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Meet Tasha Tudor—20th Century Artist Living 100 Years in the Past

Updated on April 22, 2018
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

The First Days of Summer

In the longest days of the year, the flowers of the garden are at their peak. Tasha would host an annual Solstice party where friends, family, and admirers could come marvel at her vibrant garden while also enjoying live music, dancing, food, and more!

On this, the first day of Summer, it seems appropriate to revisit the story of Tasha Tudor.

She was ahead of her time, but she lived in the past

— Jill Adams-Mancivalano, Tasha’s friend

Like Every House Built in 1830

The softly rounded hills “…east of Vermont and west of New Hampshire” are dotted with a lush canopy of white pine and paper birch. In this little corner of the world there is one particular dirt road that meanders through the forest. Sunlight streams through the branches; at a bend in the road a clearing opens, revealing an aged homestead.

Source

A stacked stone fence encircles the property. Apple and pear blossoms glisten in the morning sun.

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Floppy-eared Nubian goats frolic in the meadow of daffodils and snowdrops.

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Cedar shingles, weathered to a silver patina, clad the house and barn. The sweet smell of wood smoke hangs in the air. As you near the house, you are greeted by busy little guinea hens scurrying about, pecking for worms and bugs. Follow the dirt path, well worn by millions of footfalls to the entryway. Your knock on the door is answered by a chorus of barking corgis. A slight, barefoot figure, dressed in ankle-length frock, apron, and kerchief opens the door; she smiles and welcomes you inside her home.

Welcome to the world of Tasha Tudor.

Source

An Abandoned Child

Starling Burgess was born on August 28, 1915 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, W. Starling Burgess, was a naval architect who collaborated with Buckminster Fuller; her mother, Rosamund, a bohemian artist. They divorced when Starling was just nine years of age. Her mother chose to abandon the rules-bound society of Boston and moved to Greenwich Village, and Starling was sent away to live with family friends in Connecticut.

It might be said that she took one gift from her father—his admiration of the novel War and Peace spurred him to give her the affectionate nickname Natasha. In time Natasha became Tasha.


Life in Connecticut

Tasha’s new family was large, loving, and decidedly unconventional—quite a shock to this proper little girl from Boston. She who was accustomed to strict Scottish nannies and hobnobbing with Boston society (Emerson, Thoreau, Mark Twain and the Alcott's were family friends) was thrust into an unorthodox household where games of charades, marionette shows, and “running wild in the woods” were the norm.

She soon developed a love of times past and things rural, going to auctions to buy antique clothing before she was 10. At the age of 15 she used money she had made teaching nursery school to buy her first cow.

Her education revolved around books. She and the other children were read to until 10 or 11 o’clock every evening—Scott, Dickens, Conan Doyle, and of course the books by Beatrix Potter. “I loved The Wind in the Willows.

However, one book in particular changed her life. One day she discovered Hugh Thompson’s illustrations for The Vicar of Wakefield, and told herself “That’s what I’m going to do.” And so she did.


In 1938, at the age of 23, Tasha married Thomas McCready; that same year her first book “Pumpkin Moonshine” was published. The proceeds from that book helped the couple purchase their first home, in Webster, New Hampshire. Four children were raised there—in a spacious but quaint old farmhouse. It boasted 17 rooms and sat within 450 acres, but was without electricity or indoor plumbing.

"Pumpkin Moonshine was my first book, done in 1938. I went to every publisher in New York, I think, and finally Oxford University Press accepted it. I was just married and the child a drew in that book, people said, looked exactly like the children I eventually had, so I guess it was wishful thinking. My first royalty check was seventy-five dollars. I thought I'd made a mint!"

Thomas was also a children’s author. In 1955 he introduced us to the world of a handsome family of ducks:

“Pekin White was a large and handsome drake whose wife Matilda Paddleford was a beautiful, white duck. Pekin was the particular friend of a little rooster called Biggity Bantam. And there were other farm friends too, like Flatfoot and his family of Toulouse geese; Regal, a Rhode Island Red Rooster and his flock of hens; the soft-eyed Jersey cow, Mrs. Mocha, as well as a family of beagle dogs. And, to be sure, there was a variety of house and barn cats headed by a tom cat with no tail, called Mr. Stubbs. They all lived on a New Hampshire farm belonging to the Warner family, and most of these creatures were the pets of the Warner children, Bill, Ralph, Helen and Emily.”

So opens a charming children’s book entitled Pekin White, written by Thomas and illustrated by Tasha. Two other books, Mr. Stubbs and Biggety Bantam recount further adventures of the Warner children and their animal friends. Few people know, however, that the humans, and the barnyard animals were based on Thomas and Tasha’s family.


Sadly, after 23 years of marriage, Tasha and Thomas went their separate ways. A second marriage, to Allan John Woods, lasted only a brief time. In 1972 she sold the New Hampshire property and moved onto a tract of land near her son Seth in Marlboro, Vermont.

A Perfect Home in Vermont

Seth built his mother's home using only hand tools—much as a master craftsman would have done centuries ago. The design was drawn by Tasha, an exact replica of a 1740 house of a dear friend in Webster, New Hampshire.

Although constructed in the 1970s, the siding has weathered and the furnishings are true to those used in the 1830's. No one visiting would suspect that the house is not over 100 years old.

In this idyllic place Tasha adored sharing food, crafts, and wisdom with family and friends. And there was always the annual Solstice garden party which featured platters of home grown foods—deviled eggs, potato salad, brownies, and (of course) cake. Here is one of her famous recipes, and my thoughts on some other foods she might have served.

Recipes

Tasha's Stillwater Punch

Origin:The Tasha Tudor Cookbook

Serves:30

Inspired by the Shakers of New England, Tasha and several friends invented a "religion" called Stillwater (which wasn't so much a religion as an excuse to get together, hold tea parties, and dress up in fancy, antique clothes).

"Stillwater connotes something very peaceful, you see, life without stress...Life is to be enjoyed, not saddled with. Joy is there for the taking. That's the first commandment of the Stillwater religion." (Tasha Tudor, The Private World of Tasha Tudor).

Every Midsummer's Eve Tasha and her family had what they called a "Stillwater Party" that usually included a marionette show, square dance, and a large bowl of cold, refreshing Stillwater Punch.

Ingredients

  • 1 quart cold black tea, made and cooled ahead of time (we use Tasha's favorite Welsh Breakfast tea, just like she did!)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • juice of 2 oranges (strained) plus 3 cups of orange juice (strained)
  • juice of 2 lemons (strained) plus 1 cup of lemon juice (strained)
  • juice of 2 limes (strained)
  • 4 sprigs of spearmint, plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 cup of raspberry syrup (try to get Zarex Raspberry Syrup, nothing else tastes as good!)
  • 1 quart ginger ale
  • 1 small jar of Maraschino cherries (optional)

Directions

Mix the juice of 2 oranges, 2 lemons, and 2 limes with 1 1/2 cups of the sugar. Add the cold tea to this mixture, then add the 4 sprigs of fresh spearmint. Set aside to cool.

Mix the remaining orange and lemon juice with the pineapple juice and the raspberry syrup.

Add this to the tea.

Boil the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Stir this into the tea mixture. Chill thoroughly.

Serve over a block of ice in a punch bowl, adding the ginger ale at the last moment. Add springs of mint for flavor and decoration. If you wish, you may add a small jar of Maraschino cherries, juice and all.

If you are running short, you can keep adding ginger ale to top it off!

Basic Potato Salad

This recipe is adapted from the “Classic Potato Salad” by Betty Crocker. I have included the sour cream, dill pickles, and minced radishes (my mom always added them to her potato salad.)

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 medium stalk celery, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely minced (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ cup finely diced dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced red radish
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

Instructions

  1. Cook potatoes according to directions given above.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in large mixing bowl.
  3. Add potatoes, celery, onion, pickles, and radish. Toss to combine and coat evenly with mayonnaise mixture. Stir in eggs and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours for flavors to blend.

Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces unsalted butter, 1 1/2 cubes
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, 2 squares
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. espresso powder
  • 3 eggs, large
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil--the ends of the foil should extend over two sides of the pan to use as "handles" to help remove the brownies from the pan once they are baked and cooled. Lightly butter the foil, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add the cocoa powder, espresso powder, and sugar and then whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly blended. Stir in the vanilla and flour.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the edges are set. The center will still be soft. While the brownies are still not, sprinkle the salt on the top and press gently so that it adheres to the top of the brownies. Let cool to room temperature, remove from the pan, and cut into squares.

One Final Look at the Life of Tasha

Despite its charm and simplicity, Tasha's house should not be looked upon as a museum. It is a place build from the land, not just on top of it, where all necessities of life are gathered from nature.

I'm perfectly content. I have no other desires than to live right here with my dogs and my goats and my birds. I do have a philosophy, it is one best expressed by Henry David Thoreau: 'If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.' That is my credo. It is absolutely true. It is my whole life summed up.

— Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor was an author, illustrator, weaver, quilter, dress designer and seamstress. She spun her own wool, churned butter, made cheese, dipped candles, made jams and preserves, canned and pickled, and baked her own bread. She managed a menagerie of goats, hens, Corgi dogs, an almost countless number of small caged birds and two beautiful grey parrots. She created dolls houses, miniatures, and marionettes. And if that were not enough, she wrote and or illustrated almost 100 children’s books. She frequently said that she was the reincarnation of a sea captain’s wife who lived from 1800 to 1840 or 1842, and that it was this earlier life she was replicating by living so ardently in the past. She died in her home on June 18, 2008 at the age of 92.

A life well-lived.

“I’m drawn to the old ways, convinced that I lived before, in the 1830s. Everything comes so easily to me from that period of that time: threading a loom, growing flax, spinning, milking a cow. Einstein said that time is like a river, it flows in bends. If we could only step back around the turns, we could travel in either direction. I’m sure it’s possible. When I die, I’m going back to 1830.

— Tasha Tudor

Fast Facts on Tasha Tudor

  • Born August 28, 1915, in Boston, Massachusetts

  • Married Thomas Leighton McCready, Jr. in 1938. They had four children: Bethany, Seth, Thomas, and Efner.

  • Her first book, Pumpkin Moonshine, was published in 1938. It is still in print.

  • She died June 18, 2008, in Marlboro, Vermont

Tasha Tudor's Honors and Awards

  • Children's Spring Book Festival Younger Honor, New York Herald Tribune, 1941, for A Tale for Easter
  • Caldecott Honor Books, American Library Association (ALA), 1945, for Mother Goose, and 1957, for 1Is One
  • Caldecott Honor Books, American Library Association (ALA), 1957, for 1Is One
  • Chandler Book Talk Reward of Merit, 1963
  • Regina Medal, Catholic Library Association, 1971
  • The Night before Christmas named a Children's Book of the Year, Child Study Association, 1975
  • Chicago Book Clinic Award, 1982, for A Child's Garden of Verses
  • ALA Notable Book citation for The Dolls' House.

A Complete Listing of Tasha Tudor's Works

(Title in bold type indicate that Tasha was both author and illustrator)

  • 1 is One (1956)
  • A is for Annabelle (1954)
  • Adventures of a Beagle (1959)
  • Alexander the Gander (1939)
  • All for Love (1984)
  • Amanda and the Bear (1951)
  • Amy’s Goose (1977)
  • And It Was So (1958)
  • Around the Year (1957)
  • Basket of Herbs (1983)
  • Becky’s Birthday (1960)
  • Becky’s Christmas (1961)
  • Betty Crocker’s Kitchen Gardens (1971)
  • Biggety Bantam (1954)
  • Book of Christmas (1979)
  • Bouquet (1989)
  • Brighter Garden (1990)
  • Brite and Fair (1968)
  • Carrie’s Gift (1978)
  • Child’s Garden of Verses (1947)
  • Child’s Garden of Verses (1981)
  • Christmas Cat (1976)
  • Corgiville Christmas (2003)
  • Corgiville Fair (1971)
  • County Fair (1940)
  • Doll’s Christmas (1950)
  • Doll’s House (1962)
  • Dorcas Porkus (1942)
  • Drawn From New England (1979)
  • Edgar Allan Crow (1953)
  • English Cottage Gardening (1992)
  • Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen (1945)
  • Family of Man (1955)
  • First Delights (1966)
  • First Graces (1955)
  • First Poems of Childhood (1967)
  • First Prayers (1952)
  • Give us This Day: The Lord’s Prayer (1987)
  • Great Corgiville Kidnapping (1997)
  • Happiness Hill (1960)
  • Illustrated Study of the P.W. Corgi (1975)
  • Illustrated Treasury of Humor for Children (1980)
  • Increase Rabbit (1958)
  • Jackanapes (1948)
  • Jenny Wren Book of Valentines (1988)
  • Jenny Wren Colouring Book (1991)
  • Ladies: 1962 and Other Talks (1962)
  • Linsey Woolsey (1946)
  • Little Princess (1963)
  • Little Women (1968)
  • Lord is My Shepherd: The Twenty-Third Psalm (1980)
  • Lord Will Love Thee (1959)
  • More Prayers (1967)
  • Mother and Child (1954)
  • Mother Goose (1944)
  • Mouse Mills Catalogue for Spring (1989)
  • Mr. Stubbs (1956)
  • My Brimful Book (1960)
  • Myth, Magic and Mystery (1996)
  • New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac (1970)
  • New England Butt’ry Shelf Cookbook (1968)
  • Night Before Christmas (1962)
  • Night Before Christmas (1999)
  • Once Upon a Time (1986)
  • Pekin White (1955)
  • Platt and Munk Treasury of Stories for Children (1981)
  • Private World of Tasha Tudor (1992)
  • Pumpkin Moonshine (1938)
  • Real Diary of a Real Boy (1967)
  • Real Pretend (1992)
  • Rosemary for Remembrance (1981)
  • Round Dozen (1963)
  • Seasons of Delight (1986)
  • Secret Garden (1962)
  • Snow Before Christmas (1941)
  • Springs of Joy (1979)
  • Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book (1966)
  • Tale for Easter (1941)
  • Tasha Tudor (1972)
  • Tasha Tudor Sampler (1977)
  • Tasha Tudor Sketchbook (1989)
  • Tasha Tudor Sketchbook: Family and Friends (1995)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Advent Calendar (Book form 1988)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Bedtime Book (1977)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Book of Fairy Tales (1961)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Cookbook (1993)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Favorite Christmas Carols (1978)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Favorite Stories (1965)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Five Senses (1978)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Garden (1994)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts (1995)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Old Fashioned Gifts (1979)
  • Tasha Tudor’s Treasures (1982)
  • Thirstly B (1949)
  • Time to Keep (1977)
  • Twenty-Third Psalm (1965)
  • White Goose (1943)
  • Wind in the Willows (1966)
  • Wings From the Wind (1964)

© 2016 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Gilbert, I agree with you. There was nothing eerie about her fascination with the past. She found a place where she fit in and could be herself. I admire her resilience and self-sufficiency.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      4 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      You let me know about a spectacular illustration artist with a unique personality. I don't think her interest in the past was eerie, she just loved old fashioned things of the early ages.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Have You Seen. I would have loved to meet her.

    • profile image

      Have You Seen 

      8 months ago

      Thanks for this article. I love to rad about Tasha Tudor's life! Her gardens were so special! Can't wait to try the potato salad recipe!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bravewarrior - Thank you so much. Yes, I do "do" recipes, but I also like to write about travel, history, and amazing people. And Tasha Tudor was certainly an amazing person. I admire her work ethic, I love her art work, I am humbled by the amazing gardens she created, and I envy her spunk!

      Thank you for your kind words. Stay tuned!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      Diva, this hub brought two pleasant surprises to me: 1) it's not a recipe (I love them, don't get me wrong!) and, 2) your intro proves that you're a writer to be reckoned with. You painted a picture and sent on travels as all good novels do. Kudos to you, my friend!

      I, too, have never heard of Tasha Tudor. However, I love her mindset. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn she's frolicking about in the 1830's, right where she wants to be.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Jodah - She was a remarkable person. I often wondered how she found the time to write AND illustrate AND maintain her house--tend the gardens, milk the goats, spin and weave and so on. Perhaps she never slept?

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I had never heard of Tasha Tudor, which is remarkable seeing how many children's stories she wrote. I do think I have heard of some of the stories written by her first husband Thomas however. How she had the time to devote to all her interests was also incredible. This was a very interesting and informative hub.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Elizabeth - Thank you for stating so very well the point I was trying to get across. I too admire her--wish I could be her. She lived a full life.

    • profile image

      Elizabeth Torres 

      2 years ago

      I love everything about Tasha Tudor. She represents the Americana indomitable spirit. She was strong, spirited and unafraid to go without the luxuries we can't Seem to Do without. She lived life on her terms.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill - Not ignorance. You've taught me many things--consider it returning the favor. I am fascinated by Tasha. I don't weave or spin (although I would love to learn), but I do knit, bake my own bread, make fresh pasta, make soap, and have dipped candles. I admire her craftsmanship, and gosh darn it she was a busy lady. Not a moment wasted (although she was famous for taking a long luxurious tea-time in the afternoon). Thanks for your kind words.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric - If you have read A Child's Garden of Verses, you will have seen the illustrations of Tasha Tudor. Her style is distinctive, but obviously influenced by Beatrix Potter.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm about to show my ignorance....I have never heard of her. I did live in Vermont for two years and the description of that idyllic setting is perfect. As always, Linda, your writing is very, very good.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very cool. I had no idea about this interesting lady. Thank you for writing this up in your usual wonderful writing style.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Anne - I agree. If anything would be inspirational, it would certainly be her garden.

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      2 years ago from Australia

      What an idyllic place to live - how could one not write while there? Thanks for sharing.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      RTalloni - Thank you. I learned of her years ago from my dear next door neighbor who was born and raised in Connecticut. He is an artist and an admirer of all things antique and homespun. There is a museum for Tasha, but not at her house. Tours of her home are available, but (as I have heard) quite expensive--$165, I think). Her 4 children squabbled over the estate. I do not know, but hope that that conflict has ended.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Jackie - I was not aware of the site, and will certainly take a look at it. Thank you so much.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      2 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for refreshing my memory on this amazingly creative and talented artist. It would be a wonderful thing to go see her home that is not a museum. :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great writings as always. Hope if you haven't already you will think about joining a new site going up by Jodah, a fellow hubber for poets and fiction writers. You can check it out here on HP. https://hubpages.com/literature/forum/135479/call-...

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