Open Hearth Cooking

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A few days ago, I made Indian Pudding, a traditional New England dessert, a colonial-era treat.  I found the recipe in a pamphlet, “Open Hearth Cooking” that we bought at Historic Deerfield in March, 2014.

Deerfield in north-central Massachusetts, was a frontier village, remembered in history books for a 1704 French and Indian raid. The town was almost wiped out; over 100 captives were taken back to French Canada.  The daughter of John Williams, Deerfield’s Puritan minister, decided to stay with her captors.  Eunice (age 8) became a Catholic, resisted family efforts to have her return home, married a Mohawk husband, visited Deerfield with her Indian family and lived as a Native American until her death at the age of 95.  The raid and Eunice’s story is told in John Demos’s “The Unredeemed Captive: a family story from early America”  (1995).

Deerfield residents had a strong sense of history.  In 1952 they created Historic Deerfield; in 1962 the town was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.  There are about a dozen old houses on the historic, mile long, Main Street.   There are also several museum buildings, a gift store, and the 1884 Deerfield Inn with Champy’s Restaurant and Tavern.

Deerfield Academy, one of several schools in town,  is a classic New England private prep school.  John McPhee wrote “The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield”  (1992).  Boyden took over the Deerfield country school in 1902 and built it into a classic New England academy like Andover and Exter.  I recently reread “The Headmaster.”  As an educator it’s an interesting lesson.   Boyden didn’t have any specific educational philosophy, he believed in doing right for “the boys” and strongly supported athletic competition. He was widely admired in the education community and his boys did well in life.

In 2014, our first year of retirement, we decided to take an open hearth cooking class in Deerfield.  We stayed in the Deerfield Inn, across the street from the Hall Tavern and visitor’s center — site for classes.    Eight students joined two instructors.  The hearth fire was blazing; hot coals were burning in the oven.  Ingredients for our class were laid out on rustic kitchen tables.  We were provided with historic receipts (recipes) and formed small groups to cook and bake.  Our menu was beef stew with winter vegetables, mashed root vegetables, French bread, applesauce and Indian pudding.

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As we prepared the dishes, we learn about open hearth cooking.  We pre-heated cast iron pots.  Some (the stew pot) hung on a moving crane over the fire.  Others dishes could be cooked in a spider leg pot (hot coals under the pot).  Some things are cooked in a Dutch oven with hot coals under the pot and on the lid.  The apples (acidic) can’t be cooked in cast iron pot but do fine in a tin lined cast iron pot.  Bread is cooked in the bake oven, heated with coals which are removed before the bread is baked.

Since I am familiar with bread, I joined with the only other male in the class to make rye bread.  We scalded milk, butter, honey and salt.  Mixed it with flour, yeast and eggs.  We let the sponge rise and mixed in more flour, kneading for 10 minutes.  It was baked in a redware dish.   Reproduced redware is made without lead and safe for cooking; don’t cook in original, as it probably contains lead.  While our stew and bread cooked, we were given a tour of another kitchen with a wood-coal stove.  Back in the Tavern kitchen, we served and ate our efforts. Quite good.

This March we returned to Deerfield for another open hearth class.  The Deerfield Inn was comfortable; we had great meals in Champy’s; the class was different and fun.  Our menu  was based on the 1796 “American Cookery” cookbook by Amelia Simmons.  It is considered the first American cookbook, using American ingredients.  Our menu was stuffed chicken and vegetables — potatoes, carrots, parsnips — , cranberry sauce, winter squash-Apple pudding, slapjacks, and gingerbread.

I really like how the instructors just handed students the recipes (historic and translated) and say “go to it.”   Diane and I went for the slapjacks.  Milk, cornmeal, eggs, a bit of flour and salt.  Fried in a cast iron pan over the fire in a bit of lard; served with maple syrup.  Not bad.  The bread-seasoned stuffed chicken was cooked on a tin rotessier, made in Deerfield.  Par-boiled potatoes, carrots and parsnips were placed under the chickens, absorbing the drippings.  The squash apple pudding was cooked in a Dutch oven.  Gingerbread in the bake oven.  Cook, bake, wait, tour, and then eat.  A great meal.

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In March, Deerfield is quiet.  This year we were there after a winter storm.  The ground was snow covered.  A walk through town was beautiful.  Quiet, at peace.  Champy’s was alive in the evening with a local tavern crowd.  The folowing day after after breakfast (one day home made corn beef hash, i.e. Left over from St. Patrick’s Day) we drove south through the Berkshires to the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, CT.

Another different but interesting quest; exploring the world of Joan of  Hammertown, an interior designer, and marketer, (echoes of Martha Steward), that Diane follows online.

 

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