Thursday, December 27, 2007
Taking tea with the Metcalfes
Dec. 30, 1837 - "Sally had kept her promise, appearing at the cabin when the trillium was in bloom. Together we went on the first of many walks into the woods, where she introduced me to the wonders that had been sprouting right before my eyes. There was skunk cabbage for seizures and burdock for boils; horsemint to relieve headaches and wild cherry to cure colds; the bark of the willow, she said, relieved pain, while the white oak cleansed wounds. I learned the preparation of compounds and decoctions, poultices and teas, and was shown new foods to harvest from the forest floor."
-- From The Metcalfe Family Album: Six Generations of Traditions and Memories by Sallyann J. Murphey
Gentle reader, I cannot remember the last time I was as crazy over a book as I am this one! I was at a local bookstore checking out with some magazines last Friday when I saw this lovely, clearance-priced book tossed on a bottom rack at the checkout counter. The Victorian looking artwork and collages throughout the book caught my attention, and it wasn't until I got home with the book I realized it is actually a work of fiction. The author has written such a believable work, however, that you'll be convinced these six generations of Metcalfe women really did exist. The icing on the cake was the discovery of numerous references to tea in the book, including a chart showing which plants the women of yesteryear used to make teas and what maladies they were said to cure.
The design of this book is truly amazing. Each woman's "voice" is conveyed in a different font. So Marianne, the French woman who marries Joshua Metcalfe and moves to the wilds of Indiana to be with him, has one voice, and after her death we move on to her son's new bride Constance, who has another font and "voice," and so on. (Constance is the one who tells us that "cold tea is excellent for cleaning grained wood.")
And although this is not technically a tea book, I find it a very useful volume because of all the heritage recipes each woman includes, foods such as Christollen Bread, Lebkuchen (Honey Cakes) and Pannetone. I finished the book on Christmas Day, and it was the perfect book to read this particular week since typically, the Metcalfe woman wrote entries about the year only at Christmas or the few days following. Want your own copy? I checked, and they're available brand new on Amazon for just $4.99. I find most modern novels so raunchy and/or dreary, I am delighted to have found something so enjoyable and uplifting to read, even if I had to go back to a 1999 book to find it!