Monday, August 31, 2020

Dr. Clarissa F. Dillon - One Cool Colonial series

Clarissa F. Dillon, the authority (she wrote the book!) on 18th century kitchen gardens, is introducing us to unusual plants and their uses in true quarantine fashion - virtually. We get to follow along as she tends her period correct garden at the 1696 Thomas Massey House, see the end results (medicinal, cosmetic, and yes, as food) and delight in Clarissa’s vast knowledge, sharp wit and great sense of fun. She is One Cool Colonial... in 10 minute episodes.

Update: Starting in December, Clarissa has been cooking at the hearth in the colonial Massey House using recipes from period correct sources. Since she has been doing hearth cooking for almost fifty years, she certainly knows what she is doing. Check out all the series segments HERE

During the lock down, Clarissa still works hard in the kitchen garden she designed at the Quaker home of Thomas Massey in Broomall, PA, west of Philadelphia. After all, the plants are still growing (and so are those weeds), but also, they have to be used.  The flower petals of the roses, the roots, stems and leaves of all the other plants have to be harvested at the right time and made into something useful.  But now, in our Covid virtual reality, we get to watch her in the garden and talk about the plants and the various processes. 

Her neighbor Pam Sedor, a librarian at Radnor Memorial Library, goes along, filming her, the garden and house. Pam edits the 10 min. episodes (nice film angles and editing btw) and writes amusing commentary in the series she proposed to Clarissa - One Cool Colonial.  The first picture, showing Clarissa in her garden during spring, and this one are by Pam.
The clever title is taken from a Philadelphia Inquirer article in 2012 about Dr. Dillon. The garden is the embodiment of her Ph.D. dissertation and resulting book “A large, an useful, and a grateful Field." Eighteenth-Century Kitchen Gardens in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Use of the Plants, and Their Place in Women's Work.

As she said in Episode 1, about apothecary roses and her portable still to make rose water, “...the kitchen garden contains only useful plants --- and I use them.”
Be sure to check it out! HERE

Added bonus... more about Clarissa! Some years ago, in 2008, I wrote a one page bio on Clarissa for the HFSDV News. She started volunteering at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation (CPP) in the early 1970s and was one of the founders of HFSDV - Historic Foodways Society of the Delaware Valley. Here is a bit from the bio -
Born and raised in Chicago, Clarissa lived an urban life with a father who was English and a mother who worked outside of the home.  During the war they ate such English foods as kidneys, liver and sweetbreads, as would appear in her colonial Pennsylvania cooking.

She earned a bachelors degree in Political Science, with a minor in American History, from Bryn Mawr, a Masters degree in History in Chicago and taught various grade levels.  After moving to Pennsylvania with her son Chouteau, she continued teaching then learned bake oven and hearth cooking at CPP.  She started extensively researching period gardens and transformed the CPP garden.  Her colleagues kept suggesting she build on her research and go for a PhD, which she did at Bryn Mawr.

E. Smith’s The Complete Housewife, or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion was her first of many period cookbooks.  She enjoyed the title, and later found that Ben Franklin advertised the book.

She became one of the founders and a long-time President of PAST MASTERS in Early American Domestic Arts. The members joined together so they could continue doing what they enjoyed while not being affiliated with only one site.  One of her duties with the group was to help newer members through the research process.
Her delightful old house with its 1890 and 1923 additions is unusual for a Main Line home, since it is a certified National Wildlife Federation backyard habitat.

Clarissa keeps busy researching, giving talks, classes, demonstrations, writing, and still able to do the garden at the Massey House! A list of all her publications including SO SERVE IT UP: Eighteenth-Century English Foodways in Southeastern Pennsylvania are available at her website HERE

There are over 50 virtual food history talks this month ranging from Ivan Day’s ice cream to Moonshine to Women cookbook writers to African Americans feeding the Presidents to Sri Lanka bowl-shaped hoppers to Mexican pyramids, maize and chocolate. HERE

©2020 Patricia Bixler Reber
Researching Food History HOME

1 comment:

  1. Dear Pat,
    Clarissa and I are thrilled to be included in your 2020 Covid-19 archive. And as a bonus (!) now we are very grateful to be featured in your beautiful blog Researching Food History--Cooking and Dining.
    We all love what we do here and sharing it virtually especially during this difficult time softens the harsh reality even as we go forward. Since we all love going back in time here--thanks for posting your biography of Clarissa you wrote in 2008. It is the perfect companion to your blog post here in 2020 and some important background on Clarissa your readers will appreciate.

    Best wishes, stay well--
    Pam and Clarissa