This Week @ MHS
There is a flurry of activity to start the week here at the Society before we ease into a long weekend. Here is what we have in store:
- Monday, 10 April, 6:00PM : We begin the week with an author talk featuring Ronald H. Epp, whose recent book is titled Creating Acadia National Park: The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr. In his work, Epp examines the pioneering role of Dorr's seminal contributions - largely unacknowledged - to the American environmental movement. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM.
- Tuesday, 11 April, 5:15PM : This weeks Environmental History Seminar is a panel discussion titled "Fishing the Commons." The talk will feature Erik Reardon of University of Maine at Orono and his paper "New England's Pre-Industrial River Commons: Culture and Economy," as well as Stacy Roberts of University of California, Davis, and her essay "The Private Commons: Oyster Planting in 19th-century Connecticut." Matthew McKenzie of University of Connecticut at Avery Point provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
- Wednesday, 12 April, 12:00PM : Come in for a Brown Bag talk on Wednesday titled "Radical Enlightenment in the Struggle over Slavery," featuring Matthew Stewart, author of Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. This talk draws material from a work in progress to lead a discussion about the role of Enlightenment ideas in shaping abolitionism, anti-slavery politics, and the Civil War. This talk is free and open to the public so grab your lunch and stop by!
- Wednesday, 12 April, 6:00PM : "The Rise and Fall of the American Party" is a public program that is part of The Irish Atlantic Series which is centered on our current exhibition. In this talk, Stephen T. Riley Librarian of the MHS, Peter Drummey, looks at the meteoric rise of the American Party - the "Know Nothings" - as well as its rapid decline with the approach of the Civil War. This talk is free and open to the public though registration is required. Pre-talk reception kicks-off at 5:30PM and the program starts at 6:00PM.
- Saturday, 15 April, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or email@example.com.
While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.
Please note that the Society is CLOSED on Monday, 17 April, in observance of Patriot's Day.
| Published: Sunday, 9 April, 2017, 12:00 AM
Celebrate National Beer Day!
By Daniel Tobias Hinchen, Reader Services
If you are like me then you were unaware until this morning that today is National Beer Day in the United States. And just like that, you learned an important fact on a Friday afternoon.
On 13 March 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drafted a memo which read:
To the Congress:
I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modificaiton of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissable under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance. 1
According to the folks at that National Constitution Center, on 22 March 1933, Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, a piece of legislation that amended the Volstead Act of 1919. The Cullen-Harrison Act went into effect on 7 April 1933 and was met with celebration around the country. Happily for many, the CHA did not stick around long; it was voided upon ratification of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution in December 1933.2
In commemoration of the Cullen-Harrison Act of 1933, here are two recipes from the collections of the MHS to brew your own beer and spruce beer:
To brew Beer
Take 3 pints of malt, a double handful of Hops, as much of bran or shorts, boil these in ten gallons of soft water for two hours. then strain it, and when cold, add half a pint of molasses a half a pint of yest and work it well. To colour it add a handfull of roasted barley whilst it is boiling. The yest of this beer put in a bottle with water, & kept in a cool place, will serve to make Bread.__
Take half a pint of Spruce. boil it two hours in five gallons of soft water, a quart of molasses. When cold work in a large tea cup full of good thick yest. let it work 24 hours & then bottle it off. it will be pleasant Beer without the Spruce.__ 3
While it is too late to brew and sample today, you have a full year to practice your brewing and have a homemade batch for the next National Beer Day. I, for one, look forward to reader submissions to see who creates the best brew.
1. Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Message to Congress on Repeal of the Volstead Act.," March 13, 1933. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14551. Accessed 7 April 2017.
2. National Constitution Center, "The constitutional origins of National Beer Day.," April 7, 2017. Constitution Daily. https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-constitutional-origins-of-national-beer-day/. Accessed 7 April 2017.
3. From an Anonymous recipe book, ca. 1800.
| Published: Friday, 7 April, 2017, 4:00 PM
This Week @ MHS
It's a pretty quiet week here at the Society as we begin a new month. Here is what lies ahead:
- Tuesday, 4 April, 5:15PM : Agnès Delahaye of the Université Lyon II presents this week's Early American History seminar titled "Promotional Literature and Identity in Colonial Massachusetts." This essay examines the institutional and cultural factors behind promotional literature, the body of colonial sources written for metropolitan audiences. The essay details the tropes and expressions of the commonality of purpose that Delahaye sees in most New England historiography, and explores the relationship between colonial historiography and exceptionalism in the New England tradition. Conrad E. Wright of the MHS provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.
Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
- Wednesday, 5 April, 12:00PM : Julia Rose Kraut of the Historical Society of the New York Courts leads this week's Brown Bag lunch talk, entitled "A Fear of Foreigners and of Freedom: Ideological Exclusion and Deportation in America." This talk examines the history of the exclusion and deportation of foreigners from the United States based on their beliefs, associations, and/or expressions, from the Alien Act of 1798 to the War on Terror. This talk is free and open to the public.
- Saturday, 8 April, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through the public spaces here at the Society. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for researvations for individuals and small groups. Larger parties (8 or more) should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.
| Published: Sunday, 2 April, 2017, 12:00 AM
Bread Pudding: an experiment with Mary Channing Eustis’ recipe book
By Alex Bush, Reader Services
The Pemberton collection, a compilation of materials from several New England families connected by marriage, includes a few artifacts from Mary Channing Eustis of Milton, Massachusetts. A dedicated recorder of recipes and what we now lovingly refer to as “life hacks,” Eustis filled two commonplace books with directions for the making of everything from plum cakes to stomachache cures. After recently rediscovering Emilie Haertsch’s 2012 blog post on Ben Franklin’s milk punch (http://www.masshist.org/blog/838), I figured another experiment with a vintage recipe was long overdue. Should this post instill you with further curiosity about Massachusetts’ cooking-related past, consider attending the MHS public program series “Cooking Boston.” The next installment (2 of 6) is scheduled for the 27th of April.
With that, let us explore Mary Channing Eustis’ recipe for bread pudding. Since I’d been planning to attempt a bread pudding anyway, I was quite excited to find this recipe. To my untrained eye it looked like the perfect choice—easy, simple, and delicious.
“Boil 3 pints of milk sweeten it with half a pound of sugar put in half a pound of Butter – when tis melted pour it over Eleven ounces of [of] Bread – when cold put in 10 eggs well Beat – glass of wine – glass of Brandy little salt – spice to your taste & Currants or raisins as you Choose---”
The photo and transcript above represent the recipe in its entirety. It is vague at best, with some decidedly odd proportions. In order to accommodate my lack of a kitchen scale as well as my unwillingness to sacrifice 10 eggs, I halved the recipe and converted each measurement into its approximate equivalent in cups. Pictured below is the full array of ingredients as well as a bag of flour, which I was almost positive the recipe included despite having read it multiple times. Milk was also included in the recipe, but is not pictured here. Obviously the baking nerves were already setting in.
First, Eustis indicates that the milk should be boiled and sweetened with sugar. However, due to her disinclination toward comma usage, I was unsure whether she meant that the sugar should be added right away or after the milk was boiled. I was also unsure as to whether boiling milk is ever a good thing to do. Instead, I put the milk in a pot over medium heat and brought it to just before boiling, adding sugar gradually until it dissolved. As the milk heated, I chopped the bread into cubes (despite the recipe not specifying that I should do so) and put it into a bowl. After this, the recipe calls for an off-putting amount of butter to be melted into the milk before the whole mixture is poured over the bread.
“Speak softly and melt a big stick of butter.” -Theodore Roosevelt, (Historical note: Theodore Roosevelt did not, in fact, say this.)
Honestly, this was the recipe at its best. You might as well stop reading right here. Even so, at this point my sweetened bread and dairy concoction was likely pretty far from what Mary Channing Eustis would have had. I used skim milk, while Eustis almost certainly would have used whole milk or even cream, considering the fact that skim milk was not sold in U.S. stores until around World War II. The same goes for the overall differences in quality between my Stop n’ Shop rolls and whatever delicious, probably homemade bread Eustis had on hand. I am also fairly certain that Eustis had never heard of Craisins, which I added later on.
A festival of health.
Eustis’ recipe instructs that the above mixture should chill before the next steps can be taken. While chilling, my bread absorbed most of the milk mixture and became incredibly soggy. This made the next step in the recipe especially painful. To the bread and milk, the (halved) recipe instructs that five well-beaten eggs must be added. This made the eggs to milk ratio almost equal, creating what can only be described as a sweet, uncooked bread omelet.
There are no words.
The recipe then calls for one glass each of wine and brandy. Nowhere is it specified how much a “glass” is supposed to be, so I estimated by adding half a standard-sized wine glass of each. At this point, I figured, adding a little alcohol would only make things easier for everyone. I also added a few handfuls of Craisins to substitute for currants, and spiced the pudding “to my taste” with vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. All in all, the uncooked pudding did not look half bad. It looked fairly similar to other bread puddings I’d seen previously, and the spices and wine made it smell quite lovely! With nothing in the recipe indicating how long or at what temperature the pudding should be baked, I was forced to guess. I cross-referenced a few other bread pudding recipes and came up with 350 degrees for 40 minutes. With an inflated sense of optimism, I placed the pudding into the oven to bake.
Admittedly, the pudding looked very handsome at the end of its bake. My apartment was filled with the fragrant scents of cinnamon and butter, the top of the pudding was beautifully brown, and it appeared that most of the liquid had been absorbed. However, the sheen of butter grease coating the surface did not inspire confidence, nor did the fact that my first spoonful of the pudding revealed a pale and wobbly interior beneath the crust. The sad result of this experiment was a bread pudding that resembled a sweet frittata more closely than anything else. The spices, sugar content, and baking time were spot on. Had the proportions been slightly more even, this probably would have turned out well. However, the sheer amount of butter and eggs in this recipe coupled with the comparably small amount of bread made for a greasy, breakfasty mess.
There are many reasons why this could have turned out as badly as it did. First of all, Mary Channing Eustis likely compiled this book of recipes for herself, her family, or her peers. All of those people undoubtedly had some background in the cooking techniques needed for these recipes, including knowledge of typical oven temperatures or a sense of how many eggs is too many eggs. Second, as I mentioned before, it was impossible to recreate the dish with complete accuracy given the supplies, skills, and hardware I had on hand. Finally, it may just be the case that eggy puddings were in vogue back in the 1840s and 50s, and that this egg purgatory was inescapable. While I personally cannot see the appeal, Eustis obviously could, given the fact that this book is absolutely full of similar recipes. Any avid egg-eater is welcome and encouraged to attempt this recipe and share the outcome.
Despite the eggy result, this was a fascinating experiment and a great look into an older take on a still-popular dish. I certainly look forward to revisiting Eustis’ recipe book for more questionable recipes in the future. Perhaps I’ll look into her home cure for an upset stomach first.
| Published: Friday, 31 March, 2017, 12:00 AM
They’re Comin’ Out, They Want the World to Know: Boston’s Depression Debutantes
By Susan Martin, Collections Services
Elizabeth Elliot Mixter was born in Boston on 24 January 1913. She was the oldest child and only daughter of renowned neurosurgeon William Jason Mixter and his wife Dorothy (Fay) Mixter. Like other young women hailing from the elite Brahmin families of Boston, coming of age meant a “debut” into society at around the age of 18. Elizabeth’s debut took place in the fall of 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression.
The MHS collection of Fay-Mixter family papers contains a large scrapbook of newspaper clippings, programs, invitations, photographs, and other papers documenting Elizabeth’s ”Coming Out Year 1932-1933.”
Elizabeth made her official debut on 9 November 1932 at a tea held in her honor by her grandmother, Elizabeth Elliot (Spooner) Fay, at 330 Beacon Street. Pourers at the tea included other young ladies from the so-called “smart set.” Many of their names are recognizable—for example, Polly Binney, whose family’s papers are located right here at the MHS, just a few shelves away from Elizabeth’s. Another pourer was Abigail Aldrich, none other than the niece of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Elizabeth’s cousin Anne Mixter, also one of that year’s debs, couldn’t make it to the tea because of an emergency appendectomy. Neither could “plucky” 17-year-old Frances Proctor, who’d been mugged just two days before and apparently punched in the mouth when she refused to surrender her car keys. Frances’ story is told in a newspaper clipping entitled “Society Girl Is Beaten by Holdup Man.”
According to the Boston Evening Transcript of 4 June 1932, more than 150 debutantes were formally presented in the 1932-33 season in Boston, an “unusually large” number. After coming out, a deb’s life became a whirlwind of parties, dinners, concerts, costume balls, charity events, etc. Elizabeth was invited to join exclusive clubs like the Junior League of Boston and the Vincent Club. She took part in theatrical performances and studied cooking and home economics.
A deb was photographed, or “snapped,” around town, and the society pages detailed her clothing and appearance. For example, on their way to a luncheon, two young ladies were “nicely turned out in their new fall costumes, so modishly trimmed with fur.” Polly Cunningham was described as “the luscious, rounded type with golden curls and merry blue eyes, beautifully poised and magnetic.” And here’s what one article had to say about a roller skating party: “One of the prettiest of the skaters was Miss Elizabeth E. Mixter of Brookline. Like many others, she took dainty falls but enjoyed the frolic.” Another writer used the word “pulchritudinous.”
Amidst the high-society gossip and fashion tips are a few hints of the tough economic times then plaguing the country. One page of the scrapbook contains a re-written version of Psalm 23 that begins: “The politician is my shepherd – I am in want / He maketh me to lie down on park benches.” Also included is an article entitled “Depression Debutantes,” from the 12 November 1932 Saturday Evening Post, which makes the argument that “coming out” prepares a young woman not just for marriage, but also for work. Perhaps most revealing, Elizabeth filled out an elaborate budget sheet, probably as part of her home economics coursework, detailing how to save money on clothing purchases over three years.
As for the uncomfortable premise of the whole debutante phenomenon—the marketing of young women of a certain social standing as eligible marriage prospects—Elizabeth’s scrapbook has that covered, too. It includes a column from the gossip magazine Tatler and American Sketch by an anonymous author, aptly named “Audacious.” In the column, Boston debs are sorted into “grades” based on, well, the blueness of their blood.
Grade A includes Abigail Aldrich and Polly Cunningham, as well as Misses Appleton, Coolidge, Hallowell, Holmes, Jackson, Lawrence, Loring, Peabody, Perkins, Saltonstall, Shaw, Winthrop, and others. Elizabeth, her cousin Anne, and Polly Binney are all listed in Grade B. “Plucky” Frances Proctor rates Grade C, though I would argue she deserves much higher!
The mercenary nature of these rankings shocked some contemporary journalists. When the Tatler and American Sketch went out of business in January 1933, editor John C. Schemm, outed as the author of the column, said: “I meant that department to be a constructive force, but it can’t be done. No matter how intelligently you strive to do the job, or how constructively, you cannot avoid creating hard feelings.”
Elizabeth E. Mixter married Dr. Henry Thomas Ballantine, Jr. in 1938, and the couple had two children. She died in 1998.
| Published: Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 12:00 AM