Fun volunteer cooking project we are doing (Long Post)

nancylouise_gwFebruary 14, 2012

Our local very active historical society sent out it's monthly newsletter. In it was a request for volunteer cooks. They have started up their monthly "Cooking on the Hearth" dinners in the Tavern. I contacted the woman in charge and got info on what we would have to do. She told us we would be prepping and cooking in the back in the "modern" kitchen. It sounded like fun so Wayne and I said sign us up. She invited us to be quests at last months dinner so we could get a feel as to what would be going on. Well, to say they have a "modern" kitchen is a bit of a There is no cook top or stove. They use hot plates to cook. They do have 2 small ovens and a fridge. The hot plates only work from one outlet so there goes most of the counter space. They don't even have a veggie peeler. But that is ok. We are game. We have the equipment from our home catering that will do were they are lacking.

The menu will reflect foods that were available in Colonial times but with a nod to people's taste of today.

We worked out the menu to be;

Cod Cakes with pepper relish, corn chowder, oatmeal bread with honey butter, pommes anna with butternut squash and rosemary,parsnips with winter greens cooked with bacon,Top round roast and for dessert Indian pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. There will be apple cider and water as beverage (it is byob).

We will be cooking the roast in our oven at home. It will be finished off at the hearth. We are also making the pommes anna, Indian pudding, corn chowder and oatmeal bread. They have a large beehive oven at the hearth so at least one pan of each thing will be made authentically. The rest of the items will be made in the back modern kitchen. We have a sell out already of 32 people. The dinner is this Friday. Wayne and I have to dress up also. They have a costume that will fit me but Wayne was a bit of a problem. He is 6"3" 225lbs. One of the ladies that is cooking at the hearth also sews so she cut the legs off a pair of Wayne's old tweed pants and made knickers or breeches(whatever they are called). He will be carving the roast for the dinner guests so he had to be in costume. I may have to help serve so I needed one too. As added entertainment, there will be a colonial soldier stopping by looking for food and a bed to sleep in for the night on his way through heading home. He will be sitting with the dinner guests in each room and talking, telling them of his travels and stories. Sounds like fun. I'm going to try and take some pictures inbetween cooking. So that is what I'll be doing this Friday. Wish us luck! NancyLouise

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Sounds challenging and fun! Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 4:32PM
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Wow, that does sound interesting and fun, I'll be watching for pictures.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:29PM
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What a BLAST! I used to do historical cooking demos back in the day, only it was on a cast iron stove in a pioneer cabin with mostly replica cooking utensils. We didn't have a food license, so we cooked the meals and then at the end of the day the volunteers all sat down to eat a big dinner! Had to dress in period-ish clothing too (it was all loose so lots of different sized volunteers could wear the stuff, plus the cloth was modern dyed). Your menu sounds absolutely delish, BTW. I love indian pudding but rarely eat it since it's just the two of us at my house and we don't eat many sweets.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 7:23AM
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Nancylouise, sounds like a lot of fun! I'd love to see pictures. I took hearth cooking classes at Strawberry Banke years ago & had a blast. The volunteers were a wealth of knowledge.

Here in Mystic/Stonington is Randall's Ordinary, c. 1685, that was converted into a B&B by the Mashantucket Pequots. Unfortunately, they've proven to be poor stewards of the property. :(

DH & I never stayed at the B&B but we've enjoyed many a delightful meal such as you've described at the Ordinary. At Randall's though they cook on the hearth, finished food is moved to the "modern" kitchen in the rear of the building, plated, & served. But, it's fun to watch the 'hunk 'o beast' on the hearth pit & watch the chef flipping flapjacks on a humongous cast iron griddle. It's more fun in the winter to sit next to that fire than in July though! :) The building doesn't, of course, have A/C.

Sounds like you had a great experience. Thanks for helping to keep New England's history alive.

Here's a NYT article on Randall's Ordinary. The article's a few years old but gives a good description of the place's ambiance. Unfortunately, the Mashantucket Pequots have allowed the tavern to fall into disrepair & it has been closed to the public. Surely, they knew the costs involved in maintaining a structure of that age!?


Here is a link that might be useful: Randall's Ordinary

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 8:12AM
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It is a lot of work and a lot of fun. I'll be in the back "modern" kitchen prepping/cooking. I have the easy job. My God those ladies that do the hearth cooking and baking must be in good shape! They use nothing but cast iron pots, caldrons and the like. Not to mention sweating up a storm being so close to the fire and coals. I was impressed to learn as to how the cook knows when the temp. of the beehive oven is just right for baking....she rolls up her sleeve and sticks her arm in the oven!
Thanks for the link tricia. Randall's Ordinary sounded like a very special place. To bad the Pequots didn't realize what they had and just let it go. Another small piece of history gone:(
You are right about the dinners not being as popular during the summer. There is no AC in the Tavern. With the main cooking fire going it is hotter then blazes in there!
I guess word of mouth is spreading about the dinners. I was talking to the gal that runs the dinners. We are sold out and now people are asking to be put on a waiting list(10 people so far)and there are already reservations for April's dinner(not having a dinner in March) and we don't even know what the menu will be.
There has been a discussion about offering a class in hearth cooking. But nothing has become of it yet. I think it would be interesting to do. But we will see if it gets off the ground. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 9:03AM
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Hate to be a fly in the ointment, but if you are serving to people outside a group (public) make sure you have the license. Also many health departments don't allow home cooking and then brought and served to the public. All it takes is one or more person to get sick and can create big problems. I know if you are in many smaller towns and involved with volunteers many things are over looked, but just be careful.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:29PM
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Oh I think it sounds like a wonderful evening! I wish I could be there to see and experience it. Have fun, take lots of pictures and shoot me an email with the details. I need to ask my friend who is an archeologist working on the Shoals if she is involved or knows of the project.


    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 6:55PM
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Living History Farms in West Des Moines does historical dinners. Some are over a wood burning stove and others on a fireplace with a tripod.....depends on the era of the meal desired.
And are over thinking the situation. Licenses are required only when you charge for a meal and it's open to the public. But as someone who very often oversees meals at church for 100 or more....all without a license, I agree it's very important to be aware of food safety issues.

The one time I was invited to a "pioneer dinner"....I couldn't go. Those who did go said it was wonderful and amazing what they cooked on a wood burning stove! Sounds like a ball, Alexa!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 7:11PM
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Yes, we are very aware of food safety. We have been catering for some time now. I'm sure if a license is required the Society has taken care of it with the town code enforcement department. But seeing as how (with the exception of 2 people that work part time for the historical society)everyone has a day job and are just volunteers, we all can't get to the Tavern till 4:00pm. The dinner starts at 6:00pm. 2 hours is hardly enough time to marinate and cook a 20+lb roast on the hearth. So we will roast it in our oven and finish cooking it on the hearth.
Luckily I could switch hours with a co-worker so I have Friday off and can get the ball rolling.
Pioneer Dinners sound like fun, Linda. A different era then Colonial but I bet the food was just as good!
I'll try and get pictures Alexa, or have someone take them for me while I'm in the back working. (do they let the scullery maids out of the kitchen for the public to see? I hear we are a lowly lot. lol) Hopefully everything will go off without a hitch. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 11:04PM
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How did the dinner go? Pics in your period outfits?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 3:38PM
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The dinner went off very well. Everyone seemed to have a great time. The dining rooms were all very loud We had three rooms full of people to serve and 4 hearth fires (for the coals needed to cook at the main hearth) going so we were running around quite a bit. We had enough food for everyone with just a small amount left over on the meat. I was told one fellow went up for 2nds and 3rds for the Indian Pudding and vanilla ice cream!:)
There was a young girl with a violin playing while the guests had their dinner and a soldier and traveler that stopped by and sat with the guests in each room. I stayed mostly in the back modern kitchen and barn keeping things warm in the ovens and watching the coal fires, washing dishes that could not go into the dishwasher. Wayne was out front more than I helping at the hearth and carving the roast.
We only had one accident. There was a realitivly new person tending the hearth cooking. The cod cakes were cooked in a cast iron pan. She would put the hot pan on the table for me to take the cakes out and plate and serve. The cloth on the handle of the cast iron flatpan fell off. She, not even thinking grabbed the hot handle and burned her hand. Not badly, but enough to give out a yell. She was a trooper though and continued on through out the night cooking. Her hand was a bit red still at the end of the night but she said it was ok.
I do have some pictures but have not downloaded them yet. Hope to have them shortly. It was a busy, tiring night but also lots of fun. We may volunteer in April again. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:47AM
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This table was set up near the hearth so guests could sit and watch the cooks do their job. They had the best seats!

The hearth is getting ready, making coals for the cooking and baking.

I'm helping out in the back kitchen and hearth. There is Indian pudding in the beehive oven baking and the oatmeal bread is heating up in aluminum foil on the coals.

The young girl in the red skirt played the violin while guests enjoyed their dinner. We were visited by a young solider also!

Wayne carves the beef for the dinner guests. There is a port wine sauce in the small pitcher. Parsnips, chard, caramelized onions and garlic in the cast iron pot. Very tasty!

Wayne's corn chowder heating by the hearth. Also a reflector oven on the left and grate and pan to cook the cod cakes on on the right.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 5:25PM
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How fun....thanks for sharing the pis.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 7:54PM
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oh that looks like a fantastic evening! What lucky guests

Glad you enjoyed and everything went well!


    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 6:58AM
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What fun! I love those plates. The Swiss chard and parsnips dish sounds scrumptious. It could be part of the greens cookalong, if you're willing to share the recipe. Thanks for sharing the pics and your adventure.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 11:26AM
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I don't think aluminum foil was around at that time. :-)

Aluminum was more expensive than gold when it was refined into metal around 1800s.

That was a very fun event. Thanks for sharing.

I have been reading a book " Thomas Jefferson's Monticello" and another book "Dining at Monticello".

The latter with many Colonial recipes. I have made many dishes based on recipes in that book. Thomas Jefferson was very interested in food and cooking.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 12:15PM
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Yeah dcarch, we had to fudge it sometimes when we were reheating things. lol Those Jefferson books sound very interesting. Seeing Monticello and their gardens is on my bucket list.
Sure Sally, I'll copy the recipe on the greens cook along.
It was a fun night Alexa and Michelle. But nerve racking too. I was worried things would not time out right. We were only a few minutes off schedule. A good time was had by all the guests. NancyLouise

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 4:10PM
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That does look like a very entertaining night and very interesting, plus the food sounds delicious.

Thanks for the pictures, and it's nice to "see" you.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 4:57PM
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