Twelfthnight Gala

Linda Leamer, "the tea lady," with the buffet table halfway through Twelfthnight I.

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A Twelfthnight Gala

A Twelfthnight Gala

By Catherine Taylor

Photos by Bob Spivey

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"I’m in a Victorian novel. I’m in a
Victorian novel..."

The annual Twelfthnight gala of the North Star Chapter, Victorian Society in America, lets closet Victorians come out in style with period food, manners, fashion, music and dancing.

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Christmas Party Ideas

Over the wet snow on the night of January 6 (a mild one for the mean Minnesota winter of 1996), one hundred strange figures converged on a Tudor-style house in one of St. Paul’s picturesque Victorian districts. In the light from the tall windows they negotiated the brick drive, grabbing top hats or maneuvering long skirts in the wind and slush. Most were in more or less Victorian costume, and nobody wanted to arrive disheveled at the Twelfthnight gala.

Once in the carved double doors, they signed the guest book on a library table in the entrance hall and perused the holiday decorations. The home of Stanley and Cynthia Berger was banked with greenery dotted with bows, and the grand staircase with potted poinsettias. The ladies ("ladies" and "gentlemen" were the terms for the evening) ascended to their dressing room, where they removed their cloaks and consulted the two upstairs maids on the proper disposition of hooks, stays, hoops, petticoats, bustles and hair ornaments. Gentlemen shed hats and coats across the landing, and when presentable the couples glided down the stairs, arm in arm. With most of the ladies encumbered by excessive yardage, no other way would do.

Image: At Twelfthnight III, Megan, Linda and Brenna McShannock wore 1870s-style reproductions by Jim Morehouse.


As always, the party fell on the Saturday closest to January 5, traditional Twelfthnight and eve of the Epiphany. Once known as "Old Christmas," Twelfthnight culminated 12 days of midwinter festivals. Its countless ceremonies of food, fertility and fortune went back before Christianity and were not forgotten in the 19th century.

In its third year, the Twelfthnight gala of the North Star Chapter, Victorian Society in America (VSA) had suddenly mushroomed from a modest reception of 45 people to a soirée of 100. For the first time, chapter president James Morehouse had invited another group: the Ramsey Hill Association. Owners and restorers of period homes, already interested in things Victorian, they were said to be a "party group," and they got into the spirit of things. Many had rented costumes from the Tyrone Guthrie Theater. Some blended into the surroundings with long modern vintage dresses dating from the 1930s; some wore antique jackets or lace collars with dresses of later periods, or carried heirloom beaded bags.

Image: The author found a mutual (back)  interest with Judith Curtiss, educator and vintage clothing collector, at Twelfthnight I.

A trio doing "The Fan," a cotillion re-created at Twelfthnight IV. Three dancers sit in a row; the one in the center hands the fan to one and dances with the other; the one holding the fan follows, hopping on one foot and fanning the dancers.

Chapter members tend to take an interest in costume, and they were prepared. Jim Morehouse, a maker of Victorian and Edwardian reproductions, had loaned a white 1890s-style ball gown to Rebecca Bode, and bustly 1870s dresses to Linda McShannock and her daughters, Brenna and Megan. Some members, like Rebecca Jacobsen, are costumers and made their own reproductions. Kevin Geraghty had made the sky-blue Worth reproduction, with cascades of lace and pearl beads, for his wife Marie. New member Sheryl Martinson described working on her green brocade 1890s reproduction, cartridge pleats and all, the day of the party.

Image: Jim Morehouse, then North Star Chapter president, gave the official greeting before the buffet at Twelfthnight III.


Sheryl noted that "people took on the personae suggested by Victorian costume, a sense of dignity without stuffiness. They talked more slowly and with more sophistication. They seemed to enjoy dressing up and being elegant." This didn’t apply to ladies only. One gentleman sported a vivid 1830s-style embroidered vest from the Guthrie; one quietly displayed a medal on a red ribbon beneath his white tie.

In the hall, the officers and food committee of the chapter dithered discreetly about preparations for the ball supper. Contributors to the buffet whispered to each other about the chances of running low on food, a special concern for the makers of the Twelfthnight cake.


Laden with fruit, nuts and New Year symbolism, Twelfthnight cake is an old English tradition and one of the gala’s fastest-disappearing desserts. When two cakes are baked as "king’s cake" and "queen’s cake," a bean is hidden in the men’s cake and a pea in the women’s, and the finders are crowned king and queen for the evening. Linda Leamer, known as "the tea lady," researches and teaches classes on Victorian teatime food and customs. Cake supervisor Rebecca Bode had obtained the 1996 Twelfthnight cake recipe from her, and fellow board member Maureen Galvin had baked it according to the directions.

Jim was concerned about the timing of the buffet. In the typical ball of Victorian times, when midnight came after hours of dancing, dining room doors were thrown open to reveal a sumptuous spread to do honor to the hosts and planners. At North Star Chapter parties this grand opening occurs much earlier, and the announcement of it is Jim’s big moment. But this year, people just kept arriving, and for a while they seemed not to get enough of the period dances being taught by members of Silver Moon Historic Dance Ensemble.

At the center of the Bergers’ front parlor, Bob Skiba and Jenny Ammerman of Silver Moon led the tail-coated, long-skirted revelers from the left-right-left stage through reels, quadrilles and schottisches to an 1890s waltz step, very different in rhythm from ballroom waltzes of today.

Image: Bob Skiba led the men’s line through the beginning steps of a polka at Twelfthnight II.

North Star Chapter grand marches at Twelfthnight III and IV.

Bob and Jenny knew how to get rank beginners up and dancing. They and the other members of Silver Moon taught and performed re-created ballroom dances, from the Baroque era to the 1920s. (Bob has since left the Twin Cities.) For them, the group was a big one for a relatively small space, and they ended up taking groups in succession as more guests arrived.


[Left] Jenny Ammerman and Bob Skiba Silver
Moon Vintage Dance Ensemble taught and
performed re-created ballroom dances.
They demonstrated the cakewalk,
rage of the 1890s, at Twelfthnight II.


After teaching until 8, they got almost all the guests into the grand march, a traditional Victorian processional dance in which couples follow a lead couple in lines, loops, curves and wheels, exchanging greetings and scrutinizing each other’s evening fashions. By now, space was short, and the grand march extended into the library and the hall, then back through a second set of doors to the parlor. There, Bob and Jenny led the couples into a spiral that tightened and tightened at the center of the room until everybody collapsed in laughter.

[Right] Couples on the floor at a North Star Chapter ball.


Jim gathered all guests and gave the official welcome. Since the VSA was new to many, he summarized the chapter’s typical activities: lectures on topics of Victorian interest, visits to period restorations and historical festivals, special exhibit tours, and fund-raising seminars on topics such as Victorian fashion and antique collecting.

A song recital was on the agenda-mandated, the Bergers said, by their resident ghost. Their house had once belonged to Maude Hill, wife of Louis Hill, the son of St. Paul railroad magnate James J. Hill. Music-loving Maude Hill died in the 1930s, but the Bergers and their friends say they have seen her during parlor musicales. The guests gathered around the grand piano while Stanley Berger accompanied his daughter Rebecca as she sang John Dowland’s "Come Again, Sweet Love." Mrs. Hill may have been pleased but declined to appear, as far as anyone knew.


Waltzes and schottisches followed, and by now some neophytes negotiated them like pros. Member Trish Hurd surveyed the dance floor, the couples descending the stairs, the busy kitchen, the knots of people in sotto voce conversation. She gasped, "I’m in a Victorian novel. I’m in a Victorian novel. ..."

Jim waltzed distractedly, then vanished into the kitchen. The head cook, Roseanne Jackson, a caterer friend of board member Sherri Gebert Fuller, was still scrambling to get all the dishes on the table, so the extended dance instruction let her arrange the spread in peace.

[Right] North Star Chapter grand marches at Twelfthnight III and IV.


The maids—Tara Finnegan, Erin Barrett and Marta Anderson — and head cook Roseanne Jackson were specially trained and costumed for Twelfthnight III.


They also serve...

Maureen Galvin had recruited and trained the maids, Erin Barrett, Marta Anderson and Tara Finnegan. With their appropriate ethnic names and willingness to get into character, the guests loved them.

The butler—Wayne Fuller, Sherri’s husband—stood in the front hall admitting guests. At 7:30 he made and set out Roman punch from a Colonial recipe, plus a non-alcoholic punch, then kept the bowls and water pitchers full. He tended fires, saw to guests’ needs, and followed his written instructions: "Must dance with wife and others."

Finally the kitchen staff served forth the buffet, a mix of Victorian favorites and modern specialties. Filing through the dining room doors, guests saw cold smoked salmon, honey-baked ham and salads. Hors d’oeuvres included liver paté on rye with a slice of cucumber, and spinach and cheese canapés. There were finger sandwiches filled with cucumbers or sun-dried tomatoes with calamantra olives; puff pastry with cheese or spinach filling; assorted vegetable dips, and a bouquet of celery at each end of the table. In Victorian times celery was a decorative delicacy, but in today’s supermarkets, finding bushy bunches and real celery vases hadn’t been easy. Desserts ran to "designer brownies," marzipan, raspberry sherbet, chocolate-dipped strawberries, tea cookies, petit fours, and authentic nut cake.

After the buffet, some of the Ramsey Hill crowd departed—it seems there was another Twelfthnight party—and Jenny announced more challenging dances. The previous summer, Silver Moon had worked up an 1890s dance demonstration for the Betsy-Tacy Society in Mankato, Minnesota (balls and dancing figured strongly in the Betsy and Tacy books by Mankato’s Maude Hart Lovelace). Now Bob and Jenny led the "diehard dancers" in typical 1890s dances, including a schottische to a popular tune mentioned in the Lovelace books: "Mornin’ Cy."

On the bounce while doing this dance with Rebecca Bode, Jim glanced toward the parlor door and saw "a perfect picture: all three maids peering around the door, one head above another, wide-eyed." On the next waltz the maids in the hall grabbed hands and tried out the step. At the closing bars Erin sighed, "Aye, me for the scullery," and disappeared through the kitchen door, followed by the maids all agiggle and laughter and applause from the parlor. Then the servants and cleanup volunteers set to work restoring the kitchen to its pre-party condition.

As the last guests dispersed, Jim was discovered at the hall table, signing up new members. The North Star Chapter was only six years old, a newcomer among the 17 chapters that make up the national VSA. Jim had hoped the expanded gala would inspire growth in membership.


Party like it’s 1892...

The idea of throwing a Twelfthnight gala came to Jim in the chapter’s fourth year. The group had started meeting in 1990 at the Alexander Ramsey House, the 1870s home of Minnesota’s second governor. Site manager Janet Budack was the founder and first president.

The Ramsey House and other Victorian institutions carry strong associations with Christmas. A period-style holiday party seemed in order for the chapter, but the board of directors in charge of planning events preferred Twelfthnight time, when members would be past the holiday-fried stage.

Jim, then vice president and program chair, placed a request in the chapter newsletter for owners of period houses to provide space for the party. Committees would supervise food and other logistics, he told them, and their homes would be much admired by interested people.

Paul and June Burd, inveterate volunteers, hosted the first party in their Edwardian home in the Lake of the Isles Historic District in Minneapolis. Twelfthnight I was a simple reception for 35 people with buffet, conversation, and a tour of the Burds’ antique collection. The committee had discovered Victorian recipes for Twelfthnight king’s and queen’s cake, but the royal vegetables apparently baked away and were never found. June Burd was chosen as queen for being a gracious hostess, and Terry Warner got to be king because it was known he would accept the crown. The board started a tradition of giving the hosts a boutonniere and a tussy-mussy for the party, and a lavish picture book on Victorian interiors as a thank-you gift.

The Burds convinced their neighbor, Charlie Chrisman, to open his elegant 1880s Queen Anne to the next gala. Jim began to think the gala should feature some dancing as part of the total re-created experience of a 19th-century ball supper. He had met Bob Skiba by chance at the Minnesota Historical Society, where Jim works in the museum shops and Bob was doing costume research for Silver Moon. Bob and Jenny agreed to teach and lead the dancing. The dance was held in the middle parlor, and guests were enjoined to wear soft-soled shoes instead of street shoes to help preserve Charlie’s hardwood floors. Bob and Jenny adapted the teaching to the limited space—grand march, quadrilles, two-steps and all—and the 45 guests enthused.


Victorian networking...

So the planning of more dancing and a longer guest list for Twelfthnight III got underway. Jim announced the party in the 300-member Ramsey Hill Association’s newsletter and solicited a host house, and the Bergers made the successful offer. The board decided to hire maids and kitchen help, and rent or purchase china and paper napkins to supplement the pieces the Bergers could supply. Attendance had been free with voluntary donations the first two years; now, for the more lavish gala, $10 per person in advance became the admission fee. Jim developed simple black period-style maids’ uniforms and held a uniform-sewing party in late December.

Maureen had trained the maids to adjust dresses, serve hors d’oeuvres, and keep their eyes lowered and their conversation noncommittal. She made an event planning check-list and her sources included a classic 1880s manual: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery and Household Management (New Edition, ca. 1920; Revised Edition, Sterling, 1992), including an exhaustive chapter, "What Every Servant Needs to Know." A modern source was Seven Days a Week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America by David Katzman (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1981). The form for the invitations came from Correct Social Usage (New York Society of Social Culture, 1907).

For more recipes, Jim consulted the party planning section of an 1881 cookbook, Buckeye Cookery (reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988), and Modern Cookery, for Private Families by Eliza Acton (Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London, 1855).

Among other things, the books showed that a 100-percent authentic Victorian buffet party is hardly practical today (see inset), so modifications were in order. To suit modern diet sensibilities, the committee supplied some non-dairy and non-fat ingredients and vegetarian goodies, such as celery stuffed with chévre and topped with ground walnuts. Dishes were chosen with an eye to appearance as well as flavor. Raspberry gelatin, shaped in a copper mold and added to the table just for color, turned out to be authentic: molded "jellies" were popular Victorian desserts. Linda Leamer made and served appropriate tea.

Several people who hadn’t heard of the VSA before joined after the gala. Sheryl Martinson started attending board meetings, was elected to the board and is now the chapter president. The Silver Moon instructors, who somehow stopped dancing long enough to sample the buffet at Twelfthnight III, talked the food committee into serving a similar spread for their 1890s ball in March.

This was true networking. People met over common interests and combined their specialties—cooking, music, dancing, research, reading novels, collecting antique clothes, making reproductions—in a single effort, to everybody’s benefit. An event like the Twelfthnight gala lets it happen.


About the Author...

Catherine Taylor is a writer, editor, vintage clothing dealer, and secretary of the North Star Chapter of the Victorian Society in America. She is also the owner of Victori Limited, dealing in antique and vintage clothing. Her website is



The North Star Chapter of the Victorian Society in America

requests the honor of your company at the third annual

Twelfthnight Gala Reception

on Saturday evening, January the sixth, nineteen ninety-six

Victorian dress encouraged The Berger Home

Dancing lessons at six o’clock Saint Paul

Buffet at eight o’clock




The Victorian Society in America is the only national organization dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of our 19th-century heritage. Nineteenth Century magazine is available exclusively through membership in the Society. Members also receive invitations to the Society’s annual meeting, autumn symposium, study tours, summer schools, and special workshops.

From Nineteenth Century, journal of the Victorian Society in America, 219 S. 6th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

Silver Moon Historic Dance Ensemble demonstrations at Twelfthnight IV.



6 p.m.: Be in costume and ready to work until the close of the party.


Ability to wear and work in a costume: petticoat, black skirt and bodice, apron and cap. Jewelry should not be worn, or at least kept to a minimum. Guests should be addressed as Sir or Madam. Do not engage guests in conversation.


6-8 p.m.: Set out pitchers of water and glasses for the dancers. Pick up empty glasses periodically to be washed and returned. One maid assists the kitchen staff in setting out the buffet table and helps the butler as needed. One is stationed in the ladies’ dressing room, assisting with removal of wraps and providing last-minute assistance with clothes as needed.

8 p.m.: Both maids assist in dining room as directed by the head cook. Light candles.

8:30: Notify Jim Morehouse when the buffet table is ready. At his signal, open the doors.

8:30-10: Remove empty plates, glasses and silverware to the kitchen to be washed, dried and returned to the table or stored away. Replenish the food on the table, as well as coffee and tea under supervision of pourers. Keep the head cook informed as to the state of the table.

10 p.m.: Start removing food from the table. Organize remaining dishes to one side of the table under direction of head cook. Help with dishes, pick up plates. Assist the ladies with wraps. Assist the kitchen staff.



(From Buckeye Cookery, first published 1881, reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988)

Two gallons of pickled oysters; 2 large dishes of lobster salad; 2 small hams boiled and sliced, cold; 5 cold tongues sliced thin; 12 chickens jellied and pressed (garnish all dishes with parsley, slices of lemon, red beets); 2 gallons bottled pickles, or 1 gallon 1/2 of home-made; 12 dozen biscuit sandwiches; 5 quarts jelly; 4 gallons ice-cream; 15 large cakes: rich fruit cake, layer and sponge cakes; 12 dozen each of almond macaroons and variety puffs; 4 large dishes of mixed fruits.




Much taste can be employed in decorating the table; where flowers are plenty, nothing is more beautiful than well-arranged bouquets. A few articles are deemed essential for parties: chicken salad, ice cream, whips or flummeries, jellies, fruits, nuts, coffee and tea, sandwiches, cakes, and fancy confectioneries.

From Civil War Cooking, The House Keeper’s Encyclopedia, by Mrs. E.F. Haskell, first published 1861; New Edition, R.L. Shep, 1992.




September: Plan the menu, develop a working outline for the event. Issue committee sign-up sheet listing needs and responsibilities for food, invitations, decorations, etc. Hire servers, plus head cook; prepare list of duties.

October: Tasting night to finalize menu. Get invitations printed and sent by November 1.

November: Visit hosts and finalize arrangements. Choose any special serving pieces they want to use, determine pieces to borrow or rent.

December: Reservations and money due by December 15. Inform food committee of final menu.

January: Make a diagram of the table and placement of food, checklist of food and beverages, servants’ duties.

January 5: Deliver food and decorations to home. Set buffet table and punch table, coffee and tea services. Put up decorations, have trays and serving pieces at the ready. Rearrange furniture as needed. Sound system check.

January 6: Provide final instructions to servers. Make sure all guests have a good time. Enjoy!

January 7: Return to store away and remove things as needed.




Roman Salad

Sheryl Martinson

From Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, New Edition, ca. 1920

Coss lettuce Finely chopped onion

Honey Vinegar

Thoroughly wash, trim, and dry the lettuce, separate it into small pieces, season it with vinegar sweetened to taste with very little honey, and sprinkle over with onion.

 Roman Punch

Jim Morehouse

(Old Richmond recipe, from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery by Mrs. Helen Bullock, reprinted by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1966)

To make a Gallon, take one and a half Pints of Lemon Juice, Rinds of Two Lemons grated on Sugar, one Pint of Rum, half a Pint of Brandy, two Quarts of Water, three Pounds of Loaf-sugar, a Pint-bottle of Champagne. Mix all together, and chill.

 Spinach Filling for Puff Pastry

Eileen McCormack

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tbs. olive oil

2 10-oz. pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess liquid

1 cup plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt

2/3 cup grated Parmesan

1/2 tsp. salt and/or 1/2 tsp. pepper to taste

In a small skillet over low heat, sauté the garlic in the oil for 1 minute, or until garlic is tender, taking care not to burn the garlic. Combine garlic and oil with the remaining ingredients in a blender/food processor until smooth. Cover and chill until serving time. Makes 3 cups.

 Spinach Cheese Canapés

Jim Morehouse

4 10-oz. pkgs. frozen chopped spinach

1-1/4 lb. feta cheese 1 lb. cottage cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese 1/4-1/2 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded

4-5 eggs 3/4 cup green onion, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon 1 tsp. dill

3/4 tsp. garlic salt 3/4 tsp. pepper

1-1/2 sticks butter, melted 1 box filo dough

Thaw spinach and squeeze out all water. Mix all ingredients except filo dough in a large bowl. Brush two 9" x 13" pans with butter. Place one layer of dough in the first pan and brush with butter. Repeat until there are 10 layers of dough. Add half of the spinach mixture. Again, layer dough and brush with butter 10 times. Repeat process for second pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove from oven and cut diagonally to create diamond-shaped canapés. Serves 80.

 Twelfthnight Cake

Linda Leamer, Rebecca Bode, Maureen Galvin

2 cups sifted flour 1 tsp. baking powder

Pinch salt 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg 1-1/2 cup dark raisins

2 cups golden raisins 1 dried pea, 1 dried bean

8 oz. (1 cup) glacé cherries 2 oz. (1/3 cup) candied lemon peel

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter 4 eggs

4 oz. (3/4 cup) blanched almonds

Grated rind of 1/2 lemon or orange

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp. brandy, rum or sherry or 1 tbsp. orange juice

Butter a 9" round spring-form pan. Line with cooking parchment circle and grease top of paper. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. In a separate bowl, mix raisins, cherries and candied peel. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir to coat. Grate almonds and add to the fruit mixture with pea for queen’s cake and bean for king’s. Cream butter, add rind and brown sugar and beat well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in remaining 2/3 of flour mixture.

Using a large metal spoon, stir in fruit mixture. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan, bake at 300 degrees for 70-80 minutes or until done. (Check early; e.g., after 50 minutes.) Cool completely, wrap in waxed paper and foil and place inside 2 tightly sealed plastic bags.

When cake is made ahead, fruits will blend well in storage. Cake will keep for several weeks in refrigerator or freezer. Use a very sharp knife such as a cleaver to cut into 16 slices. Marzipan or glazed icing optional.