One of the recipes in the My Mother’s Cookbook collection is named “Elsie’s Washday Pudding”. That her sister Elsie had a favourite recipe for wash days while Mum did not, is entirely understandable.
Until the Victorian period (1837-1901) the washing of clothing (and bodies) was infrequent and a luxury limited to those who could afford own more than one set of clothing. The industrial revolution saw fabric and textiles produced in factories, making clothing cheaper and more available.
For women like Elizabeth Travis Lyons, laundry represented a significant part of her weekly work. Even as technology was altering some aspects of the work, it was also transforming attitudes and expectations. It is likely Elizabeth, who was also a weaver, would have taken great effort to assure her family’s clothing was clean and bright. One might be able to hide failures in cooking but failures in washing could not be hidden.
In the 1860’s when Elizabeth was raising her family, despite the advent of commercial soaps it is probable she would have collected bones and fats and processed it into soap for her own needs. In addition to the variety of wooden tubs, kettles, and paddles Elizabeth would have used, there is a good chance she would have had a washboard too.
Invented in the 1840’s the washboard, some made entirely of wood, others of galvanized metal, was a major technological advancement. Although good soaps and basic equipment were helping to reduce the workload, the process of washing would still take hours of back breaking effort.
The physical effort required to collect water, heat it, scrub and process the clothing through both the washing and rinsing phases required a strong back and arms. The wringing of wet clothing in particular presented a challenge, excess moisture increased drying time and risked mildewing or freezing solid.
Interestingly, it was a fellow New Brunswicker who would provide a solution to the problem, in 1843 John Turnbull of Saint John, New Brunswick invented a spring loaded wringer for removing water from cloth. Turnbull’s technology would remain an integral part of laundry equipment until well in to the 1960s.
Even as technology was changing the task of laundry, expectations for woman around wash day became even more ritualized. Soon a woman’s value as a wife and mother could be measured not just by the bright clean clothing her family wore but also by the washing equipment in her arsenal.
By the 1880s, Monday was wash day. The practice in most homes of a Saturday bath and donning fresh clean clothing prior to Church on Sunday, made Monday a logical choice.
So Monday’s became dedicated to laundry… the joint of meat which was Sunday dinner could be stretched into a Monday evening meal, allowing the time to be dedicated to the laundry effort. In the early days desserts were far from the norm, there is a good chance Elizabeth would not have bothered with desserts on any day let alone on wash day.
By 1937 when Elsie was entering life as a wife and mother, expectations and rituals surrounding wash day had continued to evolve. The time on Monday she managed to get her wash on the line, even the way she hung her clothing to dry was under scrutiny.
Elsie enjoyed many benefits of improvements in household technology as compared to her Great Grandmother Elizabeth. Galvanized tubs (rather than wooden), commercial soaps and lighter fabrics helped with the task as did the advent of warm water tanks on wood ranges. The work was still difficult and time consuming and Elsie needed a quick pudding recipe to fall back on for wash day.
A dozen or so years later when Mum entered married life, the most significant technological change in washing had taken place, electricity had arrived. All of the bits of pieces of equipment and tools used by generations of women had been replaced with the electric washing machine. Mum’s washday was less hectic and far less physically demanding, leaving her time for other things on Monday. Mum enjoyed the freedom of choice and flexibility foreign even to her older sister because wash day had changed… the pudding hasn’t, you can give it go any day of the week, even washday.
Elsie’s Washday Pudding**
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 c brown sugar
A piece of butter the size of a walnut, about 1 Tbsp butter
2 cups boiling water
1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F
2) Place a 8 in x 8 in square pan on a quarter sheet pan
2) Combine dry ingredients in a bowl
3) Combine milk and vanilla
4) Place butter and brown sugar in a heat resistant bowl
5) Add milk to dry ingredients, stir until incorporated, then place in the 8 x 8 pan
6) Add boiling water to the brown sugar and butter
7) Pour over batter and place both pans in to the oven
8) Bake 30 minutes, until nicely brown on top
** This pudding, which is known by many names, i.e. Caramel cake pudding; Radio Pudding, is an older recipe, evidenced by the use of soda and cream of tartar. I have tried replacing the soda and cream of tartar with the more modern, baking powder and it works adequately. I prefer to use the original ingredients, the quick acting cream of tartar gives the cake a boost early enough in the bake to assure the best texture and sauce.
Elizabeth Travis Lyons
Elizabeth Travis was born about 1834 in Northesk, Nortumberland county, New Brunswick. Her father Peter Travis and her mother Elizabeth Kearney Travis settled near Peter’s parents and grandparents at Whitney, NB. Ebenezer and Huldah (Mooers) Whitney were New England Planters who relocated along their eventual son in law, Jeremiah Travis to the Northwest Miramichi river valley about 1780.
Elizabeth grew up near her close knit extended family in Whitney, NB. One of a13 children, Elizabeth married Charles Benjamin Lyons in 1851, she was 17 years old, Benjamin was 29 years old, a lumberman and landowner.
In 1852 Elizabeth’s sister Huldah married Daniel Allan Lyons, Benjamin’s brother. The Lyons men purchased land adjoining their parents homestead, and settled down with their families in Carrolls Crossing, NB.
Life was characterized by hard work and no doubt a good deal of worry and stress for both Elizabeth and Huldah. Benjamin and Daniel operated a lumber contracting company, hiring local lumberman to harvest timber during winter months. Speculating on their ability to successfully deliver the wood to market, and that when they did that the price they received would cover the expenditures. The cards were stacked against success and eventually their luck ran out.
Lumber contractors who had paid the harvesters, and successfully driven their wood to the booms, which were controlled by the powerful and wealthy mill owners, were not paid until the mill used the wood. In the season of 1860, after months of toil and effort, worry and stress a storm brought financial disaster for the two families. The storm destroyed the boom which secured the wood, scatterings the logs and wiped out their investment
Like many others Benjamin and Daniel would loose their homes and land, forcing change on the young families. It appears the loss of the property and business resulted in the two families residing for a period with Daniel and Sarah Lyons, Benjamin and Daniel’s parents.
The loss was devastating, but fortunately unlike many other families they were able to pay their debts. Unpaid debts meant prison, or seeking shelter from prosecution. Many families were forced leave to avoid prison, many Loyalist and Preloyalist settlers returned to the US or sought shelter in other parts of the colony.
By 1871, Benjamin had recovered sufficiently to be appointed Justice of the Peace. Eventually Benjamin and Elizabeth and family would move to Chatham where Benjamin worked as a clerk in a law firm.
Sometime around 1890, Elizabeth and Benjamin moved to Blackville, where their daughter Letitia and her family were living. It is possible that Benjamin and Eliza had planned to settle the land grant in Bradlebane, which was granted to Charles Benjamin after Eliza’s death. Elizabeth died in 1891 at the home of Letitia and Benjamin Walls.
Benjamin would live until his death in 1897 on the property in Bradlebane. The land is now owned by Elizabeth and Benjamin’s Great Great Grandson, and Elsie’s nephew Bruce.
Huldah and Daniel remained in Carrolls Crossing area until about 1900 then moving to Maine with their son Peter Lyons. Huldah and Daniel died and are buried in Penobscot county, Maine.
2) All in a Day’s work: Lumbering in New Brunswick, http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/printtour.php?tourID=VQ_P2_8_EN&Lang=2