20 February 2011

Old Sturbridge Village !!!

It was cold and blustery on Saturday and as the sled made its way through the grounds of Old Sturbridge Village, it went past the parsonage. There, a hearty group of souls gathered for the work and enjoyment of dinner...

I had such a fun evening at Old Sturbridge Village this past weekend! I attended a fireplace cooking event, in which a group of interested folk prepared their evening meal by candlelight, with 19th century cooking utensils and cast iron pans, using authentic 'receipts' (aka recipes). When all was ready, we sat down together and enjoyed an amazing meal. It blows my mind how well the evening went ...fourteen complete strangers came together in a true cooperative effort that a mid-19th century woman and her daughters and indentured help (certainly NOT fourteen of them!) pulled off on a daily basis.

We had help and direction from three historical interpreters that are full-time employees of Old Sturbridge Village. They patiently explained some of the historical background of the receipts, gave us instructions in the various techniques of fireplace cookery, and guided us as we dug into red-hot coals, making small piles of them for supporting the various pots and pans. There were dutch ovens for stewing and braising, spiders for toasting croutons, trivets for supporting simmering coffee pots. We learned the technique for using reflector ovens and then prepared two stuffed chickens for roasting. We learned to use the fireplace crane and the various hanging pot hooks so that we could make a squash soup. We used sugar beets to tint a pot of boiling water in which we later made a simple syrup and poached pears. We parboiled winter vegetables and then laid them in the bottom of the reflector oven to 'catch the drippings from the roasting chicken.

We created small beef roulades that were seared and then braised in an herbed beef broth and finished in a sherry-laced gravy ... all this in the same Dutch oven over a mound of those hot coals.

But first, we had mulled cider and 'pounded cheese' with crackers to fortify ourselves!

We made yeast butter rolls and apple pies that baked in a brick oven to one side of the fireplace.

There was a beautiful fruit and cake trifle made and topped with whipped cream for a dessert.

We roasted coffee beans over hot coals to create a French roast type of bean, ground the beans in a coffee mill, and then made the coffee over the coals.

And when everything was ready, we set the tables and sat down together for an amazing meal. It was a wonderful night, full of learning, laughing, and knoshing!

After dinner, coffee and our trifle dessert was served in the front parlor, and then it was time for farewell handshakes and wishes for 'safe travels'. Away we went, back to our modern world.

I can not recommend this kind of experience enough. OSV did a bang-up job of giving us the use of the early 19th century parsonage,  with its keeping room and a beautiful fireplace and brick oven for doing the cooking. They organized us into four groups - a meat prep team, a vegetable crew, a bread and dessert group, and a cheese and cider snack duo. The keeping room had four distinct tables organized into work stations with pottery, piggins underneath for peelings, trimming, and crumbs. There were wooden bowls and utensils for preparing the dishes ... and away we went! In the course of  three hours, we prepared a fantastic meal.

We left with such an appreciation for the stamina that 19th century housekeepers had.

Sometimes, doing things 'the old-fashioned way' can give you a true appreciation for all things modern. Sometimes, it makes you admire those who got their work done with grace and real finesse during a simpler time. And it makes you keenly aware that the level of knowledge and the acute sense of timing that was needed to put on a true 'spread' was considerable! If you ever get the chance to participate in an event like this, grab it with both hands! You won't regret it!

Later this week, I'll prepare and post on the beef olives (roulades) that we made that evening. Until, then, I'll just be on a continued 'high' from this experience.


  1. Does that ever sound fantastic. All that food cooked right in the fireplace. Maybe in a later post you can explain more about the pounded cheese. I'm thinking they pounded it so it turns into something like a pub cheese. The coffee beans roasted right there is also really neat.

  2. enjoyed reading your post.... !

  3. Fabulous! Such a grand accounting of a really marvelous experience. Glad you enjoyed food in another century. Lot's more opportunities out there, but OSV truly does it well.

  4. What a wonderful experience! I visited OSV as a young girl and still remember how neat it was to see things made and done as they used to be. I can only imagine how great it would be to actually get to participate!!!

  5. I love these types of classes. Have participated in, and taught, many (in fact, will teach one soon). I've made pounded cheese numerous times. I use a receipt (recipe) from The Cooks Own Book, which was published in 1832. It's possible OSV uses the same one. It IS absolutely wonderful, that's for sure! You can find the receipt on my blog @ www.historiccookery.com

  6. @ Caroline - Thanks for posting this comment and your URL for Susan at FBMKW! She will really appreciate it! Can't wait to visit your blog!!! I'll be your next follower!

  7. Sounds like a wonderful experience! Makes one appreciate the relative ease of the modern kitchen.

  8. I somehow missed this post, I'm glad I just saw it, I was wondering how your evening went. What a fun fun evening! It really does sound fantastic. You obviously had a ball! Great post, loved all the pics.


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