Saturday, November 22, 2014

Another note about cheese

When I started this blog, I had no idea that the mentions of cheese and knitting would get so most attention from readers.  Last week, someone I knew in college thirty(!) years ago contacted me; he'd come across Marion Brown's letters here, and he has first-hand knowledge of swine cheese.  Here's his story:
When I was around ten to twelve years old my sister and I were living with a relative in a New Scotland, a rural town in upstate New York that (back in the 1970s) still had a number of working farms.  One of our neighbors kept a few pigs and sometimes made swine cheese from a recipe her grandmother had brought over from Scotland.  I only had the stuff a couple of times, but it was nowhere near as unpleasant as Richard Foss fears.  My memories are a bit foggy on the details, but I recall it as being similar in texture to feta cheese and having a similar sort of "gamey" flavor to it.  A fairly strong and odd taste but not bad, just strange.  The woman's farm shut down about the time I entered middle school and she moved away shortly thereafter.  Never encountered the stuff since then, although I never realized how rare it was until I followed up on that blog posting of yours.
He also mentioned a blog about milking pigs; sure enough, "To Milk A Pig" posted this year (so it wasn't there last time I was looking for information on the topic).  As such things do, that led me to another blog, where a travel writer describes Tuscan pig cheese, and seems to agree with my old friend's assessment above--it's a soft cheese, strong flavors, not bad just strange. 

In further emails, he also suggested that Marion Brown might have experienced a vocal cord disorder, which can impair speech and breathing, and even cause some of the muddled "stupid" feeling Marion sometimes mentions.  Definitely a possibility, I'd say.  Thanks, and small world! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Townfoot, 16 January 1882

A six-page letter in pencil, from the winter of 1882.  No mention of weather or crops or neighbors--Marion's confined to bed, in pain.  Her "stupid fits" kept her from writing; but she expresses the same religious resignation as ever.  Aunt is "failed" but still asking for news from America; she cannot promise swine curds to any visitors nowadays, but would still enjoy a visit.  Marion starts the letter thanking her cousin for a cash gift which has "relieved [her] mind greatly."  (Considering the content of the previous surviving letter in this collection, it's likely that Robina Boyle Scott's nasty accusations have left Marion feeling insecure in Tam's household.)

16th January 1882

Dear Friends

I write you in answer to your very kind and welcome letter which I received all right for which except my most sincere thanks and I hope you will always have plenty and good health to enjoy it. when a person is in need it makes them feel the more thankful for such a present as you have just sent me for I can asure you it has relieved my mind greatly in the meantime and I hope you will not feel the want of it as much as the good it has done me

I am not getting any stronger as yet the Doctor has to come to me every day and is still close confined to bed.  If it is God's will for me to be as I am why should I grumble but be content in whatever condition I may be sometimes I suffer a great deal of pain and sometimes not so much and I ought to be thankful when I am moderate. 

Tam and his wife and two boys are all well Aunt sends her kind compliments to you all and you are not to be long in writing to let us know how you are all getting on some times she takes such wearing fits she just talks on about you all and sometimes wonders if James Bryden will not take it into his head to take a trip over again and see us all but she will not can give him any swine curds this time. 

You are to be sure and send us word what the two boys are like and what uncle John is like for if he is like her he will be very much failed. Excuse me for being so long in writing I meant to write last week but I had one of my stupid fits and knew nothing for most of the week so I could not write. with kind regards to you all in which all here joins and hoping to hear from you soon I am your affectionate cousin Marion Brown

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Townfoot, 5 September 1881

It's been almost a year since the last surviving letter.  This letter is perhaps one of the most straightforward portraits of Marion's life as a disabled single woman:  she expresses religious resignation, she is dependent on her cousin and must face his wife's spite in silence, she sees a city doctor who offers her a medication, but she's worried it won't be easy to continue, because cousin Tam's employment is (as usual) minimal.  "My heart was sore when I felt my own helplessness" she confides, to her only possible audience for such private thoughts:  James Bryden and his family, far away in Pennsylvania. 

5th Septr 1881

My Dear Friends

We are always very glad to see a letter from you, and I hope this will find you all still in the enjoyment of good health which is the best earthly blessing we can have.  It is all the same what we have if we have not health to enjoy it. I have had experience both ways now and sometimes I feel it very hard to be as I am but then again if it is Gods will that I should be as I am I hope I may have grace given me to make me content with my lot, its not the same with us now as when we were at the Bogg and Aunt poor body feels it as much as any one, and more so. 

now James if you was in my place how would you like if anyone was to say to you that you ought to be in the poorhouse one day when Tam's wife said that to me it made me I could never give her an answer but remember neither Tam nor Aunt heard her say it to me nor I sould not tell them for it would do nothing but vex them both and Tam would give the last halfpenny he had for either of us and they have both enough to think of without me telling them any thing she says to me when she gets their backs turned I don't want you to say a word about what I have told you but my heart was sore when I felt my own helplessness and what a burden some of my friends think I am if Aunt had it in her power it would have been different she would not have listened to so many tants[taunts?]. 

There was a doctor here from Edinburgh and our own Dr. brought him to see me several times and he did not give me much encouragement he told me I should have got my back burned with a red hot iron when I turned first ill and it might have been better for me now and he said in all his experience he never saw any one like me before and my case was a very interesting one he gave me some thing to take and I have to give it a fair trial and it may do me some good and my own Dr. will let him know how I am getting on he also told me that I have two distinct complaints and the one is just going against the other so here I have to lie and wait till I see what God in his goodness has in store for me but sometimes it is not so easy to get all a Doctor prescribes. 

Tam is still working with Slimmons horses but he is not very strong at times, things are very dull here the duke seems to have nothing to do for no body the one half of his men are paid off uncle William is still kept on yet and we are very glad for his is so much failed he would not be very able to go about seeking work.

Aunt has her kind regards to you and bids me say you are not to be long in writing she wearies more now as ever she did to hear from you and bids me say she is glad you are all well and the two boys thriving well some times she thinks she would like to see them but it is not likely she ever will now

I must stop for I am tired with kind love to you all every one and all friends in which Aunt joins I am your affectionate cousin Marion Brown

be sure and write soon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Townfoot, 5 November 1880

This letter seems to be addressed to a different "uncle" in Pennsylvania--not to John Glencross, but to his brother.  

Another pencilled letter, and a two-writer letter again--the first half is harder to read, by Tam Scott, mostly reporting on market prices and bad weather and his Irish horse.  I can't promise I've got all the words right in that section--his handwriting isn't as smooth or legible as Marion Brown's, and his spelling is especially non-standard.  But one certainly gets the sense that he's in good spirits for the cold winter, happy to be working and happy to have a fast, spirited horse.  Marion's half of the letter reports that her health is still poor, with gravel (kidney stones, usually), and that she has been unwell for seventeen years now (so that takes us back to 1863, when she was in an infirmary apparently). 

The winter 1880-81 was one of the most severe in North America also--with deep snows in October, just as Tam describes--interesting to consider now, in the middle of another severe winter with terrible weather affecting much of North America and also the British Isles.  "Heavy mortality among sheep stocks" related to the 1880-81 winter storms is mentioned in a Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland from the era.
Nov 5th 1880

Dear Uncle

I drop you a few lines to let you know that I am still to the fore hopping this will find you well and all the rest of my friends we have the affliction of a very sever winter hear we have had some very sever snows on the 27th of last month the snow was so heavy the Mennock house was Blocked up and out By Moffit the Pearnes[?] was so large that over one score of sheep was smothered and the continued casting for several dayes the Market is very high hear just now it is a real Extortion Sanquhar is Mad up at a lot of Bogues Butter her is 9s chese 10 cence per Pound and all the market is on advance I do not know what the men at all as the niver has been such good crops this year before I am still with William Slimmons It is steady but long hours and Wet and dry I have to be on the Road and from 5 in the morning till 7 and 9 at night and I have got the Best flinging horse that is in DumfriesShire a 'amserting' he is an Irish horse and has Irish Temper I do ashure you an Monday night he kicked himself out of the long cart with Tom on him he will kick for a day long and get leg in every side of the shaft and kick on and he is the best runer out of the cart I ever saw and when he hs mastered with the whip he squels and pushes you are not safe of your life with him there is scarce one in Sanquhar will cum near him and me the Laghear cumes Scotland Pady he can send his heels as high as the Shafts of the cart when he runs but we have had the largest potato crop that has been for 40 years I supose.  the are 3/per hunderwight I have not much more to say but that we have got a 3 year old horse and had him at Wanlockhead you might tell Tam to write to me I am yours T. G. Scott

PP hopping the Blessing of god will follow you and all your family and wife 

Dear uncle Tom has begun this letter but has left me to finish it so I will try to say what I can do I am still close confined to bed and the doctor has to be at me every day the gravel is a very painful complaint and other things connected with hit makes it worse I have very little power in my left arm but I ought to be very thankful as long as I have my senses but sometimes my head is very stupid.  Our heavenly Father is kind to us far above on asking and why should a living man complain but human nature is hard to bend and some times I think my lot has been a hard one somes ways it is now going on seventeen years since I was at the Infirmary and since then I have not been able to do much, now I have to tell you from Aunt that you are to tell Tom to write a long letter and tell her all the news for many a time she wonders what he is like now and he is to tell her what Willie and Samuel is like and all the rest of them.  Uncle William and his family are all well uncle is still working with Mr. Pearson at the woods my Brother James and his family are all well and still at Heucklands with Mr. [???], I was to send you McWhir's kind regards and say he was asking for you. Aunt joins me in kind regards to you and everyone John Marion & Bryden and may god be with you [?????pencil smudged] affectionate neice, Marion Brown

be sure and write soon