What We’re Watching in September

Howdy.  Joanna here.

This month I’m doing a little departure from the usual Wenches’ What We’re Reading.  This month it’s What We’re Watching.  What movie, what TV, what paintings, what real life scenes have impressed and moved us recently?

Fair_House_Farm_cropFor me … I love non-fiction. The life of the duckbilled platypus. The Mongol Empire. The genetics of cats.

Recently I’ve been filling my leisure time with BBC and A&E documentaries on British History. One of my exciting finds — I get excited by history — is Tales From the Green Valley.  Five archeologists and historians live for a year on a farm on the Welsh border, wearing the clothing, eating the food, using the farming techniques and following the household customs of 1620. It’s exact, detailed, authentic

(Well … I caught them in one bit of  ‘folk etymology’ error — the origin of the phrase ‘upper crust’ to mean ‘rich folks’. Not 1620. It’s Nineteenth Century.)

This Tales From the Green Valley is a nitty-gritty, hands-on-the-plough, realistic view of a way of life that continued in some aspects till Victorian times. Interesting for its own sake. Interesting as the background upon which our stories are enacted. Fascinating to watch. 


Andrea also recommends a non-fiction TV series. She says:  09-2388M

I very rarely watch television. I know there are really good shows, with fabulous writing, but when I have some down time, I always gravitate toward curling up with a book to relax.
However, a friend of mine recommended that I watch the PBS special seven part series on "The Roosevelts—An Intimate History" (the wonderful thing is you can download and watch all the episodes on your computer!) So I tuned in for the first one—and was absolutely hooked. 


IMG_4294Nicola takes us right to Real Life.

Nicola here. This month I am watching the sea at Bamburgh Castle on the north east coast of England. We've had the most glorious weather and calm seas so far but tomorrow there is a storm promised. I find the sea so soothing and refreshing and walking along the beach has filled me with ideas and inspiration. It's wonderful to be here and see the geese flying overhead on their journey north and the castle silhouetted against the sky.

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Spicing Up the Regency

DSCN1964Joanna here.

 I was fumbling through my spice shelf the other day, as one does, trying to decide whether I wanted to make some kind of fancy beet salad to go with my last burrata cheese ball — this turned out to be a non-problem because I left Catonporch5the cheese on the counter while I was thinking all this and the cat jumped up, seized the cheese ball in her little white teeth, and went running off to scarf it down in secret under the forsythias.

Anyway, I got to wondering which of my spices I got here in my house would be in the kitchen cabinet of your well-supplied Regency housewife or cook.

Up above there’s my spice cabinet, which I have over the sink because having it over the stove is harder on the spices, them getting heated up and damp from the steam and all. As you will see, there is a bit of a crowd of spices.

So what spices and herbs do I hold in common with my Regency housewife?

She would have had access to all the herbs that grew in hedgerows and kitchen gardens since the first modern people walked across a land bridge into the British Isles about 40,000 years ago … though they didn’t so much go in for DSCN1986kitchen garden at that time.

A Regency woman would have easily matched my pitiful little array of traditional herbs. See them pictured in a line: sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, and oregano. She would have called the oregano ‘wild marjoram’, just to make everybody’s life interesting.

Wiki HerbsThe Regency housewife would have had many more of these traditional herbs at hand — dried or fresh parsley, (thus the ‘parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme’ that are headed to Scarborough Fair,) ordinary marjoram, dill, sweet basil, coriander, (of which more below,) fennel, garlic, scallions, mustard, saffron, and caraway. And she’d use herbs we don’t necessarily associate with everyday cuisine any more, like marigolds, lavender, roses, and violets, tansy, and angelica.


Coriandrum_sativum_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-193Speaking of coriander (and I add this because I find it charming and when was the last time you were charmed by an herb?):


The Plant that bears Coriander is cultivated in Gardens, upon the Account of its Seed, which is much us'd for Food, and Physic ; they are us'd in Comfits, Spirituous Liquors, and Beer, They are green upon the Plant, but grow whitish as they dry ; they are of an aromatic and very agreeable Taste and Smell; but for the rest of the Plant, it has an unpleasant Smell, like that of Buggs, and that is the Reason that 'tis neither us'd in Physic, nor Food.
                            A Treatise of All Sorts of Food, Louis Lémery, 1745


Now we come to the fine selection of spices that would have been imported DSCN1976into England in 1800. Me, I have nutmeg, ginger, (I have crystalized ginger also,) cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, cloves, black pepper, and sesame oil. These would all have been readily available in the Regency … maybe a bit of a luxury, but one a lot of folks could indulge in. My two-centuries-ago cook could have had all those imported goodies and a double handful more that I don’t buy — tumeric, cassia, allspice, anise, caraway, sesame seeds, and mace ….

There are doubtless others I’m not calling to mind.

DSCN1978What else? Dried lemon peel, which she would probably have made for herself from imported lemons she bought in the market.

Salt, DSCN1981necessary to man from the dawn of time. Hers would have been made by the seashore in England. DSCN1980

And I have a bit of cherry cordial. The early 19th century cook would  probably have a number of liquors and used them with a freer hand than I do.

WhaDSCN1979t do I have that wouldn’t have found a place in the Regency kitchen? My food dyes for one thing. These are synthetic formulations made from aromatic petroleum products. Not so 1800-ish.


And then there’s the exotics. My shelves hold a little flock of spices and herbs for dishing up Indian and Mexican foods. Lookit here. Red pepper, garam masala, cumin, cilantro, cardamom, paprika and soy sauce. In the 1800’s household it was still a bit early for the ordinary cook to be putting together currieDSCN1995s, mulligatawny soup, and kedgeree. There was no stir-fry with snow-peas. Tex-Mex was not even on the horizon.

So there you have it. I peek into the cupboard of a London housewife in the past and it looks pretty familiar. If she glanced at my shelves it wouldn’t be all that strange.


Are you a spicy-foods person? What spices and herbs do you use a lot? Any new ones you’ve just discovered?

One random commenter will win a book of mine — any book of their choice, including the upcoming Rogue Spy if they are willing to wait 60 days till I get some copies.