History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

11 September 2011

Colonial Beauty Recipes

I've been pondering if a Colonial American romance might work---editors have in the past said no, but as I reader and a writer, I am looking for a fresh setting and fresh story. And there was such a thing as an American beauty (a must for a romance heroine). So I researched a little about what colonials thought was attractive--not much different than today---signs of good health: good teeth, nice skin, nice hair. I looked into what it what it might require cosmetically. Here are a couple of recipes I thought were interesting, including one on how to freshen up your room:

Rose Balm- For hands, feet, elbows, and general dry skin

1/2 pound hogs lard (can be purchased in grocery stores labeled "lard")
1/4 pound or less of white wax (candle stubs or canning wax work well)
Rose water*

Alkanet root or cochineal pigment (if desired)
Place lard in a good size bowl. Pour a couple tablespoons full of rose water over the lard and mix well with your hands. Let it set for a day. Most lard purchased in stores has preservatives in it, so no worries about spoilage.

After a day, place lard in a double boiler. Slowly melt down the lard. If using pigment, add your pigment at this time. Once the lard is melted, add your wax. This is where you decide how hard you want your balm to be. More wax equals a harder balm. Err on the side of caution and add less the first time around, and if it isn't hard enough for you once it has cooled, melt it down again and add more wax. If it isn't soft enough, melt it down and add more lard. Once you have figured out the right consistency, If desired or needed, add more rose water while the concoction is still liquid. Pour liquid into small containers to cool (votive holders work well) and enjoy!

*You can substitute any scent you wish, just make sure it is strong enough.


For Cleaning and freshening of rooms

Medium bottle apple cider vinegar
Dried or fresh:
Glass container with cork
Loosely layer your herbs in your glass container until just over half full. Fill with your apple cider vinegar and cork off. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for 6Â months. Resist the urge to sniff, the results will be more impressive if you don't. At the end of six months, pour off the vinegar and use for cleaning. The origin of this vinegar's story is in France, where a great plague was in full force. Four young men decided to take advantage of the situation, and broke in to the home of the sick. Amazingly, they themselves never got ill. They were finally caught and brought before the judge. The judge knew of their reputations, and made a deal with them. If they divulged their secret (how they themselves never came down with the plague, even after being in the homes of the sick), he would let them go free. Supposedly, this vinegar was their secret. This receipt is old even by the 18th century.


Cleaning of the skin

White wine
Rosemary (fresh or dried)
Boil the rosemary with the white wine for about 15 min. Let set to cool and strain out the rosemary. Dip a fine napkin in the liquid, and rub face vigorously.


Scented powder for body or hair

Glass jar with cork
Dried lavender flowers
Starch (corn starch is used late in the 18th century, wheat starch is more common during the period. If you can find dried, powdered laundry starch, this is perfect!)
Gently bruise lavender flowers to release the scent. Bottle the starch up with your crushed lavender flowers, shaking it to mix it well and cork it tight. More flowers equals more scent. Let set for at least two months, so the starch will absorb all the scent. Sift the flowers out before use.

As a historical reader, the use of sage, thyme, lavender and rose water comes as no surprise. From the middle ages to colonial America, those scents persist. Particularly in historical romance.

I am always looking for ways to enhance the senses in my historical writing. As a reader, what other scents and smells have that "historical feel??, exluding the one of course, that probably dominated! The great unwashed!



Blogger Erastes said...

I love the smell of Nelson's warships--the smell of them is almost overwhelming, and that's just from the ship itself- I can't imagine what it must have been like with hundreds of stinky sailors on board too!

I can't believe that editors say that period wouldn't work--but I start to understand why SO MANY American authors do english set stories with varying degrees of success. One friend of mine said "but our history is boring" - but the colonial period (and all of it!) must have been every bit as structured as england. Society and all that! Just do it!

11:23 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I would love a colonial era romance. I cut my teeth on the ones that Cynthia Wright and Miranda Jarret wrote. I think it is such a fascinating and underrepresented period in our history.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Great post, Kathrynn. Pure vanilla extract has a very period feel to me. So do cinnamon/cassia and clove, as well as bergamot. When I played a character in a play set in 1725 (a jailer's daughter) and wanted to wear perfume in the role, I daubed vanilla extract on my pulse points.

Erastes, ironically, the first historical novel I began to write (but never completed) was set on the East End of Long Island from the period of 1777-83 (there's a lot of American Colonial history extant there that you can still visit; and there was a history of privateering, rum running, as well as a key battle in Sag Harbor, and many notable patriots in East Hampton. Additionally, many British soldiers never left after the war ended. And Sag Harbor was declared the first deep water port by the very first U.S. Congress. All sorts of interesting stuff happened out there, but I was told that it wasn't interesting enough and to set my stories in England instead.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Erastes, we need you to write our editors! For some reason, I feel an American Colonial muse speaking to me. I'm going to take your advice and try a synopsis--just do it! Thanks for the push!

10:32 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Cool, Leslie. I read somewhere that vanilla and baked bread are the smells that most men favor as the sexiest!

10:33 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Elizabeth, I love miranda Jarret---never read Cynthia Wright. Will check her out! Thanks!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Kathrynn, I just spend a weekend in Philadelphia, and I was overwhelmed with how much of the colonial past is present in that city. Particularly after seeing the George Washington exhibit. Several of Cynthia Wright's books (written in the 1980's) were set in Philly.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Too cool, Elizabeth! I am planning a trip now to Philly--going with my kids over spring break. Hope the GW exhibit is still there!

3:09 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Bay, laurel, bergamot, ambergris, frankincense, labdanum. I love giving each character their own scent. It’s as important as picking out their eye color, LOL!

7:45 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I agree, Isobel. Bergamot and amergris, labdanum---? What do they smell like? I cam't place them!

12:02 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love using scent as a way to evoke setting, and I love figuring out perfumes, shaving soap, etc... for my characters. Ditto on bergamot, also vanilla, wood polish, lemon oil, saddle soap. Not to mention the acrid tang of cannon smoke and the sickly stench of blood from the Waterloo battle scenes I was recently writing.

11:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Site Counter
Kennedy Western University Online