Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It Takes All Kinds

        This summer I have been working as an intern at Stratford Hall Plantation on the Northern Neck of Virginia. I am wrapping up a project to create a furnishing and interpretation plan for their 18th-century kitchen outbuilding. I have enjoyed all of the research and it made me think more about the breadth of materials used in one space. You'll come to find that I adore utilitarian objects, and kitchens are one of my favorite spaces.
          Monticello's 2005 book entitled Dining at Monticello: in Good Taste and Abundance implies that copper was used primarily for French-style cooking in the 18th-century, and that copper was a rare material because of cost. But I disagree. After comparing 100 probate inventories from Maryland and Virginia, it seems that copper was commonplace in most kitchens, even those who had a few vessels to cook with. The materials of choice for the kitchen were determined by the recipe, as Marc Meltonville from Hampton Court Palace pointed out in a presentation at Winterthur this past spring (the video I've linked with Hampton Court is wonderful, and I wish I could do such a thing here!). Similar to my blog post on particular crocks for preserving and pickling, here's an example for the differences in metals. Hannah Glasse notes in her publication The Art of Cookery (1747) that “If you boil turnips for sauce, don’t boil it all in the pot, it makes the broth too strong of them, but boil them in a sauce-pan.” A pot (likely iron) would have cooked the turnips very quickly, and made a strong, heavy boil. However, a sauce pan would have simmered or cooked the turnips slower. This implies that the pot was used over direct flame, hanging from the crane in the hearth, while the sauce pan was used over coals on a trivet.
William Rogers Mug 2nd Quarter 18th-century
          You're probably saying, "Brenda, you're off on a tangent," and I am, but it is going somewhere. The ceramics in the kitchen were just as variable as the metal objects. We often go to historic house museums and do not see the variety of ceramics which would have been present. This is not because there were not a variety of ceramics in the kitchen, it is more likely due to the limited amount of potters making good reproductions for use and interpretation. It also has more to do with the limited survival rate of ceramic objects which were used in kitchens. Thus, we need to look below ground. I love sherds. Part of my research for Stratford Hall has involved looking at the archaeological material from Stratford, as well as comparing it to other kitchen sites. Below ground there are innumerable amounts of coarse red earthenware, "Buckley" ware, brown and gray salt-glazed stoneware, as well as refined wares such as creamware, pearlware, white salt-glazed stoneware, and even porcelain. The coarse wares go hand in hand with the everyday functions of the kitchen from storing materials, foodstuffs, preserving, and cooking. Earthenware has the advantage of being able to withstand localized heat, therefore, earthenware dishes may be found charred on one side, or on the bottom. Stoneware unfortunately (yes, I've experienced this), does not enjoy localized heat as it cannot evenly distribute the heat because it is vitrified. So, the coarse wares had their own particular uses like the metals. "Buckley" ware which I have developed a fondness for, is a wonderfully thick, coarsely-thrown ware which shows up archaeologically primarily in bowl and dish form. Even the imported wares could be brought in cheaply enough that local producers were not creating identical forms. For example, Kelly Ladd at the Colonial Williamsburg archaeology lab told me that the "Poor Potter" of Yorktown (William Rogers) was not creating the forms similar to "Buckley" ware, which implies that the "Buckley" ware could be made and imported cheaply. Rogers chose to challenge the English brown stoneware market as well as producing local red earthenware. The presence of refined wares, especially in the yard between the kitchen and the main house (at least where there are kitchen outbuildings such as at Stratford), exemplifies the use of the kitchen not only as a place for the preparation of the food, but also the plating. In short, a good kitchen setting should have a variety of materials which reflect the local foodways and trade, but also the archaeological evidence below ground.


RJ Bates said...

Any references to textiles in what you have found? I'm particularly keen on any that might discuss aprons.

But all and all cool to read this!

Brenda Hornsby Heindl said...

I have been working a lot with the probate inventory database Probing the Past (http://chnm.gmu.edu/probateinventory/). They conveniently have a "Search the Inventories" option. I did a quick search for "apron" and came up with 14 results. While textiles have not been my focus for this project, there are certainly a lot of textiles to be found! Also, if you have access to the Pennsylvania Gazette through Accessible Archives or another database, you may find aprons mentioned in the runaway ads. Runaway ads often describe the clothing, and if you're lucky, a woman likely had an apron on! I would also recommend John Style's Dress of the People which has a great section on comparing the clothes of one community which was affected by a fire. If I recall correctly, aprons were also accounted for! Glad to hear you are still on the apron hunt!