Earlier this year Mother Nature Network posted a story about root vegetables with the headline “the most underappreciated produce.” While root vegetables might not have the glossy, shiny look of other produce finds in the grocery store today, they’re a staple for winter cooking and an important part of our diets for hundreds of years.
What is a root vegetable? Potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, rutabagas, beets, onions, garlic and yams are all root vegetables.
In the 18th century, fellow root vegetables skirrets and Jerusalem artichokes were common in many diets, along with the above offerings. During this time period, Americans’ palates were very explorative and diverse and included many takes on root vegetable preparation.
Take for example radishes. While radishes can often be found in our salads today as a small garnish, centuries ago they were grown to have large roots to consume. On the opposite hand, however, about 20 years before the Civil War, the carrot had primarily been viewed as a field crop; something you’d give to your horse to eat, not something to enjoy as a snack.
Families stored their vegetables in cellars or even in the ground during cold, winter months. From soups to stews and more, having a good supply of vegetables to choose from allowed the cook to experiment with different dishes.
Root vegetables would be cooked and dressed as part of the meal; eating them raw was unheard of, and is actually a relatively new way of enjoying them. Often times the vegetables would be cooked over an open fire with that day’s meat selection on a game roaster. Spices were added to the cooking for additional flavor.
As Americans diets and palates changed after the Civil War, the diversity in what we consumed changed into a less-exciting offering. Gone were the creative uses families a generation early had enjoyed.
At The Henry Ford today, we work hard to show our visitors what life was like for families who relied on what they created themselves; root vegetables are obviously a big part of that. Not only can you visit our homes and learn more about how a family, like the Daggetts, Firestones or Fords, prepared items like root vegetables in their own kitchens, you can taste them for yourself at one one of our restaurants.
If you’re curious to learn more about recipes including root vegetables, try looking at:
The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a step out of your comfort zone and try a new-to-you root vegetable. When you try something new, make sure to tell us what you thought of it and how you prepared it. To get you thinking, try these recipes for chicken fricassee with root vegetables and braised rabbit.
Chicken Fricassee with Root Vegetables INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp butter
3 chicken breasts, large dice
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cups root vegetables, medium dice (parsnips, rutabaga and sweet potato)
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 pinch nutmeg
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
TT salt & pepper
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
Sauté chicken in butter in a hot large skillet until brown, take out of pan, reserve.
Add onions, root vegetables, thyme and bay leaf to pan and cook through.
Add white wine and reduce by half then add the cream, chicken and nutmeg and simmer for 6-8 minutes until chicken is cooked thorough and sauce thickens.
Season with lemon, salt and pepper, top with parsley.
Can be served with buttered noodles or other favorite side.
Eagle Tavern's Braised Rabbit INGREDIENTS
1 whole rabbit, 2.5-3 pounds
As needed all-purpose flour
Oil or butter to brown
1 cup Spanish onion, large dice
1/2 cup carrot, large dice
1/2 cup celery, large dice
1/4 cup turnip, large dice
1/4 cup rutabaga, large dice
1 cup red skin potatoes, large dice
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
6 cups chicken or rabbit stock
TT salt and pepper
Remove legs and arms off of rabbit with a sharp knife.
With a large knife or cleaver, chop off rib cage and tail portion for stock (if time permits roast these portions until brown and add to simmering chicken stock for bolder flavor).
Heat a braising pan or Dutch style oven until warm, season and dust rabbit pieces with flour and add slowly to pan to brown. By adding too quickly you will shock the pan and not allow proper browning and the rabbit may stick to the pan.
When rabbit has been nicely browned, take out of pan and reserve on a platter.
Add onion, carrots and celery, cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat then add remaining vegetables, potatoes and herbs, cook for 4-5 minutes more.
Add the rabbit back into the pot and then the stock.
Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for 1.5 hours or until the leg portions are tender and fall off the bone.
When tender add salt and pepper, taste adjust as needed.
Divide into four bowls and enjoy.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
The admiration Henry Ford held for his friend Thomas Edison has deeply shaped Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, as evidenced today through the cornerstone in the Museum and through more than a half-dozen buildings related to Edison’s life and work in Greenfield Village. We’ve just digitized a number of photos of Edison to bring the total number of our Edison-related collections objects online to nearly 250, with a few more coming soon. Visit our collections site to see this photo of Edison in his West Orange lab in 1920, as well other recently added photos of the inveterate tinkerer analyzing things such as dictating machines, telegraph keys, and even an electric streetcar.
This month, we mark the 50th anniversary of one of the most dramatic – and traumatic – turning points in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. In that single instant, the perceived calm of the postwar era was shattered and “The Sixties” – civil rights legislation, Vietnam, the counterculture – began. Few artifacts from that day are as burned into public memory as the 1961 Lincoln Continental that carried President Kennedy through Dallas.
The car, code named X-100, started life as a stock Lincoln convertible at Ford Motor Company’s Wixom, Michigan, assembly plant. Hess & Eisenhardt, of Cincinnati, Ohio, stretched the car by 3½ feet and added steps for Secret Service agents, a siren, flashing lights and other accessories. Removable clear plastic roof panels protected the president from inclement weather while maintaining his visibility. The car was not armored, and the roof panels were not bulletproof. The modified limo cost nearly $200,000 (the equivalent of $1.5 million today), but Ford leased it to the White House for a nominal $500 a year.
It was a perfect marriage between car and passenger. The Lincoln’s clean, modern lines broke away from the showy chrome and tail fins of the pervious decade, and they seemed to mirror the young president’s turn toward a “New Frontier.” Kennedy used the limo many times during his thousand days in office, and it became tied to him in the public consciousness even before the tragedy in Dallas.
After the assassination, officials from the Secret Service and the FBI examined the car and removed any potential evidence, and then ordered that it be rebuilt and returned to duty. While this decision is astonishing in retrospect, it was one of simple practicality. The president needed a parade car, and it was much faster to modify the X-100 than to build an entirely new vehicle. The $500,000 project (some $3.8 million today), dubbed the “Quick Fix,” produced a true armored car. Titanium plating reinforced the doors, body panels and floor. Filters in the heating and cooling systems protected against poison gas. The now-permanent roof, fitted with bullet-resistant glass, provided a compromise between safety and visibility. In a final change, the car’s deep blue paint was replaced with a more somber black.
The rebuilt car served Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter before being retired in 1977. By then it was 16 years old and outdated in both appearance and equipment. It returned to Ford Motor Company, which in turn donated it to The Henry Ford in 1978. The limousine quickly became one of the most important pieces in the museum’s collection.
Fifty years after the assassination, the car has lost none of its power as an icon of American change. Visitors still pause to reflect on the limousine, whether they are older adults who lived through those painful November days, or young children whose parents weren’t even born when the car came to The Henry Ford.
Before the 20th century and the development of modern medicine, death came early and often. Maladies considered minor today were scourges in 18th and 19th centuries. Disease combined with complications of childbirth and exposure to harsh elements led to a high mortality rate. One way people coped was to wear memorials of loved ones in the form of mourning jewelry.
The Henry Ford holds a comprehensive collection of mourning jewelry dating from the early 18th century through the late 19th century. Recently, we took the opportunity to examine and conserve a group of approximately forty pendants and brooches dating from the late 18th century to the early 19th century
Fashions and forms of mourning jewelry varied significantly over time. The earliest American mourning jewelry pieces were rings, created in the 17th and early 18th centuries, inscribed with the name and usually the age of the deceased. In many instances epitaphs such as "gone but not forgotten" were included. Later in the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, pendants and brooches vied for popularity with rings. These pendants are some of the most enigmatic examples of morning jewelry – they take form of pictorial miniatures, painted on ivory, meant to be worn or held as keepsakes with images of the dearly departed.
The images follow a standard formula, usually a landscape with a weeping figure standing in front of a monument with the name of the deceased, date of death and an epitaph, as in the rings. The figures are dressed in the Neoclassical fashions popular in the early days of the new Republic, when Americans saw themselves as latter-day Greeks and Romans. These included design elements such as urns, plinths and geometric forms derived from Classical architecture. The figures were painted with sepia-colored ink, sometimes combined with dissolved human hair from the deceased. Backgrounds typically included landscapes featuring "weeping" willow trees and an inscribed monument to the deceased.
The pendant dedicated to Samuel Ralston, who died on 10 January 1795, might serve as a model mourning miniature – the front side shows the ubiquitous weeping woman holding a child by the hand. She mourns in front of a monument with a triangular top, surmounted by an urn. The monument base is inscribed, "How transient is human happyness [sic]." An angel floats in the sky above, carrying a scroll with the haunting epitaph, "Welcome to Bliss . . . . " The reverse side is equally revealing about the nature of these keepsakes. A glass-enclosed insert is filled with a woven snippet of the deceased's hair, another tangible remembrance. This was a common feature in many mourning pendants.
The use of hair as a keepsake reaches its peak in a pendant containing the hair of three members of the Potts family. This is an unusual example – the pictorial scene is absent, replaced with decorative and distinctively arranged samples of hair. From the inscriptions on the front, we know that the earliest was W.R. Potts, who died on 28 August 1779, at the tender age of 19 months. The second was Eliza. Potts, who died on 19 November 1787 at the age of 32. On the reverse is a woven section of hair from Benjamin Potts, a toddler, who died on 2 February 1797 at the age of 3 years, 11 months. The question is how were these people related? Were they several generations of the family?
The third example is perhaps the most enigmatic in our collection. The front of this unknown memorial is decorated in a typical landscape scene with two weeping figures in front of an urn-topped monument. An angel flutters in the sky, breaking up the epitaph, "Not Lost but Gone Before." Interestingly, a male figure is shown on the right, kneeling before a second monument. Who is this figure? The reverse image is extraordinary -- a detailed interior bedroom scene. We are viewing the deceased lying in a large poster-type bed next to a male figure holding a child. We can assume that his wife has died, leaving this gentleman with a motherless child. The interior is complete with windows, a decorative floor covering, rendered in an odd perspective, and a side chair supporting a coffin. The coffin is decorated with skulls, a motif intended to describe the transitory nature of life. What is the meaning of this scene? Was it to console, remind, or both? Is the figure on the front side a representation of the grieving father on the reverse? Perhaps. This piece raises questions about the individual who commissioned it and the rather ambitious artist who created it.
Mourning jewelry, especially those pieces with pictorial imagery, provides an insight into the trials of everyday life in the centuries before the advent of the modern world. It is difficult for us to imagine the level of mortality which led to the everyday use of such objects. To those who commissioned these mementos, they provided a tangible reminder of a beloved family member. Today, we view them as representations of a now vanished world.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
This selection of postcards represents a uniquely American blend of Hallowe'en traditions that by the early 1900s included the popular activity of sending and collecting these holiday-themed greeting cards.
The colonial American traditions of Hallowe'en centered on celebrations of the harvest, fortune-telling, and even matchmaking. Later immigrants brought new layers of customs and practices, including the jack-o-lantern that is perhaps today's best-known symbol of the American holiday. By the 1890s the growing print media publicized Hallowe'en from its pockets of regional variation across the country, making it a truly national affair. Over time, the holiday became a community observance of eerie fun for all ages.
Based on early 20th-century Hallowe'en celebrations, our annual Greenfield Village Hallowe'en is one of our most attended public events. Since 1981, we have often given guests attending this evening program a reproduction postcard as one of the treats. (This year's Hallowe'en postcard, pictured above, was designed by Ellen Clapsaddle in 1917.) As an amusing addition since 2010, we have created a photo opportunity vignette using an enlarged version of the postcard giveaway. Our Phoenixville Post Office also offers for sale and mailing a selection of Hallowe'en postcard repros from past years, starting in the autumn.
In the last third of the 19th century, an unprecedented variety of consumer goods and services flooded the American market. Advertisers, armed with new methods of color printing, bombarded potential customers with trade cards. Americans enjoyed and often saved the vibrant little advertisements. We’ve just finished digitizing over 800 trade cards from The Henry Ford’s collection, including this example promoting a theatrical event. Visit our collections site to read the back, which promises “a Gorgeous Pagent [sic], Bewildering to the Mind and Dazzling to the Senses.”
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Thanks to this week's co-author, Saige Jedele, Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.
It is amazing how the roots of innovation can be essentially lost over time. Technological advancements now arrive at such a staggering rate that the gadgets of the past—that very ones that led us to the present—are forgotten and virtually unknown. Phonevision is one such invention.
Developed by the Zenith Radio Corporation and its founder/president, Eugene McDonald Jr., Phonevision was the first pay television service the world had ever seen. As early as 1931 the company had looked into the idea of subscription television, believing that many stations couldn’t survive on advertising dollars alone. In July 1947, Zenith announced the Phonevision system, which would allow films, Broadway plays, sporting events and other special programming to be broadcast in the home—commercial free. Homeowners with a special receiver/unscrambling device connected to their television set would select from a list of available content and then call Zenith to request the program they wanted to see, which would then be transmitted at designated times via telephone lines into the receiver. A $1 charge, per program, would be added to the homeowner’s monthly phone bill.
In these early years of television, McDonald theorized that TV and the advertising industry were caught up in a “vicious triangle,” where advertisers wouldn’t spend money without a large audience, but large audiences wouldn’t watch without quality entertainment, and the private companies that owned stations didn’t have the money to pay for such programming. McDonald—an interesting figure, who could be described as part Steve Jobs, part P.T. Barnum—believed his pay-as-you-see model wouldn’t just benefit the television industry and consumers, but would also “save the film industry financially unless someone fumbles the ball.” Not one for false modesty, he was fond of quoting a friend’s prediction: “The American family, put on the road by Henry Ford, will be brought back home by Gene McDonald.”
The biggest obstacle facing Zenith was the reluctance of the film companies to license their product. The movie studios didn’t want to upset theater owners and they were bound by contract to keep music from films off of TV. To negotiate with the movie studios, Zenith hired an IRS collector by the name of James P. Finnegan. He was so convincing that the studios not only relented, they didn’t charge Zenith a dime. Mr. Finnegan was later indicted by a federal grand jury for various misdeeds.
In 1949, Zenith received authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to test its service, and would begin the experiment the following year in Chicago, with three hundred households signing up to try Phonevision.
Subscription television made its global debut on May 1, 1950, with the tryout lasting ninety days. “It was successful far beyond our expectations,” McDonald declared, while the Theater Owners of America—somewhat unsurprisingly—had a conflicting opinion, and proclaimed Phonevision “a monumental flop.” According to Zenith’s numbers, Chicago families had viewed films 1.73 times a week, which was almost four times the average movie-going rate over the same period (McDonald, exaggerating somewhat, claimed it was thirty-three times the average). Even though all the films aired during the test were over two years old, 92% of those who used the subscription service said they would rather watch from home than go to the movies. It appeared theater owners were in trouble and Phonevision was on its way to sweeping the nation.
More testing was conducted during the spring of 1954 on WOR in New York City. This time airborne signals were used instead of phone lines (the public wasn’t involved). The results were overwhelmingly positive, proving the system worked even in densely populated areas with tall buildings, resulting in a change to an “over-the-air” transmitter set-up (though the name Phonevision could have been considered obsolete at this point, Zenith stuck with it). The company had also developed different means to watch programming. One way was via a coin box decoder, while another device would unscramble the picture after the viewer entered the correct combination.
In the fall of 1954, ABC passed on airing a television ad for the service, and in April the following year CBS followed suit, stating, “Phonevision is not a product, it’s a controversial issue.” Zenith was not amused, charging CBS with “arbitrary and unwarranted censorship.” In May, the go-ahead was given for a month of testing on WMAL in Washington, DC, so Zenith could audition Phonevision at a broadcasters’ convention, as well as for the FCC and Congress, with fifty systems installed in the capitol building (the company was still attempting to secure the all-important FCC approval of Phonevision as a broadcast service). In June, Zenith licensed Phonevision to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Channel Islands, having inked a similar deal for the Australian and New Zealand markets the previous year.
Eugene McDonald Jr. passed away in 1958, but Zenith’s belief in Phonevision was unwavering, and by 1961 the company had invested millions refining their subscription television system. Yet the jury was still out at the FCC.
The company’s next test, in collaboration with RKO General, would take place in Hartford, Connecticut. Beginning June 29, 1962, UHF station WHCT would continue to broadcast commercial television during the day, but switch to Phonevision programming in the evening. By 1964, Zenith began to have doubts about the service, and though the Hartford test lasted until January 31, 1969, they never obtained the subscriber numbers needed.
Come April 1969, word was that FCC approval was imminent, and while Zenith was still optimistic about its product, it was cautiously so. By the time the FCC made its decision in 1970, finally giving pay television the green light, Phonevision was no more. Part of its downfall could be attributed to the fact that programming was still only viewable in black and white.
Over-the-air systems reappeared for a period beginning in 1977 (ON-TV, an example of what was available in the Detroit market, broadcast films via WXON in the evening hours), but ultimately lost out to cable television. Pay-per-view TV, which took hold in the early 1980s, can be traced to Zenith’s service, as can the very idea of purchasing commercial-free content for home viewing. Today, movies and television shows can be downloaded via Amazon and iTunes and watched on devices like Roku and Apple TV, while untold hours of media can be streamed on Netflix and other services that offer “on demand” content—without commercial interruption. While it is also possible to view said content on mobile devices—far from our television sets—in a sense, Eugene McDonald Jr. has finally brought us all back home.
Nearly a decade after his death, Mr. McDonald was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, for, among other accomplishments, his role in the development of subscription television. The service he so passionately promoted ultimately failed, but the concept has proved incredibly successful. Though Phonevision is now largely forgotten, it was the true beginning of pay TV.
Bart Bealmear is a reading room assistant in the Archives & Library at The Henry Ford.
Hallowell, Mary Louise. The Cable/Broadband Communications Book, 1977-1978, Communications Press, 1977.
Mullen, Megan. The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States, University of Texas Press, 2003. More here.
Segrave, Kerry. Movies at Home: How Hollywood Came to Television, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1999.
Sterling, Christopher H. Biographical Dictionary of Radio, Routledge, 2011.
The Zenith Story: A History from 1919, Zenith Radio Corporation, 1955.
Prominent architect Andrew Jackson Downing—a big fan of the Gothic Revival—offered house designs in this picturesque style for middle-class Americans in his 1842 book, Cottage Residences. This illustration has the most self-conscious gothic elements—in the chimneys, windows, and the “gingerbread” detail in the central gable. (THF.110992)
Today when we think of gothic, we picture people dressed in dark clothing sporting dyed jet-black hair and best-selling vampire-themed novels like the Twilight series. America has had an on-and-off love affair with this offbeat, alternate style for the past two hundred years. Yet, what began as deliciously gloomy in 18th-century England took hold in Victorian America as romantic and picturesque.
Gothic as Mystery and Delicious Gloom
The idea of the gothic began with 18th-century Englishman Horace Walpole, who created the concept of the romantic-gothic in his fantasy castle, Strawberry Hill, located just outside of London. Walpole’s medievally-inspired “little gothic castle” included battlements, pinnacles, a round tower, fan vaulted ceilings, and pointed gothic arches. Like today’s Goths, Walpole saw mystery in the “dark.” In designing Strawberry Hill, Walpole looked to create an otherworldly—and rather theatrical—environment through the use of mysterious shadows of dark and light. Word spread as others learned of Walpole’s unique creation and gothic elements began to find their way into stylish design—not quite medieval, but not of its time, either.
Gothic as Romantic and Picturesque
By the mid 19th century, a popular trend that came to be known as Gothic Revival emerged from Walpole’s vision. For Walpole, the gothic was a personal fantasy world. For those who embraced it decades later, it was an emotionally–infused alternative to the rational Classical design so in vogue in the early decades of the 19th century. The Classical taste was about symmetry and order. The Gothic taste was about emotion, whimsy, and the spiritual. Many Americans thought the Gothic style pretty and charming—so picturesque—and by the mid-19th century, popular American taste was all about the “picturesque.”
What constituted the Gothic Revival? The kinds of decorative elements one would find on a medieval cathedral like tall spires, pointed arches and trefoils (a stylized three-part leaf design). Where did these design elements appear? On newly-built churches, houses, stoves, furniture, glassware, silver—and even industrial machinery.
This elegant sofa is covered with quatrefoil carvings (a stylized four-part leaf design) derived from medieval stained glass windows. This massive, imposing piece was intended to make a fashion statement in a Victorian parlor.
These tall cast iron andirons—with their double “stack” of church spires—are the very definition of the Gothic Revival. They appear to be lifted from a medieval cathedral—although nothing like them ever existed in the Middle Ages.
This jewelry box—made of mold-pressed, shimmering, “lacy” glass— features rows of cathedral-inspired, stained glass windows. It was made in the 1830s by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
New York City furniture maker Joseph Meeks added pointed arches and trefoils (three-part) cutouts to form the back of this simple, yet elegant, side chair in the Gothic style. Made between 1835 and 1860, this chair is perfect for a picturesque cottage.
This mass-produced “cottage” clock, made by Brewster & Ingraham of Bristol, Conn., between 1844 and 1852, merely hints at the Gothic style with its pointed top and simple spires. Thousands of clocks like this one found a place in American homes during the mid-19th century.
Even simple washstands could be adorned with gothic arches. This 1840-1860 washstand was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln for her Springfield, Illinois home.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.