Band Boxes, a historic craft

Hat and bandboxes  1825-50 from Shelburne Museum.

Reenactors, historians, and the general public often marvel at the creativity of our historic counterparts.  They were able to make from simple tools and equipment ingenious solutions to everyday problems.  Imagine us trying to do the same things without Google.  Recently I learned about band boxes during a training activity.

Band boxes are a catch-all term for decorative boxes constructed primarily from pasteboard with wallpaper on the outside and newspaper on the inside.  For an example, think of hat boxes. (Pasteboard is a thin board made from gluing multiple sheets together.  It has the thickness of thin cardboard or watercolor paper.) Wallpaper went on the outside because it is a bit more durable then regular paper to protect against usage and ware.  Inside the newsprint helps protect the contents from insects.

Band boxes started in the 1500s as a way to keep men and women’s ruffled collars from getting squished.  Pretty soon it wasn’t just for collars but for gloves, combs, hats, pins, ribbons, etc. In the beginning, people often made the boxes themselves.  Historically, for some women this was their only creative outlet. Band boxes seemed to reach their height of popularity during the 17th through the 19th century. The Victorians particularly liked having a box for ever purpose.

In America, perhaps the best known band boxes were made by Hannah Davis.  She began making band boxes after her parents died in 1818.  She used wood instead of pasteboard. Davis sold her boxes to the girls who worked in the fabric factories along the Merrimack River, including the famous Lowell Mill fabric factory. Small boxes tended to be about 5 cents while large ones that could be used as suitcases for clothing cost about 50 cents.  Peddlers would often sell them on the street like seen in this print by William Marshall Craig from 1808. 

Right now I’m trying make my own band box.  Thus far the trickiest part seems to be trying to sew the base to the sides evenly.  I’ve got a lot of lopsided boxes if anyone is interested.

Maple Sugaring

The sap boiling down in kettles.


On Saturday February 25th, we made maple sugar from the sap we’ve been collecting.  In about a week we had collected over 140 gallons of sap.  It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.  So we are hoping to get about 3.5 gallons of finished syrup; this syrup gets used throughout the year for demonstrations particular at the bake oven where they make a maple wheat bread.  (Yum.)

Maple Sugaring Day is a special members only event that gives Quiet Valley’s members a chance to participate in a unique experience.  Along with seeing the maple syrup getting made they get a chance to sample pancakes with our homemade syrup, eggs boiled in sap, and potatoes cooked in a dutch oven over the flames.  The sap is poured into four large kettles and boiled for hours.   It is a strong rolling boil.  Sap needs to be added continuously to the boiling kettles.  Normally we would do this all day but this year we were trying to beat the thunderstorms, thus we stopped adding fresh sap around 10am to have things cleaned up by 1pm.

Sue and Gary Oiler, the founders of the museum, gave a couple great presentations for the 83 visitors who joined us.  Sue talked about the food we were making and why.  Maple Sugaring usually takes place in late winter and since the fires need to be tended continuously people usually slept where they were making maple syrup. They’d be cooking there too. Historically this time of year they would be eating a lot of potatoes before they start growing in the cellar.  We diced them up and baked them in the dutch ovens, which are small portable ovens.  Chickens lay eggs in proportion to the amount of sunlight they get. As the sunlight increases, the chickens begin to lay more eggs.  The eggs are dropped right into the kettles of the sap and boiled for about 15 minutes.  Then they are hard boiled and a little sweet from the sap.

Gary demonstrating how to make a spile.

Gary did a talk on how to tap the trees and helped the visitors make wooden spiles from elk horn sumac.  Once the pith is scraped out its very easy taper one end to fit into the tree and the other to direct the sap. Some of the children used the stems of ferns to hang cups from their spiles and collect the sap.

The children collect their own sap.

As the big kettles of sap boiled down, they were consolidated into two kettles and then down into one kettle.  Once that one was down to about 6 gallons we poured it into glass jars.  This was to help keep the syrup until we could boil it down a little bit more inside a building as the storms were coming. The sap was funneled into the jars and through a thick piece of felt to clean out any debris. (I used a coffee filter at home.)  When the syrup was poured out of the kettles, we used pancakes to get the rest of the syrup at the bottom.  It was delicious.  Want to try some of the Quiet Valley homemade syrup? Come out to the Pocono Craft Festival or join us next year for Maple Sugaring!


Happy Fastnacht Day (almost)


This week I had a chance to learn about Pennsylvania Dutch holidays throughout the year.  Each year, Quiet Valley school tour staff participate in a workshops to stay up to date on the most recent research and learn new items to incorporate into their interpretation. Our first training of the year focused on the traditions and culture of this area of Pennsylvania during the early 1800s.

In this part of Pennsylvania many people were of Lutheran or Moravian background which means they followed, and still follow, a liturgical calendar or a church based calendar.  Their celebrations at home followed those of the religious season.  (Not everyone or every groups celebrated the holidays just like how not everyone today celebrates Mardi Gras or Groundhog Day. )

One of the most interesting (sounding) holiday celebrations is around Fastnacht Day, which is actually coming up on February 28th.  Fastnacht Day falls on the day before the liturgical season of lent begins.  Traditionally it is the day when you use up all of your old fat and lard to make doughnuts before lent began.  It was considered bad luck to not use up the fat on this date.  If you did not eat a doughnut on that day then it was believed you would get boils, your chickens would lay no eggs, and worms and bugs would infest your garden.

Also, children had their own fun traditions for the day. The last person to school would be teased.  So children would try to beat their teachers to school.  When the teacher arrived, the boys would crow like a rooster and the girls would cluck like a hen.  I imagine teachers would try and arrive in the middle of the pack so the children could still cluck at them but they wouldn’t get teased by their students.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Fastnacht Day and enjoys making chicken sounds about their schools.

Green Eggs, Sam I am

Let’s talk chicken today.  Yesterday I was given a couple of the Quiet Valley eggs to take home.  Among the brown and white eggs was a blue one! As I looked closely I noticed that some of the brown ones weren’t truly brown either; some where speckled and others were almost pink.  While this may not surprise some folks, I was intrigued.  (Truth be told, some part deep down in my brain knew that eggs came in all sorts of colors. Notwithstanding, my brain decided to hold that piece of information for ransom.)

I was so intrigued by those colored eggs that when I got home I blew out the yokes to keep them. If you’ve never done it blowing out the yoke is a very easy process. I wash the egg and then with a large sewing needle make a hole at the top and bottom of the egg.  I usually swirl the needle around inside the egg to break up the yoke.  Then I blow into the top of the egg and the insides come out the bottom. (Some people use a straw instead of putting their mouths on the egg.)  Now you’re left with just the shell and, with care, these will last forever.


The blue egg comes from a particular type of chicken called an Ameraucana or an Araucana.  These chickens come from the Araucana area of Chile.  These chickens were there prior to contacts with Europeans.  (What is often referred to as pre-Columbian.) Interestingly, these chickens are closely related to populations found in Polynesia.  This speaks to contact between Polynesians and Chileans in prehistoric times, which while a very interesting discussion draws us away from the topic at hand.

The color of a chicken’s egg is determined by genetics and breeding chickens from two different colored egg varieties can lead to new colored eggs.  A brown egged rooster breeds with a blue egg hen and now there are olive green eggs! (Not what I would have expected from my art class days.)  That’s why some eggs look brown, while others appear pink.  We are used to brown and white eggs being standard because of the grocery store.  Also, the color of the chicken has nothing to do with the color of the chicken.

There are over 50 billion chickens in the world today.  They were domesticated by the 15th century B.C. in Asia.  They are omnivores and will eat lizards, small snakes and mice as well as seeds and corn. Chickens are gregarious and have a social structure with dominant individuals who control access to food and shelter.  That’s where our term “pecking order” comes from.  We have a number of different varieties of chickens here on the farm. I will hopefully learn their breeds and names soon.

cat and eggs compress

Blooper photo: My kitten Damascus photo bombing to investigate the blown eggs.



Farm Hand Adventure

On Wednesday, I tagged along with one of our Farm Hand Adventure programs.  This program is designed to allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the farm and history through a hands-on project.  This participating class was unique in another way too. All the participants were ac
tually future teachers! They were students going to East Stroudsburg University and studying education.  They were learning different teaching techniques and how to incorporate a field trip into the classroom.

wheat stack 1 by dd

The program I really enjoyed was dedicated to the exploration of wheat. Farmer Milt explained the different ways wheat grew and how it was harvested.  Did you know that the when the hay is cut, its bundled together and this is called the sheave? Well, now you know. The sheaves are made into stacks and sheaves are laid across the top as a way to shed rain water.  Reminds me a little bit of Monet’s painting.

Near the end of the class, we each got a few stalks of wheat.  We broke the stalks so we just had the heads.  Next we crushed them and made a rather large mess on the floor.  Finally we winnowed out the chaff (the seed pod part) using our own wind, aka our breath. That just left the wheat seeds.  This we put into a little portable table mill to produce flour! By turning the handle the wheat is crushed between two small mill stones and flour is produced. wheat

table mill


After learning about how wheat is produced we got to get our hands involved a little more and made some bread! Cheryl demonstrated how bread was made and spoke some about the history of bread.  The Germans and the Pennsylvania Dutch tended to like darker and rye breads.  While the English tended to prefer whiter wheat breads.  Then it was our turn.  We each got a little bit of dough and tried kneading it. Once it was no longer sticky and sprung back under a gentle touch it was done.  We made it into little ball loaves.  While the students were down on the farm it baked and smelled wonderful and once done tasted event better.  I forgot to take a picture of my loaf, which came out rather funny shaped because it was stuck between several others.  I’m hoping to try the recipe again and maybe some of the others in the new Quiet Valley cookbook.

Pole Vaulting Rabbit

Today was my first day learning how to feed the animals here at Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm.  There is a wide range of animals here at the farm including: pigs, horses, a mule, turkeys, rabbits, pigs, goats, and sheep. This time of year, in the winter, the feeding goes pretty quickly and easily.  The animals are mostly in the 1850s bank barn, the chicken coop, and the pig barn.  (During the summer, the animals are all spread out across the farm.)

The day started in the barn feeding the horses, pig, turkeys, geese, Lily the goat, and the rabbits. The turkeys were the only ones who didn’t seem much interested in food.  They preferred perching in the window and showing off their tail feathers.  Did you know pigs drool in anticipation of food? Apparently they do.

The most exciting thing that happened other than a few slips and spills on the icy ground was when we were feeding the rabbits.  We opened the rabbits cages to change out their food and water.  Normally the rabbits think nothing of it but today one developed an unusual idea.  One of the rabbits is a big, white one like the kind from Alice in Wonderland sans waistcoat and pocket watch. She looked at that open pen and saw an opportunity, the new person.  She sprung over the edge of her cage like a graceless pole vaulter (or someone planning a painful belly flop in a pool). Dumbstruck, all I can think of is ‘the rabbit escaped’. Will she bolt and get out of the barn. She, I assume, thinks it too as she rests on the floor under her pen.  In an attempt for a quick recovery, I scoop her up.  Immediately my thoughts change to ‘Goodness she’s heavy,’ before putting her back in her cage. We had a moment as she watched me go to get her food.  As much as she seemed to relish that brief moment of flight, we both agreed her pole vaulting career was over.

escape rabbit comp

The rabbit after she’s back in her pen.

This blog is written to help visitors fall in love with the farm.  This post was written by Kat Muller the new administrator about her experiences as she learns about the farm.

First week on the Farm

kat photo

Me while smelting iron in Denmark

Hi everyone, my name is Kat and I’m a new member of the Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm Staff.  I’m inviting you to come along, meet the farm, and learn along with me.

A little bit about me to get you started: I have always loved working out of doors. (To the point that I told my first grade teacher I wanted to grow up to be an oak tree-still working on that, roots take a long time to grow.) I have a strong background in experimental archaeology and living history.  (Experimental archaeology is a subset of archaeology where the scientist tries to reproduce past lifeways to better understand archaeological deposits. AKA we make pots to smash them and see if they look like the pot fragments found in excavations.) I particularly enjoy metal working specifically blacksmithing, in addition to spinning, weaving, historic clothing construction, herb lore, and anything else I can try.

The first week on the farm was a fun challenge.  I’m trying to catch up on the history of the farm and the evolution as the site as a teach/historical farm. My favorite encounter so far was with Baby Llama.  Baby Llama (don’t get  mislead by the name-like I was the first time) is a sheep who may be the reincarnation of Harry Houdini; she doesn’t stay in her pen.  She hops in and out over the fence. To be fair, Milt the farmer did warn me about this. Yet, I was still surprised when we rounded one of the barns and there was Baby Llama placidly eating on the lawn of the house. Before my eyes she walked over to the fence, not the lowest part of the fence where the railing was slumping but to a high portion where the rocks made a five foot difference between the sheep pasture up to the horse pasture/ lawn, and POP over she went. She landed rather gracefully, I might add.

baby llama comp

Baby llama out of her pen

On Wednesday I’m going to tag along and start learning how to feed the animals including Baby Llama and the other sheep, Wilhelm and Gunther (the draft horses), the mule, the pigs, the rabbits, the geese, the turkeys, the barn cats, and many others. Wish me luck.




Fall Tours

QV Barn in Summer

1800’s Barn

Fall is a beautiful time of year to come visit Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm. The historic tour of our circa 1800’s working farm showcases animal care, gardening, heritage crafts, hearth cooking, old fashioned games and wagon rides. Fun for the whole family.

We are open daily 10:00-5:00pm with exception of Mondays through Labor Day. We will also be open Saturday the 12th and the 19th from 10:00-5:00pm.

Please ask us for a coupon and for more information.