Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cooking Like the Masons at Gunston Hall

For my birthday, my sister gave me a day's hard labor! She purchased two spots in an Open Hearth Cooking Class at Gunston Hall. The class promised participants that they would experience "one of the most fun, rewarding, and exhausting tasks of the 18th century" and they were right!

It was a fine October day. The weather was starting to get cooler, and we appreciated the 50 degree weather. We arrived just before 10 a.m. and met a couple there. With four, plus two docents, the kitchen was filled, but roomy enough that we all felt comfortable.

We cooked in an authentic environment, using the dishes and tools of the era. There was no running water, so we carried it from the faucet outside, about 20 feet away, in heavy buckets that weighed more than the water they carried.

In some ways, it was like learning a new language. We learned new words, such as trencher, a long hollowed out bowl that can be used as a serving pied, bowl, or to knead dough in, or a spider -- not the creepy crawly kind but the three-legged cast iron pan, which sits about a foot high, allowing hot cools and embers to be stacked below. Other words -- pipkin, sounded quaint to our modern day ears.

Our dinner menu sounded ambitious, even by modern day appliance standards: roast young chicken, freshly churned butter (which went on the authentic-looking but entirely store-bought multi-grain bread), sausage and apples, carrot puffs, a winter squash pudding, and salat (salad), followed by boiled plumb pudding for dessert.

Although we all helped with each other's dishes, we each chose one to make. My first creation was butter -- we started with heavy cream (yes, bought from the store for lack of a cow), and I churned it for an hour. I got impatient: "Is it ready yet?" My arms ached, my shoulders started reminding me they existed. I felt like a little kid on a long drive. "Are we there yet?"

But it was so good, when it was finally ready.

After the butter formed at the bottom of the churn, we emptied out the watery butter milk. In olden times, to keep the butter from going rancid, any remaining milk in it had to be washed away, so I placed the new butter in a shallow bowl and poured fresh cold water over it, and with a wooden spoon, began smooshing it around the bowl. The water grew cloudy, so I poured it off into a pipkin, and added new clean water. Literally, rinse and repeat! Soon the water stayed clear. Then I added salt. And smooshed it into the soft, smooth butter. We tasted it -- oops! Too much salt. And such a simple solution! The docent advised me to wash it out. So I poured on cold water, smooshed it around with the wooden spoon, smooshed and rinsed until the butter was perfect.

My second chore was to make the sausage and apples.

The recipes we followed were from colonial era cookbooks, such as the Compleat Housewife or an Accomplished Gentlewoman's Companion, The Virginia Housewife, and American Cookery. These cookbooks didn't contain the specifics that our modern day cookbooks offer. Some of the recipes suggest adding "a little salt," "a piece of butter," or a "bundle of thyme." You are directed to "cook until ready." These are frustrating directions for us modern-day cooks, used to carefully (or not) measuring half teaspoonfuls of dried rosemary or roasting meat at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. I mean, we KNOW how long to cook the meat. But cooking over a fire introduces that lack of specificity.

Sometimes the recipes sound so simple -- like the Plumb Pudding. But it was very complicated and took three hours to make!

At the end, we all sat down to the feast, enjoying the food we made in the smoky kitchen. It tasted great -- amazing!

One of the most fun aspects to this cooking adventure was that we were doing all this in the outdoor kitchen, right next to Gunston Hall, on which site meals innumerable had been prepared over the years (although the building itself is a recreation). During the day, sight-seers touring Gunston Hall would stop in, ask questions, smell the good cooking. Although we weren't dressed to period, we felt like part of the exhibit, as they asked questions about what it was like to cook over an open hearth. Although it sounds romantic and quaint, it is hard, back-breaking work.

We left full, but exhausted, after our long day!


Sausage and Apples (Martha Bradley, 1756, Vol. VI, p. 351)

Cut half a dozen fine sound apples, peeled and cored, into moderately thick slices, put them into a pan with half a pound of sausages, and fry them together. The apples will be done by that time the sausages are, and they will be of a fine brown.

Warm a dish, and lay the sausages in the middle, with the apples round them; send up a beacon of gravy thickened with a piece of butter and with a little mustard stirred in among it.

The gravy must not be poured into the dish, for some prefer the sausages dry; but it is a great improvement for those who love it.

Carrot Puffs (Primative Cooker: or the Kitchen Garden Display'd, 1767, page 62)

Scrape and then boil your parsnips or carrots; then mash them, and to a pint of pulp, grate the crumb of a penny loaf, with eggs, nutmeg, orange-flour water, and sugar to your taste. Mix all up with a little sack and cream and fry them in a fine suet, which must be hot when you put them in your pan; a spoonful of each puff in place.

Plum Pudding, boiled (American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, 1796, page 36)

Three pints flour, a little salt, six eggs, one pound plumbs (we used raisins -- any dried fruit would work), half pound beef suet, half pound sugar, one pint milk; mix the whole together; put it into a strong cloth floured, boil three hours, serve with a sweet sauce.

Know before you go: wear clothes made from natural fibers, such as linen, silk, cotton, or wool. Synthetic material can melt and cause severe burns. Ensure you wear closed-toe shoes.

Getting there: 10709 Gunston Rd, Lorton, VA 22079

When: Gunston Hall holds the Open Hearth Cooking Classes on one weekend in October and in April.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Exploring the Ghost Town Rail Trail: Dilltown to Eliza Furnace

Last summer, we stayed the weekend in Pittsburgh, but on our way back home to Maryland, decided to stop for a couple of hours and start what I hope will be an ongoing exploration of a new (for us) rail trail: The Ghost Town Rail Trail. This rail trail stretches 36 miles between Black Lick (PA) to Ebensburg.

The sign at the Saylors Creek entry point to the trail. Photo courtesy of Indiana County (PA) Parks.

Yes, it was the name that first grabbed me, but then I saw some photos from other riders and promptly added it to my ever-growing list. The Ghost Town Rail Trail derives its name from numerous mining towns -- most of which are now abandoned -- that once existed along the railroad corridor.

Because of time constraints and the fact that it was predicted to be an unbearably hot day, combined with the prospect of a long car ride home in front of us, we decided to only ride a short-leg of the rail trail -- from Dilltown to Eliza Furnace and back, a comfortable 12 miles round trip, with Eliza Furnace as the destination.

We looked for signs of the former towns, but saw little, other than what looked as if it could be foundations of something, in Wehrum, and a few crumbling concrete walls along the trail. So note, there are few remnants of these former towns evident, and those that can still be seen are located on private property not open to the general public. But even as I was disappointed not to see ruins of towns or some empty, abandoned buildings, I realized that's not why bike riders should check out this trail.

It's a well groomed, fine packed gravel trail -- a pleasure to ride on, even with my smooth-tired hybrid. The section we rode was in heavy shade for all but a few short patches, with constant views of Backlick Creek, a wide, shallow lazy creek. Every once in a while I noticed a fish splash.

There were no ghosts, of course, but we noticed a couple of snakes on the trail. Deer tracks -- and deer themselves -- were also abundant. Two piles of bear scat, filled with remnants of the red berries (yes, I looked) from bushes along the side of the trail, marked the travels of a hungry bear or two -- I imagine they weren't far away when we rode by... We heard woodpeckers, and my husband is pretty sure he saw a bald eagle. There's quite a bit of wildlife along this trail.

It's also a comfortable trail. The ride is pleasant, the path is wide enough and not crowded, so riding side by side was easy. There are multiple benches and picnic tables along the way, and at Dilltown and Vintondale, there are bathrooms (as there are at other major access points).

Our destination and turn-around place was Eliza Furnace, built in 1846 and the first of three furnaces to be built in the creek valley. It is also one of Pennsylvania’s best preserved iron furnaces, although it operated just three years, until 1849. An interpretive exhibit is located at the site. Vintondale was established next to Eliza Furnace years later -- in 1892 -- as a company mine town.

After our ride, we crossed Rt 403 to the Dillweed Bed and Breakfast to purchase a sandwich and a cool drink to enjoy on the inn's front porch. This establishment frequently hosts folks specifically to ride the trail.

Getting there: We accessed the Ghost Town Trail in Dilltown, but there are access points in Saylor Park, Heshbon, Dilltown, Wehrum, Vintondale, Twin Rocks, Nanty Glo, and Ebensburg.
  • Saylor Park - 1284 Old Indiana Road, Blairsville, PA 15717 - Parking, restroom in season, picnic facilities, nearby walking path and ballfields, park is operated by Burrell Township.
  • Heshbon - 10485 Route 259, Blairsville, PA 15717 - Parking, portable restroom in season.
  • Dilltown - 7452 Route 403, Dilltown, PA 15929 (Could also be Homer City, PA 15748) - Parking, restrooms, picnic facilities, nearby trail shop and bed & breakfast, water.
  • Wehrum - 2415 Wehrum Road, Vintondale, PA 15961 - Parking
  • Vintondale, Rexis - 1069 Main Street, Vintondale, PA 15961 - Parking, restroom at Eliza Station, picnic area, water.
  • Twin Rocks - 1397 Plank Road, Nanty Glo, PA 15943 - Parking
  • Nanty Glo - 1097 1st Street, Nanty Glo, PA 15943 - Parking, restroom in season at football field, local restaurants.
  • Ebensburg - 424 Prave Street, Ebensburg, PA 15931 - Parking, local restaurants.

Hours: Daylight

Website: There are several websites that provide information about the Ghost Town Rail Trail, as well as my go-to guide book, developed by the Rail Trails Conservancy, Rail Trails Pennsylvania, Ne Jersey and New York (Wilderness Press, 2011). But I recommend checking out the Indiana County Parks' website, as it offers the best and most specific directions to the rail trail access points: http://www.indianacountyparks.org/trails/ghosttown_trail.aspx. The Ghost Town Rail Trail Wikipedia page provides a handy elevation chart, which is good for planning your ride.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Frederick Douglass and His House on Cedar Hill

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass' was a 19th century American hero, but his story still resonates with our times. He was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, husband, father, suffragist, statesman, and advisor to presidents. He was a man of his times, and at the same time, a man ahead of his times, espousing both the cause of abolition as well as women's rights and suffragism.

Douglass believed in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He also espoused dialogue and believed in the importance of making alliances across racial and ideological divides. Most of all, he believed in the American Constitution. When radical abolitionists, under the motto "No Union With Slaveholders" criticized Douglass' willingness to dialogue with slave owners, he famously replied, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

Douglass' study and his 2000 books.

Born into slavery in Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, MD in probably 1818. He later chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14. When he was 7 or 8, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld, who sent him to serve Thomas' brother Hugh Auld in Baltimore.

When Douglass was about 12, Hugh Auld's wife Sophia started teaching him the alphabet. Douglass described her as a kind and tender-hearted woman, who treated him "as she supposed one human being ought to treat another." Hugh Auld quickly stopped his wife's reading lessons, feeling that literacy would encourage Frederick -- and other slaves -- to desire freedom. Even at so young an age, Douglass realized that education was imperative for escaping from slavery, and continued, secretly, to teach himself how to read and write. He later often said, "knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom."

A guest bedroom.

On September 3, 1838, Douglass successfully escaped by boarding a train in Baltimore dressed in a sailor's uniform provided to him by his love and future wife, Anna Murray, who was a free woman. She also gave him part of her savings to cover his travel costs, he carried identification papers that he had obtained from a free black seaman. Via the train and steam boat, he made his way to Philadelphia, and freedom before continuing to the safe house of noted abolitionist David Ruggles in New York City. Murray soon joined him, and they were married on September 15, 1838, by a black Presbyterian minister, just 11 days after his arrival in New York. Eventually the couple settled in New Bedford, MA, and then Douglass came to the attention of the abolitionists in the area. He soon started a public speaking tour, and wrote his first autobiography in 1845 which quickly became a best seller of its time.

Another guest bedroom. (With 20+ grandchildren, he needed a lot of guest rooms!)

Douglass' supporters worried that the publicity from his book would draw the attention of his ex-owner, Hugh Auld, who might try to get his "property" back, and urged Douglass to travel to England and Ireland. Douglass spent two years in Ireland and Britain, where he gave many lectures in churches and chapels. His draw was such that some facilities were "crowded to suffocation." Sales from his book and donations from his supporters raised money to purchase his freedom from Auld. Astoundingly, many years later, he would visit Auld on his deathbed, speaking gently to the dying man, and bringing closure to himself.

Douglass' bedroom.

In 1877, Douglass purchased Cedar Hill, a lovely Victorian mansion overlooking the Anacostia River, and that's where he spent most of his last years, and eventually died. On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. During that meeting, he was brought to the platform and received a standing ovation. Shortly after he returned home, after having a luncheon, Frederick Douglass hurried out on his way to another meeting, but died of a massive heart attack or stroke, collapsing in his front hallway.

Anna's bedroom (Anna was his first wife and the one who funded Douglass' escape from slavery.)

Like many others apparently -- the tours quickly get filled to capacity -- I went in search of Frederick Douglass as a result of the president's recent comments about Douglass for Black History Month. I searched on "Frederick Douglass historic site" hoping that something nearby would pop up, and was rewarded with the discovery that his last home, Cedar Hill, is a house museum/national historic site in southeast D.C. Douglass's legacy is preserved at Cedar Hill, where he lived his last 17 years.

During the house tour, the docents reveal various aspects of Douglass' life and character. They point out his favorite chairs, how he would go out to a stone building in the back called the "Growlry" to think and write, discuss life in the late 19th century, and of course his legacy. They finally note that Douglass' second wife fought to preserve his legacy as well as Cedar Hill as a house museum dedicated to Frederick Douglass' life and incredible accomplishments.

Several years after Anna died, Douglass wed his second wife, Helene Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist.
His family (and hers) objected , but they lived very happily for his remaining years. He responded to the
criticisms by noting that his marriage had been to someone the color of his mother and his second, to someone the
color of his father, referring to the fact that the man on whose plantation he'd  been born had probably been his father.

Know before you go: Go online to the website to reserve tickets (for which there is a $1.50 fee); tours fill up quickly since POTUS' recent comments, so don't wait until the morning of the day you want to go to reserve your spots, because they won't be there!

Getting there: 1411 W Street, SE, Washington, DC; there is off-street parking available in front of the visitor's center.

Hours: The visitor center and grounds are open daily, except for January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25: April through October - 9 am to 5 pm; November through March - 9 am to 4:30 pm. The historic house is open only at scheduled times for guided tours. Rangers guide tours every day, except for January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25.

Website: https://www.nps.gov/frdo/index.htm

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Understanding Andy Warhol

Actually, I don't think it's entirely possible to understand Andy Warhol, but you can certainly enhance and enlarge your appreciation of this iconic American 20th century artist's work by visiting a museum dedicated to his artwork in Pittsburgh.

Nosepicker 1: Why Pick on Me (originally titled The Lord Gave Me My Face but
I Can Pick My Own Nose), 1948. tempora and ink on Masonite
When Warhol's name is mentioned, immediately his iconic pop-culture paintings come to mind: Campbell's Soup Cans and his celebrity paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. It's wonderful to see them in person. But exploring the museum's collection of some 900 paintings reveals additional aspects of Warhol's career and voice, making a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, which mission is simply to be "the global keeper of Andy Warhol's legacy" an all-but-obligatory stop during any visit to Pittsburgh --and quite possibly reason enough to visit Pittsburgh, although the city and region have many other day trip destinations well worth exploring.

Statue of Liberty, 1962. Silkscreen ink and spray paint.
In addition to his paintings and prints, the collection features wallpaper and books by Warhol, covering the entire range of his work from all periods, and includes student work from the 1940s; 1950s drawings, commercial illustrations and sketchbooks; 1960s pop paintings of consumer products (Campbell's Soup Cans), celebrities (Liz, Jackie, Marilyn, Elvis), Disasters and Electric Chairs; portrait paintings (Mao), Skull paintings and the abstract Oxidations from the 1970s; and works from the 1980s such as The Last Supper, Raphael I-6.99 and collaborative paintings made with younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente.

Three Coke Bottles, 1962. Silkscreen ink and graphite on linen. Andy Warhol once said,
"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest
consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. ... A Coke is a Coke, and no
amount of money can get you a better Coke."
I found the explanation of Warhol's early printing and coloring method -- the blotted line technique -- interesting, and particularly enjoyed seeing some of his earliest work. I loved the colorful images -- his love and use of color, some of it outrageously bright -- continued throughout his career.

High Heel Shoe, ca 1955. Ink and Dr. Martin's Aniline dye on Strathmore paper.

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928, in a two-room row house apartment in Pittsburgh. Devout Byzantine Catholics, the family attended mass regularly and observed the traditions of their Eastern European heritage. Warhol’s father, a laborer, moved his family to a brick home on Dawson Street in 1934. Warhol attended the nearby Holmes School and took free art classes at Carnegie Institute (now The Carnegie Museum of Art). Warhol later attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) from 1945 to 1949, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Pictorial Design with the goal of becoming a commercial illustrator. Soon after graduating, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist.

Flowers, 1970. Screen print on paper.

In the late 1950s, Warhol began to devote more energy to painting. He made his first pop-culture paintings, which he based on comics and ads, in 1961. The following year marked the beginning of Warhol’s celebrity. He debuted his famous Campbell’s Soup Can series, which caused a sensation in the art world. Shortly thereafter he began a sequence of movie star portraits.

Three Marilyns, 1962. Acrylic, silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen.

Throughout the 1970s Warhol frequently socialized with celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Truman Capote, both of whom had been important early subjects in his art. Celebrity portraits developed into a significant aspect of his career and a main source of income.

Ai Weiwei: Neolithic Pottery with Coca-Cola Logo, 2007. Metallic paint, earthenware jar.
There also was an exhibit of another titan of modern art in the same space. The “Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei” exhibit in the Warhol Museum accentuates the ties between these two artists and provides a deeper and more thorough examination of the intimacy they share with pop culture. Weiwei’s work is a natural evolution of the Pop Art movement that Warhol spearheaded in the 60s and 70s. It finds the thread of democratization of art that was the dominating themes of modern art 50 years ago and updates it.

Ai Weiwei: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 2015. Lego blocks (!!)

In all, you emerge from this must-see museum with a greater understanding of Warhol's genius, beyond his iconic Campbell's Soup Cans paintings, although you ultimately are left with the question, is it ever really possible to understand Andy Warhol?

Getting there: 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212-5890

Hours: Closed Mondays. Open Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday - Thursday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. Check website for holiday schedules.

Website: http://www.warhol.org/

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Elvis 11 Times [Studio Type], 1963. (7 shown here) Silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen.