Past this stone wall (how old is it? who built it? did slaves labor create it?, a long drive carries you towards a house in the distance that's reminiscent of Tara. Of course you're only a visitor and it's 2010, so you won't be approaching the house from this angle. Instead, you'll drive around to the side of the house, park, buy a ticket, and pass through the gift shop and by a restaurant and back outside where you encounter barn and carriage house, smokehouse, and doll house until ... finally ... you join other guests and wait. You look towards the road, trying to imagine what it must have been like to live here in the days when Belle Meade was a working horse farm five thousand acres large. Railroad tracks brought buyers and mares, and took yearlings to the big spring sale. Today, however, Belle Meade sits atop a hill in the middle of the greater Nashville area. In fact, it wouldn't be hard to drive right by without a glance. Turn back towards the house, and a docent dressed in period dress helps your imagination carry you back in time. She has an authentic and delightful southern accent and she adores history ... and you can tell.
The women of Belle Meade are, like the women of many historic sites, hard to find at first. I don't have a portrait of the woman I'd like to show you today, but her photograph is atop a sideboard in the main hall of this great house. She wears a wide white collar that comes to a point in the front, and the docent explains that, were you coming to visit back in the day, this African American woman would open the door and greet you before guiding you into whichever of the four rooms on the main floor were appropriate. That would, of course, depend on your station in life and who you were here to see. Were I transported back in time, I wouldn't have dared come to the front door of this place. I don't know where I would have been at Belle Meade, since my skin is white ... but my people were poor.
I try to imagine what it would have been like to spend time in these parlors ... but I can't. I have to admit, the finery makes me want to bolt.
The people who graced these rooms would have been horrified by my lack of ... just about everything. I would have needed to spend a lot of time with the book I bought in the gift shop titled Fashionable Dancer's Casket or the Ball Room Instructor a new and splendid work on Dancing, Etiquette, Deportment and the Toilet.
"In the selection of colors," the book advises, "a lady must consider her figure and her complexion. If slender and sylph-like, white or very light colors are generally supposed to be suitable; but if inclined to embonpoint (that would be me), they should be avoided, as they have the reputation of apparently adding to the bulk of the wearer." Some things never change. Women had to be concerned with their figures back then, too.
Up the sweeping staircase to the guest rooms (the family had a separate wing), you can imagine the ladies here, because mannequins have been dressed in period costume. Such tiny waists ... how did they breathe? Such elegance. Did they ever let their hair down and just relax? I can almost see Scarlett O'Hara clinging to one of these bed posts and ordering the woman who's picture I just saw in the downstairs hall to lace her up.
Well ... once laced up, I imagine the ladies had no trouble at all finding great satisfaction in a tablespoon or so of the syllabub waiting in the parlor downstairs. I thought I'd close the blog with a recipe from Amelia Simmons, an American orphan (yes, she had that on the book) who wrote, American Cookery: or, the art of dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the best modes of making Puff-Pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and all kinds of CAKES, From the Imperial PLUMB to plain CAKE. Adapted to this country, and all grades of life. (WHEW ... now THERE's a title!)
To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow.
Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.
Let me know how it tastes................................and bon appetit!