Sunday, January 30, 2005

La Bonne Espouse - Good Wife Contest

The Chocolate Girl, Etienne Liotard, 1744-45

Plastered all over the walls of my house in the Fall of 2000 were pictures of the Chocolate Girl--a picture I had chosen to encourage me to think of ways I could acquire the accoutrements and knowledge necessary to win La Bonne Espouse contest at Ft. De Chartres' April Trade Faire.

Carol Wunderlich, the originator of the contest conceived to encourage female participation in reenacting, had posted a list of requirements on F&I Women for the contest.

Each participant had to have period correct equipment and be able to compete in three categories: making a beverage of either tea, coffee or chocolate; baking some type of bread; and sewing a small period garment. I was in heaven. That curious passenger pigeon, ebay_france, began to make deliveries to my house; a chocolatière, iron kettles, antique scissors. Another pigeon brought linen from Russia for chemises, bonnets, jupes (petticoats), corsets (jumps) and manteau-de-lit (a bedjacket). Each night after work I was sewing up a storm, gathering cooking equipment, and practicing cooking over a fire. I even managed to talk my husband into moving from Idaho to Illinois (that same passenger pigeon brought an invitation to teach English across the river in Kentucky). Imagine my dissapointment when I was the only woman willing to participate in the contest the next Spring 2001. Carol and I both talked up the contest; Carol even simplified the contest rules.

Then came Spring 2002. Five courageous ladies plopped themselves down on the steps of a ghosted building and were handed a threaded needle, one yard of cloth, a thimble and a pair of scissors. We had one hour to make a cap or bonnet (ladies in the 18th Century usually covered their hair for religious reasons). Each bonnet was given a number at the end of the contest and taken to the tavern to be judged after dinner by everyone at the encampment. My lappets cap won. And here is my prize, a lovely handmade basket by Linda Summerville, full of limes, lemons and a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality in 18thC America.

Learning to cook on an open fire or in a fireplace in a historic home is fun and easy with the proper tools, just as a modern kitchen and exquisite tools contribute to the success of cooking today--they both take practice and perseverance. Join me in reenacting and stretch yourself in learning a new way to provide delectable treats. Who knows--someday your lights may go out and that fireplace will be sitting there waiting to nourish you--give it a try!

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