Confession: I did not take good notes at Sturbridge. It's too big, there's too much, and by the third day of any vacation this weird thing comes over me where I just want to enjoy myself without making it into work. IMAGINE THAT.
Let's see how old Kate contorts herself to make this cohesive!
The last kitchen, at the pioneer house, was the most interesting, since it was in use. I learned that butter would be kept in brine with a "follower" (a stone or something) on top of it to keep it from floating up and spoiling. Pickles and eggs were kept the same way. I wrote down that pioneers would spread "souse" on toast, but I didn't write down what souse was, and though I have just googled it I shall refrain from telling you. You're welcome.
I shall not however refrain from showing you this:
Since researching my book, and spending a weekend at the Genesee Country Museum cooking over an open fire, and seeing the culinary options of this particular kitchen, I've never been more grateful for refrigeration in my entire life. God help us if environmental collapse descends and power grids fail and we have to return to eating food that looks, frankly, like poo. The only thing worse would be a zombie apocalypse - and I can't be 100% sure you wouldn't end up eating brains either way. Let's just say souse doesn't usually involve brains. Usually.
Here are some pretty things to take your mind off it:
These are less pretty, but for some reason I love ugly period servingware. Click on the photo on the right to see the replacement tin handle on that pitcher. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
This also pleased me aesthetically:
Typography, as you know, is one of my favorite things. Click on the images to read.
Poor Calvin Edson! To be extraordinary is one thing; to be a wonderful curiosity is another. As for the advertisement, I desperately wish I could see an enchanted egg dance a hornpipe, but I have a feeling even the people who attended didn't see it either.
On to more practical matters. The most impressive thing in Sturbridge is the lumber mill. I was excited to see it because although Zeb Norton's mill wouldn't have been as advanced, I still hadn't seen anything in use that is as close as this.
I don't know how powerful it appears in the video, but standing next to it is a little scary. And yet it is also extremely slow. To saw enough wood to build a village with would take a long time, especially if you could only raft the logs to the mill from late spring up to winter.
A curious aspect of living history museums is that the people who work there know a lot that they don't tell you because they don't want to bore you, but those are the very things that really communicate the nitty-gritty of life in the past. Over at the pioneer farmhouse, a man was making a criss-cross of logs, and I asked him about it.
They're fence rails. It takes a year to cure them like this (on the left) and then they need to be pointed (on the right). What struck me about this was that I would've walked past a barn with two boards sticking out way up on a corner and thought nothing of it. But it turns out to be a small clue representing a whole aspect of farming life I'd never given a lot of thought to except for that Robert Frost poem that ends with "Good fences make good neighbors" but let's be honest, it's not really about fencing. Anyway! Fence rails last several years, but the posts have to be replaced more frequently. Fixing fences every spring would have been an important, rushed, and stressful process for farmers. They'd be out putting points on their rails before the snow melted.
Writing historical fiction has forced me to become a person who asks questions. The above question turned out to be pretty useful. I also asked a lady in the farmhouse what the two poles were outside. She looked at me. "Clothesline," she said, like I was an idiot. I mean, how was I to know, I haven't seen a clothesline in like a decade and there was no string on it! Needless to say, not all questions work out. Here's one I didn't ask, but should have. What is this?
What is that circular indentation? What are those stains? I wouldn't make a very good archaeologist because I've thought about it multiple times since this trip and I still have no idea, yet I am simultaneously certain it's extremely obvious. Hmph!
My goal is to go see all possible living history museums within the next, oh, decade? Is that reasonable? This one was helpful for research and for getting a sense of that intangible thing that books need - atmosphere. Here are a couple of book-related photos just to add some suspense to this post:
I take all my notes in the same notebook, and while I was looking for the Sturbridge notes, I found my writing group notes. You be glad to know that chapters 15 and 16 were deemed "quite almost uplifting at points." If that's not a front-cover quote, I don't know what is.