This past Saturday, I got up really early, went
into Manhattan, and boarded a New Jersey
Transit train. About an hour and a half later,
I arrived at my destination, disembarked, and
walked a mile or so up the road. I was headed
to Historic Speedwell, to participate in a hearth
cooking class led by Susan McLellan Plaisted,
of Heart to Hearth Cookery.
Now, usually, I’d share some pictures with you.
And not to brag, but I think I take some pretty
damn good photos, yes?! Nevertheless, I’d love
to be able to present a few now. Perhaps some
of the food being prepared and cooked. Maybe
several views of the finished dishes. Even one
or two of my fellow classmates hard at work
and having fun.
Unfortunately, however, I can’t. You see, just
a few days prior to the class, everyone was
sent an e-mail wherein it was stated:
…photography is not permitted.
Now I’m sure this “new” rule is not dictated
by Historic Speedwell. I’ve taken four classes
at the site, and everyone has always been
allowed to take pictures during class. I’ve
even been there on other occasions, as well,
merrily snapping away, inside and out. No,
this is an instructor’s rule. I won’t go into it
here, but I know that to be the case. So,
despite the fact that the class and the site
are open to the public, we paid to participate,
we did nearly all the work, and we now would
like to show others (particularly folks back at
our own historic sites, or friends and family,
or heck, even blog readers) what took place,
Of course, I took my camera anyway (out of habit,
don’t you know) and got a few exterior photos
of this National Historic Landmark. (So shoot me!)
This is the building where the class was held:
The same house from the back. The class took place
in a large room just inside the lower level door (near
the center, at the bottom of the photo) at a modern,
reconstructed cooking hearth.
Here’s the building behind the one above:
Nearby is a completely restored barn-like structure,
known as the Factory Building. Inside are several
interactive exhibits that pertain to Speedwell’s role
in the invention of the telegraph. It was here that
the first successful demonstration of that ground-
breaking devise took place on January 11, 1838.
There is a working restored, 24-foot overshoot
waterwheel housed in the side extension, as well:
Another house, near the entrance:
During the hearth cooking class, seven early
19th century dishes were prepared. I mainly
worked on a curd dish called a “Devonshire
Junket.” It’s basically a pre-cheese concoction,
consisting of just the curdled milk and its whey.
A cooked cream sauce, spiced with sugar and
cinnamon, was dribbled on top. It reminded us
all of the first lines of the childhood nursery
rhyme (which naturally has British origins):
Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey….
Now I know what she was probably eating.
Minus the little creepy crawler, of course.
And I must say, I think it was the best dish
of the lot. HUZZAH!
Of course, it prompted me to do a little research
when I returned home. According to the Oxford
English Dictionary (OED), a junket is
a cream-cheese or other
preparation of cream
(originally made in a rush
basket or served on a rush
mat); now, a dish of curds,
sweetened and flavoured,
served with a layer of scalded
cream on the top. (Popularly
associated with Devonshire,
but answering to the ‘curds
and cream’ of other districts.)
In addition to a few similar receipts, I also found
quite a bit written by the late noted author,
Karen Hess,* including this marvelous line:
The English predilection
for curds is legendary.
Hess also mentions that curd dishes are members
of the same group as soft cheeses, syllabubs,
custards, and so on. Apparently, they were eaten
often during church-ordered fasting periods. As
those restrictions eased, however, they fell out
of favor, and all but disappeared at some point
during the 17th century.
Later, I discovered…um, well, uh…wait a minute…
Awww, what the hey! Rule, schmule. Yep, that’s
right, I broke it. I snuck a photo (or two). Dagnabit,
I’m gonna document my “Junket.” So, go ahead,
call the cops! Have me arrested!
Here now, is my contraband, my “stolen” treasure.
* See Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery,
transcribed by Karen Hess, p. 146-7.