Amy’s Pickled Limes-Little Women

amylimes3

Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else….If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I’ve had ever so many but haven’t returned them, and I ought, for they are debts of honor, you know.”

I have always wanted to go back and revisit this episode, because it is intriguing to think of limes as a social metaphor for status and acceptance: Not only are you one of us, but one of my favored, because I bestow this pickled lime upon you. I assumed it was historically accurate, but wondered where and how limes came to New England in the middle of the 19th century? And most especially, how they ended up as a schoolyard status symbol.

For Amy and her classmates, it wasn’t just the giving of limes, but the importance of giving back to the girls who gave the pickled limes first. This point cannot, to these school girls, be overstated.

The next day Amy was rather late at school; but could not resist the temptation of displaying, with pardonable pride, a moist brown-paper parcel…During the next few minutes the rumor that Amy March had got twenty-four delicious limes…and was going to treat circulated through her “set”…Katy Brown invited her to her next party on the spot; Mary Kingsley insisted on lending her her watch till recess….

Unfortunately, her stash is discovered by the teacher, who has forbidden them in the classroom and Amy is forced to throw them out the window.

Linda Zeidrich in her book, The Joy of Pickling, tackles Amy’s limes in a brief history. She describes their availability and low cost at a typical neighborhood store where they were sold on the counter for a penny each. “Kids chewed, sucked, and traded amylines2pickled limes at school (and not just at recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers.” Doctors thought this was an unnatural habit, but parents didn’t seem to be bothered and were content to let their children indulge. Interesting that at some point science recognized the benefits of citrus for health.

While it was true that some limes were grown in the United States, most came from the West Indies where they were packed in sea water or brine and shipped in barrels to ports in the Northeast, especially to Boston where they were the most popular. Zeidrich makes the ironic point that the limes of Louisa May Alcott’s schoolgirls were tied to the same slave labor in the Caribbean that sent Mr. March to fight against slavery in the United States. It always helps to know the origin of things when possible….

The cost per lime was so low because they were not classified as fresh fruit, which had a much higher tariff. Occasionally Congress tried to classify them with fresh fruit which brought protests. When Boston importer, William Brexnax, argued for separate classifications before the Ways and Means Committee of the Congress of the United States in 1909, he did so on the basis that the consumers of pickled limes were women and children from a small area of the country, the small consumption of which posed no commercial threat to fresh limes. You can read the full argument below.

GodeysDo-it-yourself pickled limes seem easy enough and while I found some period recipes this one from a 1854 issue of Godey’s Ladies Book, might have been close to what Amy and her friends ate.

“The dry and fresh-gathered fruits are put into strong, wide-mouthed glass bottles, carefully corked, and luted with a cement of lime and soft cheese, and bound down with wire. The bottles are then inclosed (sp) separately in canvas bags, and put into a kettle of water, which is gradually heated until it boils; the bottles are kept in this condition until the fruits are boiled in their own juice. The whole is then left to cool; after which the bottles are examined separately, and put away for store.”

Some recipes added salt and none I found were sweet, so it seems children ate them tart or sour.

I still don’t know why these pickled limes were traded by children whose later counterparts traded baseball cards or little key chains as we did at my school or whatever children are trading for status now. I suppose their ease of acquisition and cheap cost had something to do with it.

amylimes,jpeg

(Here is William F. Brexnax’s argument before the House Ways and Means Committee defending pickled limes against a fresh fruit tariff. Formatted by me for readability).


Hearings, Volume 20

By United States. 60th Congress. 2d session., 1908-1909. House.

188 PICKLED LIMES Paragraph 559
WM F BREXNAX IMPORTER BOSTON MASS WISHES A SEPARATE CLASSIFICATION MADE FOR PICKLED LIMES 1 13 CENTRAL STREET

Boston January 26 1909 COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS Washington DC

GENTLEMEN In the revision of the tariff let me urge that the classification of pickled limes remain unchanged as this commodity has but a very limited sale and confined almost exclusively to a few New England states.

After limes are immersed in sea water for twenty four hours it causes such a physical change that they are of no commercial value whatever other than as a pickled lime because they can not be freshened out or used only for eating in their changed condition and in this form they are consumed mostly by women and children of this section of the country who have acquired the taste for them.

Under the Wilson bill they were charged as pickles at 30 per cent ad volorem and continued so under the present bill until the Board of General Appraisers decided to class them as limes at 1 cent per pound together with the water which surrounded the same which ruling was amended by the decision of the United States circuit court of appeals in my suit against the Government for refund of duties since which time they have come in under paragraph 559 and admitted free as fruits in brine not specially provided Tor

The business done in them is quite small and positively no protection is needed for the few limes grown in the United States as they never pickle them and if pickled limes should again be classified under the head of green fruit it would be putting a prohibition value upon them for they are usually sold for a cent each and when the retailers can not do this the business small as it is will be curtailed very materially.

It has been proven by the courts that there has under all tariffs been a distinction made between limes and pickled limes and I would ask that this decision remain unchanged. This merchandise is not commercially known as limes and therefore should have a distinct classification if it is to be designated in any way in the new list. No tariff that the Government ever issued has classified pickled limes so it can be seen that they have never been considered of sufficient importance to give them a place. But now that revision is under way the opportunity should be embraced to make provision for them and thereby avoid a mix up again with the general appraisers in determining the proper interpretation of the tariff and I present the subject at this time with that end in view I trust that our New Englanders may continue to eat the fruit as of old which will be the case unless the United States needs to increase the cost by a tariff for revenue only.

Yours truly WM F BRENNAN Importer TABIFIT HEARINGS 7755

 


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Reading New England Challenge Wrap-Up

One of the highlights of my 2016 blogging year was participating in the Reading New England Challenge hosted by Lory of Emerald City Book Review. I read 12 books from specified categories, including one from each New England state.

I only started book blogging the previous September and was still getting the lay of book-blogging land when I saw the announcement for the challenge. I thought it would be a good way to read some classics I’d missed along the way.

I could not have chosen a better first challenge. Not only did I finally read Little Women and The House of the Seven Gables, I forced myself to read a horror novel and a book by someone I’d never heard about. I even bought a map of New England to track where the books were set!

One of the benefits of doing a challenge like this is being introduced to writers with whom you are unfamiliar.  If you were to tell me when I started one of my favorite experiences would be reading the aforementioned horror story, I would have called you daft. Or, that The Country of the Pointed Firs, a book by an author I’d never heard of would end up my favorite book of the challenge, I’d have been stunned. But both are true. I will be reading more of H.P. Lovecraft next year (during daylight hours, of course 🙂 ) and I have already read a short story by Sarah Orne Jewett (“A White Heron”) that was beautiful.

Other highlights for me: “Our Town,” Little Women, getting to know Nathaniel Hawthorne through The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, discovering one of my favorite films “The Haunting” was based on a book, The Haunting of Hill House and enjoying it as much as the film, and while I had mixed feelings about A Separate Peace I now know why a close co-worker finds it to be his favorite book.

 

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Thank you, Lory, for all the work you put into this. It was a great experience with lasting effects!

Here is what I read:

January: New Hampshire
A Separate Peace John Knowles

February: Fiction
The Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

March: Maine
The Country of the Pointed Firs Sarah Orne Jewett

April: Poetry and Drama
Our Town Thornton Wilder Thornton Wilder

May: Vermont
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson

June: Nonfiction
Hawthorne Henry James

July: Massachusetts
Little Women Louisa May Alcott

August: Children’s Books
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare

September: Rhode Island
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HP Lovecraft

October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

November: Connecticut
The Three Weissmanns of Westport Cathleen Schine

December: Readalong or free choice
Summer Edith Wharton

Louisa May Alcott Challenge

LMAchallenge

 

I am participating in In the Bookcase’s Louisa May Alcott Challenge. Basically, just read some LMA during the month of June! I thought I would do this to help me with my Alcott Year through the Women’s Classic Literature Event at the Classics Club, where I have decided to get to know LMA through her works…especially because I never read Little Women. Yeah. I know….

During this month I plan to read:

Finish Little Women
Read:~the Madeleine Stern bio of LMA
~Transcendental Wild Oats
~Psyche’s Art
~Behind a Mask; or A Woman‘s Power
~selections from her Journals, including Fruitlands, Emerson’s Death

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July 1, 2016

Wrap-up of the Louisa May Alcott Challenge, June 2016

I am very happy with what I accomplished this month even though, as usual for these kinds of challenges, I bit off more than I could chew…er read. Still, I feel this was a great success because it helped push me forward in my Classics Club Women’s Literature Event with my choice to do an ‘Alcott Year.’ So thank you Tarissa for organizing this and to all the other participants!

I read:

  1. I finished Little Women and reviewed it here.
    As a first read I enjoyed it immensely and believe it will be one of those books to reread from time to time.
  2. “Transcendental Wild Oats” This is a short story based on the Alcott family’s experience in communal living. While it is very humorously written, according to her journal entries of the time, it was an extremely difficult period in her family’s life. Still, parts made me laugh out loud and it is a good illustration of the perils of life in ‘utopia.’
  3. From her journal I read “Fruitlands,” which is the real life account of her father’s experiment in living and working the land as a reflection of his spiritual, philosophical and educational beliefs. What a challenging time for his wife and daughters!
  4. “Emerson’s Death” Another journal entry. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a long and close friend of the Alcotts. As a young girl, Louisa spent time in his library guided by his reading choices and they remained close throughout his life. At his death she said, “Our best and greatest American gone.” She named the essays Self-Reliance, Compensation and Friendship as writings that “helped me to understand myself and life, and God and Nature.”
  5. American Masters-Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2009) While perusing Amazon Prime this past week I came across a fine dramatized life of Louisa May Alcott. Elizabeth Marvel plays LMA and all her words are taken from Louisa’s journals and letters. Jane Alexander plays Ednah Cheney, who published a collection of letters, journal entries and a biographical commentary a year after Louisa’s death. Playing themselves are John Matteson, a well-known contemporary LMA biographer and interviews with Madeleine Stern, whose 1950 biography of Louisa May Alcott is still a standard work (which I haven’t quite finished) with fellow researcher and friend Leona Rostenberg.
  6. Louisa May Alcott, a biography by Madeleine B. Stern. Only half way through, but will keep reading. Stern spent her long life (she died in 2007 at 95) as a rare book dealer, researcher, writer and Alcott expert.

While I didn’t get to everything I listed, I am very happy with what I did accomplish. The only problem with this whole Louisa May Alcott project is the more I read, the more I find there IS to read! What an incredibly prolific writer.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1868)

My Edition:littlewomen2
Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Publisher: Signet Classic
Device: Paper book
Year: 1983. From the original, 1868
Pages: 449
For a plot summary

Work is wholesome, and there is plenty for everyone; it keeps us from ennui and mischief, is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.[i]

I like good strong words that mean something, replied Jo.[ii]

 

Apparently, Louisa May Alcott was not happy when her publisher asked her to write a “girl’s book.” She wanted to publish a collection of short stories and didn’t think she could write a successful book for girls. Nor did she enjoy writing it. “I plod away,” she wrote in her diary, “although I don’t enjoy this sort of thing.” After showing the completed manuscript to several girls, who found it “splendid,” Little Women was published to great success and to a surprised Alcott.

This was a first-time read for me and it was a slow process. I found myself totally immersed in the lives of the characters, each page rich in both the large and minute details of the daily life of the March women: pretty Meg is 16, plump and fair, with white hands, of which she was rather vain; Jo at 15 was slim and tall, with gray eyes that saw everything, a flyway look to her clothes and the “uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn’t like it;”[iii] 13 year-old Beth was shy, but with a peaceful demeanor and was called ‘Little Tranquility’ by her father; the youngest is 12 year-old Amy, blue eyes, yellow hair and a very high opinion of herself. And of course, Marmee, Mrs. March, helping her girls to live and grow as best they can while feeling the absence of their chaplain father away on the front lines (of the Civil War).

If had to sum up in one sentence the theme of the book, I would say it is a morality tale for young women; how to know yourself, what makes you tick so that you can be a better person. So, it was fascinating to watch each daughter’s life journey, each one so different from the other bring their trials, questions, flaws in their character to their mother and with Pilgrim’s Progress as their guide (why is it that one book always leads to another?!) overcome these deficits or ‘burdens’ in their personalities and become independent grown women.

Marmee never scolded or condemned their behavior, but saw each challenge as something that kept them from living up to their best self. And through the normal jealousies, hurt feelings, missteps, growing pains, revelations of truth brought each daughter to her highest self.

So much interested me in this book that I imagine this will be the first of many posts. These are some of the things that struck me.

  • Jo is continually described in masculine terms. She acts “gentlemanly,” she is described as “the man of the family.” Jo is like a boy because she is blunt in her words. Laurie calls her “my dear fellow.” However, these epithets are never used as a mockery or said in spite. They are merely descriptions of her behavior or personality. And it makes me wonder if this meant something different at that time than it does now where calling a woman ‘a gentleman’ has all kinds of negative associations and is often said in mockery toward certain types of women?
  • Though most of the book centers on domestic life, Laurie’s and Amy’s travels in Europe helped both develop a direction for their lives in keeping with the knowing-yourself theme. As Amy says, “Foreign life polishes one in spite of one’s self….”[iv]
  • The sympathetic defense of spinsters and old maids: “Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight….and looking at them with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember that they too may miss the blossom time; the rose cheeks don’t last forever, that sliver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and that, by-and-by kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and admiration now.

    Gentleman, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the only chivalry worth having is that which is the readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind, regardless of rank, age, or color. Just recollect the good aunts who have not only lectured and fussed, but nursed and petted, too often without thanks; the scrapes they have helped you out of, the tips they have given you from their small store, the stitches the patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little attentions that women love to receive as long as they live.”[v]

  • Limes! Who would ever think elementary school popularity was contingent upon the ability to provide limes to your friends? As Amy explains to Meg: “The girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in the schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I’ve had ever so many but haven’t returned them, and I ought, for they are debts of honor, you know.”[vi
  • Titles of books. A nice piece of cultural and literary history to see what books were read at this time or which authors were important to a character. I caught The Vicar of Wakefield, Ivanhoe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Fanny Burney and her Evelina, and of course the importance of Pilgrim’s Progress throughout the book.
  • Beth’s (Louisa’s?) thoughts on death. “Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety, it shows itself in acts rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies or protestations. Beth could not reason upon or explain the faith that gave her courage and patience to give up life, and cheerfully wait for death. Like a confiding child, she asked no questions, but left everything to God and nature, Father and mother of us all, feeling sure that they, and they only, could teach and strengthen her heart and spirit for this life and the life to come.[vii]
  • Amy Gets Snubbed at Mrs. Chester’s Fair Or Mean Girls Fail to Kill Amy’s Spirit.
    Amy was to have the front table at the charity fair to sell her art, but due to circumstances beyond her control (Jo’s imitation of May Chester which put Mrs. Chester off), her table was moved to a less than prominent location and May was given the front table for her work. It would have been Amy’s right to be mad or to even retaliate, but Amy was resolved to participate and keep up the best possible attitude. In the end, May didn’t have enough pieces to fill the table and Amy offered to put back her work, although she was not asked to sit at the table. The pieces sold well and the fair itself was a great success. Her sisters knew what she had been through and praised her for it. “You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how. I can’t explain exactly, but I want to be above the little meannesses and follies and faults that spoil so many women. I’m far from it now, but I do my best, and hope in time to be what Mother is.”[viii]

I have to laugh as I was taught once again that familiarity with a film adaptation (the Hepburn version hepburnis my favorite) does not do a book justice. I thought I knew this story, but it was just a tiny portion.

 

 

As it is summer, let me end on this wise gem from Jo, whose big outdoor hat Meg put the kibosh on by saying, “Oh Jo, you shall not make a guy of yourself.”

“I just will, though, for it’s capital—so shady, light and big. It will make fun, and I don’t mind being a guy if I’m comfortable.”[ix]
_______

[i] 110-111.
[ii] 34.
[iii] 115.
[iv] 354.
[v] 402-403.
[vi] 62.
[vii] 342.
[viii] 284.
[ix] 115.

Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by the Message, Susan Bailey (2016)

My Edition:lmaliiuminated
Title: Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by the Message
Author: Compiled and Introduced by Susan Bailey
Publisher: Acta Publications
Device: Paper book
Year: 2016
Pages: 121

“That’s the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it’s not very easy to give it sometimes,” said her mother with the air one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere?

 

Literary Portals to Prayer is a series of books by Acta Publications that takes passages from the works of a classic author and pairs them with excerpts from the Message translation of the Bible.

Louisa May Alcott, Illuminated by the Message is one of the latest offerings. It is compiled by Susan Bailey, whose research on the Alcott family is well-known. The book is laid out with a selection from one of  Alcott’s works on the left side and a passage from the Message Bible on the right. Like a devotional or book of prayer, it can be used as a means for contemplation or meditation. The modern English translation of the Message is a perfect complement to Alcott’s down to earth writing style.

My particular spirituality is an eclectic mix and my heart is always open to sources that give me a glimpse of God. Many of the passages in this small, yet powerful book touched me. Of the many, I chose two:

CONCORD, Thursday,—I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass. The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful. I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide “Virginia meadows.”

It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond. A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone. It seemed as if I felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life. Louisa May Alcott, chapter 3, Fruitlands

But even there, if you seek GOD, your God, you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul. When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to GOD, your God, and listen obediently to what he says. GOD, your God, is above all a compassionate God. In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin, he won’t forget the covenant with your ancestors which he swore to them. Deuteronomy 4:29-31

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It was well for all that this peaceful time was given them as preparation for the sad hours to come; for by-and-by, Beth said the needle was “so heavy,” and put it down forever; talking wearied her, faces troubled her, pain claimed her for its own, and her tranquil spirit was sorrowfully perturbed by the ills that vexed her feeble flesh….With the wreck of her frail body, Beth’s soul grew strong; and though she said little, those about her felt that she was ready, saw that the first pilgrim called was likewise the fittest, and waited with her on the shore, trying to see the Shining ones coming to receive her when she crossed the river. Little Women, chapter 40, The Valley of the Shadow

Bless our God, O peoples!
Give him a thunderous welcome!
Didn’t he set us on the road to life?
Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch?
He trained us first,
passed us like silver through refining fires,
Brought us into hardscabble country,
pushed us to our very limit,
Road-tested us inside and out,
took us to hell and back;
Finally he brought us
to this well-watered place.

Psalm 66:8-12

 

I was given this copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Two 2016 Reading Events

I am sharing information today on two 2016 reading events I just heard about, in case anyone else is interested. One is a read-along the other is a challenge. I find these events instructive as well as fun to do and a good way to share with others our mutual reading interests.

littlehouseThe first one is the Little House Series Read-along co-hosted by Smoke and Mirrors and An Armchair by the Sea. They have scheduled 11 specific books to be read one a month, with the 12th a suggested title or one of your choice related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I plan to participate in one of the months, but I am not sure which one at this moment.

The second event is a Reading New England Challenge hosted by Emerald City Book Review. From the website:

Reading New England, a year-long challenge intended to draw attention to the wonderful writers and books of the six New England states, along with publishers, booksellers, literary locations, and more. Each month will have a special focus, and readers will be encouraged to choose books from those twelve categories if they wish, but there are no requirements other than to read at least one title that falls within the general theme.littlewomen

 I will definitely participate in the whole of this one as I am doing a Louisa May Alcott year with the Women’s Classic Literature Event.

Hope to see you at one of these!