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By May 21, 2021 Read More →

Back in Time for Dinner with Mark Twain

A few years ago, I toured one of the most beautiful historic homes I’ve ever visited. It was the home on Samuel L. Clemens, better known as

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) on the porch of Mountain View in Dublin, 1906.

Mark Twain. Clemens and his wife Olivia spent 17 years in this 25-room house in Hartford, CT, with their three daughters. At a desk in the corner of the third floor billiard room Clemens penned much of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I heard Clemens had spent some time in our neck of the woods, so of course I couldn’t resist looking into the specifics of his stay and imagining I met this witty man dressed in his white suit.

Here’s what we know…

Samuel L. Clemens spent the summer of 1905 and 1906 in a leased home on Dublin Lake. But he actually did more than just lease a house. According to his biographer Albert B. Paine, who summered in Dublin during those same years, Clemens also rented three cats from a local farmer to have as his companions. He named one Sackcloth and the other two, identical cats, were both named Ashes.

Clemens always had cats. Growing up as a child in Missouri, his family had, at one time, 19 cats living with them. He said, “If you crossed a man with a cat, the man would improve but the cat would suffer.” Clemens’ daughter Susy wrote a biography of her father when she was 13 where she remarked, “The difference between Papa and Mama is Mama loves morals and Papa loves cats.”

At their Connecticut home, the family would retire to the library each evening where Samuel would make a up a story for his daughters. But not just any story. A painting of cat with a ruffled collar (they called it ‘Cat in the Ruff’) sat at one end of the mantle. A portrait of a woman they named ‘Emmeline’ sat at the other end. Every story had to begin with Cat in the Ruff and end with Emmeline. The story had to incorporate all the items found between the two paintings. Every day a new story featured all the things that the family placed on the mantel. Imagine what fun this must have been for his daughters! Sadly, Clemens never wrote these stories down.

Here’s what I imagine…

This is an easy one. If I could travel back in time I would imagine sitting around the dining room table with the Clemens family in Connecticut. Imagine the lively conversation that would take place. At some point Clemens would share with me how he chose his pen name, Mark Twain. He first used it when he was a reporter in Nevada in 1863. It means the second mark used by Mississippi steamboat crews to measure the depth of the water. Mark Twain literally means the water is 2 fathoms (or 12′) deep, deep enough for the steamboat to safely pass through.

After the meal, I would be so excited to sit with Susy, Clara, and Jean in the library while their father told us a story that started with Cat in the Ruff and included something about all the objects we had chosen to place on the mantel before dinner.

Here’s what we ate…

Clemens once said, “Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite so bad as the Northern imitation of it.” I’m guessing corn bread made in Connecticut would not be on the menu. But maybe a nice meal of Baked Ham, Deviled Carrots followed by Little Girl’s Pudding would be acceptable.

Deviled Carrots

Little Girl’s Pudding

Click for the recipes!

Next week we are Back in Time for Dinner with Amelia Earhart!


Lorraine, the Monadnock Center's Resident Culinarian  

Lorraine Walker is the Monadnock Center’s resident culinarian. When she isn’t serving up tasty treats from the Phoenix Mill House hearth, she can be found poring over historic cookbooks and local history documents in the archives.