We began our day with a lesson in how to date 18th-century houses based on the location of their fireplace bakeovens, and in how to heat, test, and use a bakeoven to make a variety of different baked goods. We then turned to how to build and maintain a fire, a skill relevant to both hearth and camp cooking which I have yet to master (one day...!). Then Luisa, our instructor, split us into teams and assigned us each two period receipts that allowed us the opportunity to practice different cooking techniques. There were six total groups, and between the thirteen of us, we prepared quite a feast. In just over five hours, we ended up with three meat dishes (mostly prepared by Luisa, which included chicken, cornish hens, and a pork tenderloin), a host of vegetable sides (green beans in a creamy sauce, carrots with lemon and ginger, corn pudding, and a couple others I'm forgetting now...), an onion pie, spoon bread, and apples and bacon, in addition to a cranberry pudding and a cherry pie for dessert. It looked like way too much food for our modest gathering, but very little was left over when it came time to clear the table afterwards!
D feeding the fire to help bring his pot to boil.
Because there were so many of us working and we were preparing so many dishes simultaneously, we took full advantage of being in a period house and used two of the three original fireplaces on the ground floor. On the smaller hearth in the front room, we perched the hens and the pork, which both cooked in reflector ovens. Luisa hung a chicken on a string from the crane and demonstrated the proper techniques to manage it as it cooked to ensure it was done evenly and would not become dry.
Cooking pork and two types of poultry in the front room's fire.
The larger hearth in the house's designated kitchen became the primary cooking area for the rest of our dishes. From the large crane hung a collection of bulge pots and tin pots that kept coming on and off of the fire as their ingredients were perfected and their cooking progress monitored by their respective teams.
My cooking partner C (a newly-inaugurated member of our unit!) and I were assigned the task of preparing an onion pie and a dish of apples and bacon. Despite one minor mishap involving too much eggs and cream, our pie turned out most beautifully, and I can now count the successful managing of a Dutch oven, properly called a bake kettle in the eighteenth century, amongst my period accomplishments. Huzzah!
Me tending to the onions, preparing them for the pie.
Red-hot coals piled on top of the bake kettle, our onion pie nestled inside.
Our beauteous onion pie, perfectly baked in the Dutch oven.
Me removing the pie (ever so carefully!) to cool.
Our apples and bacon also turned out most heavenly indeed, loaded with cinnamon and maple syrup. They were the perfect complement to the roasted pork and definitely one of my favorite products of the day's efforts.
The pork relocated to finish cooking in the kitchen hearth, with our
apples and bacon just starting to melt beside it.
Slicing the pork out of the reflector oven.
I unfortunately didn't manage to get a picture of our finished repast, all laid out on the dining room table, but it was quite a spread indeed and tasted all the better for knowing we'd all just spent five and a half hours hard at work making it!
A huge thank you to Luisa for sharing your immeasurable knowledge and skills with us, and to P and D for opening your lovely period home (and hearths!) for the purpose. It was a day spent in true eighteenth-century style with good company and good food, the ideal way to help wish away those chilly New England winter winds.