A Mistake of Consequence- a discussion

What would I do if…? That’s how many of my book ideas get started. I’ll read about some minor event or custom from the past and wonder how I would cope. My historical fiction novel, A Mistake of Consequence (2015) started this way. In a history class, I read a heartfelt plea from a young girl in Colonial Maryland, begging her father in England to send her some clothes, or better yet, let her come home. In case you don’t know, indenture is a legal contract binding yourself (or being bound by another) for a certain number of years (usually seven). You owe your labor in return for some compensation such as passage to America, learning a trade, or room and board. The indentured person is not free to leave the contract, and has limited rights as a servant. I was fascinated by this girl’s plea and by the fact that her father had sold her. 

Once I have an idea for a book, I do a lot of research. For this book, I learned that indenture was widely practiced in the colonization of North America. Over half of seventeenth century colonists started out as indentured servants. Men, women and even children indentured themselves or were indentured to pay debts or as punishment for crimes. The need for cheap labor in the colonies was so great that ‘spiriters’ in England, Ireland and Scotland kidnapped unwary men, women and children and sold them for profit. I wanted to explore the concepts of freedom, agency, and power in colonial women’s lives, and the practice of indenture gave me a wonderful avenue to do so.

In A Mistake of Consequence, there are actually three women who face indenture under very different circumstances, all grounded in historical practices.

Callie Beaton, the main character, is abducted. Her indenture is involuntary and the ‘master’ who buys her is unscrupulous. She has no way to prove she has been wronged unless she can get a letter to her grandfather so that he can buy her back.

On board the ship, Callie meets Mary, the mother of two young children. Mary and her husband signed a contract for indenturing themselves and their children to pay for their passage overseas. As poor tenant farmers in Scotland, they hope to start fresh and own land in the colonies once their term of service is over. But when Mary’s husband dies, the whole term of service for herself and her husband falls on Mary, more than doubling the length of time she will be indentured. Even worse, she has an abusive master. 

With two such miserable experiences, you might ask, why did so many people indenture themselves? One answer to that can be seen in my third character, Peg. She has no family and no prospects in Scotland. Believing she can find a good husband in the Colonies, she indentures herself voluntarily. She leaves Edinburgh with no regrets and arrives in America in confident expectation of a better life. 

Three women…three different paths. Isn’t historical fiction fun?

Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras—or Pancake Day

The Pancake Woman by Rembrandt

Most people I know, know the day as Mardi Gras, the last day to feast and use up forbidden foods before the privations of Lent begin. Mardi Gras is French for ‘fat Tuesday.’ It is most often associated with the wild parades and parties of New Orleans.

Of course, there are other traditions surrounding this important day. Some people know it as Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ is an archaic form of ‘shrive’, which means to confess one’s sins and receive absolution from a priest. In times past, many Christians felt it was important to go to confession on the last day before Lenten fasting begins.

Still another name for this day is Pancake Day. Why pancakes? Well, in some places it became the tradition to serve pancakes on this day as a way to use up eggs and other rich foods which were not allowed. Some of the traditions associated with Pancake Day include Pancake flipping contests, Pancake races, and various other games.

In the Middle Ages, pancakes were very popular. They are quick and easy to cook over a fire, requiring few special utensils or any great skill. Various types of pancakes graced the tables of the rich nobles in their manor houses and castles, as well as the poor serfs who worked the land.

Most of us today have a fairly universal idea of a pancake—generally a mixture of flour, milk, and eggs, with a bit of baking powder and perhaps a few added ingredients. The batter is poured onto a hot skillet or griddle, flipped, and served with melted butter and maple syrup. It is most often considered proper fare for breakfast. In England, pancakes are usually very thin, similar to crèpes. However, in times past, many other combinations were also thought of as pancakes . Some of these included such ingredients as cheese, fruit, breadcrumbs, or wine.

So, on Tuesday, February  22 try something new and celebrate Pancake Day. The recipes below are from the 17th century. Both are a delicious treat, unlike any more modern concept of pancake. The first offers the harried cook of a big house an easy option. Note that in the 17th century ‘meate’ meant food of any sort.

A Fryed Meate [Pancakes] in Haste for the Second Course

Take a pint of Curds made tender of morning milk, pressed clean from the Whey, put to them one handful of flour, six eggs, casting away three whites, a little Rose-water, Sack, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Sugar, Salt, and two Pippins minced small, beat this all together into a thick batter, so that it may not run abroad; if you want wherewith to temper it, add Cream; when they are fryed scrape on Sugar and send them up; if this curd be made with Sack as it may as well as Rhennet, you may make a pudding with the Whey thereof. (Rabisha, as quoted in Lorwin, 140)

Modern Version : Apple pancakes (Fritters)

  • 1c. Cottage cheese
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 T. sherry
  • ½ t. Salt
  • ½ t. Nutmeg
  • ½ t. Cinnamon
  • ¼ c. flour
  • Approx. ¼ c. butter  for frying

Puree the eggs and cottage cheese in a blender, then add the mixture to the remaining ingredients, except for the butter.  Melt the butter in a skillet and drop the pancake batter by spoonfuls into it. As bubbles rise and pop, flip the pancakes to fry on the other side. These will be a soft, moist pancake, quite delicious without any extra syrup or sugar.

The second pancake recipe is also quite different than what we are used to. This one is a sort of fried cheese fritter. (Note I made a small recipe, about one third of what is suggested here, because I didn’t want to have too many egg whites leftover.)

How to Fry a Dish of Cheese

Take quarter of a pound of good Cheese, or Parmysant, and grate it and put to it a little grated bread, a fewCaraway seeds beaten, the yolks of as many eggs as will make it into a stiff batter, so it will not run, fry it brown in Butter, and pour on drawn Butter with Claret wine when they are dished. (Rabisha, as qtd. in Lorwin, 330.)

A modern Version: Cheese Pancakes

  • 1  ½  cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 t. Caraway seeds
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ¼  t. Salt
  • ¼ c. bread crumbs, plus 1 T.
  • 3 – 4 T.. butter
  • ⅓ c. red wine

Grind the caraway seeds and salt in a mortar. Mix them with the cheese, egg yolks, and bread crumbs and form into patties about ½” thick. Fry in butter until slightly browned on both sides. Set the pancakes aside to keep warm. Add remaining butter (at least 1 T.) to the skillet. When it is melted, add  bread crumbs and then the wine. Stir until thickened. Then spread this over the pancakes to serve. This makes a lovely lunch dish.

Whether you want to flip them, race with them, or just eat them, enjoy your pancakes this season.


Castelow, Ellen. Pancake Day. Historic UK, Ktd. Accessed 2.20.23023. https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Pancake-Day/

Rabisha, William. The whole Body of Cookery Dissected. Printed by R. W. for Giles Calvert, at the sign of the black Spread Eagle, at the West end of Pauls, 1661. Quoted in Lorwin, Madge. Dining with William Shakespeare. New York: Atheneum, 1976.

The Evolution of Gingerbread

Nothing conjures the tastes and smells of the Christmas season better than gingerbread. We delight in gingerbread cookies, gingerbread spices, and gingerbread houses.

Not surprisingly, there have been many variations of gingerbread throughout the ages. In the earliest versions, gingibrati was primarily medicinal, and sometimes called for parsnips. The gingerbread we now recognize has gone through great metamorphosis, though in any given age, multiple versions of gingerbread might be known.

Version 1: 

By medieval times gingerbread was a sweet dish made from breadcrumbs, mixed with spices and infused with warm honey, then smashed into the form of a cake.  Variations of this type of gingerbread lasted well into the colonial era. (At least four such recipes are included in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.)

The earliest recipe for this medieval gingerbread that I’ve found is from the Curye on Inglysch, Section V, which is a miscellaneous collection of recipes from around the 14th century.

To make gingerbread. Take goode honye and clarifyie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastrel brede and grate it, & caste it into the boylynge hony, & stere it well togyder faste with a skylse that it bren not to the vessel. & thanne take it doun and put therein ginger, longe pepere & saunders, & tempere it up with thine handles; & than put hem to a flatt boyste and strawe theron sugar, & pick therin clowes round aboute by the egge and in the midas, yf it plece you, &c. (Curye on Inglysch, Sloane 121)

Interestingly enough, the recipe immediately preceding this one for making gingerbread, calls for only honey and spices and would result in a sort of ginger candy like a ginger chew or ginger drop. Not a bread or cake at all.

For modernizing this recipe, I substituted allspice for saunders (sandalwood). Also instead of placing whole cloves on the edges and middle, I used ground cloves.

Version 2: Fast forward a couple of centuries.

Gingerbread in many shapes became popular throughout Europe, especially in Germany, where cookies shaped for the various seasons were sold at markets and fairs. Germany is also where the tradition of gingerbread houses developed in the 16th century. The Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel reflects this idea of a house made of sweets.

Though honey/crumb gingerbread continued in some recipes, eventually flour replaced bread crumbs, and molasses (alternately called treacle) replaced honey. In 1775, Townshend included a couple of recipes for gingerbread, both of which include butter. One also adds eggs. Townshend suggests both of these make a stiff dough, to be rolled out and cut in shapes, or rolled into balls. The result should  be very much like a modern gingerbread cookie or molasses crinkle, though he calls them cakes. 

To make gingerbread cakes

Take three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in very fine, two ounces of ginger beat fine, a large nutmeg grated, some beaten mace and coriander seeds; then take a pound of treacle, a quarter pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff, roll it out, and make it up into thin cakes, cut hem out with a teacup , or small glass, or roll them round like nu ts, and bake them on tin plates in a slack oven. (Townshend, 266)

Since three pounds of flour is 13 or 14 cups, this makes a very large amount of cookies. The result is a rich, crisp, tender cookie, with a spicy tang, rather like a molasses shortbread.

For modern bakers, I suggest reducing the recipe to one quarter of the original.

Colonial Gingerbread

3 ½ cups flour
¼ c. sugar (I suspect sugar was added because molasses is not as sweet as    honey.)
1 t. dried ginger
¼ c. molasses (though today there are some minor differences between treacle and molasses, the words were used nearly interchangeably in the colonial period. Molasses may be safely substituted for treacle.)
½ t. Nutmeg,
¼ t. Mace
¼ t. ground coriander
2 T. cream

Mix the dry ingredients and cut the butter into the mixture. Add the molasses and cream to make a stiff dough. Roll out and cut into shapes, or roll into small balls. Bake at 350 degrees 12-16 minutes.

Version 3: About 20-30  years later

The next innovation was the use of a chemical leavening agent: pearl ash. (See On cooking with Pearl Ash .)

In 1796, Amelia Simmons leaves out the molasses entirely, and uses sugar instead. She calls for great quantities of eggs  in some recipes (20 eggs for 4 pounds of flour in her Gingerbread No. 2.) She also includes pearl ash. Her recipes have far fewer spices than some earlier versions. Though called ‘soft gingerbread to be baked in pans”, all 4 of her recipes call for a stiff dough, to be shaped as it pleases. These recipes are the basis for the cookies I discussed in Dead Cakes. By the end of the 18th century Gingerbread was well-known with many varieties, from cookies to cakes, with and without eggs, molasses, and a variety of spices.

Mrs. Child’s recipe from 1833 uses pearl ash for leavening and produces a heavy, sponge-like cake. Adding eggs or a more sour cider would make it a bit lighter. Pearlash requires an acid to make it foam. Apple cider vinegar works well to dissolve it.

“A cake of common gingerbread can be stirred up very quick in the following way. Rub a bit of shortening as big as an egg into a pint of flour; if you use lard, add a little salt; two or three great spoonfuls of ginger; one cup of molasses, one cup and a half of cider, and a great spoonful of dissolved pearlash, put together and poured into the shorted flour while it is foaming; to be put in the oven in a minute. It ought to be just thick enough to pour into the pans with difficulty; if these proportions make it too thin, use less liquid the next time you try. Bake about twenty minutes.” (Child, 70).

My Recipe:

3 c. flour
¼ c. margarine or shortening
1 t. Salt
1 T. ginger (dried, powdered) or 2 T. grated fresh
1 c. cider
1 c. molasses
1 T.  pearl ash
½ c. cider vinegar
Mix flour, salt, and ginger. Cut or rub in margarine. Add molasses and cider and mix well. Dissolve the pearl ash in the cider vinegar and immediately add it to the batter (while the pearl ash/vinegar is still foaming.) Pour into a greased 8” or 9“ baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick. 

Version 4: Mid- 20th century

As I’ve noted before, pearl ash is not the best leavening ingredient because it can leave a bitter taste and does not work well. Baking soda was known by the late 1700’s, but was not in home use until the 1860’s. It quickly replaced potash as more reliable and less likely to produce a bitter taste. Baking powder, which is a mixture of baking soda( an alkaline), cream of tartar ( a an acid), and cornstarch ( a buffer to prevent premature activation), was also developed in the middle of the 19th century. This last version of gingerbread is much more like a modern cake or quick bread: light, fluffy, and delicious. Notice the use of brown sugar along with molasses.

Household Searchlight Recipe Book

  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs, Well Beaten
  • 1 Cup Sour Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking-Soda
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Ginger
  • ¾ Cup Molasses
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • ¾ Cup Melted Shortening
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt

Combine eggs, sugar, shortening, and molasses. Sift flour, measure ands sift with baking=soda, and spices. Add alternately with milk to first mixture. Beat until well blended…” (Migliario, et al., 45)

This recipe is modern enough to follow with much interpretation. It calls for a well-oiled pan, but doesn’t say what size. I made 5” x 9” loaf with ⅔  of the batter, and put the rest in a 9” x9” square pan. Bake the square for 30 minutes and the loaf for 40 minutes. Test with a toothpick. Note: to make sour milk, add 1 T. vinegar to 1 c. milk.

Whether you like cookies, or cake, or just like to use gingerbread for building houses, here’s hoping you enjoy the taste of ginger this holiday season. Merry Christmas!


Child, Lydia Marie. The American Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy. 12th Edition. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Co. 1833. (First published 1828)

Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (Including the “Forme of Cury”) Constance B. Heiatt (Editor), and Sharon Butler (Editor). Oxford University Press; 1st Edition edition, 1985.

Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy: Excelling any Thing of the Kind ever yet published. Alexandria: Cottom and Stewart. 1805. (First Edition publishing in London, 1747. This edition reprint of 1st American Edition, 1805, by Applewood Books, 1997).

—–. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. (A Family Manuscript, Hand written circa 17th century. Transcribed and annotated by Karen Hess, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

Migliario,Ita, et al., editors. The Household Searchlight Recipe Book. The Household Magazine. Topeka, Kansas, 1941.

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1860. (Facsimile by Dover Publications, 1993, with introduction by Janice Bluestein Longone).

Simmons, Amelia. The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of “American Cookery,” 1796. Hartford: Hudson and Godwin, 1976. (This facsimile includes a preface by Mary Tolford Wilson, and was first published in 1958, Oxford University Press. This Dover Edition reprint was published 1984.)

The Forces of Empire and Nature

Civilizations come and go. Cities rise and fall. Even great empires flourish for a time, and then inevitably, decline. The Roman Empire, which at its height, stretched from Britain to the Middle East, from northern Europe to West Africa, is a prime example of this cycle. But, fortunately for those of us who love digging into the past, the footprints of those who have gone before us do not disappear into oblivion. Cobbled roads, broken stones, lone archways, and bits of decorated tiles remind the people of today of those past glories.

In the first century AD, in the foothills of Mr. Zerhoun in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Roman colonists, bent on expanding their empire, developed an outpost north of what is now Meknes, Morocco. Colonists pushing into new territory rarely find empty land, and Roman colonists settling the fertile plains surrounding the Khoumane and Fertase? Rivers were no exception. The Amazigh tribes had called this land home since Neolithic times, and the Carthaginans had a city in this spot since the third century BCEBut to the Roman colonists the nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples of the area were ‘Berbers” (barbarians) and the land was perfect for their expansion into Northwest Africa. 

The city the Romans built is called Volubilis. It served as the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania (Land of the Moors). By the third century AD, some 20,000 people called Volubilis home, and Latin was the primary language heard in the streets.

The huge site is now in ruins, the remarkable ability of Roman engineers and artisans is evident in the city plan. The site is only 30% excavated but it is still possible to see the layout of the streets, the public baths and fountains, and the homes of the plebs and the wealthier merchants and officials. These latter homes were elaborate villas with well-preserved, beautiful mosaic tiles floors. The mosaics depict various mythological scenes that give hints of the room’s purpose and insight into Roman sense and sensibilities. The houses are now named by the mosaics found, for example, the House of Orpheus, Dionysus and the Four Seasons, or  the House of the Dog. 

Rome granted the residents of Volubilis Roman citizenship and temporary tax-free status, and the city was able to thrive for a couple hundred years. Eventually, however, pressure from the native Amazigh, and internal issues in Rome, caused Rome to withdraw from the city. Even without Rome’s direct oversight, the multicultural population of Volubilis, comprising Jews, Berbers, Syrians, Greeks, Christians, and Romans, continued to follow Roman practices, speak Latin, and trade in lucrative products such as olive oil.

The Roman influence remained strong for several centuries, until the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century. The Arabs destroyed the churches, and moved the capital from Volubilis to Fes. Though it no longer held a position of prime importance, the city continued to be inhabited for several more centuries. Some buildings were neglected and fell into ruin. Some marble and dressed stone was recommissioned into new projects. 

The remains of the heating system for the Roman public baths

Then, in 1755, the huge Lisbon earthquake devastated the city. Houses crumbled, arches fell, pillars toppled. The forces of nature took only minutes to topple the magnificent legacy of the great Roman Empire..

Today the site is hot and dusty, deserted save for tourists and birds.Grasses and thorn bushes have invaded.  The remaining walls are crumbling. Wind whistles through empty arches. The Romans are gone, as is their empire. The Amazigh no longer live in this ruined city (though they still inhabit the surrounding countryside.) 2000 years after colonization, the war between empire and nature continues. Nature seems bent on taking over, but even after all these years, nature still has not totally erased the memory of the civilization that reigned in these foothills.

The ruins serve to remind the people of today that all things, even Great Empires such as Rome, are ephemeral. We of America should probably keep that in mind.

Bon Voyage: Morocco


Recently, I’ve come back from a trip to Morocco. On my departure and my return, I was blessed with well-wishes from family and friends. “Safe travels,” they said with a heartfelt hug ( or the more grammatically grating, ‘Travel safe’). As I smiled and returned their hugs, it occurred to me to wonder, when did ‘safe travels’ replace ‘bon voyage’ as the wish given a traveler? As if the inherent danger of travel is of more concern (or interest?) than the desire for  good times.

I have no clear answer to this, though I suspect the 9/11 attack had a profound effect on our national psyche.

In any case, in spite of the exotic impression people might have of Morocco, the country is remarkably safe. There are, of course, pickpockets, such as a traveler will find in any tourist spot, and there are some disputes over the country’s borders. However, I found the people very helpful and friendly. Morocco is an amazing country, with a fascinating history. The melange of cultures creates a multi-layered society; a predominately Muslim country, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people with any other beliefs, live together in peace.

Moroccan culture has developed over the centuries with many different influences. The area has been inhabited at least since Neolithic times. Various indigenous tribes developed a thriving civilization with their own writing and a strong trade relationship with the Phoenicians and later, Carthage. The descendants of these earliest inhabitants call themselves Amazigh (plural Imazighn), which comprise several different groups including the Tuareg. The Romans called them Mauri (which became Moors) or Berbers (which meant barbarians.) 

By 300 BCE the kingdom of Mauretania developed. Mauretania was an independent Berber kingdom. The bustling trade possibilities and fertile lands of North Africa enticed Romans to expand into the areas, though they controlled mostly by trade networks rather than military expansion.  By 33 BCE, the area was considered first a client of Rome, and later a vassal state. The fertile lands of Morocco helped feed the teeming population of Rome.

Christianity moved into Morocco in the 2nd century CE. Rome’s influence waned with the incursions of Vandals, Goths, and Visigoths, who eventually caused the Fall of Rome. By the 4th century CE most of the Romanized area had converted to Christianity. Many Jews lived in the area also.

Beginning around 700 CE, Arabs swept across Northern Africa, gradually converting most of the indigenous population to Islam. The Arab/Berber dynasties of Morocco developed with Arab and Amazigh leaders. Morocco was never controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

As Europe looked for expansion, the Portuguese, Spanish, and French fought for control of the area. Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912 and regained independence in 1956.

Over the centuries, these merging cultures have formed the fabric of modern Morocco, a delightful kaleidoscope encompassing a land as varied as its people. From the dry desert dunes and date palm oases  to the cedar forests and rocky slopes of the high Atlas, from the winding alleys of the old medinas to the smooth, sweeping sand beaches of the north Atlantic, Morocco invites and welcomes visitors to this intriguing land. A place for safe and good travels! Bon voyage indeed!

There is a wide variety of animals, as well as people, in Morocco!

Who gets to be the hero?

500 years ago in 1522, the last (and only remaining) ship of Magellen’s famous circumnavigation of the earth limped into port in Sanlúcar, Spain. Magellan, a Portuguese captain, had begun the journey, which was financed by Spain, three years earlier with five ships and about 270 men. 

A replica of the Nao Trinidad at the Tall Ship Festival in Two Harbors, Minnesota, August 2022

Ferdinand Magellan is the most famous participant in this remarkable voyage. After all, he planned the entire trip, led the five ships across the Atlantic Ocean, kept the fleet intact through two attempted mutinies, discovered the strait of Magellan at the southernmost tip of South America, and carried on across the Pacific. 

However, neither Magellan nor his flagship, the Nao Trinidad, completed the entire journey. Magellan’s first bad turn of luck was when one of his ships wrecked on the east coast of South America. Things got even worse when one of the would-be mutineers, Juan de Cartagena, deserted with another ship. That left only three ships in the fleet to cross the Pacific Ocean, arriving near Guam in March of 1521. Further troubles met the expedition as they fought with the natives of Guan and the Philippines. Magellan was killed in the battle of Mactan. (Lapu Lapu, the leader of the Philippine forces is considered a national hero in the Philippines for his resistance to Spanish colonization efforts.)

In spite of Magellan’s death, the expedition continued, though since only about 115 of the original 227 remained alive, one more ship was abandoned and burned. That left two ships, the Victoria and the Trinidad. It was decided that the Trinidad, which was in poor shape, would return home the way they had come, turning back east to cross the Pacific, while the Victoria would continue west through the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope.

Both ships ran into trouble on their routes. The Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese and its crew held for ransom. (The Portuguese were angry at Spain’s encroachment on what they considered their spice trade.) While in Portuguese hands, the ship was wrecked in a storm.

Nao Trinidad (replica)
Nao is the Portuguese word for the type of ship–called a carrack in English.

The Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastián Elcano, carried some 26 tons of cloves and cinnamon, but not enough food for the journey. Twenty of the crew died of starvation. The ship also ran into trouble from the Portuguese, but managed to escape with their cargo and return to Spain. Only 18 of the original 270 men survived the whole journey.

As I said earlier, Magellan is widely regarded as the leader of the first successful circumnavigation of the globe. However, why he gets this honor is a bit of a mystery to me. 

After all, he didn’t make it home. Also, he was not a popular person back in Spain, nor was he held in high esteem in his native Portugal. Juan de Cartegena, the mutineer-deserter, had returned safely to Spain, where he sset about assiduously besmirching Magellan’s name (partly in an effort to keep himself and his mutineering crew out of jail).. Among other things, he accused Magellan of disloyalty to Spain. Since the Spanish Crown already had their doubts about Magellan’s motives since he was Portuguese, Cartagena’s tales were easily believed. In fact, Magellan’s wife and son were put under house arrest. 

As far as the Portuguese were concerned, Magellan was nothing more than a traitor because he sailed under Spanish auspices. (To be fair, Portugal had denied him funding, whereas Spain agreed to finance the voyage.)

In any case, with both sides against him, and his death in the Philippines, it is rather surprising that he’s the one we remember.

Elcano seems the more likely candidate for the role of hero. After all, he, along with only eighteen of the original crew, finished the journey, bringing with them a valuable cargo of spices. But Elcano was Basque, not Spanish, and the Spanish Crown feared Basque nationalist sentiment. (Yes, tensions between the Basque and the rest of Spain are at least 500 years old!). In any case, his accomplishment was not highly celebrated at the time, and he has been largely ignored since then. (However that seems to be changing a bit now as history gets ‘updated’ and more inclusive.)

In the end, the real hero of the whole expedition is Antonio Pigafetta. He started with Magellan and finished with Elcano, and kept a journal throughout the voyage. His account is the most complete story of what happened. He may be fairly unknown, but his words have outlived kings, and sailors, and explorers.  That’s power.

Peach Chips

In the United States today, we can eat just about anything we want whenever we want. Even with the recent supply chain issues, fresh fruit, shipped from South America or elsewhere, is available even in the dead of a Minnesota winter. We don’t have to pay attention to what’s in-season. (Although I still believe fresh and seasonal is better.)

peach chips

In any case, it wasn’t so long ago that the only way to eat fruit in winter was to preserve it, and so many historical cookbooks have a lot of recipes for preserving foods by drying, pickling, salting, or sugaring.

This month I’m thinking particularly about peaches. Peaches originated in China at least 4000 years ago, and feature heavily in many Chinese tales (including Journey to the West, arguably the most well-known Chinese story). The trees quickly spread westward. The Romans thought that peaches came from Persia, and so called them malum persicum (persian apple). This became pêche in French, then peach in English. Romans cultivated peaches in many parts of their empire, but with the fall of Rome, peach production in much of Europe declined. 

The Spanish brought the peach to North America in the 16th century, where it quickly spread wildly through cultivation by Native Americans and on its own. In fact, peaches did so well in North America that some botanists assumed the peach was indigenous. 

Thomas Jefferson was among the colonists who loved peaches. Peaches were widely grown in Virginia and other parts of the south, often as hog feed or to make into a fermented drink called Mobby (which could be used as cider, or distilled into brandy.)(Beverley, 260.)

As a teenager in San Jose, California, I had some interesting experiences with peaches. The first was when my younger brother and I were hired as pickers on summer day. We climbed into the back of a truck along with about a dozen other teens. We were driven to an orchard outside the city and set free to pick. The pay was .50 a lug. It soon became apparent that my brother and I were not destined to get rich from this job. The day was hot, and peaches were scarce on the trees. It turned out we’d been taken to a ‘pre-picked’ orchard to glean the remainder. I think we earned under two dollars to split between us for that day’s work. It taught me to appreciate farm labor, and convinced me to look for other work.

A few years later I gave up a remarkably fun job at Frontier Village, a local amusement theme park, to work in a peach cannery. I worked the swing shift since it paid better than the day shift. My job was to stand by a conveyor belt and remove any slices of rotten peach as they flowed by and into the cans. We were provided with plastic hair nets, gloves, and aprons, but peach juice permeated the air and seeped into our pores. Stray hairs tickled my cheek, but any casual, thoughtless attempt to tuck the hair back in only made me stickier. Possibly the worst part of this job was the dripping ceiling. The cannery was a metal pole building. In the daytime, the sun beat on the roof and the steam for the peach processing rose. When the sun went down the metal quickly cooled so that all night long, the roof rained sweet peach juice. For several years after moving on from that job, I steered clear of peaches in any form.

But I’ve come to appreciate fresh peaches all over again, especially at this time of year. August is the month when peaches are at their best. Although peaches don’t grow well as far north as Minnesota, truckloads of fresh peaches arrive in town from Georgia. I like to buy a box of them, and gorge on the delicious fruit all month. But even with a peach a day, I can’t always eat them all before they spoil. So,like my ancestors,  I’ve been exploring ways to preserve peaches.

The easiest is freezing sliced peaches, a luxury the American colonists didn’t have. There are many recipes for peach marmalade in early American cookbooks. But the recipe I found most intriguing was for peach chips.

Mary Randolph’s recipe is very simple (Randolph, 156).  It is basically a way to candy the peaches, thus preserving both their color and their flavor. Randolph’s recipe calls for drying the peaches in the sun, but the modern cook can easily use a dehydrator for the same purpose.

Modern version of a recipe for Peach Chips:

Slice 2 peaches very thin. Put them in a pot with half their weight in sugar (about 4 ounces or ½ c.) and a little water. Bring it gently to a boil, and boil the mixture a few minutes, until the peach slices look transparent. Stir gently from time to time, but avoid stirring too much so as not to break up the peaches. Strain off the syrup (which can be used for pancakes or as flavoring for tea or coffee). Dry the slices in a single layer either in a dehydrator or in the sun.  (It’s also possible to dry peach slices without candying them–just like apples.)

And enjoy the delicious flavor of peaches year-round.


Beverley, Robert. The History of Virginia (Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1855), 260. Original work published London, 1705, with title: The History and Present State of Virginia

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1860. (Facsimile by Dover Publications, 1993, with introduction by Janice Bluestein Longone).

Riding the Rails West:

Thoughts on Glacier National Park

A recent trip to Glacier National Park brought into focus an unexpected insight into the symbiotic relationship between national parks and trains, along with a sobering note regarding Western expansion. 

Over a hundred years ago in 1893,  the Great Northern Railway finished laying tracks for the northernmost rail route in the United States westward from St. Paul to Seattle. The developers chose the route over the Rockies carefully, using one of the flattest and most accessible passes. Then, in a concentrated effort to promote rail business for tourists as well as farmers, the Great Northern Railway pushed hard to establish a national park in Montana, well aware that such a designation would encourage folks from all over the United States to visit. Thus financial reasons more than environmental concerns played a major factor in the park’s development.

Glacier Park was established as a national park in 1910, the tenth such park in the United States. The railway made much of the scenic alpine vistas, and further enticed visitors by building chalets and lodges throughout the area.

East Glacier Park Lodge, where we stayed, opened in 1913. The posts are made of huge trees brought in from the west, cedars for the exterior and Douglas fir for the interior of the lobby.  In a misplaced tribute to the native Blackfeet, the developers also erected a few totem poles. (The totem poles are very nice art, but have nothing to do with the indigenous Blackfeet of this area.)

The lodge is only a stone’s throw from the railway station, but they offer a free shuttle between the two, an old style red checker limo (replacing the horse and buggy transport of a hundred years ago.)

Though the lodge looks much the same as it did in 1913, much has changed in visiting it. Train travel now offers far more comforts than the slow, chugging steam engines of the past. We stayed in a private roomette in the sleeper car for the twenty hour trip, with excursions on board to the observation car and the diner, where we enjoyed three meals a day.

Instead of traveling into the park by horseback, we took a shuttle bus to enjoy a cruise on Two Medicine Lake

The next day, a bus tour of part of Going to the Sun Road. (We couldn’t traverse the entire 50 miles, because Logan Pass, the highest point in the park and on the road, was not yet open in early July.) This road is the only one that crosses the entire park. Opening in 1933, the road has been registered as a National Historic Place, a National Historic Landmark, and a Historic Engineering Landmark. 

Many have called the Going to the Sun Road an engineering marvel, designed to preserve the natural habitat. But others have seen it as a scar upon the sacred land that is the backbone of the world. In other words, this road is a poignant reminder that there are at least two sides to every story. On the one hand, the establishment of the railroads and various national parks have preserved and protected for the whole nation this beautiful and remote wilderness. The land provides needed habitat for many species of plants and animals, and tourism provides jobs for area residents, notably members of the Blackfeet tribe, whose reservation abuts the entire eastern side of Glacier National Park.

Native Sculpture marking one entrance to Blackfeet Reservation

On the other hand, many of the Blackfeet people believe the park land was taken from them illegally. Historically, the whole area was the homeland of all three bands of Blackfeet. In 1895, the tribe faced starvation, caused by many factors including the demise of the buffalo. In desperation, some of the leaders sold the land that would become the park for 1.5 million dollars, but in the agreement, they retained the right to hunt, fish, log, and forage on the land. When the ceded land became a park in 1910, the United States government reneged on the agreement, claiming the area as federal property, no longer belonging to the Blackfeet in any way.

Aster Falls

This is  a sad and disturbing story, though unfortunately it is not an unusual or surprising one, because it has happened so many times in what is now the United States. But the story serves as a stark reminder of the debt we owe to the indigenous people of this land, and the responsibility we all have to provide good stewardship for this very special place. Like the tenacious bear grass that blooms once in seven years, let the land and the people endure.

A Pottle of Raspberries

Summer brings the delight of fresh raspberries. They grow wild in all the woods near me, and even in my own backyard. They are easy to grow and easy to pick (though the spiny canes are a bit tricky.) Both red and black raspberries are members of the rose family, and can be found throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Botanists have discovered that red raspberries are native to Turkey and spread throughout Europe by Romans. Black raspberries are native to North America, or at least brought here by prehistoric peoples long before any settlers from Europe arrived.

No one knows for sure why they are called raspberries. The name possibly comes from raspise (sweet, rose colored wine) from Anglo-Latin ‘vinum raspeys’. Another suggestion is that the word comes from the Germanic word for thicket, ‘raspoi’. A third option is the word comes from the sense of rasp, coming from Old Germanic through Old French into English. Rasp has the sense of grating or rough, and may serve as a description of the fruit. This last suggestion is unlikely, apt though it seems, because most old recipes spell ‘raspberries’ without the ‘p’.

Whatever the origins, raspberries are remarkably good for you. They are chock-full of antioxidants and nutrients, high in fiber and low in sugar. On top of that, they taste really good.

Other parts of the raspberry plant might also offer health benefits. Raspberry leaves can be steeped in hot water to make a tea that is said to ease menstrual cramps, pregnancy and labor. And gargling with raspberry juice to relieve a sore throat is much more pleasant than some of the modern mouthwashes, though I can’t vouch for its efficacy. Another remedy I wouldn’t recommend is rubbing sore joints with raspberry canes to relieve pain. Raspberry canes are remarkably thorny, so any joint pain relieved is likely to be replaced by the pain of upbraided skin.

In spite of the spiny canes, the only real drawback to raspberries is that they don’t keep for very long. Recipes for preserving this delicate fruit often call for a great deal of sugar to make a jam or jelly. 

The following two colonial recipes for raspberries intrigued me. The first is for raspberry seed cakes. Many people don’t mind the very seedy nature of raspberry jam, raspberry tart, or other raspberry confections, but removing at least some of the seeds makes them easier to eat. This first recipe is for the frugal cook, who hates to waste food of any sort, even extra raspberry seeds. The recipe calls for mixing raspberry seeds strained from the raspberry juices with their  ‘downe weight in lofe sugar and a quarter and then make a candy & when your candy is very high put in the seeds of raspberries after som of the juice is strayned out…” (—-, Martha Washington’s…, 306). This mixture is then boiled until thick and dropped into molds or onto a board. What is very interesting about this recipe is the direction to ‘make a candy’. Karen Hess, who transliterated and commented on the manuscript of Martha Washington’s cookbook, explains that the colonial cook knew  several stages of syrup making: including Manus Christi Height (215 degrees), Candy Height (220 degrees), and Casting Height (232 degrees) (Hess, 226-228).

Raspberry Seed Cakes

When I made this, the ‘cakes’ turned out to be sticky, globs of sweetened seed, more gummy than jam, but not as dry as fruit leather. While I applaud the frugality of this recipe, I found the result disappointing. 

The second recipe for raspberries made a much better confection. I like this recipe because of the intriguing measurement for raspberries: a pottle. A pottle is two quarts, or a half-gallon. Pottle means a small pot, using -le as the diminutive, as in puddle ( a small pudd or waterfilled ditch) or sparkle ( a small spark).

To Make Rasberry Jamm.

Take a pottle of rasberries, put to them two pounds of sugar, press the rasberries and boil them together to a strong substance, and put them to pots. (Townshend, 164)

This recipe is fairly straight-forward. Just mix equal weights of raspberries and sugar. Bring it to a boil. Boil, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. The result is a delicious raspberry mixture with the texture of a thin jam or thick fruit soup. For a modern take, try it mixed with yogurt or oatmeal. 


—–. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. (A Family Manuscript, Hand written circa 17th century. Transcribed and annotated by Karen Hess, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

Townshend, John. The Universal Cook or Lady’s Complete Assistant. S. Bladon: LOndon, 1773 (facsimile).


This month I’m deviating a bit from my usual blog to celebrate Irish legend and Irish places. And celebrate two books I have coming out in the next few months.

First up, is Ireland: You Can’t Miss It. This collection of essays, photographs, and poems offers my impressions of Ireland. In it, it share stories of my own travels, along with the legends and myths of many memorable places. Part memoir, part travelogue, this celebration of Ireland is sure to delight anyone. (No Irish heritage required.)

Some of the places featured in this book are ones I wrote about in this blog previously. For instance:

The second book I’m celebrating is Finn McCool and the Giant’s Causeway. This story features one of my favorite Irish heroes (Finn McCool) and his clever wife (Oona) at one of my favorite place in Northern Ireland (The Giant’s Causeway).

Ireland: You Can’t Miss It will be available from my website http://www.terrikarsten.com or from Amazon on May 25.

Finn McCool and the Giant’s Causeway will be available from my website http://www.terrikarsten.com or from Amazon on August 10.

Take and look and enjoy celebrating Ireland with me.