Archive for the ‘living history museums’ Category

Although I appreciate modern conveniences in the kitchen,
I thoroughly enjoy cooking over an open hearth and using
the equipment, tools, and receipts (recipes) of centuries
ago. I’ve also cooked on a cast iron stove and have dealt
with its perks ‘n quirks. In fact, I wrote here awhile back
that my initial experience with historic cooking was done
atop an iron box of fire when I worked at Conner Prairie
more than two decades ago.

Now I mention this because I recently came upon a rather
intriguing passage regarding the “hearth vs stove” debate
in The Housekeeper’s Book, by a Lady (1837):

The fire-place of a kitchen is a matter
of great importance. I have not, it is
certain, been so circumstanced as to
witness the operations of many [sic]
of the newly invented steam kitchens
and cooking apparatuses which the
last twenty years have produced,
but those which I have seen, have
failed to give me satisfaction. To say
the truth, the inventors of cast-iron
kitchens seem to me to have had
every other object in view, but
that of promoting good cooking.

The above paragraph got me thinking. If I had lived at any
time in the 1800s after the cast iron cook stove had been
invented, even after they’d become fairly common, and if
by some chance I was given the choice between cooking
at a fireplace with its spacious hearth OR on one of those
self-contained new-fangled stoves, which would I have
chosen? HA! That’s such an EASY one! My answer most
definitely, unequivocally, would’ve been…the open hearth.

Yep, this is my preferred method of cooking:

Now, below is an illustration* of a cast iron cook stove that’s
kinda, sorta, almost-but-not-quite similar to the one I used
when working in the Campbell House at Conner Prairie. As
I recall, CP’s was a bit more rounded on the sides and edges,
but like this one, the firebox was in the front, and there were
four burners with an oven (but just one) at the back. A ledge,
much like the one here, stuck out in the front, as well, and
even the legs were similar, if not the same.
(I understand, however, that a completely different model
is currently in that kitchen.):

Sure, once I learned how to cook on the Campbell’s stove,
problems were few and far between. In fact, it was actually
fun to use. And I must say, I cooked a slew of marvelously
delicious dishes on it! Of course, the best part was that
I didn’t have to bend down so far in order to use it. Still,
other than that, what is there to recommend it? And thus,
based on my knowledge of, as well as my past experience
in using, both, I believe there’s a multitude of reasons for
preferring an open hearth. In fact, I can think of at least 12!
I’ll share the first six now; the second set will follow.

Let’s get started! The reasons for my preference include:

1.) People have been cooking over an open fire, literally,
for centuries. The fire came first, cooking over it second,
followed closely by the development of appropriate tools
and equipment to do so. Change the way cooking is done,
by trading an open fire for an enclosed one, and a whole
new set of equipment and tools is required. Those adorable
pots and pans with the three little legs and the ones with
the rounded bottoms can no longer be used. Yep, legless
and flat become the operative words.

2.) You can hang pots from either a lug pole or a crane
over an open fire. With a cast iron cook stove, you can’t.
In fact, there’s no hanging of any kind of any thing.

3.) Hot coals from a fire are pulled out onto the hearth,
thus creating a series of small areas of heat on which
to cook. The number of these “burners” is limited solely
by the amount of space in and surrounding a fireplace.
With a cook stove, however, you’re confined to the four
(or so) designated spots on the stove’s top. That’s it.

4.) In conjunction with the above, any number of dishes
can be baked in little ovens (aka bake kettles or Dutch
ovens) that’re set on those numerous “burners.” With
a cook stove, you’re again restricted, to just one oven.

5.) At the same time, that stove oven (above) is quite
small. You can really only bake one item at a time. Now,
if you also had a brick bake oven, then you’d be fine.
Thing is, many people didn’t have one.
(Yes, larger stoves may’ve had more than one oven,
several even, but I’m referring to the typical, every
day common-man buyer, i.e. someone with limited
funds, who couldn’t afford the larger models.)

6.) If you’ve been cooking over an open all your life,
and your mother, grandmother, aunts, etc. before you
did the same, and that is where you learned to cook,
including how to determine the proper heat, the types
of flames and their uses, the amount of time needed
for specific dishes, and so forth ‘n so on, then you’re
in for a Big Surprise, if and when a cast iron stove
shows up in your home. Why? ‘Cuz you’re gonna
have to re-learn it all. Start to finish, top to bottom.
So hopefully, you’ve got the time, the motivation,
and the stamina. And your family has the patience!
(Not to mention the stomach for all those “tried,
but didn’t work and/or got burned” dishes!)


UP NEXT: Six more reasons for preferring an open hearth
over a cast iron cook stove.


* Drawing from Linda Campbell Franklin’s 300 Years of Kitchen
Collectibles, 5th Edition

Read Full Post »

First of all, I want to mention two things: with this post, I’ve hit yet
another blogging benchmark, for this is Entry Number 300; and, I’ve
been writing here now for nearly TWO years. HUZZAH!

More importantly, however, is the fact that, 20 years ago today,
April 3, 1991, I started working as an interpreter at (what was
then known as) Conner Prairie Museum (CP) in central Indiana. Yep,
if not for that fateful day, and the years that immediately followed,
this little blog would not exist. For it was at CP that my passion for
open hearth cooking, historic foodways, and culinary history was
born. My years at CP began oddly, and ended even more strangely,
but in general, it was some of the best years of my life. And overall,

that experience has served me well in years since. From the training
I received to the knowledge I gained to the nigh daily opportunities
to put it all into practice (and in front of hundreds of people, mind
you!), it is the basis of everything I’ve done with regard to open
hearth cookery during the past six years (and counting!). I’ve
certainly not only put it all to good use, but I’ve also made many
additions to, and expanded on, that experience, first at Lefferts
Historic House
and now at Wyckoff and The Israel Crane House.
My years at Conner Prairie gave birth to my current passion for
food history and hearth cookery. It was definitely time well spent.


The newspaper ad that started it all (eegad, I still have it?!):

Of course, I was familiar with Conner Prairie. I’d been there often
with school, camp, and other assorted groups. I’d always wanted
to work there, to wear the clothing and to pretend it was another
day and time. In short, I was drawn to the acting side of it. And
I tell you, after spending a few years “playing” in the 1836 Village
and then doing numerous acting gigs here in the Big Bad City, it
was most definitely THE best damn acting job I’ve ever had.

As to the headline in the above ad…funny thing is, I can remember
a couple of fellow interpreters complaining that those burger flippers
at McDonald’s and Burger King earned more per hour than we did.
Ahhh, well, but they didn’t get to do it over an open fire!


Here I am, just before my first day of working in the 1836 Village,
which, strangely enough, wasn’t until the end of July. Yep, I had
to spend nearly FOUR months NOT being in the Village. Something
about my working “only part-time.” Huh?!? What about those other
people who are “only” part-timers?!? Or the fact that your ad says,
specifically, “part-time job”?!? WTF…? It was absolutely, positively,
unbelievably wacko. I still don’t understand why I was treated
differently. Ahh, well…so it goes. Nevertheless, I was finally “in,”
and I was more than ready for some REAL “historic” play, er, work,
in a “loaner” outfit (sans apron) from the Museum’s Costume Shop:

The first character I portrayed was Abigail Bucher, the hired girl at
Dr. Campbell’s. It was my introduction to early 19th century cooking,
albeit on a cast iron cookstove and not at the hearth; this is where
I was first introduced to both The American Frugal Housewife and
The Kentucky Housewife, books I still use frequently today:


Now, we had to make all our own 1836 clothing. My first complete
outfit was made by another interpreter, but it was, um, well, a bit
odd and ill-fitting in places. So I figured I could do it better myself.
And once I started, I couldn’t stop! I ended up making three more
work dresses and numerous aprons and daycaps. I also branched
out by tackling several “non-required,” and sometimes challenging,
items such as a quilted sunbonnet, a winter lower-class bonnet,
an early 19th century shortgown, and a full-length cape. AND,
I became an expert at piping. Love, loved, LOVED inserting piping
any and every where I could. I was the Queen of Piping. HUZZAH!


Ada Noreen McClure, daughter of the town’s carpenter, was my second
character. NOW, it was finally time for cooking at the hearth:

By the way, that’s my niece, one Kelly Capehart, standing next to me.
She’ll soon graduate from Vassar College. Lordy, how time flies!


Then it was on to Lucinda Baker, wife of Isaac Baker, one of the three
(then-called) Baker brothers, all of whom were potters. Sadly, the one-
room cabin in the photo below is no more. First, it was greatly altered,
and then, eventually, it was torn down. What a travesty. I spent many
days happily “being” Lucinda and talking to folks while cooking outside
under the canopy of trees. HUZZAH!


I played several other characters, as well, ranging from Patience
Higbee to the younger Mrs. Whitaker to Laura Moore and so on.
I must say, however, that my favorites were anyone who cooked
and those who were members of the “lower” classes. Now, a few
of my fellow interpreters found the latter quite interesting. In fact,
when I was Lucinda, who was pretty low on the proverbial totem
pole, one of them used to voice her amazement at how someone
with a Master’s degree (me) did such a great job playing a lowly
character. (Hint: it’s called “acting”!)

Certainly, one of the highlights of working at Conner Prairie was
being given the opportunity to participate in the numerous special
programs. Candlelight, Maple Sugaring, Hearthside Suppers, and
others, to be sure, but also: being the “bride” (twice, to two different
guys!) in the 1836 wedding (kissie-kissie!); becoming “saved” when
the Camp Meetin’ came to town; assisting with pottery kiln firings;
cooking up scrapple during butchering; dancing with “my man Isaac”
during the Independence Day celebrations…. OH! the list goes on and
on. I even thoroughly enjoyed talking to all the visitors. In fact, I’m
sure some would say I never shut up! But I just loved sharing the who,
what, when, and why of whatever it was that I was doing. And all the
training that was offered, in a variety of different topics. I went to every
session offered, whether it applied to me or not. I was eager to learn as
much as I could. Then there was the working with a great group of people
(for the most part), day in and day out. I made alot of wonderful friends.
Golly, what other job offers up such amenities?!? I know of none. It was
simply pure joy to work in such a unique environment.


My sewing sampler, containing a specified assortment of different
stitches and such. Doing this and “passing” (which I did) enabled
me to sew out on the historic grounds. A similar “test,” along with
some reading, was required for knitting:


Well, I could go on, but I won’t bore you any further. I will, however,
add that I often miss playing in the 1836 Village at Conner Prairie. I
miss all that hustle ‘n bustle. And the people; luckily, I’m still in touch
with a few. It was all great fun. Yet, I firmly believe that I was there
during some of the Museum’s best years. Sadly, things have greatly
changed, and not necessarily for the better. It’s far from the place
I knew and loved, that’s for sure. And in many ways, I’m doing more
now of what CP used to be, at the historic sites where I do hearth
cooking. In any case, life goes on, I’ve moved ahead, and I have
wonderful, lasting memories that I will always treasure. HUZZAH!

Read Full Post »

Saturday night I attended several of the parties that closed out
the 2010 BlogHer Conference here in New York City. Of course,
food was available at all of them, but one in particular had…drum
roll, please…cod fritters!

Can’t say I’ve ever seen cod fritters served at a party, or anywhere,
for that matter. I don’t think they’re typical, but maybe that’s just me.
Now, I’ve eaten, and made, numerous other fritters, including apple,
parsnip, the recent curds, and so on, but no cod. In any event, there
they were, I had a few, and they weren’t too bad. They weren’t too
great, either, but it’s probably because I’m not a big fan of cod.

Then I began to wonder if there were any receipts (recipes) for cod
fritters in historic cookbooks. I don’t particularly recall ever seeing
any. Nevertheless, I began looking in earnest, first in one book,
then another, and in one century, followed by the next. And you
know what I found?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch

Yep, that’s right. I came across receipts for all the usual suspects,
everything from apple to spinach to chicken, but not one for cod.
Even I was a bit surprised. There were separate cod dishes, too,
but none with it in a fritter form (found mostly stewed cod and
cod’s head). I also looked in two books that deal with British*
foodways in general. One mentions fritters several times, and
stated that they could be made of fish, but it didn’t specify what
fish. I did, however, find an oyster fritter receipt, but that was it.
The second book didn’t even mention fritters. Of any kind. Go figure.
A third on Europe as a whole had many fritter receipts, but again,
none for cod or any other fish. So, it’s possible I suppose, that they
might’ve been prepared using cod, but then, maybe not. Perhaps it’s
one of those perplexing “it’s impossible to know for sure’s.”

Then, late on Sunday, I just happened to read about the historical
1623 wedding presentation at Plimoth Plantation next weekend. The
site’s foodways manager, Kathleen Wall, shared the menu for the event.
Lo and behold, there’ll be fritters and fresh cod! HUZZAH! Not together,
mind you, but dishes of both will be prepared. She pointed out that
the fritters will actually be more like pancakes, and that cod (fresh)
was considered to be a rather unusual dish by the early settlers. I
suppose they may’ve been more accustomed to salt cod (dried). That
could possibly, maybe, explain the derth of cod fritter receipts? Guess
I’ll just have to continue in my quest for information! I hope everyone
out there will let me know if they find any, as well.


* 1.) Food and Drink in Britain, from the Stone Age
to the 19th Century
, by C. Anne Wilson (1991);
2.) British Food, An Extraordinary Thousand Years
of History
, by Colin Spencer (2002); and
3.) Cooking in Europe, 1650-1850, by Ivan Day (2008)

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

Yep, a few more photos taken at Old Sturbridge Village
earlier this summer (June 2010) during the National
ALHFAM Conference. Enjoy!


Read Full Post »

It’s time for more sorting/deleting/saving of photos in my camera.
Which means, of course, that I found additional shots taken at Old
Sturbridge Village
during the recent ALHFAM National Conference.
There are quite a few, so I’ll spread them out over several posts.
I think they’re all fairly self-explanatory. If not, just ask!


P.S. I hope these are all “never-seen-befores.” If not, well, dagnabit,
please excuse. Enjoy ‘em anyway!


Read Full Post »

Special “Behind the Scenes” tours were yet another feature of our
full day at Old Sturbridge Village during the recent 2010 National
ALHFAM Conference. I accompanied the ten or so other folks who
took a peek at the inner workings of OSV’s Costume Shop.

Now when I was at Conner Prairie (back in the early ’90s), we had
to make, or pay someone else to make, all our own 1836 clothing.
Any and all fabrics we used had to be approved by, and all patterns
were obtained from, the Costume Department. However, that is NOT
the case at OSV. All clothing worn by interpreters is made by Shop
staff. Various items are constructed, and then each person is assigned
whatever pieces are appropriate for his or her particular character
and/or location, be it farmhand, spinster, shoemaker, gentleman,
cook, or whatever. Everyone is responsible for alerting staff when
repairs and such are needed, and if an item is lost or destroyed,
the Costume Shop must be reimbursed. However, washing and/or
dry cleaning of each item is done by the individual wearer.

OSV’s Costume Shop itself is housed in a cute little white former
house adjacent to the Village. Comprised of three floors, one is
dedicated to women’s clothing, one to men’s, and one for fittings
and other more general tasks. Christine Bates and her staff are
responsible for providing clothing for any and all people, young
and old, big and small, who work daily in the Village. From children
participating in summer camp to special event folks to the everyday
interpreters, all are outfitted by Bates and company. And, if I recall
correctly, more than 200 people will be wearing period-appropriate
clothing during this year alone, thanks to the Costume Shop.

There were two things that I found particularly interesting
about the way clothing is handled at Old Sturbridge Village.
One, that any and all fabrics used must be documented by
virtue of their existence in the Museum’s Collections. Two,
that the actual sewing of garments, large or small, is done
by select seamstresses, hired on contract, in their own homes.
Yes, there wasn’t a sewing machine in sight during our tour!
All major work is done off-site. Apparently (and I don’t quite
understand it), there’s something regarding the use of sewing
machines and the ability to obtain insurance. Or something.
That certainly wasn’t the case back in the days at good ol’
Conner Prairie! I can remember going often to the Costume
Room to use some nifty sewing gadget or other. Never used
the sewing machine, tho, as I had my own…but I digress.

The Shop’s work can be simply exquisite. This lovely dress and
its color combination caught my eye:

An interpreter saw this banyan and wanted one like it, so he
brought in the original, the Shop staff created a pattern, and
then made the garment, using fabrics he chose (now, if it’d
been me, I would’ve selected a nice paisley of some sort!):

A never-ending task in the Costume Shop: patching; and yes,
the Shop, and NOT the interpreters, does any and all mending,
repairs, altering, and so forth:

Speaking of which, rows and rows of spools of thread, in every
conceivable color:

OSV’s Costume Shop takes care of all woolen garments, as well:

Something it would’ve been nice to see more often at Conner Prairie,
men’s corduroy trousers:

Hats! (er, Bonnets!):

I especially like the small, close-fitting, navy blue one,
with the pink-ish feather:


One thing I’d like to add…during our brief tour of OSV’s Costume Shop, I was
struck by the sheer numbers, by the quantity, of clothing the Shop produces.
And by the variety of fabric patterns…solids, small prints, large, plaids, as well
as every color imaginable. Oh, and the things that CP banned. Yet, at the same
time, I didn’t see any stripes. Wonder why? Or maybe I just missed them?

Read Full Post »

Yet another annual National ALHFAM Conference has come and
gone. Here I sit, back in my own home, wondering just where did
the time go? And me with so many more pictures to share. dagnabit.
I’m so far behind on postings. How it goes, I guess.

Incidentally, the Conference was a HUGE success. Three hale
and hearty HUZZAHS! to all who planned it.

Be sure to stay tuned. Photos WILL be posted, both now and
in the coming days. We’ll get the ball rolling with “ALHFAM Day”
at Old Sturbridge Village.


The lady of the household at the Small family dwelling was busily
preparing a meal, consisting of roast pork on a string, a baked
corn pudding (in the brick oven), a boiled Indian corn pudding,
and a medley of root vegetables, including parsnips and potatoes
(it all looked, and smelled, wonderful!):

Mike the Potter was busy unloading the roughly 750 redware pieces
from the kiln, which had been fired the previous Friday, beginning
at 7:30 a.m. until about 10 p.m. on Saturday:

The firing temperature reaches between 1600 andd 1800 degrees.
I asked Mike if any pieces blew up during the firing, if he’d lost any.
He said, yes, about five or so.

The “Punch and Judy Show,” which was a big hit with all the kids,
young and old alike. Of course, being just a kid myself, I happily
went up and shook Mr. Punch’s hand when invited to do so:

Dyeing wool yarn using walnuts, which have been dried
for about a year, pounded, and boiled for several hours:

Time to do the evening’s milking at Freeman’s farm, where three
generations of milk cows reside: Buttercup; Bess; and Betty. The
youngest (this cow) is a first-time mother, and so is new to the
whole routine. In fact, she rejected her own calf, so it will be
bottle-fed for a time. She gives only about three gallons each
day, which apparently is a low amount compared to other cows.
Cheese was also being made up in the farmhouse:

Chatting with the Indian Doctor about her clothing, a combination
of Native American and “Yankee” items (the former would’ve been
hand-crafted and sewn, while the latter would’ve been store-bought
or traded):

Unfortunately, due to a misprint on our special ALHFAM map/schedules,
I later missed her presentation in the Village. dagnabit. Would’ve really
liked to have heard it.

Read Full Post »

This past Sunday, I participated in “An Introduction
to Tinsmithing,” a Professional Development Workshop
that preceded the start of the 2010 ALHFAM National
Conference. Guided by the very capable Phil Eckert
of Old Sturbrige Village, five fellow ALHFAMers and
I created several 1830s-appropriate tin items, using
the tools of the trade. Our project list included:
a candle sconce; a pint mug; and a heart-shaped
cookie cutter.

First up, the tin candle sconce:


As we broke for lunch, I asked Phil if we could possibly
make other items. You see, I wanted to make things I
need, that I can use in my historic cooking programs.
Besides, I already have a tin mug (and candle sconces,
for that matter). Naturally, he inquired at to what I had
in mind. I replied, “Oh say a couple of small cake hoops,
maybe a nutmeg grater.” And so, he graciously allowed
me to veer off the set project list. HUZZAH!

I started with the nutmeg grater:

The round bottom piece, the handle, and the seam then
had to be soldered.

Next, the cake hoops. Phil asked that I make a drawing
of just what I wanted. Easy enough:

It was pretty basic. I made two, so pieces of tin were cut,
folded back at the edges, rounded, then hooked and
clamped together. No soldering necessary.

Of course, by this point, I kinda knew my way around
the shop and had learned how to use many of the tools.
So I was merrily playing around with pieces of tin and
trying this ‘n that. When the time came to make the
heart-shaped cookie cutter, I stated that I would make
a biscuit cutter instead. Well, since it was simple to do,
I ended up making both. I had Phil’s help in shaping
the cookie cutter, but I figured out the biscuit cutter
on my own. The heart shape required soldering, but
the biscuit cutter did not; it was hooked and clamped
like the cake hoops.

Overall, it certainly was a most enjoyable workshop. I love
learning new skills, particularly in something I don’t, and
wouldn’t, normally do. Besides, I use many tin items, so
it’s valuable to know how they were created. Now, whether
I purchase tools and set up shop at home, is another matter.
I’m glad, however, to know that I could make various items
if I should choose to do so. It’s nice, as well, to participate
in such a workshop and walk away with lots of goodies.
Lots of highly useful goodies! HUZZAH!

My treasure trove of tin utensils (made by ME!):


Incidentally, according to our illustrious instructor, Phil Eckert,
there is no evidence that tin mugs were used for drinking
historically, except possibly by the military; they were
for measuring. He informed us all, however, that we
could use it as we wished.

Read Full Post »

Here are photos from the June 19 kiln firing on the grounds
of Old Sturbridge Village. It was a fantastic event. Reminded
me of the kiln firings back during my Conner Prairie days. It
was simply, absolutely, awesome. HUZZAH!


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 97 other followers