Meet Tasha Tudor—20th Century Artist Living 100 Years in the Past
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.
A stacked stone fence encircles the property. Apple and pear blossoms glisten in the morning sun.
Floppy-eared Nubian goats frolic in the meadow of daffodils and snowdrops.
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.
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.
Tasha's Stillwater Punch
Origin:The Tasha Tudor Cookbook
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.
- 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)
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.)
- 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
- Cook potatoes according to directions given above.
- Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in large mixing bowl.
- 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
- 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
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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