Steampunk inspiration and resources

Food and Drinks

Booze, Glorious Booze: Absinthe

absinthe_robette_poster“The green fairy” first twinkled into existence in 1792 in the hands of a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire (yep, his name was basically Pete Normalguy but with a better accent). He was looking for a delivery method for wormwood, which at the time was thought to have healing effects. By 1797, Ordinaire sold his recipe to a Swiss father and son team, who eventually moved production to Pontarlier, France in 1805. Absinthe production rose to as high as 400 liters a day over the following decades and mostly in service to a growing demand by elite imbibers, but this was nothing compared to the demand create by the “absinthe fever” that took over mid-century Bohemia.

absinthe_edouard_pernot.htmDuring the 1850’s, many artists and writers turned to this spirited spirit to find their muse, and by the 1870’s people from all walks of life were drinking it. In addition to being a jolly good time, absinthe was also used to fight off bacterial infections. In those days the water quality for the average French urbanite was very bad, and people added alcohol in order to “purify” before drinking. Believe it or not, wine was actually more expensive than absinthe, so many poor people saw it is the economical choice. Adding water to absinthe also has the strange effect of making it cloudy, so absinthe-water would be a delightfully minty green color.

One American city started a long-lasting relationship with absinthe as well. New Orleans embraced the green fairy as early as 1869, and within a few years was known as the “Absinthe Capital of America.” Special absinthe cocktail lounges opened all over the city, and local brands like The Green Opal and Legendre were born. At a bar called The Absinthe Room, the owner installed a special fountain that dripped the diluted alcohol over lumps of sugar and into waiting glasses. These lounges attracted several notable end of century figures such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde.

If you didn't have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

If you didn’t have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

While something that calls itself absinthe is available in the US, the truth is that it’s missing the special ingredient: wormwood. Though many European countries do not restrict its sale, the original recipe for absinthe is considered toxic by the FDA. I tried some old world absinthe during my travels and I didn’t think it was all the special, personally. Maybe I needed to be drinking alone and staring at a canvas or something, but my muse was pretty mute. Absinthe tastes very strongly of anise, so if you aren’t a black licorice fan I’d stay steer clear.

Have you ever had a run-in with the green fairy? Leave a comment below!


The History of Candy

VioletLifeSaverscandyvintageadI was trying to find some information about when violet candies first became popular, and I came across a fabulous resource at Just like the foods steam-era folks ate and the drinks they imbibed, you can bet that the type of candy they had available would be another historical detail a Steampunk enthusiast might need to know. This is just the first part of the timeline, but you can see the full history of candy here.


  • Necco Wafer is born.
  • 1848  John Curtis produces the first branded chewing gum, made from tree sap, called The State of Maine Spruce Gum
  • 1854  The first packaged box of Whitman’s Chocolate hits the scene
  • 1868  Richard & George Cadbury, the second generation of Cadburys, makes the first Valentine’s Day box of chocolates starting the tradition that continues today
  • 1879  William H. Thompson creates Thompson Chocolate with the stated goal to “make only quality products”
  • 1880s Wunderle Candy Company creates candy corn, still a best-selling Hallween candy
  • 1890  The Piedmont Candy Company, manufacturer of Red Bird Peppermint Puffs, is founded in Lexington, North Carolina
  • 1891  Claus Doscher opens Doscher Brothers Confections and a few years later, after tasting taffy in France, the company introduces the famed French Chews
  • 1893  Milton Hershey attends the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago and watches chocolate being manufactured. Impressed, he purchases the new manufacturing equipment at great expense and has it shipped from Germany to his factory in Pennsylvania
  • 1893  William Wrigley, Jr. introduces Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum and Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum
  • 1893  Thomas Richardson, creator of Richardson Brands, introduces Pastel Mints at a department store in Philadelphia, PA
  • 1894  Milton Hershey creates what is known as the first “American” candy bar, although his famous Milk Chocolate Bar won’t be invented for a few more years
  • 1896  Leo Hirshfield, New York confectioner, introduces Tootsie Rolls, named after his daughter’s nickname, “Tootsie.” Learn more about this longtime favorite here.
  • 1890  Legend has it that an unnamed  Southern lady was making taffy but added the wrong ingredient resulting in the first batch of Peanut Brittle
  • 1899  The Jenner Manufacturing company is created. The name changes to Judson Atkinson 45 years later


  • 1900  A very important year as Milton Hershey introduces a variation of what will eventually become the  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
  • 1900  Clark Gum Company introduces Teaberry Gum.  Find out what flavor it tastes like and the dance craze it inspired here.
  • 1901  The King Leo pure peppermint stick candy is developed
  • 1901  Multicolored candy disks called NECCO Wafers first appear. The name stands for New England Confectionery Company
  • 1902  New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) makes the first Conversation Hearts which are still a thriving Valentine’s tradition
  • 1904  Emil Brach starts Brach’s Candy, his second attempt at the candy business.  The first product was Wrapped Caramels which sold for $.20 a pound
  • 1905  The Squirrel Brand Company of Massachusetts creates the first peanut bar known as the Squirrel Nut Zipper. It was, sadly, discontinued in the late 1980’s, but resurrected in the 1990’s
  • 1905  Flush with the success of their Conversation Hearts, New England Confectionary Company introduces another classic peanut butter candy called Peach Blossoms
  • 1906  Spangler Manufacturing Company, know now as Spangler Candy, is created. The company got its start manufacturing baking soda products, but added candy to their repertoire in 1908
  • 1906  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kisses appear in the iconic silver foil wrapping and a town in Pennsylvania called Derry Church changes its name to Hershey
  • 1906 The American Chicle Company introduces Chiclets, the candy coated gum that uses chicle inside.  To learn what exactly is chicle and where it comes from, click here.
  • 1907  After the great success of the Milk Chocolate Bar, Hershey introduces the beloved Hershey’s Kisses. The original Hershey’s Kiss were called Silvertops and sold as individual units (this first incarnation was discontinued in 1931)
  • 1908  Hershey’s adds almonds to its already famous Milk Chocolate Bar
  • 1908  Theodor Tobler and his cousin Emil Baumann invent a delicious Swiss Milk Chocolate and Honey and Nougat infused candy bar called Toblerone.

Spotlight on Traders: War Pony Candy Forge

If you see War Pony at an event, make sure to stop by for a free sample if nothing else. Plus, when I was owed $.50 in change, I was offered some caramel instead. What a “sweet” deal, eh? <wink wink, nudge nudge>

Booze, Glorious Booze: Champagne

You may have noticed I have been on a bit of a vacation during the holidays. Between the loss of electricity to my kitchen, working in retail over the final Xmas crunch and hosting family for a span of 10 days, I figured I could slack off a bit. Never fear, I will be back in January with 3 posts per week as usual. For now, here is a bit of history on that sparkliest of holiday imbibables, champagne.

alphonse_mucha_shop_greeting_card_champagne_ruinart_bigFizzy wine has a long history, but we won’t linger on its origins (unless you want to, then click here). The most interesting part of its tale, like so many other things we take for granted nowadays, was during the Industrial Revolution. It had enjoyed a long tenure as a drink for royalty in the French and English courts prior to the 19th century, but due to advancements both in travel and fermentation technology its presence became more widely spread. This is not to say your average pie peddler or lady of the night was enjoying it, but the newly emerging group of wealthy merchants and factory-owner types meant that there was a wider market for luxury goods. They would buy champagne as a mark of their new fortunes, which made it mark of social status and something to which people would aspire.

1896 MuchaThis meant that people would serve champagne at times that were highly visible and they could broadcast their status to the most people, which included weddings and New Year’s Eve parties. As with many holidays, New Year’s has pagan roots and these festivals were often traditionally celebrated by drinking wine, and champagne soon became the wine of choice for ringing in the changeover from one year to the next. And as an added bonus, it is hard to drink champagne quickly due to the bubbles, so it is less likely that you will have unruly, drunken guests when champagne is on the menu.

Coupe glassUnless the champagne is served in a coupe rather than a flute. The flute is the tall, narrow glass most-often associated with champagne. The shape minimizes the surface area, which makes the carbonation last longer. A coupe, on the other hand (which resembles an ordinary cocktail glass of the Victorian era, see image left) has a broad bowl shape, which releases the bubbles much faster (and is much easier to spill).

Have a Happy New Year, and see you in 2016!



Booze, Glorious Booze: Apple Cider

47e1ee27b826edd85d2ac56620c47ce3That’s right friends, during this holiday season I will be bringing you the scoop on some of your favorite adult beverages. I have noticed since starting this blog that there seem to be many brands of liquor who boast a start date sometime in the 1880’s, which made me wonder about the favorite drinks of the steam era. I’ll start us off with that most festive of fall libations, cider.

First of all, apple cider and apple juice are NOT the same thing. Accept no substitutions! When it comes to enjoying non-fermented cider, it must be opaque in order to be really good. There is generally no added sugar and no filtration, though often it does get pasteurized. It goes really well with sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.

15484b2b3785ea_5Generally speaking, I am a beer or whiskey gal myself, but I also love hard cider. Cold and fizzy in the summer, or hot and spiced in the winter, it is a versatile and yummy companion to a variety of foods, but especially sharp cheeses and salted meats. Apples are a natural source for making an alcoholic beverage due to their high levels of sugar, and the result is something with the same approximate alcohol content as beer or wine. For centuries, people in Europe, and later in North America, would mix cider with their water in order to kill the nasty germs, and John Addams (the second US president) was known to drink a whole tankard of cider with breakfast every morning because he believed it was good for his health. Perhaps he was right, because he lived to the ripe old age of 90 during a harsh era in history!

P0000013670S0002T2People in the young United States were enjoying so much hard cider in fact, that it was railed against in sermons. But in an interesting twist, cider was actually one of the good guys during the 1820’s temperance movement. Some advocates believed that cider and beer were good alternatives to spirits, which were so much stronger. There was a new wave of temperance advocates following the American Civil War, and they successfully banned alcoholic beverages for a short period in 1919, but the popularity of cider began slipping long beforehand.

Any American school kid can probably tell you the story of Johnny Appleseed, but for my readers hailing from elsewhere here is the story we all learn as children. Once upon a time there was a man named Johnny Appleseed. He wandered throughout the countryside planting apples because he loved the land and the people so much he didn’t want them to starve. He was a simple man who preferred to go barefoot and was totally without pretense, and is known as one of the great American folk heroes. In truth, Mr. John Chapman’s intentions were not quite so noble, though the barefoot thing does seem to be historically accurate. During the period of America’s westward expansion, all a person had to do in order to claim land was to improve it in some way. This was usually done by building a house, but occupancy could also be proven by the planting of fruit trees. By the time Chapman died at the age of 70 in 1844, he had managed to claim over 1200 acres of frontier for himself by scattering his seeds. In an interesting side note, Chapman spread no “seeds” of his own, so there were no children to take over his vast estate upon his death.

Botanical - Tree - Grafting tree, diagramAnd he wasn’t the only one using apple trees this way. Many people planted apple trees on their new farms, but they probably weren’t intending to eat those apples. Apple trees are a very interesting anomaly in the plant world because even if you plant a seed one from one type of tree you do not end up with the same variety. Unless there is intervention from humans, the apples of each individual tree will be unique. The only way to achieve an orchard of the same type is through grafting a bit of an existing tree into a sapling. So between Johnny and the other settlers who simple scattered seeds, huge swathes of the Western United States became covered in a wide variety of trees that produced different types, quantities and qualities of apples.

I grew up in apple country. I have many fond memories of going to apple orchards on weekends or on school trips. In addition to sometimes having pumpkin patches and hay rides, you can usually get raw apples, apple cider and a wide variety of apple products such as my favorite, apple butter. Apple cider donuts are also often available and if you haven’t ever tried them you haven’t really lived. Wow, I am making myself hungry. I’d better go down to the kitchen and rustle up some breakfast to wash down with some nice, cold apple cider.



Spotlight on Traders: Empire Edibles

I had a wonderful time talking to traders like Claire “Skip” Peacey (pictured below) and giving out bumper stickers at the 2014 Weekend at the Asylum, and I am planning to do more of these spotlights like the one I did for Doctor Geof earlier this year.

Empire Edibles stall at the Castle Market

Empire Edibles stall at the Castle Market

Empire Edibles close upOur steamy business this time is all about delicious food. As you can see, this booth featured beautifully packaged goodies with a Victorian theme. Flavors like absinthe and rose are front in center in a variety of chocolates and cookies, and Steampunk author Kit Cox (aka Major Jack Union) helped Miss Emily Ladybird to design the packaging and presentation. If you are planning a Steampunk event in the UK, or you need something special for a wedding, you should definitely keep Empire Edibles in mind.


Empire Edibles official site There is a note on the homepage that says the website is being revamped, but there is lots of information there in the meantime.

Empire Edibles Etsy shop

Empire Edibles Facebook page