My Winterberry Farm Primitives Shop Blog

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MORE Fooling Around and What the Heck is a Milk Bowl?

It has been a crazy busy summer here at 'The Farm' with trying to work around all the rain we have had this year. Just keeping up with the weeding has been almost impossible and now that we are in the process of painting what is now our second guest room...we are exhausted! I do try and spend some time 'playing' and setting up little vignettes around my home as we paint and stencil and move things around. I am still working on making my great room into a tavern room so I have moved in another table to that room - which makes four tables in there now - with the addition of my mid 18th century tavern table. This very early table has at least five coats of paint on it and I have left remnants of all of the colors on it while still allowing the original mustard color to shine through the other layers.
Thankfully down through the years, past owners have not scraped it down to get to the original paint but left it alone to show it's history.It's back legs are heavily tilted - due to wear and tear - making the entire table look like it is resting on a little hill. All original and still sturdy, I think of this table sitting in a public house (tavern) where a gentleman would have sat to write out a letter or to work on some of his papers while he travels. There is still plenty of room on the table for his dinner and a nice glass of rum or wine while he works on his papers. This vignette sits next to the large fireplace for warmth in the winter and away from the hot areas around the windows but close to the coolness of the brick fireplace for summer.
I added an early 19th century chair in its original red paint and doesn't it look comfy? A nice wide seat with great support around the back of the chair would allow the traveler to either sit back and relax taking in the hustle and bustle of a public house or pull his chair in close to the table and work on his papers in relative peace. Then the question becomes 'What would a gentleman have encountered as he entered the tavern and wound his way to the table in the back?' Would there have been paper available? Would there have been an inkwell or master ink sitting on the table waiting for him? What about lighting? How do I set up my gentleman's work table vignette so it is as authentic as possible? Inkwells and paper may have been made available by the tavern owner - for a few pennies - or the gentleman may have had a traveling inkwell set or a traveling desk that he could use. I am using a Samuel Silliman master inkwell on my table and it has one cut down quill and two uncut quills ready to be used for writing. Samuel Silliman lived and worked in Chester, CT in the early to mid 19th century. He is considered to be one of the best (if not the best) inkwell maker in the United States during this time. All of his treen inkwells were made in his factory in Chester, CT and each one was then faux painted and stenciled with various stencils that include the small stylized eagle that is on this particular master inkwell. The two original glass inserts are complete with no cracks or chips in them and the inkwell itself is in fabulous shape. This fabulous inkwell is available on my website under my 'Early Antiques' button
Since this is an early to mid 19th century inkwell (with this one circa 1850), there would have been a pewter, redware, stoneware, or other treen inkwell used in the late 18th to very early 19th century available for the gentleman to use in the tavern. Lighting would also have been made available by the tavern owner - for a few pennies - and hogscrapers or other utilitarian candleholders would have been used if needed for extra light. Lanterns and other larger pieces of lighting would not have been used on tables or desks. As I continue to research my gentleman's writing table in a public house, items will change and maybe even the location of the table will change. Who knows! I may remove that dry sink in the corner and add another table to this room! How I love to 'play' in this room! As I continue to 'play around' in my tavern room, I decided to also make room for a small area where I can display some 18th and early 19th century forms of cooking and food preparation items. I used to cook in my fireplace several years ago when we first added this room to our home but in recent years, I have let that part of my winter fun to get away from me. Finishing my Masters degree and working on a PhD - both in Agriculture and then working in Ag Biotech for several years - changed my focus for several years but now that I have retired, I can get back to having fun learning about and experiencing life in colonial America. The second part of my title 'What the Heck is a Milk Bowl' is a question that I have had for many years. I can remember watching my grandparents working in their dairy in Cairo, WV when I was a little kid and loved watching and being close to the cows and other farm animals. Of course, now that I am older and collect primitive antiques, I have often heard about 'milk bowls' and 'butter buckets'. At first, I thought that this was just a name given to antiques by those of us who collect them today but of course, as with many other things, there is a reason for these names. A 'milk bowl' - be it redware, yellowware, stoneware, or pottery - is a common term when referring to deep bowls of this size and shape.
This redware milk bowl is sitting on a zinc lined dry sink in my tavern room with some butter churns and butter buckets sitting in front of it. It is available for sale here on my website: On family farms, milk bowls were kept in 'milk rooms' that were usually built in onto the northern sides of barns to keep them cool. These rooms had whitewashed plaster walls and stone floors because it was easy to scrub and clean the stone floors and lime-washed walls in these rooms. The milk bowls were placed on clean and scrubbed wooden shelves or benches and then filled with raw milk. Milk was allowed to stand at least over night in these bowls to allow the cream to rise to the top of the milk. A small elongated redware, treen, or pottery plate was then used to scrape off the layer of cream from each milk bowl, collected into a 'butter bucket' and then when enough cream was collected, it was poured into a butter churn to make butter. A good 15 to 20 minutes of rapid 'churning' would change the sound of the cream in the butter churn and once it started to 'thump' you could be assured that it was almost to the point of turning into butter.
If you have time and want to learn more about butter making and general housewifery in times past, a good series to watch from England is the Historic Farm series where two archaeologists and a historian take on living in different time periods for a year at a time. My favorites are called Tudor Monastery Farm and Tales From the Green Valley Watch them if you can, you will become hooked! That is it for now! We are heading to New England next week on a buying trip to find more goodies for my shop Winterberry Farm Primitives so keep reading and remember to watch the English Historic Farm series until my next blog!