27 October 2013

Cooking Adventure - Hearthside Cooking with Sandra Tarbox

Nestled to the side of a lovely new house on a small dead end road in southwestern Newmarket, New Hampshire is a large colonial kitchen with a beautiful open hearth and accompanying side beehive bake oven. The woman who shares this kitchen is a font of knowledge when it comes to the ways of colonial housewives. Her name is Sandra Tarbox and she is , not only a hearthside cooking instructor, but also an historical interpreter for area historical museums and restored residences maintained by local historical societies.

clock-wise from left Sara, Patty, Sandra, myself, and Nancy ... a jolly crew ...

Yesterday, Sprout Sara and I attended one of Sandra's hearthside cooking events. Our group spent the day mincing beef and pork to make sausages, mixing and kneading two types of breads, roasting a whole pumpkin and stuffing it with a beautiful cabbage, apple, and onion vegetable stew, and and preparing a puff pastry tart that was topped with stewed prunes and whipped cream. And then? Well, of course! We sat right down and enjoyed the fruits of all the labor ... what a wonderful meal! Excellent conversation and a sense of accomplishment settled in with the food and wine and camaraderie. Thank you, Sandra, Patty, Nancy, and Sara for a wonderful day!

Our day began, as we all introduced each other and were given the recipes that we would be creating ... all historic and authentic (albeit with a few substitutions of modern ingredients to expedite the making). Some of the sources of the recipes were The accomplish'd housewife 1723 (John Notts ), The Book of Cookery, Martha Washington (1749-99), Early American Cooking -the Early American Society (1977), and The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse. Sandra arranged her work stations so that we could all chat and watch what the others were doing, ask questions, and share the use of utensils and common ingredients. Meanwhile, the fire warmed the room and built a sizeable bank of coals that we used when cooking the various dishes.

... Nancy and Sara stuffing sausage casings ...

Nancy and Sara made one type of sausage and Patty and I made a second variety. Getting the sausage mixture into the casings was incredibly physical work, as well as the butt of much joking, but when they were done and ready for cooking, they made for a nice picture on the chargers.

... 17th Century Portuguese Pork Sausage and Sausage John Nott's Way ...

Nancy and I made breads to go with the sausages ... a beautiful French bread dough made into small rounds and a soft cheese bread dough baked into two large free form loves. It was so satisfying to slide the bread into the beehive oven with the wooden peal and then begin to smell the warm yeasty aroma as it baked! However, we were too busy getting the rest of the meal put together to linger too long! There was butter to be churned and peas to be cooked gently over a bed of coals, the prune tart to be assembled,  heavy cream to be whipped with a willow whisk, the table to be set, the cooking areas to be cleaned up and the cooking utensils to be cleaned and carefully dried and stowed. It was a strenuous, but fulfilling day of kitchen work that I would do again in a heartbeat ... of course the fun and companionship in the kitchen made for easy work and that was, indeed, spoken of when we all sat down to share the meal. Colonial cooking was labor intensive and we all agreed that having several sisters or daughters or indentured help or paid maids to help in  the scullery and with the firewood would have been a Godsend.

... warm from the oven...

... building the supply of hot coals on the hearth and 'preheating' the beehive oven ...

The heat around the hearth is intense and one woman doing all the work could easily become overheated and exhausted by the exertion of hauling wood, tending the fire, raking coals, hoisting heavy cook pots, AND doing all the cutting, preparing, mixing, and cooking. It became apparent to me that the reasons for those seven days of household activities were sound when it came to saving the backs and the sanity of early housewives. Much of it had to do with time management too, I'm sure!

" Wash on Monday, 
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday, 
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday."

... baking the puff pastry crust in the covered bake oven (top left), cooking sausages on the spiders ...

I will definitely be looking at future cooking events that Sandra hosts and would urge anyone with the curiosity about traditional hearthside cooking techniques to investigate a similar event near your home. If you are able to travel to the New Hampshire coastal region, look at Sandra's website and see what she has to offer that interests you! It is such a terrific foodie adventure in cooking!  Here is her website link! Check it out!


  1. What a fun outing! I can't imagine what it would have been like to prepare a big meal using that type of open hearth here in the South in August. I guess that helps to explain why the kitchen was often in a separate building behind the main house. Even in New Hampshire it might be a bit much in late summer, but perfect for this time of year. Thanks for telling us about your day.

    1. Often times, the kitchen was separated from the main house for the reason of potential fire. No sense endangering the main house, too!

      From Sandra Tarbox's little sister Helene!

  2. I always wanted to take one of her classes. Thanks for taking us inside the experience. I was a tour guide at the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough for a summer, where I learned to admire how hard colonial women had to work.


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