March 12, 2013

September 1, 2008 The Striped German

Filed under: General,◦Country Living,◦Food,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:10 pm

This tomato, and related ones, go by a variety of names, including also Georgia Streak and Pineapple. The defining characteristics are the reddish streaks radiating from the bottom center into the yellow. Many of us are used to yellow tomatoes being ready a little earlier than some of the red ones, but this one took its time, developing to a good size – about 1 1/4 pounds.

Striped German

The flavor is rich, the texture almost creamy. Somewhat milder in acidity. We like to serve these on a plate with basil, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil in which we’ve lightly sauteed slivers of garlic. No fancy dressing needed – the tomato flavor just blooms.

Sliced, the red streaking gives the inside of the tomato a marbled effect:

Striped German

We’ll be blogging some more big heirlooms, too. Seems like there’s no end to their variety.

August 30, 2008 Reversible Aprons

Filed under: General,◦rickrack.com,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:07 pm

Though everything else we carry in our web store would be in a fabrics or linens department, there is one item of clothing that fits with our other vintage items – vintage aprons. From the 19th century (and probably before) through the present, aprons have been a staple garment in a housewife’s wardrobe. Perhaps a woman of means, who had servants to do for her, did not need an apron, but most of us, and most of our forebears have availed ourselves of the useful apron.

Many people believe that the main purpose for an apron is to protect the garment beneath. Indeed, many an apron has prevented spots and spills from spoiling a dress, but there are many other uses: An apron with large pockets held clothespins, scissors and thread, or many other tools useful for the task at hand. An apron tied at the waist and grasped and gathered at the hem could bear more eggs, apples or vegetables than could conveniently be carried in two hands.

In the twentieth century, however, especially by mid-century, the 40’s and 50’s, came the advent of the apron as a fashion accessory. No longer used to absorb spills or wipe one’s hands, aprons were chosen as a match to the outfit of a cocktail-party hostess, a badge of honor, as it were, saying this is MY party and MY hors d’ouvres that you’re enjoying. As such aprons were sometimes dainty little affairs, covering little of a dress, with ruffles, sheer organdy, lace and beautiful fabrics.

This is the culture that spawned the reversible apron – our topic today. I’m sure some reversible aprons exist that are full, bib aprons, but for the purpose of this discussion we’re talking about half aprons. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been like the ones immediately below – made of polished cotton and lined with matching colored organdy, with a reverse of organdy and a polished cotton pocket. (Click any image to see details of description and close-ups)

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The majority of them that we’ve seen have been either pink or black, I’m not sure why. Hmmm, there’s something about seeing through sheer black organdy….

Sometimes there’s added decoration in the form of rickrack or other trims, as in the first two cases above, but the formula seems more or less universal. There are, of course, other ways to make a reversible apron. The two below both use large-scale floral print fabric on one side, and a solid, contrasting fabric on the other, for a more understated look.

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This one uses a figural print on the one side, on the other, there’s a row of pockets all around, using the border print of the fabric on the reverse, augmented with pink rickrack.

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This fun apron uses plain cottons, one a multi-color polka dot, and a solid blue, with tulip shaped pockets on each side in the contrasting fabric.

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And this one’s my current favorite, a frothy concoction in teal and black nylon and acetate, with flocking, spangles and silver rickrack. This one still has its original paper tag, so I guess the right occasion never came along.

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With few exceptions, the use of polished cottons, sateens and organdy clearly shows that these aprons were meant as fashion accessories, not as cover-ups. And what fun they are, in all their delightful variety. Many of these, and others not shown, are currently available in our vintage aprons department.

August 25, 2008 The Accidental Store grows

Filed under: General — sharon @ 4:45 pm

In the late 1990’s, the prices for feedsacks on EBay began to rise; sometimes novelty and juvenile sacks would sell for big prices, and even some other, more ordinary ones were bringing good money. After we sold a number of them, we realized that the high bidders – the ones actually driving the market at the time – were the Japanese. Quilting was apparently very popular in Japan, and the Japanese fell in love with the feedsack – the most American of fabrics. So we did our best to tell all our bidders about our web page, even as we went out and bought hundreds more feedsacks at local estate sales, flea markets and auctions.

By this time we’ve sent thousands of feedsacks to Japan, though their popularity has since waned somewhat, and received some gifts in return, including kimonos, books and magazines, a Japanese-English business dictionary, and best of all a little bit of an understanding of a part of Japanese culture. And an understanding of what the Japanese mean by “Kawaii”, which we translate as Cute.

As the millennium arrived, there were 10 feedsack pages and 9 of fabrics; but other big changes were under way. We bought the domain name rickrack.com at the beginning of 2000. Though the site was still on Angelfire, the domain name made it easier for more people to remember and find the site. By the end of 2000, there would be 15 feedsack pages, 10 of vintage cottons, and new kitchen linens, drapery fabric and quilts departments, too! And we finally added credit card capability in mid 2000.

During all this time, we handled a lot of fabric – many hundreds of feedsacks made their way to Japan as well as to collectors throughout the USA, Australia, Canada and a few other countries besides. We were on our way to becoming experts in the field – since there was no teacher or text available, we had to rely on our own experience, and any clues we came across. Now we can recognize feedsack fabric at ten paces; sometimes we argue about the date of a particular fabric print, but that’s because we’ve learned that various styles repeat over the years, and the 1890’s produced their share of stylized prints that remind you of the art deco prints of the 1920’s and the moderne prints of the 1950’s. Usually the color settles the argument.

By our third anniversary in 2001 we had added a hanky department as well, and were still adding more fabrics and linens. As the site grew and grew, we actually began to get noticed by the world at large. We have continued to grew since that time, luckily (for us) not at the breakneck pace of our early years. We’ve added pillowcases, potholders and some fancy antique linens and lace. This year’s only appreciable additions have been a page for vintage napkins, a page for tablecloth specials, and this blog.

August 18, 2008 The German Strawberry

Filed under: General,◦Country Living,◦Food,◦Vintage — sharon @ 4:42 pm

Another of our favorite heirloom tomatoes, the German Strawberry is an oxheart variety. Though it was the last plant we put in the garden this year, it was the second to bear ripe fruit.

German Strawberry

This particular example is not as acutely pointed on the end as many of them are, but you can still tell where the name strawberry came from. The fruit are uniformly medium-large and ripen to an even red color. (There is a yellow variety available as well.)

sliced German Strawberry

The Strawberry is one of our favorite slicing tomatoes, low on seeds and juice but lots of flesh. Still tender, slices are great on a sandwich or burger. The German Strawberry bears fruit all season long and often has four or five good-sized green fruit still on the vine when the frost arrives – a cause for rejoicing, because, of all the heirlooms, this one is best at ripening off the vine. While we harvest a lot of full-grown green tomatoes at frost time, we’ve been more succesful at ripening these than any other. Anything to prolong the tomato season – I just can’t eat the pseudo-tomatoes that the grocery carries.

August 15, 2008 An accidental store

Filed under: General,◦Family,◦rickrack.com,◦Vintage — sharon @ 4:38 pm

This is the story of how Rickrack.com came to be.

The two of us have been interested in antiques, separately and then together, for nearly the last 40 years. And we’re lucky enough to live in an area where antiques and the opportunities to learn about them and to buy them are plentiful.

Each of us, though, had a different primary occupation when we got together; Sharon a writer and teacher of fiction writing, Bill the proprietor of a used bookstore. Nevertheless, we both dabbled in the selling of antiques at one of the local antique markets, where each of us had rented a booth at one time or another, again over the last few decades.

Suddenly, along came the internet. About the time that Bill sold his used bookstore, saying goodbye to the increasingly arduous commute into Allentown and back, the fate of the used bookstore became inextricably intertwined with the internet. That is, with the advent of Amazon, Advanced Book Exchange, Alibris, Bookfinders, and myriad other book search databases online, the brick and mortar bookstore became nearly as much a curiousity as some of the more obscure volumes it contained. And though the store and its inventory were sold, many books remained – so Bill started selling a few online, through ABE and Ebay.

Having investigated these new media ways of marketing, we became aware of certain possibilities. In the early days of EBay, virtually anything collectible – which may not have found a buyer among a limited local clientele – would sell, and for a good if not ridiculous price. But there are limitations – your items is listed for only seven (or 3, 5, or 10) days, and might not find a buyer, or achieve the price that you want in that time.

About that time we also became aware that some places offered FREE websites. As long as you didn’t mind an advertisement or two at the top and bottom of your page, and could live with a web address like Angelfire.com or Tripod.com, with your username behind, you had a website. Naturally, we had to try it out. First Bill created a page with a list of books for sale; the looked to see what sort of things Sharon had that he could also list or show on a web page. Having only a few months before discovered that those “feedsacks” that we saw selling on EBay were indeed the feed bags that they often saw at local farm auctions, we decided that a page of feedsacks would be just the thing. So Sharon’s Antiques was born, with a section for feedsacks and one for books.

By the time 1999 arrived, there were pages of feedsacks, and we were adding vintage fabric as well. In February, 1999, the website comprised 8 feedsack pages, 3 of vintage fabrics and one lonely book page. We still have that site at Angelfire, but today it’s only a gateway page to Rickrack.com. We’ll talk more about our history in future posts.

August 12, 2008 Tomato Farmer on the Early Show

Filed under: ◦Books,◦Country Living,◦Family,◦Food — sharon @ 4:35 pm

This morning, my son Tim was on the CBS Early Show, to publicize his book.

Last Friday he was on NPR’s All Things Considered. He has become even more of a tomato superstar! By the way, you can read an excerpt on either the CBS or NPR site.

August 9, 2008 Cherokee Purple

Filed under: General,◦Country Living,◦Food — sharon @ 3:55 pm

This is the first in our series of blogs about heirloom tomatoes – those less-than-perfect, seldom solid red-orange, thin-skinned and fragile tomatoes not bred for long-distance shipping or machine picking, rather handed down through generations of seed-savers for the best in flavor. They are often unusual looking, always a delight to the palate as well as the eye.

One of the first full sized tomatoes that’s ready in our garden is also one of our favorites, the Cherokee Purple. Shaded from a deep burgundy through mahogany to a dark green on the shoulders, its visual appeal foreshadows some of its culinary attributes.

Cherokee Purple

Almost any fresh summer tomato has a flavor that stands alone well; we like to eat them with a little basil and a mild dressing or mayo. The Cherokee Purple has a flavor that seems to derive from its color, almost a winey taste, complex, with a richness and sweetness like no other tomato. It’s a good sized, relatively round tomato, firm but still juicy, perfect for salads, but still good in a sandwich. Our favorite tomato sandwich is simple, just a slice or two of tomato, maybe a leaf of lettuce and perhaps a slice of any good tasty cheese.

sliced Cherokee Purple

OK, gotta go – I’m drooling.

August 4, 2008 White on white

Near the top of the list of amazing needlework that we’ve found in our perambulations are examples of whitework. Whitework falls into several categories, but they’re all characterized by lack of any other color, relying on the stitchery itself for the ornamentation. Can you imagine executing thousands of tiny stitches before the time of electric lights?

Years ago at a local auction, I spent a huge amount of money on a pair of late 19th century lay-over pillow shams, plain white with an eyelet ruffle, quilted like I’d never seen before, at at least 12 stitches to the inch in an elaborate pattern. But that turned out to be just the beginning of my love for whitework. Since then, several even more remarkable items have come my way, one of them at a great bargain, besides!

Currently I have listed in my eBay store one of three whitework pieces I bought from a friend a couple of years ago; at first I thought they were also some sort of sham, but after visiting with Linda Eaton, the textile curator at Winterthur Museum in Delaware, I decided that they are in fact dressing table covers, a form that was previously unknown to me, made by a woman in the Philadelphia area in the early 19th century. While I do not know for sure that all three were made by the same person, they did all come from the same estate.

They also share much of the same imagery, a common classical theme of an overflowing basket of fruit in the center. Two of them have flanking cornucopias, and an outer surround of leaves or flowers. All are edged on three sides with fringe or trim.

I had lots of difficulty photographing these pieces, as there’s really no contrast. Hopefully you can see them without developing eyestrain.

Trapunto dresser cover 1
The first features fruit basket, cornucopias, roses in the surrounding work and a knitted trim.

Trapunto dresser cover 2
This one’s basket is piled high with fruit, has swirling vines with fruit and flowers around the outer edge, with a tasselled trim.

Trapunto dresser cover 3
This is the one currently listed on eBay; it features the most intricate stitchery of all in the center basket , surrounding cornucopias and acanthus leaves. It has an applied fringe.

Compared to my first white on white shams, the dressing table covers are a whole different world. While the shams are intricately quilted, these three pieces are stuffed, or trapunto work, outlined by stitching, creating the design in high relief. The stitches are so tiny and close together, that at first glance I thought they had to be machine work. With the help of a magnifier, I count an average of 40 tiny stitches to one linear inch in the central basket and supporting wings.

Trapunto dresser cover detail

Other parts of the cover are stitched with no less care and detail.

Trapunto dresser cover detail

Trapunto dresser cover detail
In an oval cartouche scarcely larger than a penny in the center of the fruit basket are the stitched initials HD; the letter D alone comprised of 42 stitches.

Keeping in mind that all of these were created in the 1830-1840 time frame, I can scarcely imagine the time and persistence, not to mention the skill, that these lovely items for the bridal chamber? required.

For some even more amazing examples of this beautiful whitework (as well as a number of other fabulous quilts), see Linda Eaton’s book Quilts in a Material World from her Winterthur exhibition.

Next time I’m on the subject of trapunto, I’ll share my whitework quilt – from about 1820 – that I found at auction for $2.00. That’s the bargain I mentioned above, and the reason I don’t feel compelled to hurry and sell the quilt!

July 27, 2008 Super-size me!

Filed under: General,◦rickrack.com,◦Vintage — sharon @ 3:24 pm

Back in the day, when our grandmothers and mothers were using the colorful printed vintage tablecloths that we prize today, they were primarily used on the kitchen or breakfast room table, while the dining room was set with a far more formal cloth of white linen damask. And because the kitchen and breakfast tables were generally much smaller than the one in the dining room, most of the vintage tablecloths we find today are smaller, usually square, about 50 x 50 inches, sometimes rectangular, up to 72 inches long.

In our modern homes, often our kitchen table is larger and requires a larger cloth. And, with our penchant for nostalgia and the vintage look, we are more likely to use the printed tablecloth in the dining room as well. One way to adapt a smaller cloth to a larger table is to layer it diagonally over a white cloth. Or if you have two matching cloths, you can overlap them in the center and cover a much longer table.

According to Michelle Hayes, in her book Elegant Table Linens from Weil & Durrse Including Wilendur, the most common sizes from that manufacturer were 54 x 54″, 54 x 72″ and 48 x 54″, followed by other sizes, from small card table sizes up to 60 or 72 inches round. She does mention that larger gatherings were accomodated with larger cloths, sized 64 x 100″ and 84 x 112″. Any of us who’s been collecting for any length of time realizes that the larger sizes are now scarce, to say the least.

Here at Sharon’s, we’re often asked for larger cloths and find relatively few. This week we were lucky enough to find one of those larger Wilendur’s, in the Wildflower pattern, measuring 60 by about 103 inches. Instead of being hemmed on the ends, this particular cloth was serged.

Large Wilendur

I tried to show it on my table; it fit fairly well, folded in half – but unfolded, not so well.

FoldedUnfolded

If it’s hard to find larger printed tablecloths, it’s harder still to find them with their original paper tag. I guess the large ones mostly got used, were less likely to be a gift that someone just put away. We recently found two that, according to their labels, are both 80 inches long. This one’s already on the website:

Blue roses TC

And this one’s not, but will be soon:

Blue dahlias TC

The hunt goes on. We’ll be adding more tablecloths to the site this week, some fruit ones that we really like.

July 26, 2008 Book Review: Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer

Filed under: General,◦Books,◦Family,◦Food — sharon @ 3:21 pm

The subject matter of this sparkling collection of essays is as familiar to me as anything; I’ve lived through a good portion of it myself. But I would not have written it; I could not have written it with such clarity and vividness. Heirloom

Heirloom is a collection of a dozen essays constituting a memoir of a life in transition from the humdrum to the excruciatingly laborious and excitingly chaotic. Tim, the author, graduated from Princeton with a degree in English with dreams of a writing career and, like many another struggling writer, found himself working a painful 9 to 5 to cover expenses. But he has other loves besides writing, and one of these – the lure and magic of the metamorphosis from seed through sprout and vine to succulent, flavorful fruit – was destined to become his defining passion, his livelihood as well as his sometime nemesis.

The cover itself, a mouthwatering collage of odd-shaped, multicolored heirloom tomatoes, draws you in; there’s the sense that what’s inside is different, more satisfying. And it is. This is not a book of how-to, nor a chronicling of varieties and characteristics of the fruit, not a cookbook nor an organic gardening manifesto. No, the subject matter and the language itself is every bit as colorful and tasty as the glistening orbs on the cover. From Tomato People:

One thing I’ve noticed is that during the most brutal part of summer, the tomato people go at it with an extraordinary singleness of purpose. Eckerton Hill has a daunting southern exposure, canted like a target for the sun’s angled rays. When the sun is burning holes through the afternoon, the tomato plants soak up light until they are limp with molten exhaustion. At night, all that suffering transfers to the fruit, turning the tomatoes every shade of the sun – off-white, pale yellow, dusky purple, blazing orange red. Come morning all these colors are hanging from the plants like gifts from some summertime Santa. By midday, the brightness and the weight of all the humidity leave you standing there, shadowless, the bare fact of yourself. You can either leave the field, as most would, or you can join in the activity orbiting the two sources of magnetism: the tomatoes, softening as fast as you can pick them, and the jubilant sun. I am always astonished at how the crew will stay out there until the last of the fruit is picked.

Accidental though the farmer in Tim may be, it’s clear the writer in him is intentional and well honed. Each of the twelve essays stands alone, and though some were published in part or in different form in Gourmet Magazine and in the Washington Post, they still form a well-unified whole in this book. From his descriptions of a tomato, so lucid you can taste it, to the insights into dealing with the eccentricities of some of New York City’s great chefs, to the history of his farm and of the local Mennonite families whence arose much of his knowledge of and delight in farming – all subjects find equally clear, precise and beautiful description in this book.

This is not a book about farming; it’s a book about the struggles in all of us to cope with factors we cannot control, and finding the beauty in them as we do. You can’t help but enjoy it as such.

Daniel, Tim, Bill & Sharon From left, Chef Daniel Boulud of New York City’s Restaurant Daniel, Writer/Farmer (or Farmer/Writer) Tim Stark, and Bill and Sharon – ragmongers and bloggers enjoying an alfresco luncheon of fresh farm produce at Eckerton Hill Farm.

(As I write this, the summer crop is coming upon us; Tim will be more farmer than writer the next couple of months, but I know he’ll be storing away intersting material for further essays and stories – and I’ll be blogging heirloom tomatoes along with heirloom linens.)