Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Colonial Meal Fit For Thanksgiving

This week’s entry is a little different than recent entries.  Since Thanksgiving Day is upon us here are some recipes from Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook.

If you have visited Wilton recently you should have seen the elaborately decorated table setting in the Dining Room.  At the center of the table was one of the many delicacies of the colonial era, a boar’s head.  I know it sounds gross, but in the 18th century this was considered a “fancy” dish.  Mary Randolph provides a recipe for the head of a shote, also spelled shoat.  Mary’s recipe includes directions for all parts of the head.

If a pig’s head is not your thing here is a recipe for a more Thanksgiving appropriate dish, a boiled turkey.

If you are looking for a simple side dish, Mary has a simple recipe for potato balls.

Lastly is one of my favorite dishes, a syllabub.  This dessert drink is usually made with cream, wine, and your choice of fruit.  Mary provides a recipe for those who wish to try their hand at the historic method. 

If you are interested in trying your hand at a colonial dish, but with a modern recipe visit Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Foodways blog History is Served.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Randolph Christening

Accession #: 1986.14A-B
Item: Christening Gown        

This cream colored christening gown made of silk, satin, and cotton was reportedly made by Mary Scott Randolph for her first child. She was married to Brett Randolph I of Warwick Plantation (a few miles south of Richmond).  Their first child, Richard Randolph II was born August 17, 1754. Brett Randolph was the first cousin of William Randolph III.  The gown was also worn by Richard’s siblings, Henry, Brett, and Susanna. The gown is plain but has hand knotted fringe. The fringe surrounds the square neck, down each front side, and around the bottom of the robe. A silk cord draws the gown closed at the front neck.

Parents arranged christening and baptisms-usually within a few weeks after birth to celebrate the birth of the new child. Christening or baptism of an infant marked the “beginning of [a] child’s religious beliefs” and followed closely after births because of the belief that “an unbaptized child is a child unprotected by God”. For many it was the “first public appearance for mother and new baby” and for those who had the money, a “special gown” was made for the occasion.  As Phillis Cunnington sustains in her book Costumes for Births, Marriages, and Deaths, “Whether it was to be wholly or only partly undressed for the actual ceremony, the baby in a well-to-do family was generally taken to church in rather elaborate robes”. The christening of Richard Randolph II, may have been held in the family’s church or their home. 

Baptism represented “the social birth of the child” as well as being done for the security of salvation if the baby were to die. Laymen stressed the responsibility of the parents to bring their child for christening or baptism.  Virginia layman John Page (1627-1692) wrote that the parent,

procure[s] it an early right in all those precious advantages which sacrament conveys to it. This you ought not to delay, it being reasonable that you who have instrumentally conveyed the stain and pollution of sin to the poor infant, should be very earnest to have it washed off, as soon as may be: besides the life of so tender an infant is but a blast, and many times gone in a moment.

In her book A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican religious practice in the elite households of eighteenth century Virginia, Lauren Winner describes the gown presumably stitched by Mary Scott Randolph as “displaying the Randolphs’ wealth and taste”.  Winner goes on to tell how the gown would have shown that the Randolphs were keeping the latest styles. She also points out that the gown was fashioned to fit theological symbols. Winner affirms “in the eighteenth century, most christening outfits were white; the white cloth symbolized the purity of the soul after being cleansed by the baptismal waters”. Richard Randolph II, “was to be washed clean, made pure by the water and certified as such by his white gown”. The design of the gown enforced the beliefs behind the christening ceremony that Richard Randolph II and the succeeding wearers of the gown were involved.

For the past 257 years this gown has been passed down and used through the generations following Richard Randolph II emphasizing the importance of this intricately and thoughtfully designed gown. Its last use was on April 20, 1986 at the christening of a descendant of Susanna Randolph, sister of Richard Randolph II, through whom the gown was passed. It now lays to rest at Wilton as a generous gift of direct descendants of Susanna, Janet Randolph Turpin Ayers, Augustine Royall Turpin Jr., and Carter Mosby Turpin. 

Cunnington, Phillis and Catherine Lucas. Costumes for Births, Marriages, and Deaths. New York: Harper
and Row Publishers, Inc., 1972.
Chatham -Baker, Odette. Baby Lore: Ceremonies, Myths, and Traditions to Celebrate a Baby’s Birth. New
York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.
Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America.
Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002.
Winner, Lauren. A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican religious practice in the elite households of
eighteenth century Virginia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.