Conversation at Tea

In her Home Manual Everybody’s Guide in Social, Domestic, and Business Life (1889) Mrs. Logan makes the following suggestion for an awkward social moment:

At an afternoon tea. Strangers have been introduced, and exhausted the convenient subject of the weather, one remarks:

“What beautiful hair that little girl has.”

“Yes, and the present style of wearing it is so becoming to children; it is very picturesque.”

“Yes, and the Kate Greenaway costumes carry out the illusion; the little people look as if they have just stepped out of a Christmas book.”

From this it would be easy to pass on to books in general, artists, or pictures, as the speakers’ tastes might lead them. (59)

Hopefully none of us have ever had to resort to this rather stiff version of the old improv “Yes, and” exercise. It did make me wonder, however, about children dressed in Kate Greenaway costumes. Kate Greenaway was a children’s book illustrator and author active in the last decades of the nineteenth century. She is remembered for her Regency Revival fashions for children. Her “girlies” were dressed in mob caps and huge straw bonnet, along with white muslin, empire waist, gowns tied with colorful sashes. Image

These fashions became popular enough to spark a number of offerings from Liberty of London. While some of these appeared in their fancy dress catalogue, many of their children’s clothes were clearly inspired by Greenaway’s illustrations. There is some controversy about whether or not Greenaway was actively involved in the design of Liberty’s offerings. To learn more about this read here and here.

Liberty and the parents who dressed their children in this style were trying to encourage girls to become adults whose fashion sense would be aesthetic rather than driven by trends. The fashion for children’s clothes in the 1880s and 90s was generally to reproduce adult clothing. This would have meant a very restrictive, bustled garment that would not have allowed much freedom of movement for the girl. ImageImage

Parents who chose the Greenaway style also may have been encouraging a vision of childhood innocence similar to that in Greenaway’s books where children play outdoors and enjoy freedom to engage in childish pastimes. Image

I have not been able to learn as much about children’s hairstyles. In Greenaway’s books the hair is usually obscured by a hat or bonnet. In general, girls of the time seem to have worn their hair braided, with bangs, or pulled back at the front and then loose down the back. Familiar styles to those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s. When girls reached their mid-teens they probably wore their hair in adult styles, such as the many up-dos familiar from paintings of the time, examples can be found here.

We should close with a recipe, so that we may not drift too far from our usual food history focus. This is for a seed cake, a very popular English tea cake in the 19th century. As Nicola Humble points out in her annotations to the 1861 edition of Mrs. Beeton, the strong taste of caraway seed is not likely to appeal to most modern eaters…

1776 A very good seed-cake.

Ingredients– 1 lb. of butter, 6 eggs, 3/4 lb. of sifted sugar, pounded mace and grated nutmeg to taste, 1 lb. of flour, 3/4 oz. of caraway seeds, 1 wine-glassful of brandy.

Mode–beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, mace, nutmeg, and caraway seeds, and mix these ingredients well together. Whisk the eggs, stir to them the brandy, and beat the cake again for 10 minutes. Put it into a tin lined with buttered paper and let it bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This cake would be equally nice made with currants, omit the caraway seeds. (811)

This was suitable for all seasons. Enjoy!

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About Cooking with Clio

I am a historian. I teach at a large Southern California University. I love to cook and garden and I have recently taken up sewing.
This entry was posted in Cuisine, Food History, Teatime and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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