Wednesday, June 25, 2008

At the Beach

This week the twins have tasted ocean water, eaten sand, splashed in waves big and small, played with their older cousin, and have been held by relatives galore. And they have been delighted. Being one year old is fun, they say!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cherry Chess Pie and Raspberry Chess Pie

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this pleasant late-spring interlude: a segment on two unusual chess pies.

If you live below the Mason-Dixon line, you've probably eaten your share, or more than you'd like to admit, of any of a number of delicious chess pies and their relatives the transparent pie, the Jeff Davis pie, and so on. Plain chess pie, lemon chess pie, chocolate chess pie...all of them luscious, sugar-custardy, rich but not too rich.

Photo: the raspberry chess pie in preparation. The pie shell is ready, the sugar base is mixed, and the green and brown araucana eggs, size medium, will be broken and beaten in with the sugar, the custard poured into the pie shell, and the berries carefully stirred in. I needed only half the berries. Hooray! Some for cereal...

I read long ago that the term "chess pie" was a corruption of an English cheese pie dish, but chess pie contains no cheese at all. It's a mixture of sugars, flour, melted butter, well-beaten eggs, and flavorings, poured into a single-crust pie shell and baked until the custard is set and the top perhaps a tad browned.

A Cherry Chess Pie for Curte Senior's 80th Birthday

Last Sunday dawned gorgeously clear and fresh, and promised a fine Father's Day, for having a picnic and celebrating my husband's Dad's 80th birthday.

Pie cherries were in season at the Farmer's Market, I found when the twins and I visited around noon-time, and we were lucky to get some. These were small red cherries, so tart! Perfect for a pie, perfect for a gift to a gentleman who knew and enjoyed homegrown produce so very well.

I'd planned your basic deep-dish cherry pie, but on looking in an old favorite cookbook, titled The Gold Cookbook, by Master Cheff Louis P. De Gouy, an enormous tome of French and regional American cooking, dated 1947, the only cherry pie he listed was for a cherry chess pie. Not familiar with such a beast, I read it, thought it sounded mighty tasty, and proceeded to make the pie. After spattering my new shirt and the breakfast tabletop with cherry juice from stoning each cherry, of course.

The pie made up easily, baked well, set well, and traveled well out to Spindletop in the countryside for the picnic. Mighty tasty it was too, as we all agreed. Hint of tartness in the cherries, not oversweet, hint of honey, of all things, too.

Here then is the recipe, straight from The Gold Cookbook, page 945:

Cherry Chess Pie
Pit one quart of sour cherries after first washing them quickly in cold water then draining well. Mix 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup honey*, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter or margerin (sic). Stir in 3 well-beaten eggs with a pinch of salt and add the cherries. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake in a hot oven (450 F.) for 12 minutes to set the pie and crust; reduce the heat to 350 F. and continue baking for 20 minutes longer, or until set. Cool and serve with a whipped cream topping.

*I used mellow sourwood honey.

The pie crust: I use my standby crust from my mother's Good Housekeeping Cookbook from the late 40s or early 50s: 2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt; cut in 3/4 cup of butter or shortening; add 4-6 tablespoons ice water bit by bit, and blend until the mixture starts following the fork around and forms a ball. Roll out and line an ungreased pie shell with it.

A Raspberry Chess Pie Variation

My raspberries are ripe! A few tastes last week of early berries made us all happy, and I expected a similar slim picking today, but was rather shocked to find the patch loaded. I did two pickings today, yielding perhaps a quart and a half. Not bad for a small patch in town.

Wanting to make something special, and not being in the mood for a tart, I went back to the chess pie theme, replacing the cherries with the raspberries, and leaving out the cinnamon.

We shall see! It should be done in a moment and tomorrow morning in fresh light I will photograph it...

Photo: the raspberry chess pie has been tasted.

...Tomorrow arrived and here are the results of the taste test: well, it's pretty good! The chess flavor and raspberry flavor are nice together, if not outstanding. However, I think a tart with a cream cheese or sour cream filling might take better advantage of the raspberry flavor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Edwardian "Lingerie" Dress Diary, Part 2: Bodice Cutting and Lace Insertion

At this stage of the Edwardian lingerie dress creation process, I am constructing the bodice. As a reminder, for a base pattern I am using Jennie Chancey's Sense and Sensibility Beatrix shirtwaist pattern as a base.

My dress design calls for 1/4 inch tucks at center front, then a wide band of lace insertion
at each side of the tucks, set on an angle to visually narrow the bodice, then a one-inch wide tuck at each shoulder line, as bretelles. Another band of wide lace insertion is to be set horizontally to mark the high waistline.

Photo 1: first bodice fitting.

Creating Tucks for the Center Front of the Bodice

If tucks are to be used in a bodice, most period instruction manuals, such as the 1905 edition of Butterick's Dressmaker manual (republished as Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques, Kristina Harris, ed.), direct the seamstress to make the tucks in the fabric first, before cutting out the pattern pieces. This is what I did -- mostly -- because I wanted more tucks than Jennie's pattern allows ease for.

Photo 2: detail showing two sets of three tucks at center front of bodice. Picture was taken after pattern pieces were cut.

First, then, I cut a rectangle of linen from selvage to selvage that was big enough to hold the front pattern piece. Then I proceeded to hand-set six tucks in what would be the center front of the bodice. Following the photograph of an extant centrally tucked shirtwaist advertised on Ebay sometime back, I made the tucks in two sets of three, facing inwards to the center front.

To hand-set the tucks, I spray starched the linen so it would easily hold creases, and then pinched and pinned each quarter-inch tuck, pinning, pressing, and sewing each tuck one after the next. Here are the results, in photo 1.

Then I aligned the front pattern piece to the center front line in the middle of the tucks, and drew the pattern line. Because Jennie's pattern is marked for both a fitted waist version, with no ease for tucks, and a bloused or tucked version, I subtracted that part of the pattern piece that holds the ease.

Adding the Bretelle Tucks: A Matter of Trial and Error

After this, I added width to the front pattern piece to leave room for the two one-inch bretelle tucks...I measured the one-inch amount and added it to each side.

Then I hand-set each bretelle tuck and basted it in place, and looked at the effect. Eek: the bretelle edges were taking up part of the seam allowance! Out came the basting and I redid the tucks, checked them again, and stitched them in place. In retrospect, the bretelle are a bit more angled than my original design called for, but they still look nice.

Photo 3: the front bodice piece with one bretelle tuck set and basted in place.

Cutting the Bodice Back Pieces

Since the dress opens at the back, this meant cutting two back pieces. Just as for the front, I added an extra inch to each side for the bretelles, then eyeballed and hand-set each bretelle, basting it to check to make sure it ended at the shoulder line as well as matched the bretelle positioning on the bodice front piece before stitching the final bretelle tucks.

Photo 4: the two back pattern pieces with bretelles set and the placket hems pinned.

First Fitting for Setting on the Vertical Bodice Insertion

Now I basted the bodice pieces, wrong sides together to check fit and to place, and then baste, the wide vertical lace insertion bands.

Photo5: first fitting, showing vertical bands and portion of horizontal waistline lace band pinned in place.

The lace I am using dates to the Edwardian period. It was cut in pieces from a lingerie dress at some point by a previous owner. The dress may have been homemade, or at least repaired at home, because two of the pieces came with the snap fasteners used apparently to close the back of the dress, and the three sets of fasteners are all different. In time-honored fashion, I am reusing the lace on this dress.

Photo 6: detail view of a piece of the insertion.

Photo 7: Edwardian-era snap fasteners from the period lace I am reusing. Two fasteners are of the same type, but different sizes, while the third, smallest fastener, is of the simplest design.

Photo 8: Reverse side of each fastener. Note that the two fasteners on the left both use spring wires to keep the nubs tight.

Recutting the Front Bodice Pieces

The fitting showed that the bodice needed to be taken in to fit more closely around the torso (see photo 5). Further, the underarm seam had gotten skewed towards the back. So, I took two vertical tucks under the armscye and pinned them until the fit was right.
Photo 10: shows the bodice pinned at the new underarm seam.

After removing and pressing the bodice, I removed the basting, remarked the seamline, and recut the underarm seam.

It proved instructive to lay out the bodice front and back pieces, still connected at the shoulders, to show the difference between the recut seamline (bottom right in the picture) and the original seamline (top right in the picture).

Photo 11: shows the bodice pieces laid out.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Edwardian "Lingerie" Dress Diary, Part 1: Design Phase

As part of the Ladies' Historical Tea Society Edwardian Picnic preparations, I am in the middle of constructing a circa 1909 white linen ensemble, in a fashion popularly known as the lingerie dress.

About Edwardian Lingerie Dresses

The term "lingerie dress" is not a modern name for the garment, but a common name back then for this type of dress. As Anne Rittenhouse reported in the New York Times on May 26, 1912,

The white wash gown, which we universally call the lingerie frock, is a subject of interest as soon as the warm weather advances on us. There are seasons in which it is dominant; there are other seasons in which it is almost effaced by other kinds of clothes. (1)

These days lingerie dresses are often sold under the label "tea dress", as they were often worn for afternoon functions, especially during warmer weather.

Photo 1: unlined skirt portion from a lingerie dress; a previous owner cut away the bodice. The dress is constructed of two tiers made to look like three. Each tier is composed of three panels, but the upper tier and lower tier panels do not line up. The cut plus the ankle length lead me to think the dress dates after 1908. Trim is limited to wide tucks setting off each tier, complemented by narrower tucks.

Lingerie dresses are normally white, and made in lightweight fabrics like muslin, voile, cotton eyelet, batiste, or linen. Some dresses were lined; many -- perhaps most -- were not. Because the fabrics and laces were usually quite sheer, a camisole and petticoat, or full slip would be worn. I understand that frequently the underslip was in color, such as a cool blue, soft green or pink. The coloring would lend the lingerie dress itself a hint of color. maybe because the colored fabrics faded and wore out, or perhaps because, as the few samples I have seen are utilitarian-looking, few of them seem to be extant. Often they were worn with a belt or a sash. Dresses could be one-piece, or sometimes a two-piece outfit of skirt and waist.

Photo 2: Lingerie-style skirt, flared and quite trained. The skirt features an opaque soft muslin underskirt in several panels attached in the same waistband. The fashion skirt is made of a single panel, darted to fit the waist. It is trimmed at knee level with a double frill of self fabric edged with Valenciennes lace, attached in the middle like a ruche. The skirt is edged at bottom with two narrow tiers of self fabric edged with the same lace. The underskirt is trimmed at bottom with a narrow headed flounce. The flare and train lead me to believe the skirt style, at any rate, dates to at or before 1908, and the 1905 edition of the Butterick Dressmaker sewing manual recommends attaching underskirts in this manner.

While the overall silhouette follows whatever was popular in the year it was made, whether that be a yoke or flouncing or separate front and back apronlike panels, like the lingerie of those times, they are trimmed, often heavily, with various combinations of tucks and lace and embroidery. These dresses were very popular, and you see photos of girls and women wearing them from at least the turn of the century right through into the twenties.

Photo 3: detail of skirt bottom, showing double-tiered frill and underlying headed flounce.

My Dress Design

My dress design is based on a composite of several actual dresses of the period, as seen on vintage clothing sites. The main dress bodice inspiration was made in 1911 or 1912 of white linen, and featured wide bands of broderie Anglaise lace placed pretty much as in the design I ended with, along with two wider tucks as bretelles and tucks in the central bodice. However, it featured a far narrower silhouette, and two fascinating extra panels in front and back that floated free, almost like aprons. The bottoms were fringed with bobble trim. I have picked up the bobble trim for this dress, as it was popular in 1909.

The skirt ideas I used are common to many lingerie dresses: a train and a band of eyelet insertion near the skirt base. My skirt is composed of multiple panels and features a short train.

Photo 4: my design. Front view, with thumbnail side and back views

To bring the skirt and bodice together, I made the central tucks go from collar to skirt bottom. In the drawn design I added vertical tucks to the side skirt panels and at the back from collar to skirt bottom, but decided that was overkill and the final skirt will simply feature the front tucks: they should narrow and lengthen the look of the dress.

For the base patterns, I am using Jennie Chancey's Beatrix shirtwaist pattern and Beatrix walking skirt pattern. I have shortened the shirtwaist to and Edwardian "Empire" height popular during the time, and have narrowed the pattern pieces for a closer fit. I am using the train option on the Beatrix skirt pattern, and have added height to the waistline to meet the short bodice.

Next up: cutting the bodice and placing the lace insertion.

Additional Resources
Extant garments are for sale on many vintage clothing sites. For some fine examples, see:
Photo 5: example of lingerie dress in Shelter and Clothing: a Textbook of the Household Arts, page 343.


(1) Rittenhouse, Anne. What the Well-Dressed Woman is Wearing: Lingerie Frocks Important Part of This Month's Sewing---Simple Gowns with Only Tucks as Trimming Have Come into Wide Favor. New York Times May 26, 1912. Accessed June 9, 2008 (

Happy Birthday, Little Tots

On May 31, our two boys had their first birthday. Grandparents and cousins visited and we all, every one of us, had homemade white cake and vanilla ice cream and homegrown strawberries.

Above: everyone sings to to the tots, who take the attention most seriously.

Poor babies, no coffee for them, not even if it did smell so good. There is something about fresh-roasted beans that is softer than regular coffee; we're lucky that a vendor at the farmer's market roasts his own.

Christopher enjoyed it all but Noah thought ice cream less than appealing. Wonder when that will change?

Just a few days before this, the boys and I played in the back with a laundry basket. Bless his baby heart, Christopher can still climb inside it. Please don't grow up too fast, little boy!