Christmas ornaments and small gifts were frequently made by hand. Women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, were full of useful advice and step-by-step instructions for creating lovely, inexpensive Christmas gifts and decorations. Small gifts such as pen wipers, pincushions, sachets, and dolls were highly favored and were often hung on the tree.
Christmas trees in the nineteenth century were commonly placed on the table in the parlor, the most formal room in the house. This tradition followed the fashion set by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Children and adults made their own ornaments before commercial production made them commonly available. Small gifts were often hung on the tree. Cookies, dried and preserved fruits, and gilded nuts made fashionable as well as tasty decorations. Cornucopias, bon-bon boxes, tiny drums, and nest-shaped baskets held Christmas sweets.
The Christmas plum pudding was a highly anticipated finish to Christmas dinner in the mid-nineteenth century. A tradition popularized in England, plum puddings were usually prepared far in advance of Christmas and aged for a month or even a year. The steamed or boiled pudding is composed of many dried fruits, suet, eggs and spices, and contains no actual plums. Many households had recipes for Christmas pudding handed down through the generations. Kate Manship’s cookbook Common Sense in the Household: a Manual of Practical Housewifery, by Marion Harlan, published in 1872, contains the following recipe for Christmas plum pudding:
The Queen of Plum Puddings.
1 lb. butter.
1 ” of suet, freed from strings and copped fine.
1 ” of sugar.
2 1/2 lbs. of flour.
2 ” of raisins, seeded, chopped, and dredged with flour.
2 lbs. currants, picked over carefully after they are washed.
1/4 lb. of citron, shred fine.
12 eggs, whites and yolks beaten separately.
1 pint of milk.
1 cup of brandy.
1/2 oz. of cloves.
1/2 ” of mace.
2 grated nutmegs.
Cream the butter and sugar; beat the yolks when you have whipped them smooth and light; next put in the milk; then the flour, alternately with the beaten whites; then the brandy and spice; lastly the fruit, well dredged with flour. Mix all thoroughly; wring out your pudding cloth with hot water; flour well inside, pour in the mixture, and boil five hours.
I can confidently recommend this as the best plum pudding I have ever tasted, even when the friend at whose table I had first the pleasure of eating it imitated the example of “good King Arthur’s” economical spouse, and what we “couldn’t eat that night,” “next day fried,” by heating a little butter in a frying-pan, and laying in slices of her pudding, warming them into almost their original excellence. It will keep a long time – in a locked closet or safe.
Charles Henry Manship was born in Maryland, where he was apprenticed to a chair-maker and trained as an ornamental painter. Attracted to Jackson in the 1830s by opportunities in the building trades, Manship found work as a skilled artisan on the statehouse, state penitentiary, and governor’s mansion. Manship opened a shop where he advertised a full line of paints and fine wallpaper as well as his skills as a painter, marbler, grainer, and paperhanger.
In 1857 he built his Gothic Revival “cottage villa” on the outskirts of town. The furnishings were comfortable, but not pretentious and reflected the taste of the period. Although most of the furnishings were commercially produced, a few pieces were made by Manship. Trained by a chair-maker and ornamental painter, Manship possessed the skills to build and grain furniture. Attributed to Charles Henry Manship, this simple Empire style wardrobe was made of wood native to the area and grained to imitate fine mahogany. It was used to store clothing and other items.
The Manship House grounds are home to several small buckeye trees. Native to the southeastern United States, aesculus pavia, the red buckeye or firecracker tree, is often planted as a handsome ornamental. Showy red flower spikes attract hummingbirds and butterflies in the spring. Smooth brown inedible seeds called buckeyes ripen in the fall. The seeds of the buckeye were said to bring good luck.
In October through early November, the persimmons ripen at the Manship House. Similar to the common persimmon that grows wild in the south, this variety is a Japanese persimmon, a medium size fruit tree grown for ornamental use. By the late nineteenth century, many varieties of persimmons were brought to the United States from Asia. The fruit of this particular variety contains tannins that make it extremely astringent, and must be very ripe before it can be eaten. Wild persimmons are smaller and contain more seeds, with the same tannins that can cause your mouth to pucker.
Among the Manship family papers at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is a notebook that belonged to Charlie Manship, probably Charles Phelps Manship, son of Luther and Belmont Manship and grandson of Charles Henry and Adaline Manship. The notebook contains school notes as well as several pages of hand-written recipes. Although the the contributors of the recipes are unknown, Mrs. McGill was most likely Mary Elizabeth Boyd McGill, daughter of James Hervey Boyd. The Boyd family lived on Jefferson Street in the “Oaks” house.
Mirabilis jalapa was a favorite in Victorian gardens. Commonly known as the four-o’clock flower or the marvel of Peru, flowers usually open in late afternoon around four o’clock and remain open until morning. An 1876 garden catalog describes the plant as “a great favorite, combining beauty of foliage, profusion of bloom, of rich and varied colors, and delicious fragrance.”
The Manship garden contains varieties of flowers and vegetables popular in the late nineteenth century. The Brandywine tomato is an heirloom variety dating back to 1885. The plant produces large pink fruit with potato-leaved foliage. Considered to be one of the best tasting tomatoes, it has been a popular variety for generations.
Greatly admired for its striking long red flowers, Amaranthus caudatus was a favorite in Victorian gardens. Commonly known as love lies bleeding or tassel flower, the plant gets its unusual name from its long drooping red flowers that can reach over twelve inches in length. A member of the amaranth family, love lies bleeding is an easy to grow annual with edible leaves and seeds. The flowers can be dried and used for arrangements.