Monday, August 30, 2021

The Little Snake River Valley by Zina Abbott

I first heard of Baggs, Wyoming, when my husband went there for a deer hunting trip. He actually has been there twice, both times well over a decade ago. It was in the years before smartphones with cameras, and before I started writing American historical romance. He described the area as remote and full of alfalfa fields that drew deer to the area. I used an image of the “hay” fields in this region for my header.

When I researched the Rawlins, Carbon County, Wyoming Territory, area for another of my books, Mail Order Blythe, I came across a reference to the stagecoach service that ran between Rawlins and Baggs. After a little preliminary research which included the Muddy Creek, where Thomas Edison spent time hunting after he watched the 1878 total eclipse in Rawlins, I knew I wanted to set one of my romances in Baggs or, as I quickly figured out, the Little Snake River Valley region.

The Little Snake River has its headwaters in Colorado. The river tends to “snake” its way across the Colorado-Wyoming border several times. It is a tributary of the Yampa River which, in turns, flows into Green River south of Brown’s Park.

Little Snake River

When I began my research for this novel, I quickly realized there is a dearth of information readily available, particularly for the time in which my novel is set. One source of information was the 1880 census, which was enumerated as Snake River, Carbon County. For the entire valley, it filled about four pages.

Jim Baker Cabin in Savery built 1873

Although the Little Snake River Valley has never been highly populated, starting in about the 1870, three small communities developed: Baggs, Dixon, and Savery. I wrote about one of Savery’s more famous residents, Jim Baker, on a different blog. He and his children moved to Savery where he built his log home in 1873. This house is preserved at the Little Snake River Museum. You will find pictures of other historic buildings for this region on that site, also. I used this building and others as inspiration for Devlin’s home. (He is my hero in A Bride for Devlin.) The picture gallery for Baggs may be found HERE.

Dixon Sawmill, date unknown

The town of Dixon, which was incorporated in 1887, was named for Bob Dixon, who, like Jim Baker, was one of the region’s first white trappers. I do not know how long the community existed before it was incorporated. It is known as the sixth oldest town in Wyoming and the second oldest town in Carbon County. However, in my novel I assumed it existed in 1878. Most of the images of Dixon locations and buildings I found, courtesy of the Little Snake River Museum, appeared to date from a later time than the 1870s. I do know there was a sawmill in Dixon.

Snippet 1872 map showing Washakie and Rawlins

A stagecoach ran between Dixon and Wamsutta. The only clue I have that this line was established at a time later than my novel was that Wamsutta, a station on the Union Pacific Railroad line, was originally named Washakie. It was formerly a station on the Overland Stagecoach Line. Because of confusion between Washakie, the railroad stop, and Fort Washakie, Washakie’s name was changed to Wamsutta in 1884.

Perkins boardinghouse next to Perkins Store-Dixon

Baggs Mercantile Co. - Date unknown

There was a Baggs Mercantile Company which I used in the book, but I suspect the building for which I have a picture is from a later time.

1878 solar eclipse map of total darkness

I briefly referred to the 1878 total solar eclipse that could be seen in a narrow corridor that included the high Rocky Mountain regions of Denver, Colorado and Rawlins, Wyoming--some of the few developed areas in the path of totality at that time. A look at the map told me that most of the Little Snake River Valley would also have fallen in the path of totality.


A Bride for Devlin, Book 6 in the series The Sheriff’s Mail Order Bride, is currently on pre-order. It will be released on September 10, 2021. To find the book description and purchase link, please CLICK HERE.








1880 U.S. Census for Snake River, Carbon County, Wyoming Territory,_Wyoming



Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mercantiles - Hubbubs of the Old West



I remember as a young girl riding my bike with my best friend to the market only a couple of blocks from my house and choosing a candy bar. I didn't pay much attention to any other items for sale, but I vaguely remember my mother going inside for basic items like cereal, canned soup, and a gallon of milk when we needed it and didn't have time or the need to travel the extra fifteen minutes into the next town where a real grocery store (or two) were located. It was nice to have that convenient store even though it wasn't anything close to the convenience stores of today. We could even fill our cars up with gas there.

The place has since shut down, but as I've written historical western fiction over the past few years, I've realized just how important the mercantile or general store was to a town in the 1800s, and not even to the Old West, though it certainly plays a role in most historical western fiction, but in small towns all across America during the 19th century and into the next. Why were general stores so important? Often, the post office was located inside. Also, people came to hang out or chat, read the newspaper, or maybe play a game of checkers. And since most families lived in outlying areas which lacked decent roads, and more often than not, money was scarce and they only went to the store to buy necessities, "going to town" was a big deal. Even I remember how special shopping with my mother or "going to town" was, because growing up, we only did that sort of thing on Saturdays.

What could you buy at a mercantile or general store in the days of the Old West or just after the Civil War when many farms in the South had been ravaged and there was nothing to eat? Anything and everything, it seems, from your favorite brand of hair pomade to dried beans, live chickens or eggs that a farm wife may have traded in, or pickled herring. Horse tack and whips usually hung from the rafters, and at Christmastime, special toys were included among the proprietor's wares. Penny candy such as peppermint sticks or lemon drops were kept in stock year-round, however.

General stores were the place to go to purchase fabric and other sewing notions. You could also purchase men's hats, coffee kettles and other cookware, soaps and other personal hygiene products, medicines, spices and other staples, and much more. After a while, the Montgomery Ward catalog, followed by the Sears catalog, began to encourage shoppers to order specialty items. This, along with improvements in roads and modes of transportation, led to a decline in general stores. Who knows? Perhaps the invention of the telephone also contributed as people no longer needed to walk or ride into town to speak to one another.

A few general stores still exist today, however. I found this article on the Taste of Home website both interesting and informative. I love the pictures of the old buildings and think it's wonderful they still exist. In the next town over from where I live, and where my father was raised, my grandmother's brother owned a general store. I can't remember how many years he ran the store, but here is a picture of his obituary when he passed away in 1979. The building no longer exists, but what a wonderful place it must have been!



The mercantile plays a prominent role in some of the books in my Brides of Hope Hollow series. I'm preparing to write book 5, Hope in Her Heart, but I'm also writing a prequel to the series called Abiding Hope about a woman who gets stranded in Hope Hollow, Oregon, while traveling from San Francisco to Seattle. With her money gone, and the clothing she's wearing as her only provisions, the mercantile and its owners, the Watsons, come to the rescue once again. This prequel will be available as a free download when subscribing to my newsletter. I'll share the link to download the story next month. In the meantime, here is a picture of the cover as well as a link to follow where you can put together a jigsaw puzzle. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 26, 2021


By Caroline Clemmons

Researching for the books I write leads me down interesting rabbit holes. I can’t resist learning more about the Old West. Sod homes fascinate me, even as the idea is repugnant. Without trees or stone to build with, settlers had to rely on the only available building material — prairie sod. Sod is the top layer of earth that includes grass, its roots, and the dirt clinging to the roots. Building a sod house might take weeks.

Imagine the moldy scent and the impossibility of preventing bugs and other pests. Yet a sod home is better than living in a covered wagon, a tent, or camping in the elements. Probably.

In 1862 the U.S. Congress passed the Homestead Act. This law permitted any 21-year-old citizen or immigrant with the intention of becoming a citizen to lay claim to 160 acres of land in what was known as the Great American Prairie. People came from all over the world to take advantage of this opportunity. By 1900 over 600,000 claims had been filed.

The homesteaders faced many challenges. Everything about the prairie was extreme. The land was flat and treeless and the sky seemed to go on forever. Can you imagine looking at a tall-grass prairie where the grass sometimes grew to be more than 6 feet tall? It is said that riders on horseback could pick wildflowers without dismounting. Women worried about their children getting hopelessly lost in the grass. I can’t visualize cutting through that grass to build a sod house.

Summer brought endless days of heat, periods of drought, rainstorms, tornadoes, swarms of grasshoppers that could destroy fields of crops, and never-ending wind.

Some things about modern houses are consistent: indoor plumbing, electricity, air-conditioning, central heating, plus windows and doors that seal. This list is of things that are important to me and probably to you. Consider pioneers who moved west and made a home from whatever the land offered.

Paintings of pioneers usually show early settlers living in a log cabin. Growing up, I lived in the high plains of West Texas. Although the plains look flat, there are ravines and canyons carving through them. Cottonwood and other trees grew in varying numbers in the canyons where they had access to water. In general, though, there were no trees for building homes.  

Family in front of their home,
horses and wagon on top

The first Anglos to settle in America’s massive Great Plains would have had to live in tents, covered wagons, or sod houses. I’ve seen sod houses, or soddies, in living history museums like the impressive Ranching Heritage Museum at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Yet, I’ve never seen a sod home in which someone was living. From what I’ve researched, there were numerous problems. Imagine eating dinner and having a snake drop onto the table.

Let’s suppose you’re a newly arrived settler looking for land. You’d search for a stream or creek and small rolling hills which served as windbreaks. Access to planned railroad lines was also an asset because it made it easier to ship goods and livestock to market. As an immigrant, you might not speak English well enough to discover information about railroads. Once you selected your land, you’d go to the Land Office to make sure no one else had filed on the site and to file your claim.

You’d be told (although you’d probably already know) a requirements for fulfilling the claim was building a dwelling to live in within six months. The land wouldn’t be yours for five years. Choosing the right site for a house was nearly as important as choosing the right claim. Building next to a small hill provided some protection from the constant wind. Being near a stream meant easy access to water, but building too close made flooding a danger.

Texas soddie - I love this photo. 

There are several types of sod houses. Because tents or the top of a covered wagon provided little comfort or shelter from the prairie's wild weather, many settlers began by building dugouts—the fastest choice. A family might dig into the side of a hill so that the hill formed the roof and part of three sides. This type dugout produced a small, dark space that could be made quickly and was warmer and drier than a tent.  Many people then built a sod house right in front of the dugout and used the dugout as another room.

A second soddie type was the half-dugout. A family might excavate down about four feet and build four feet up from that to form the half-dugout. This required support for the roof, a difficult problem to solve. Various solutions involved brush and twigs over cedar poles—which would leak in wet weather. Tin provided a better solution if there was a way to obtain the tin and fasten it to the soddie.    

Less frequently, the entire home could be built of sod bricks, but with all four sides in the open. Again, this presented the problem of support for the roof.


Inside with a whitewashed interior

Think about the difficulty of cutting sod. Farmers in the 1800s used mules, oxen or horses, and special plows equipped with curved steel blades to cut through the sod’s tough roots. Supposedly, the roots were so tough that as the plow cut through the sod, a loud tearing sound was created.

Farmers soon learned that they should only cut as much sod as they planned to use in one day. Sod quickly dried, cracked, and crumbled if not used immediately. Most farmers cut sod from the area where they planned to build their house. Doing so provided a flat surface on which to build and helped protect the house from prairie fires. Removing the grass from the area also helped keep insects, snakes, and vermin from burrowing into the house.

Interior of sod house with a window.
Imagine how dark it would be without
that window.

Freshly cut sod bricks were laid root-side up in order for the roots to continue to grow into the brick above it. Over time, the bricks in fact grew together to form a very strong wall. Amazing, isn't it?

Most modern houses in the United States are built straight up and down, with angled roofs, and brick or wooden exterior walls that keep out the rain and other elements. Sod houses, however, required a thick, wide foundation. The walls sloped down on the outside of the house so that as the walls settled, they would not collapse. The top of the house looked smaller than the bottom.

Some soddies were lined with cheesecloth to prevent uninvited guests from literally dropping in. I’ve read tales of people watching bugs crawl inside the cheesecloth. Even if the settlers were tolerant of what shared their home, I suspect there were many events of this type that today’s dwellers would find unbearable. (Like a snake dropping out of the ceiling.)

Folks occasionally whitewashed the inside of the soddie to limit falling dust and brighten the interior. The whitewash was made primarily of slaked lime and chalk. Many people (like me) were allergic to the substance. 

People with allergies probably didn’t last long in that environment. One of the stories from my ancestors includes that of an asthmatic boy who developed pneumonia from the soddie’s interior smells of mold, smoke, and other irritants. His parents had to move him into a tent just outside the sod house. He survived in spite of his illness and the winter weather. Before the next winter, the father built a frame home and united the family under one roof. There's a theory that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband were victims of mold.

Weather permitting, you'd likely spend a lot of
time outside the dugout or soddie.

The elaborateness of the sod home varied due to the builders. Some were made of sod formed into precise bricks and constructed into a stable structure. Others were slap-dash to create shelter. I think of sod homes as a product of the American west, but one photo showed a more elaborate sod home in Europe. Other photos indicated poor Dutch and Belgium residents lived in houses made of sod. 

Note the sloping sides for stability.

In spite of my personal bias against them, I have read accounts stating they were cool in summer and snug in winter. Compared to hastily thrown up wooden homes, perhaps they were more comfortable, especially in winter. They were good shelter from the wild prairie weather. The fact that they were basically made of dirt made them virtually fireproof. Walls of many rapidly constructed buildings consisted of only a thin wooden wall with no weatherproofing and poorly crafted joints.  

A friend told of her great-grandmother Jane living in a sod home cut into the side of a rise. While Jane’s sons and husband were working in the field, two bulls got into a fight on the roof. Dust drifted down into the home and she feared the animals would fall through. They didn’t, but that must have been a terrifying event for a woman with two small girls to protect. In fact, being an early settler must have been an ordeal that required grit and resourcefulness every day.

A family in front of their part dugout home.

The requirement for fulfilling the terms of the claim agreement varied for different types of claims. Whether it meant building a structure to live in within six months; raising successful crops and staying for five years; planting a certain number of acres of trees; or purchasing the land from the government - less than 50% of the homesteaders succeeded. Bad weather, illness, an accident, or loneliness could bring a homesteader's dream of land ownership to a bitter end. Those who failed went back home or continued moving west.

I don’t know how you feel, but I’m grateful for my home. The weather outside is hot today, but here at the computer in my office, I’m cool and comfortable. Electricity provides for the climate controlled interior, the computer, and the music playing while I write. Hero brought me a Cherry Dr Pepper in my favorite glass (you see one of the reasons I call him Hero). I positively love writing and reading about the Old West, but I’m glad I live today instead of then.


Kansas State Historical Society

Texas State Historical Society


Caroline Clemmons is an award winning bestselling author. Her latest release is THEODOSIA, A Proxy Mail-Order Bride, available here from Amazon and enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Check out her Amazon author page and her website at Sign up for her newsletter here and receive a FREE western historical romance novella, HAPPY IS THE BRIDE.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

STRANGE PICKLES: How to Store Food Without a Refrigerator by Marisa Masterson

No pressure canners. No refrigerators. No money to buy expensive canned (tinned) food. 

That was the situation for many pioneer farmwives. Very little cash was available to these families, especially as many settlers saved to put up a multi-room home and buy farming equipment. To put away their cash for these, women resorted to vinegar. They created what seems today to be odd pickles.

Root vegetables like potatoes (which were served at nearly every meal) could be stored in underground cellars. Other vegetables were needed in the winter also, so what couldn't be dried was pickled.

Fish and meat along with vegetables ilke green beans and fruits like peaches would be pickled. Busy women scrounged the areas around their farms to supplement what they could put up for the winter. Apples and gooseberries were examples of what might be found and pickled.

Pickled Cod

One unusual pickle I found in my research was called the mango. This has nothing to do with the tropical fruit. Peaches would be stuffed with a garlic and onion mixture. Then the stuffed fruit would be pickled in vinegar and called oil mangos. (

In researching about this, the recipe that most surprised me used green tomatoes. From The Woman Suffrage Cookbook, this recipe dates back to 1886 in print. It was undoubtedly used before that. 

Buy now!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Early Western TV Show Theme Songs

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo Property of the Author

I've been watching old Western TV shows. Not the later Bonanza's or Lancer's but the early ones. Not only are they fun and a great way to unwind after work and before I start the writing and editing. The thing I noticed and have fun with is the theme songs. Since I enjoy them, I thought some of you might also. And if you are so inclined, you might even watch an episode or two. 

From the Robert Horton show "Shenandoah" sung by Horton himself: Shenandoah. I love how the songs give you a hint at either the show or the main character. For those who don't remember, Horton spent a number of seasons on "Wagon Train". He spent a lot of his life doing musical theater, and it shows in his voice.

Robert Horton

If you'd like to watch an episode: Shenendoah - episode McCauley's Cure

That same theme applies to most of the other shows' theme songs. How many do you remember? 

Some were catchy tunes like "Colt 45": Colt 45 sung by Hal Hopper. This show was one of the Warner Brothers' westerns. The same company that gave us Maverick, Cheyenne, and Lawman.

Wayde Preston - Star of the first season 
of "Colt 45"

Although I believe this was a black & white show, here is a colorized version guest staring a young Leonard Nimoy: Colt 45

Of course, there's "The Rebel" with the theme songs done by none other than Johnny Cash. The show starred Nick Adams, who developed the show along with Andrew J. Fenaday who also wrote the words to the theme song. The Rebel

Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma

If you'd like to watch an episode: The Rebel - The Threat

Who doesn't remember the beginning of "Have Gun Will Travel", but the end credits, oh my! This long-running show starred Richard Boone as the title character- Palladin. The theme song was composed by Richard Boone, Sam Rolfe, and Johnny Western, how also sang the song. On a side note, a friend always thought it interesting that Boone was cast as a 'sexy' man. This former boxer may not have been classically handsome, but oh the aura he projected. Ballad of Paladin

Richard Boone as Palladin

To watch a show with Have Gun Will Travel with Harry Carey Jr.

The song for "Johnny Ringo" was written both music and lyrics, along with singing it by the star Don Durant. Durant had sung with Ray Anthony and his Orchestra before starring in this television show. I always found this show, which I'd seen as a child fascinating. It was like they wanted to give this gunman a happy ending. Johnny Ringo Theme Song

Don Durant

Here is an episode from this show with Tim Considine and Mark Goddard Johnny Ringo - Bound Boy

There are so many songs from those early shows. Which ones do you remember?

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Alamo Before and After

Remember the Alamo!
Most Americans and many others know the significance of that stirring cry. The story of the Battle of the Alamo has been told and retold in print and cinema. But how much do you know about the 300-year history of the Shrine to Texas Liberty before and after the famous battle?

Established in 1718 as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the site was one of several religious outposts founded in Tejas by the Spanish Empire. Soldiers controlled the territory and its indigenous people, who were taught the Spanish language and Catholicism by priests.

The mission was moved twice, the second time due to a hurricane, settling in its current location in 1724. A stone convento to house the priests’ private quarters, offices, refectory and gardens was built first. The mission church began construction in 1740 but suffered many setbacks and was never completed while the mission was active.

Mission de Valero as imagined in 18,83; wikipedia public domain

In addition to learning Spanish and the Catholic faith, indigenous residents of the mission were taught skills such as weaving, farming, masonry, and metalworking. They also worked to harness the nearby San Antonio River and built irrigation ditches called acequias, providing water for vegetable gardens and livestock.

Mission Valero was secularized in 1793. Lands and goods acquired by the mission were distributed to the indigenous residents who became parishioners at San Fernando on the other side of the river. The former mission became a community known as Pueblo de Valero.

However, threats on Tejas’ borders from French and American explorers caused Velero to become a defensive military post by 1803. It was occupied by a Spanish cavalry unit, La Segunda Compañia Volante de San Carlos de Parras. For short, they were called the Alamo Company after their hometown of Alamo de Parras, explaining how the post got its name.

The soldiers converted the old convento into barracks and established the first hospital in Texas on the building’s second floor. The Alamo Company remained at the outpost for 32 years, through Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain that culminated in 1821, and until 1835.

With the need to protect its northern frontier, Mexico had established laws allowing colonists into Texas. Led by men such as Stephen F. Austin, immigrants flooded in, attracted by land and opportunity. Along with the native population, they lived fairly free of government interference, being far away from the capital in Mexico.

This autonomy changed with the election of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna as president in 1833. He instituted a more centralist government, leading to a civil war and Texas seeking its own independence.

I will not go into the battles that led to the 13-day siege of the Alamo, its fall and the eventual defeat of Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto. If you wish to read a detailed account, visit this site: 

The Alamo drawn in 1838 by Mary Maverick; wikipedia public domain

Oct. 28, 1845—First U.S. Army Unit Arrives in San Antonio 

On Mar. 1, 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution signaling impending Texas statehood. The U.S. Army dispatched three companies of the 2nd Dragoon Regiment – trained to fight mounted or on foot - from Fort Washita, Indian Territory, to San Antonio in the Fall of 1845 to protect the region.

The Dragoons established a camp near the Alamo in rented facilities which became known as the Post at San Antonio. The Army leased the Alamo between 1849 and 1861 and again between 1865 and 1876 for use as a quartermaster depot.

The Alamo ca. 1854; wikipedia public domain

The Depot quartermaster, Major Edwin B. Babbitt, recommended that the building be demolished and replaced with a new warehouse, but Quartermaster General Thomas Jessup vetoed that idea. Instead, he directed the building to be repaired. These repairs incorporated an arched façade to hide a new pitched wooden roof, giving the Alamo its world-famous silhouette.

“Absent Jessup’s directive…the Shrine of Texas Liberty would probably have been demolished…!” —George Nelson, The Alamo, An Illustrated History

With Texas’ secession from the union in 1861 the Alamo was under control of Confederate forces until 1865. In the late 1870s the Army began relocating its operations to what is now known as Fort Sam Houston.

Clara Driscoll, Savior of the Alamo

Clara Driscoll; wikipedia public domain

By1903, the Alamo had been neglected and was nearly torn down and replaced by a hotel. Once again, it was saved, this time by 22-year-old Clara Driscoll, whose grandfather had fought in the battle of San Jacinto. Donating her own money, she collaborated with the San Antonio chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to protect the historic mission. For her generosity, Driscoll is known as the “Savior of the Alamo.”

Born in 1881, Clara was the only daughter of Corpus Christi millionaire Robert Driscoll. Educated in Europe, she knew the importance of preserving historical sites. She wrote: “By the care of our eloquent but voiceless monuments, we are preparing a noble inspiration for our future.”

When Driscoll died in 1945, her body lay in state at the mission’s chapel, in recognition of her work to preserve “the shrine of Texas Independence and glory,” as she described it.

A Battle Over Preservation

Today, the Alamo needs updates. Plaster is flaking off the walls of the nearly 300-year-old building. Its one-room space can hold only a fraction of key artifacts and is usually so packed with tourists that it’s impossible to give each exhibit the time it deserves. The surrounding plaza is a circus, packed with novelty shops and a Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

But Texans are deeply divided over how to renovate the Alamo. A $450 million plan proposed in 2017 turned into a five-year fight over whether to focus narrowly on the 1836 battle or present a fuller view that delves into the site’s Indigenous history and the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution.

Several defenders in the 1836 Battle were slave holders, including William B. Travis and Davy Crockett. Whether or not to point this out in future displays at the Alamo is a bone of contention between conservative groups and those who wish to tell the Alamo story from a more inclusive perspective. Indigenous leaders also want the site to respect its ancient role as a burial ground. Historians argue that support for slavery really was a motivating factor for the Texas Revolution.

Alamo Cenotaph; image by David R. Tribble; creative commons share-alike 3.0

Another virulent disagreement concerns the Cenotaph, a 56-foot-tall monument to Alamo defenders erected in the plaza between 1936 and 1940. Under the renovation plan, the Cenotaph would be moved 500 feet south and deposited in front of the historic Menger Hotel. The intent was to make the plaza “period neutral” and help visitors imagine how the Alamo looked as a mission and fort. But conservative groups rallied in armed protest and turned up at public meetings chanting “Not one inch!”

The struggle over the Cenotaph ended when the Texas Historical Commission, a state board whose members are appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, voted to deny a permit to move it. Nearly half of the board members of the nonprofit raising funds for the Alamo renovation resigned in protest.

On April 15, the San Antonio city council voted for a new plan that leases much of the plaza to the state for at least 50 years — and leaves the Cenotaph in place. Let’s hope the new plan goes forward.

I have visited the Alamo several times and am always filled with awe for those who gave their lives there, but I agree the plaza needs to be redesigned to show more respect for the shrine. As for the matter of slavery, it distresses me to know some of our heroes owned slaves, but I’m not sure I want to dwell on that fact when I stand in the most revered site in Texas. What do you think?

Monday, August 16, 2021

New Foods of the 19th Century – Part One (1800-1866) by Jo-Ann Roberts

Back in June, I blogged about cooking in the Old West. In my newest release, Grace-Brides of New Hope Book Three,  Grace Donegan is a baker at Caroline’s Café in New Hope, Kansas. While researching the implements she would have used, I came across The Food Timeline, a chronological compilation of when and how foods we know today came about…they weren’t invented—they evolved. It is a fascinating buffet of popular lore and contradictory facts.

Since my historical romances are set in the 1800s, I decided to focus on some of the more popular foods making an appearance in the 19th century which are still used in today's cooking and baking.

Pullman Loaves (a.k.a. Sandwich bread) 

"Pullman" loaves,  the precursor to today's sandwich bread is a type of bread made with white flour and baked in a long, narrow lidded pan.

The name "Pullman" was derived from its use in the kitchens of the Pullman railway cars. Although the Pullman Company is credited with inventing the lidded baking pans to create the pans, square tin pans existed long before the railroad company. While European bakers began using the pans in the early 18th century to minimize crusts, the Pullman executives chose the loaf for use on the railcars for efficiency reasons. three Pullman loaves occupied the same space as two standard round-top loaves.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, toffee is defined as "a sweet meat made from sugar or treacle (a thick, dark syrup made from partly refined sugar), butter and sometimes a little flour, boiled together and often mixed with almonds or walnuts".

Taffy, on the other hand, is a confection made from sugar, butter, and flavorings that has a chewy texture obtained by twisting and pulling the cooked ingredients into elasticity. By the 1870s taffy bakes and taffy pulls, at which young people gather to stretch the candy between them had become social occasions.

Dutch Cocoa
In 1828, C.J. van Houten of the Netherlands patented a process for obtaining "chocolate powder" by pressing much of the cocoa butter from ground and roasted cocoa beans. The process known as "Dutching" improved the powder's compatibility in warm water or milk and made the drink darker in color and milder in flavor.
Nearly 20 years later in 1847, an English firm combined cocoa butter, a by-product of the pressing, with chocolate liquor and sugar to produce eating chocolate, and in 1876 Daniel Peter of Switzerland added dried milk to make milk chocolate. The proliferation of flavored, solid, and coated chocolate foods rapidly followed.
In 1860 in the United States, home consumption was well over one million pounds; by 1885 it had reached nearly eight and one-half million pounds.
Starches of many kinds were made from wheat, tapioca, arrowroot, and corn. While Native Americans appreciated the thickening properties of corn, the ability to transform it into a powder did not occur until the mid-19th century.

In 1842, Thomas Kingsford, a chemist working for William Colgate & Son, invented a process for the manufacture of starch from corn.
In addition to Kingsford cornstarch for food consumption, he also invented Kingsford's Silver GlossStarch for laundry use, these two products are now household words in every country in the world.
Potato Chips (a.k.a. Saratoga Chips)
Born in 1824 in Saratoga Lake, New York, George Speck was the son of an African-American father

 and a Native American mother. He adopted the name Crum because it was the name his father used as a jockey at the nearby Saratoga racetrack.
In the summer of 1853, he was working as a chef at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, where French-fried potatoes were a favorite menu item.
Legend states that a customer sent his fries back to the kitchen twice because they were too thick. Retaliating, Crum sliced the potatoes as thinly as possible, fried them in grease, and sent the crunchy brown chips back out to the customer.
The reaction was immediate and unexpected: the guest loved them, prompting other guests to request them as well. Soon Crum's "Saratoga Chips" became the most popular item on the menu.
Sweetened Condensed Milk
In an attempt to fight food poisoning and other illnesses related to the lack of refrigeration, Gail Borden introduced Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk to the public in 1856. The arrival of the Civil War helped Eagle Brand become a household name. The soldiers needed milk that would keep well and Borden's milk filled that need. Borden's process for making sweetened condensed milk enabled the product to be transported and stored without refrigeration for longer periods than fresh milk.

Eagle Brand is also credited with significantly lowering the infant mortality rate in the mid-to later part of the 19th century. His discovery provided milk that would remain a safe and wholesome nourishment for infants and children.
Conversation Hearts
In 1847, Oliver Chase, a Boston pharmacist longed for a way to share in the apothecary lozenge craze. Lozenges were gaining popularity as a way to take medicine for sore throats and bad breath. The process was complicated and time-consuming. The process utilized a mortar and pestle, kneading the dough, rolling it out, and cutting it into discs that would become lozenges.

Inspired by the new wave of gadgets and tools of the Industrialized Revolution, Chase invented a machine that rolled the dough and pressed wafers into perfect discs. After creating the first candy-making machine, he abandoned his pharmacy business and started the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO).

Legend has it that Chase's NECCO wafers were sent to Civil War soldiers and some speculate the tradition of sending loving greetings to the troops morphed into conversation hearts.

Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book, Lizzie Heritage, 1894
The Oxford Companion in Food, Alan Davidson
The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani
True History of Chocolate, Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, 2nd edition, 2007
Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, May 6, 1847
Necco Wafers |
Our History | TABASCO® Brand Legendary Pepper Sauce
Fleischmann’s Yeast History - Chowhound
Coming next month: New Foods of the 19th Century – Part Two (1866-1899)

To find the books' descriptions and purchase link, please CLICK HERE