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Archive for November, 2009

It was billed as the “Thanksgiving Kitchen Tour.”

“Tour the oldest kitchens on the site,”
read the accompanying copy, “to discover
the recipes and sources of Thanksgiving
traditions.”

It seemed to be promoted everywhere
on the website. Even had its own page
in the “Special Events” section, which
included a photo of a gal garbed in period
clothing, standing at an open fire and tending bravely to the contents
of a large kettle.

In other words, the implication was that, come out to Historic Richmond
Town
on Staten Island this weekend (November 28 and/or 29), and
you’ll see open hearth cooking demonstrations.

Unfortunately, however, that is NOT what was offered. Yep, silly
me, I went all the way out there, thinking I’d see period-dressed
people actually cooking. One subway and two different bus rides
later, all I got was the basic guided tour of five empty (i.e., people-less)
houses. Sure, our guide kinda made an effort to focus on the kitchen
areas at each stop, but gee…she wasn’t a hearth cook, she had had
no real cooking experience, and she was sadly ill-informed on many
aspects. I expected alot and got very, very little. It was EXTREMELY
disappointing. Nigh near a waste of time and effort. Others in my
group felt the same way. Even an HRT staffer expressed surprise
that, as part of an advertised “kitchens tour,” no one was actually
working any kitchen!

I was quite curious, as well, to hear and see just what they were going
to present as the “recipes and sources of Thanksgiving traditions.”
Particularly since there wouldn’t have been any during the various
time periods of the houses we were touring. Possibly the General
Store (at least, its era), but no other. Nevertheless, I was still eager
to see some actual COOKING! That was, after all, what I was promised.
Or, at the very least, what I was led to believe.

Naturally, I took my camera, expecting to take LOTS of photos
of people busy at the hearth. Well, I got the hearths, alright;
there’s just no people. Bummer. Of the highest order.

Anyway, here are a few. You’ll have to use your imagination and
pretend there’s someone cooking at the various hearths.

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The Voorlezer’s House (circa 1695), its basement hearth and bake oven:

The Christopher House (circa 1720 & 1730), hearth and bake oven:

My illustrious tour group:

The Basket Maker’s House (circa 1810):

(a few pots in the house could use a good cleaning!)

(look! a Muscovey duck that hangs around the place; I had one years ago;
this one is a bit better-looking; they can bite…makes for great watch-ducks!)

The Guyon-Lake-Tysen House (circa 1740; kitchen addition 1820s):

Our group is dwindling:

The Stephens-Black House (circa 1838; additions between 1839-1853):

Finally, some “pop-art” from the ferry ride home:

with a wave to Lady Liberty (or a wave-y Lady Liberty!):

and Manhattan lights from upon the water:

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annual festivities

Happy Turkey Day one and all!

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Thanksgiving is fast approaching, that annual holiday when
most everyone will be feasting on turkey, potatoes, cranberries,
pumpkin pie, and other goodies. It’s a fairly standard menu,
one that matches what those thankful settlers ate at Plymouth
all those centuries ago.

Or is it?

Well…maybe. Maybe not.

Before you go ballistic and accuse me of being un-American,
take a look at the following passage. It’s the one and only
eyewitness account of the feast at Plymouth that we try
to emulate year after year. It was written to a friend back
in England by a participant in the proceedings, Mayflower
passenger Edward Winslow.

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“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four
men on fowling, that we might after a special manner
rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our
labors. The four in one day killed as much fowl as,
with a little help beside, served the company almost
a week. At which time, amongst other recreations,
we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming
amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king
Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three
days we entertained and feasted, and they went out
and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation
and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and
others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was
at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so
far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

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I’ll explore later what these words say and don’t say.
In the meantime, feel free to use them to amaze (and
shock?) your family and friends as you prepare your
Turkey Day feast!

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Ta-Da!

Yep, I made a Potato Pumpkin. HUZZAH!

I started with this left-over Halloween pumpkin:

Which, incidentally, was probably not the right kind. Of course, I don’t really
know WHAT kind it is. Nor do I have any idea, either, what was used down
at Williamsburg (should’ve asked!). It was, however, all I had, and I made
it work. I’d like to try the receipt again, but with a different variety; maybe
a cheese pumpkin or even something like a butternut squash.

In any event, here’s what I did.

First, I cut off the top and gutted it:

Then began the time-consuming task of removing the rind:

Ta-Da! Ready for the next step, adding the forcemeat (stuffing):

In the interest of time, I “cheated” and used a boxed stuffing mix. I know,
I know. Bad cook, historical or otherwise. But hey, it’s just an experiment
(for now, at least), so think even I’ll let it pass:

Into the oven it goes (pre-heated & set at 350).

Of course, I had to remove an oven shelf in order for it to fit. The remaining
shelf was then too low, so I raised it. I worried that the stalk might catch
fire or something, so I cut off about a half inch or so. (Probably should’ve
checked out all this beforehand, ay?!)

And out it comes:

Ready to eat:

Yes, of course, I ate some, and I must say, it tasted pretty good! HUZZAH!

The final analysis? As I said, the pumpkin I used probably wasn’t the best. I’d like
to try it again with another variety. Also, I cooked it at the specified 350 degrees,
for nearly an hour, and it probably could’ve stayed in for longer. I could’ve also
set the temperature higher, but I didn’t want to burn it. I think a slow cook is
best, anyway (and more historically-correct). Maybe it was my oven (it may be
a fancy-schmancy Viking, but I find it to be unreliable and tempermental…I hate
it). In any event, the modern adaptation of the receipt says to cook ’til it’s “fork
tender and stuffing is hot.” Well, parts were very “fork tender,” while others were
sorta, kinda, or not quite. Wonder what would happen with a thicker-skinned
pumpkin? The stuffing was indeed nice and hot, but just how hot is “hot”?
It’s clear that doneness is rather relative.

Nevertheless, I pronounce my Potato Pumpkin Experiment a success.
HUZZAH!
I can’t wait to try it again.

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Potato Pumpkin

I keep thinking about the Potato Pumpkin
that was made for use during the 18th
Century Foodways Symposium at Colonial
Williamsburg
this past week. I’m always
enthralled by such dishes, and I think this
one would be fun to do. And since I have
a spare pumpkin left over from Halloween,
I think I shall! I got the little orange orb
out of the “pie pumpkin” bin, so it should
work? I just have to find the time to do it. Hmmm…. Maybe I could
make it for my annual Chrismakkah (Christmas/Hanukkah) Dinner.
Problem with that is, I’ll have to wait three weeks or so. The pumpkin
may not last ’til then! I don’t know that I can wait that long, either.
Hmmm…guess I’ll have to give this more thought.

In the meantime, however, here’s the receipt. It’s from Mary Randolph’s
The Virginia Housewife: Or Methodical Cook: A Facsimile of an Authentic
Early American Cookbook
, which was first published in 1824. As I
mentioned previously, oddly enough there’s no potato in it. That is,
of course, unless you include it in your forcemeat (aka stuffing).

POTATO PUMPKIN

Get one of a good colour, and
seven or eight inches in diameter;
cut a piece off the top, take out
all the seeds, wash and wipe
the cavity, pare the rind off,
and fill the hollow with good
forcemeat—put the top on,
and set it in a deep pan,
to protect the sides; bake
it in a moderate oven, put it
carefully in the dish without
breaking, and it will look like
a handsome mould. Another
way of cooking potato pumpkin
is to cut it in slices, pare off
the rind, and make a puree
as directed for turnips.

Here’s the modern adaptation, courtesy of the Foodways Staff
at Colonial Williamsburg.

Potato Pumpkin

1 small pumpkin
Breadcrumb stuffing mixture

***Cut the top off the pumpkin,
remove the seeds, and peel
the rind.
***Stuff the cavity with breadcrumb
mixture. Replace the top.
***Put pumpkin in a baking dish
in a 350 degree oven. Bake
until fork tender and stuffing
is hot.

Sounds easy enough, ay?! I’ll let you know when I make mine
and how it turns out.

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Late Saturday night, I returned home from my trip to Colonial Williamsburg
where I attended the Symposium on 18th Century Foodways. Despite a few
minor glitches, such as a lost (albeit temporarily) camera and monsoon-like

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blustery winds and pelting rains, it was a fantastic week. I’ve added
much to my knowledge of cooking and dining 1700s-style, in colonial
Virginia and elsewhere. Everyone who worked on putting it together
did a marvelous job. They definitely deserve a hale ‘n hearty HUZZAH!
I’m looking forward to the next one.

As a final wrap-up of sorts, I thought I’d share a batch of miscellaneous
pictures from my journey to the past at Williamsburg.

_______________________________________

The Governor’s Palace, Bruton Parish Church, the courthouse, Wythe House:

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Setting the gentry table:

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Stuffed pumpkin ready to serve (called “Potato Pumpkin,” although there’s
not necessarily any potato in it):

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Lessons in proper etiquette:

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Historic cookware exhibit in the DeWitt Wallace Museum:

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The Governor’s coach passes by:

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The dining room of the Peyton Randolph House:

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The PRH kitchens:

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And the scullery:

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The newly-reconstructed Charlton Coffee House:

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The Palace kitchens:

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and assorted Palace rooms:

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(wall covering made of leather)

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The chocolate maker:

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The mason (brick maker/layer):
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And finally, the train to take me home:

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Farewell, ’til next time!

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If you’ve seen any weather reports recently, you know that Virginia
and other states in this area (and elsewhere, for that matter) have
been pummeled relentlessly these past three days by a nor’easter.
An “Historic November Nor’easter,” to be exact. And so here I am,
with my Big Plans to partake of as much of the Colonial Williamsburg
Experience as possible on Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday.
I valiantly tried to use my remaining time to scurry about the Historic
Area. Unfortunately, the onslaught of torrential rains and hurricane-type
winds made it nigh impossible. I saw very little AND got royally soaked
in the process. dagnabit.

In the end, I was only able to tour the Governor’s Palace and to then
spend some time chatting with the gals in the kitchens. Not being able
to see more was rather disappointing, to say the least.

In any event, here are few photos.

First up, the Governor’s Palace:

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Then the Palace Kitchens:

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The Fife & Drum Corps go marching (yes, in the rain):

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Then today (Friday), as part of a special donor event, I watched as various
tradespeople discussed and demonstrated the particular skills that they
utilized (carpenters/joiners, blacksmiths, masons) or will use (chocolate
maker) in the newly-reconstructed Charlton Coffee House:

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And finally, again as a donor, I attended a special reception this evening.
Good food and music were on tap. A suitable ending for this trip back in time.
HUZZAH!

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