Monday, January 26, 2009

Never Idle

I have been fairly silent these past few weeks, but let me assure you I have not been idle. For better or for worse, I have spent quite a bit of time knitting recently.

"The pretty make-believe industry, or elaborate idleness, of knitting all sorts of things in all sorts of crinkum-crankum ways . . ."

My needles have click-clacked non-stop, though to be quite honest, not exclusively on 19th-century projects. I've produced a set or two of baby booties, not to mention a cloche that I promptly unravelled as it did not fit quite right. I think the yarn was too heavy and now intend to use it for a lacy tank top.

Back to the 1850s, I've also finished my second grey railway stocking. I think I may take a break from knitting before starting my red stockings. I'll need to buy some more yarn soon too. But first, I intend to do something else with my life for a while. Otherwise, these little notes will become simply too dull to write, let alone read.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blackstrap Baking

A beautiful bottle of blackstrap molasses has sat on my shelf for some time, calling to me in a quiet little voice every time I pass the pantry door. I opened it last weekend to sweeten an apple and pear pie; a mere two tablespoons added a delightfully subtle flavor and brought out the nutmeg quite nicely.

Despite the pie's success (my husband downed three slices in a single sitting), my craving for molasses was hardly allayed. So this afternoon, finding myself at the proverbial loose end, I decided to find a cookie recipe sweetened only with molasses. A quick search of Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project provided this gem from The New England Economical Housekeeper by Esther Allen Howland, published in 1845.

In case you are having trouble reading the image, here's the recipe:

61. Gingerbread, No. 8.

* Take a tea-cupful of molasses, a tea-spoonful of saleratus, dissolved in half a cup of boiling water, a tea spoonful of ginger, and flour to make it hard enough to roll. Bake it five minutes.

I substituted baking soda for the saleratus of course, but otherwise followed the directions exactly. The mix of boiling water, soda, and molasses fizzed up in a most alarming way at first, but it calmed down once I began stirring in the flour. I must admit I have no idea how much flour I ended up mixing in. Probably somewhere between three and four cups, but part of the fun was just adding more until it seemed about right. I had to knead the last bit of flour in at the very end, after the dough became too thick to stir effectively.

I rolled it fairly thin, with lots of flour to keep it from sticking to my pastry board. My cookie cutters were less than 19th-century (a duck, a cowboy, and a giraffe) and of course I baked them in a modern oven. I set it to about 350 degrees. They baked through after about 7-10 minutes -- perhaps the oven should have been quicker -- and stayed nicely soft while cooling. I wonder if they will get hard once they've been in the tin for a day or so. We shall see . . . if they last that long.

Did I mention they are quite tasty? Not very sweet, but nicely spiced and chewy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Confession

I am addicted to knitting. This past week, while shepherding my computer through a serious roll-back (to June 2006!) to repair a failed program installation, I finished my second grey wool stocking. Since the beginning of the year, I have also knit a pair of baby booties (decidedly not 19th-century) and begun a cloche in mist grey bamboo blend for my early spring hat. I have even been considering writing a book of knitting patterns based on 19th-century accessories.

The consequence of this growing obsession is quite serious however. I seem to spend every free moment with needles in hand, instead of writing, reading, studying, or even cleaning my apartment. I must find a way to cut back...

On a side note, but also in the nature of a confession, two days ago I discovered proof of something I have long suspected: I knit backwards. I cannot tell you what mortification this has caused me, not to mention the oaths I suppressed while attempting to teach my hands how to do it right way round. I think I have the knitting part almost mastered, but the pearling still gives me pause. Since I knit with the yarn held across my left finger instead of casting every stitch, I have had to modify the little twists I use to pick up the working strand. The result is less slanted than my previously twisted style, but it's still a bit uneven (perhaps that will correct with practise) and definitely slower (also something that may improve with continued industry).

My camera cord was left at work by mistake, so I cannot even post pictures of my latest knitting accomplishments (including the beginnings of my hat, knit in the new, corrected, manner). But perhaps that is not such a tragedy. It will force me to focus on other topics as I plan upcoming posts.

Cheerio for now. Back to my knitting.