See the little silver cup at the top of the picture? That's a gill, a common measurement in colonial times. I think of it as a large shot glass.

The American troops had less (except in the vinegar department). Each soldier in Washington's army received the following per day:
     1 lb. bread
     1/2 lb. pork or beef
     1 pint milk or a gill of rice
     1 gill peas or beans
     6 oz. butter
     1/2 pint vinegar

Of course, that was when the army had food.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Lesson in Herbs: A Trip to the Past - Part 5

Colonists knew all about herbs and spices, not only for flavouring food, but also for cures and tonics. Two ladies in the "British camp" gave a lesson on their uses.

For example, yarrow was used to dye clothing. Tobacco was applied to stings, and house leeks (I call these hens and bitties) were good for burns. All kinds of things were made into teas, including mint and chamomile. Some teas were made to cure ills and some were merely cheaper alternatives to imported black tea.

Spices were ground up with a mortar and pestle (I still use a small one) and nutmeg was grated. Sugar came in a "loaf" or cone wrapped in paper.

I didn't realize they had cough lozenges, back then. The apothecary made it with licorice and put his stamp on each lozenge. Pieces of candy, made from anise, peppermint or tamarind, were called comfits.

The colonists used plenty of salt. Before canning came along, people preserved food by drying it, smoking it, or putting it in brine. Meat might be layered in coarse salt — no need to grind it for preserving food.

I learned another thing. We feel like our world has recently gone global because of the information age. But American colonists lived in a new global market because of sea trade. Sugar, spices, rum and salt were all imported.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Camden: A Trip to the Past - Part 3

Saturday I went to the Revolutionary War re-enactment at Camden. I was particularly interested in details about how people lived in that time period, like food and clothing. Encampment participants had tents and campfires; one man tied fish to a board to smoke it by his campfire. A woman was cleaning pumpkin seeds to toast.  She was going to stuff the pumpkin with chopped apples and roast it on her fire, which sounded yummy.

The Kershaw house was open for self-tours. The present building was built in 1976-77 on the original brick foundation, a replica based on archaeology and photographs. Joseph Kershaw, a patriot, was a successful merchant who built much of original Camden, and his 18th-century mansion overlooked the town. While the Revolutionary War left most of Camden in ashes — including the Fredericksburgh (Quaker) meeting house — the Kershaw house escaped destruction because General Cornwallis used it for his southern headquarters.

After Independence, Camden was rebuilt to the north, on higher ground. The cemetery, the historical centre (around the house) and remains of the magazine and redoubts remain on the site of the early town. Ironically, the Kershaw house was burned in 1865 during the Civil War.

"Soldiers" acted out skirmishes on the Green, in front of the Cornwallis house. (I tried to share a video, but it's too large for blogger so here are a couple of photos.)