The first friendly face in the colonial American garden was the perennial favorite – asparagus. Brought over from England by the earliest settlers, asparagus was an early and much welcome fresh addition to the 18th century dinner table in the spring.
The asparagus is already growing tall in the raised bed garden at colonial Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village where I serve as a historical presenter. You can see that many of the plants have been allowed to grow tall and go to seed to insure a great crop of this perennial veggie in the next year.
Anna Daggett, wife of Samuel Daggett who built the farmhouse, had responsibility for maintaining a garden large enough to raise vegetables to feed the family all year round. Even though everyone was glad to see asparagus, the early and popular vegetable, only a small portion of the asparagus harvest would be on the dinner table in spring.
Most of the crop was pickled to preserve it for eating later during the rest of the year when asparagus wasn’t in season. That’s because the season for asparagus is really short, typically from May to June both in England, where this vegetable originated, and here in America.
But what made it to the table as fresh would have been a great treat served up from a colonial garden in a tasty recipe like the two shared in this cooking video from the folks at Jas. Townsend & Son, providers of 18th century clothing and goods –
What’s your favorite way to prepare asparagus?
This past week was my first as a historical presenter at Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village. What an experience to live a few days in 1760 and share that experience with visitors who stopped by. There’s so much to learn about life during this time in colonial America but I think what stood out right from the start is how important the hearth is.
This over-sized fireplace may not look like much to you but in 18th century America, it provided light and energy for heating the house and cooking.
Being a “one picture worth a thousand words” kind of person, I realized how much I take modern conveniences for granted when Joan (one of the longtime presenters at Daggett Farm) taught me how to make a simple loaf of bread.
On the hearth.
Things get going only when the fire starts blazing. Joan demonstrated, in her very organized way, how to build a fire with the Big Three –
- Logs and
- A match.
Then she started mixing the ingredients together for the bread.
As someone who cooks from recipes, I marveled at how the bread dough evolved from a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Not something I see often, especially since I’m usually buying bread ready-made and wrapped in plastic.
Once all the ingredients were added, the next step was kneading the dough until it was just the right consistency.
Joan covered the bowl of dough and set it on the hearth so that the heat would cause the dough to rise. And so it did.
Then the redware pottery dish and the bread dough were set into a cast-iron bake kettle or what we know today as a “Dutch oven”. But this colonial version is pretty unique. You place hot coals from the hearth under the bake kettle and on top of its lid and that’s what provides the heat to cook what’s inside.
This video shows how a Dutch oven was used to cook food on the hearth –
After cooking for about an hour in our cast-iron bake kettle, here’s the loaf freshly baked honey-wheat great we enjoyed for our dinner at Daggett Farm. This experience gave me a whole perspective for how the fireplace I think of as “ambiance” in my house was critical to a stable lifestyle for a family in colonial America. Without it, there wouldn’t be bread – or much of what we take for granted in our modern times.
Have you ever cooked over a hearth or open fire before?
As I announced recently here on Extreme Ancestry, I’m getting ready for my new role as a historical presenter at Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford museum, Dearborn, Michigan. There’s some serious preparation for this experience and that includes being dressed for success by Katie at the Greenfield Village Studio – the museum’s amazing period clothing shop.
Everything you see at the Daggett Farm is historically correct to the food being cooked, the furniture you see and how the reenactors are dressed. That’s why experts like Katie are on hand to help dress the men and women at the farm so visitors feel like they walked back in time.
So when I first met with Katie, she fitted me with period clothing from the inside out in order to get the look Deborah is wearing here – what a woman would wear on a farm in 1760 Connecticut.
First comes the linen shift or chemise. This was the garment that women wore next to their skin – day and night, winter, summer, spring and fall. It was the foundation of every colonial outfit. And so it is with mine.
The next mandatory layer for women was a pair of stays. Think of this as the wonder bra of the 18th century. They were the early version of a corset and come in two pieces that lace together in the back and the front.
But unlike a corset that’s designed to cinch in the waist for an hour-glass look, stays were made to mold a woman’s torso into a cone shape. A woman at the Daggett Farm would have worn stays all day, every day.
And yes – they are snug!
Next comes the petticoat which is what we would call a “skirt”. Katie fitted me with red and blue linen petticoats. Depending on the weather, a colonial woman might have worn several petticoats at one time. During the summer, I’ll wear just one along with an apron (that’s the navy and white checked cloth in the picture).
Every woman back then wore an apron – not only to keep her petticoats clean but to create a little insulation between her clothing and stray embers from the hearth where cooking was done. Colonial fire insurance is how I look at it.
Women usually wore a jacket over their petticoats. The style I’ll be wearing is called a “short gown”. It’s pleated in the back, ties up the front and is made out of linen, which you might notice is a recurring theme.
Because the cotton gin hadn’t been invented yet, cotton was more expensive and less available in colonial times. Instead, linen and wool were the fabrics of choice for the average person. Silk was available but way too impractical for a middle-class woman living on a farm, like Mrs. Daggett.
The finishing touches to my costume will be a neckerchief for modesty and a white linen cap. Like stays, colonial women wore a cap from sun up to sundown.
I think there’s a future blog post in me about keeping clean in the 18th century but, suffice it to say that, women didn’t wash their hair as often as we do these days. Hair was tucked up into a linen cap which provided protection from the dust and soot that was in every colonial home, especially the kitchen.
The yellow bag in the picture below is my haversack. I confess, the thought of not carrying a purse back and forth to the farm was a little unnerving. Face it, I’ve become my mother – attached to my purse. So the haversack was Katie’s solution for this little insecurity of mine.
Thank you Katie!
Keeping warm means a woolen shawl, like the blue one below or in really bad weather – a full-length red woolen cape. On the days it’s pouring rain, I may have to head out to Daggett Farm looking like Red Riding Hood. No umbrellas back in those days, you know.
And there weren’t sunglasses or sunscreen back then either, so this large straw pancake hat will be my protection against the gamma rays.
And finally because I’ll be on my feet a lot as a presenter at Daggett Farm, I got myself a good pair of not-so-cute, comfy shoes that are as historically correct as I could find. Katie gave me three pairs of colorful cotton stockings and I’m good to go.
By now, I’m sure you’re wondering when you get to see me in my Daggett Farm colonial costume. That comes later this week.
I’ve loved history and, especially American history, my whole life. And for almost 40 years I’ve done genealogy – piecing together what’s turned out to be a fascinating and diverse collection of ancestors going back to the earliest days of this country. But up until now, my journey back through time has been mostly via the Internet, books, historical documents and old photos.
That’s about to change. For the first time, I get to reach out and touch history in a very unique way in my new role as a historical presenter at the Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan.
The Daggett Farm is a working farm from 18th century colonial Connecticut that reflects the Puritan lifestyle of the Samuel Daggett family. Everything – from the architecture of the house to the period costumes to the food for lunch you’ll see cooking on the open-hearth – is designed to give visitors a snapshot of daily life around 1760.
When you walk into the Daggett house, you step back in time.
Because I have many ancestors who lived in colonies during this era, I’m excited to discover more about their lifestyle in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War – one of my favorite periods of American history. As a historical presenter at the farm, I’ll be learning and reenacting the chores and tasks a Puritan woman like Anna Daggett would have done in 1760 to support her family.
So you might find me working in the gardens behind the farmhouse, helping to grow the kind of food the Daggetts would have eaten. I’ll learn how to preserve food grown during the summer the way Anna would have done to provide a stable food supply during the long New England winters.
I’ll also be learning colonial-era recipes to prepare the kind of dishes Anna would have served her family in 1760. All cooking at the farm is done on the open-hearth and with no modern conveniences. Not even a spatula!
And although I’m not usually known for my cooking abilities (to hear my family tell it), I am looking forward to learning how to cook the way they did in colonial times. I’ll definitely post pictures of the first bread I bake (which, by the way, will be the first bread I’ve ever baked).
Out in the Connecticut countryside where the Daggetts lived, you grew and made almost everything you needed. That included making candles, soap, clothing, spinning cloth, sewing and knitting. Stop by one day and you may find me knitting something warm for the long winter that came all too soon back then – and still does, at least here in Michigan.
For the Daggetts, a lot of time was spent working the farm and doing the chores necessary to provide a comfortable and safe lifestyle. But in the evenings especially, they would gather in the parlor where they might read, play cards, tell stories and share much-treasured family time.
To me, working at Daggett Farm is something like summer camp for big girls. Think about it. Through this great living history experience –
- I play dress-up,
- Do crafts,
- Spend lots of time outside and
- Am around wonderful people all day long.
And all of this happens 18th century style. For a history nerd like me, it’s the thrill of a lifetime!
Then to top it off, I get to share the stories about life at Daggett Farm with visitors there – and with you here at Extreme Ancestry. Keep a lookout for my updates in the coming months. Just search for “Daggett Farm” or check out the “Living History” category for more posts on this topic. So until next time, as the Daggetts might have said –
Fare thee well.
As a genealogist, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years focused on family. But for generations, women have expanded their families with an important addition – their best friends. My mother, Alice Vivian Batchelor, taught me by example about the extraordinary value of best friends.
Her best friend was Sitella Glenn and she and Mom were BFFs for well over 40 years. Here’s a picture of them back in the day – Mom in the big hat and Sitella on the right with the beautiful smile.
These two friends met through their husbands when Sitella had moved to Detroit from Cuba after she got married. What initially brought Mom and Sitella together was their love of Spanish. My mother had studied Spanish in college and was fluent but had no one to talk with. A mutual friend introduced them and Mom and Sitella became friends forever.
They went through life’s ups and downs together, raised their children, lost their parents, empty-nested and lost their husbands. But friendship sustained these two fearless females. And it was an important lesson because I saw firsthand how, as this anonymous quote says better than I ever could –
Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.
As the years went by, the friendship was challenged when my mother started declining from dementia. But even as the fog of dementia grew thicker, the one thing that could lift it for Mom was a visit from her best friend.
I remember the times when Sitella would come to visit and my mother would light up with a big smile of recognition. Her friend was there and that much Mom was sure of.
In January, 2013, my mother became very ill with the flu and pneumonia. She was in the hospital for a few days and then back home to recuperate. Of course, the first person to come and visit was Sitella.
Sadly though, Mom didn’t recover and she passed away on January 20, 2013. And her BFF was there for us – as friend and family.
Just this past Thanksgiving, Sitella came and had dinner with us instead of her own family. As I look back on that day, we were all comforted by her presence, bright smile and enduring friendship.
She is truly a best friend forever.