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When you think of 18th century dining, which image comes to mind, tea on the left, or the sea captains to the right?

While I did not carouse with sea captains this weekend, at dinner today, I found myself deeply envious of someone’s skill in eating from a knife. I shoveled food onto my spoon yesterday with abandon. I coveted the last three pieces of quince tart today despite knowing that one of those pieces was for my husband. And I am not ashamed. Ok, not too ashamed.

The best part of living history is always what you learn, and I feel a separate blog post should deal with “the public, god love ’em.” What I learned this weekend was less about quilting and more about living old school. Ok, and maybe more about the public’s…breadth….than depth…

The most instructive thing was about being hungry and thirsty. Thirsty as in my lips are dry and I know I need to drink, which means being past thirsty and at dehydrated. Yesterday I went all day without peeing and that’s not right. Both yesterday and today I left the farm hungry, not because there was not food but because I ate mindful of leaving enough for those eating after me. The goose pie was delicious and seriously worth eating standing up in the kitchen. I’d fight for that pie.

Eating boiled dinner (ham, parsnips, carrots and turnips) along with a pudding, with 18th century utensils was challenging. Two-tine forks have great sticking ability but not much carrying ability.  Spoons are your friend. Knives may be better as trowels than cutting implements. No one really cares about your manners, they are too hungry to notice. Boiled pudding is this season’s smash hit.

Coggeshall Farm uses Amelia Simmon’s American Cookery, which I started reading last week. It is full of useful receipts based on American ingredients and I recommend it. Here is the receipt for the fantastic, sliceable pudding we had today:

A boiled Flour Pudding_.
One quart milk, 9 eggs, 7 spoons flour, a little salt, put into a
strong cloth and boiled three quarters of an hour.

There were hot words about those “7 spoons” from the kitchen staff and to be honest, I did not quiz them fully on the size of the spoons they used. But whatever magic they worked, it was truly delicious with and without the molasses cream sauce. Sliced and eaten with spoon or fingers (I snitched some later in the kitchen), it a consistency of solidity like the best parts of a Swedish rice pudding, though smooth.

It is hard to countenance how hungry people must have been much of the time in the past. More than the extreme hunger of the soldiers (like Greenman and Plumb Martin), I think common people experienced days of lacking, and accepted them, with the seasons. Food was not constant, but in flux, and even at harvest, I think, or hope, that one was mindful of the needs of others.

For more on seasonality and 18th century ways of thinking or seeing, read Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America. That’s what I’m going to pretend to do while I fall asleep.