Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cooking on the Hearth - The Colonial Kitchen

~A peek into the window of the past to see the everyday lives inside the homes 
of Colonial America~ 

The colonial kitchen
"In the kitchen a glowing bed of red-hot coals,  banked the night before,  still burned on the hearth,  streaks of sunlight gleamed through the eastern windows.  Soft reflections shone from the pewter porringers hanging on the dresser; a sunbeam flecked with bright light the brass candlesticks set on the mantel over the hearth.
Drawing the bowls up to the table,  Asenath placed her father Samuel's chair at one end and her mother Anna's at the other. Asenath and her two siblings,  Talitha and Isaiah,  took their porringers and wooden bowls from the dresser and stood in their places at the table.  From the steaming kettle on the hearth,  mother Anna dished up the corn meal mush,  or hasty pudding,  and added a large thin johnny cake,  which was browned in the skillet.  The children and their mother folded their hands and bowed their heads  as their father leaned over the high back of his chair and asked for blessings on home and family..."
(a sort of paraphrase from the book A Day in the Life in a Colonial Home)

Into the past...
The kitchen of this rural 1750 saltbox home is where you will be 
spending some of your time while you are in the 1770s - the 
home of Samuel & Anna Daggett
And here is another house you will be visiting: the more  'urban'  
Giddings House,  built around the same time as Daggett farm - 
1750/51.  The owner, John Giddings,  was a merchant also 
involved in shipping.  With more money at hand,  Giddings'  
home was more upscale than the rural Daggett farm.

From days of old through our more recent times,  the kitchen has always been the one room in the home where all the activity would take place;  more than the parlor  (or  "living room"  in our modern tongue),  the bathroom  (indoor bathrooms are a fairly recent commodity),  or the bedroom  (called a  "bedchamber"  in colonial times),  life has always tended to center around the kitchen,  for that's where most women of the house  (and even some men)  seemed to spend a good part of their day.
And,  oh!  the familiar smells! 
Cooking on the hearth - the center of the colonial kitchen - has 
been thoroughly romanticized,  and yet it remains an art that few 
today have experienced.  This is from the Daggett farm house.

However,  as upscale as the Giddings house was,  cooking was 
still done the same way,  though the well-to-do may have had a 
servant girl cooking for them.
Pay attention while in the colonial kitchen to the once familiar scents of herbs drying,  a suet pudding bubbling on the hearth,  ducks roasting,  and maybe even the less alluring aroma of milk souring into cheese and the continual process of drying out baby flannel.
Yes,  this is the kitchen of colonial America - any kitchen -  which more than likely would have been dominated by the wife and her babies.

Here is a look at the Giddings kitchen. 
The fireplace is on the right.
"The oven was well-heated,  and Anna Daggett could bake apple pies,  using the last of the dried apples.  Samuel should take down the few strings of apples which were left hanging on the kitchen rafters,  and Asenath should wash them in the well."
The Daggett Farm House kitchen:  The colonial kitchen had a   
"warm,  glowing heart that spread light and welcome,  and made 
the poor room a home.  (It)  was the most cheerful,  homelike,  
and picturesque room in the house;  indeed,  it was in town 
houses as well."  Alice Morse Earle~
In my culinary research through history,  one of the things that has noticeably changed in recent times is how much actual time is  spent in the kitchen today by modern cooks.  With  "innovations"  such as microwaves,  frozen  "tv"  dinners,  pre-packaged foods,  and fast food restaurants,  the time and energy spent in this oh-so-important room is nowhere near what our ancestors did for food preparation.
Pride in cooking seems to have gone out the window as well.

 ~As you will see in the following clip,  the kitchen and its activities truly has changed! ~
 Methinks one from the past would scarcely recognize a 21st century kitchen,  do you not agree?
Thanks to Jordan and Larissa for such a wonderful tour!

But we are no longer an agricultural nation;  the cycle of domestic life,  which was closely tied to the land and seasons,  had little changed from the beginning of time until very recently in the timeline,  for it hasn't been that long in comparison that a new world of technology of refrigeration,  gas stoves,  electric lighting,  and home furnaces transformed the old world into one where times of the seasons mean little.  It seems,  for a variety of reasons - good or bad - the kitchen,  and even the running of the household,  is no longer as it once was.  The current integral roles of a family - the very nature  of the family - has also changed greatly:  women now work outside the home and,  thus,  are not in the house all day,  while fathers,  in some cases,  may or may not be there at all.  And children of today no longer spend their time away from school following in their parent's footsteps to learn their crafts and trades,  but,  instead,  may be on their electronic devices.
Whereas the kitchen during colonial times was the heart of the home,  so many in our modern day eat frozen dinners heated quickly in a microwave or will  "drive thru"  a local fast food restaurant because of late work nights or maybe so they could spend more time in front of the TV or playing with their smart phone.  Just as new diets are touted each month in women's magazines,  so are ideas for eat-in kitchen tips on how to build banquettes,  counters,  and islands for the quick,  casual meal that  "today's busy families"  grab on the run.
Heck!---it's a chore just to get modern families to eat together at the kitchen or dining room table at the same time!
But the colonial women who spent their time in the kitchen were nothing short of culinary geniuses.  
Here is a diary entry from Mary Cooper,  Long Island farm wife,  who wrote on September 17,  1769:  "Sabbath.  A fair day but the wind north east still.  O alas,  I am more distrest than ever.  I have dinner to get and nothing in the house to cook.  My company will not go to meeten.  Dirty and distresed.  I set my self to make some thing out of littel on."
Unfortunately,  she does not tell us what she did,  but if anyone knew how to  "make some thing out of littel on,"  a colonial woman would.  And I am sure many modern women have been in her shoes - I know my wife certainly has.
"Preparing colonial food was not simply a matter of making 
ingredients palatable,"  Ann Chandonnet writes in her 
book,  Colonial Food.  It certainly wasn't,  as you shall see...
The rural farmer of modest means,  such as the Daggetts,  relied heavily on a large family for labor,  and what they grew depended on their location.  But in general,  aside from wheat and corn,  as well as a variety of squash and vegetables from their kitchen gardens,  farms typically would have orchards of apples and fields of strawberries,  blueberries,  and raspberries.
Farmers also grew cotton,  hemp,  and flax,  cobbled their own shoes,  and constructed their own furniture;  there was never a shortage of work for the eighteenth century family:  women's chores included  (but were not limited to)  laundry,  sewing,  spinning & dyeing,  gardening,  washing,  candle making,  caring for young ones...
"The housewife's universe spiraled out from hearth and barnyard 
to tending a kitchen garden and perhaps a large vegetable garden,  
as well as assisting with the grain harvest."
And through it all our female ancestors rarely questioned their role as wives and mothers,  for they knew their importance in the family structure.
Mind you,  I said  "rarely,"  not  "never."
In another diary entry from 1769,  Mary Cooper wrote:
"July the 13,  1769 - Thursday
This day is forty years since I left my father's house and come here,  and here have I seen littel els but harde labour and sorrow,  crosses of every kind."
And neither did the men question their roles in the family structure as  "bread-winning"  husbands and fathers,  for on top of their own arduous farm work,  they would cut and split the wood,  bank fires,  carry water,  and help with seasonal projects.
Children had their chores as well:  the breached boy would be out with father on the farm while the daughter would be learning to run a household like her mother,  among their other daily duties.  Girls and boys would both care for the animals,  including grooming and feeding,  as well as gathering eggs,  plus empty the chamber pots and trim the candles.
The household ran like a well-oiled machine:  everyone had their part and place,  and one missing link could throw a wrench into the entire operation.

But it was in the kitchen that the most activity tended to take place;  duties such as milking the cows or goats and carrying the milk inside to be strained,  pouring it into shallow pans to allow the cream to rise,  then skimming off the cream to churn it into butter or to make cheese were as necessary as any other chore.
"I'm heading out to the local Circle K convenient store to get 
some milk.  Do we need anything else while I'm there?"
I think not - - - - -
Then there was grinding corn,  fermenting vinegar,  pulverizing sugar,  drying damp flour,  and recycling stale bread,  which were also part of the jobs of the cook.
Without refrigeration,  food supplies and routines changed with the seasons.  Spring and early summer were the leanest times of the year,  with supplies running short.  Garden produce was much more plentiful in later summer & fall,  and,  with fresh meat spoiling quickly in the warm weather  (making it practically  impractical),  butchering also took place in late autumn.  In fact,  it was in the fall and first part of winter when the food was most plentiful. did they preserve foodstuffs such as meat without a refrigerator or freezer? 
Well,  one way was salting:
Salt is the grand preservative of meats;  but in using these,  care should be taken to soak them if too salty.  It is not healthy to eat our food very salty.
In the summer season particular attention must be observed,  lest fresh meat be injured.  In the country this care is very necessary.
Be sure to take the kernels out of the round of beef;  one in the udder,  in the fat,  and those about the thick end of the flank.
To salt the meat thoroughly,  rub in the salt evenly into every part,  and fill the holes where the kernels were taken out.
A pound and a half of salt will be sufficient for twenty-five pounds of beef,  if you only want to corn it to be eaten in a few days.
In the summer,  the sooner meat is salted,  after it is cool,  the better.  In winter,  it is better to be kept a few days before salting.

(from The Good Housekeeper 1841)

Preserving methods were limited to drying,  pickling, and salting,  so the end of winter,  spring,  and early summer saw a more limited diet than mid-summer through early winter.
From The Art of Cookery by Mrs. Glass  (from 1776)  
we can learn how to preserve green peas:
"Gather your peas on a very dry day,  when they are neither old,  
nor too young,  shell them and have ready some quart bottles with 
little mouths,  being well dried:  fill the bottles and cork them 
well,  have ready a pipkin of rosin melted,  into which dip the 
neck of the bottles,  and set them in a very dry place that is cool."
This book goes on to let the reader know how to  "keep green gooseberries till Christmas,"  how to  "keep red gooseberries,"  how to keep walnuts  "all year,"  as well as how to preserve lemons and numerous other foodstuffs.
Then there was smoking... 
The smokehouse:
Most rural families had a smokehouse on their land to help 
preserve their meat,  especially ham  (and sometimes fish).  After 
rubbing the ham or bacon with a salt mixture and letting them set 
for a few weeks,  the meat would then be hung from the rafters in 
the smokehouse.  
The smoke was created directly below the hanging meat by a fire 
in the floor of the structure and was made from aromatic woods 
such as hickory or apple and sometimes even corncobs,  which 
flavored the meat and created a crust that prevented its ruin by 
flies or other pests.
An interesting side note here:  while reading Mrs. Glass'  The Art of Cookery  from 1776 I found a section on  "How To Market,  and the Seasons of the Year for Butcher's Meat,  Poultry,  Fish,  &c.
In this section it explains how to tell if the product is fresh or not.  For instance,  to buy pork one must know that  "if it be young,  the lean will break in pinching between your fingers;  and if you nip the skin with your nails,  it will make a dent;  also if the fat be soft and pulpy, in a manner like lard;  if the lean be tough,  and the fat flabby and spungy,  feeling rough,  it is old,  especially if the rind be stubborn,  and you cannot nip it with your nails."
As for purchasing butter from the market:  "When you buy butter,  trust not to that which will be given you to take,  but try in the middle,  and if your smell and taste be good,  you cannot be deceived."
It also tells the buyer how to  "chuse"  poultry and lists,  by the months of the year,  when the differing types of poultry are in season.  For instance,  "January - Hen-turkeys,  capons,  pullets with eggs,  fowls,  chickens,  hares,  all sorts of wild-fowl,  tame-rabbits,  and tame-pigeons."
And on for all 12 months.  It helps one like me to understand the everyday life of those from the era much deeper than only seeing them as  "people from the olden times."

Colonial cooking,  which made a veritable feast from basic 
ingredients,  was dominated by fireplace technology.  
In the kitchen it was the massive fireplace that was the center of it all.  And,  of course,  all of the necessary cooking tools to go with it:  "A nest of iron pots of different sizes,  a long iron fork to take out articles from boiling water,  an iron hook with a handle to lift pots from the crane,  a large and small gridiron with grooved bars and a trench to catch the grease,  a dutch oven  (or bake pan),  two skillets of different sizes,  a skimmer,  skewers,  a toasting iron,  two tea kettles - one small and one large - a spider  (or flat skillet)  for frying,  a griddle,  a waffle iron,  tin and iron bake and bread pans,  two ladles of different sizes,  two brass kettles of different sizes for soap boiling, &c."  (From Miss Catherine Beecher).
 Swinging iron arms protruding from the surrounding stone or 
brick held massive pots,  enabling the cook the luxury of moving 
the pots closer to or further from the fire,  and Dutch ovens,  
setting on the hearth with coals underneath and on the lid,  evenly 
baked cakes,  pies,  and other delights.
Most cooking fireplaces were equipped with a suspension system for the large pots and kettles.  An iron crane that could be swung out toward the room to check on the contents of the pots and kettles was also mounted inside of the chimney.  By raising or lowering the pots to adjust the distance between them and the fire,  or by moving the crane forward into the room,  cooking temperatures could be adjusted.

~Here is a video clip from the Daggett Breakback/Saltbox House showing open-hearth cooking procedures~ 

 One must remember,  however, that many of the young folks,  though they were taught the knowledge of cooking at a young age,  did not go into setting up their household with all of this iron cookware;  they probably would have only the basics - a small kettle,  a spider,  and a ladle - to begin with,  and would accumulate the rest over time.
By the way,  what we call  pot holders  here in the 21st century were originally called kettle-holders.  Pot holders  at that time were the metal stand suspension equipment designed to hold pots off of the ground mentioned above.  (Thanks to Stephanie Ann at  World Turned Upside Down  for this pot/kettle holder information).

~Here is a clip of the servant girl tending a fire at Giddings House~

Running a kitchen really did require a staggering range of skills,  including chopping kindling,  keeping a fire burning indefinitely,  knowing which wood was best for baking or frying,  plucking feathers from fowl,  butchering animals large and small,  cosseting  (caring for)  bread yeast,  brewing beer,  making cheese,  adjusting  'burners'  of coals on a hearth and gauging the temperature of a bake oven.  In fact,  the colonial cook would have to begin their work by  "building a good-sized fire on the hearth,  but once the logs had burned to coals,  the embers were moved around,  and carefully selected pieces of wood would be added to produce different kinds of heat,  often having several small fires going at once.  Piles of live embers on the hearth were like burners on a stove;  a gridiron set over a pile of coals could be used for broiling;  a pan set over coals on a trivet could be used for frying;  and coals could be piled over and under a Dutch oven for baking."  
(From the book America's Kitchens by Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov).

~Here is another  video clip of hearth cooking at the Daggett home:~

And here's a little something about the ever-popular  "dutch oven:"
according to John G.  Ragsdale,  author of the book  "Dutch Ovens Chronicled,"  the name Dutch Oven  has been applied to a variety of cooking pots,  kettles,  and ovens over the years.  The origin of the name,  "Dutch Oven"  is uncertain but Ragsdale suggests a few theories  (from the   Chuckwagon Supply site): 
1.  In 1704 a man by the name of Abraham Darby traveled from England to Holland to inspect a Dutch casting process by which brass vessels where cast in dry sand molds.  Ragsdale suggests that the name  "Dutch Oven"  may have derived from the original Dutch process for casting metal pots.
2.  Others have suggested that early Dutch traders or salesmen peddling cast iron pots may have given rise to the name  "Dutch Oven."
3.  Still others believe that the name came from Dutch settlers in the Pennsylvania area who used similar cast iron pots or kettles.
To this day the name  "Dutch Oven"  is most commonly associated with a cast iron pot or kettle with a flat bottom having three legs to hold the oven above the coals,  flat sides and a flat,  flanged lid for holding coals.  These ovens have a steel bail handle attached to  "ears"  on each side of the oven near the top for carrying.
Other ovens may also be called a  "Dutch Oven"  such as cast aluminum Dutch ovens and cast iron pots or kettles with rounded lids,  flat bottoms and no legs.
Here we see a Dutch oven in use  (that's the black pot with the pie 
inside).  Notice the coals on top of the lid as well as below the 
pot. It's done that way in order to bake the pie more evenly.
By the way,  this pot was also referred to as a  "bake kettle."

The easiest cooking technique was to make a one-pot meal in an iron pot hanging above the fire.  It was very popular to cook meals in this manner,  using simple ingredients that required little attention,  such as meat and vegetables boiled together in a single pot,  maybe including a starchy pudding tied in a piece of cloth.
Also baking root vegetables buried in the embers was another simple meal.
Fowl and large pieces of meat would be roasted in front of the fire,  either on a spit or dangling from a piece of twine and twisted periodically to keep it spinning,  thus a more even roast.
And here are a few other items one might have found on a colonial table:
Pasties  (and I see cabbage as well on the right)

Fricandillas  (meat balls)

"Pomkin"  (pumpkin),  which smelled as good as it looks!

There has been some discussion on the internet on whether a  "tin kitchen"  (more commonly referred to as a reflector oven  in our modern times)  is correct to the colonial period.
I have found multiple sources that point to a resounding  "yes it was."
This painting is from the 17th century and it clearly 
shows a  "tin kitchen" /reflector oven. 
The name of this painting is  "The Cook" 
by Gabriel Metsu  (1657-62)
Thanks to Kathleen Wall for this information.
By the end of the 18th century,  more and more households were 
equipped with tin kitchens for roasting.  The cook put the fowl or 
meat inside and would turn it so the open side would face the 
fire,  using the small door in the back to baste and check on the 
This is a print from the book "Home Life in Colonial Days" by Alice Morse Earle  (copyright 1898). 
And here is a tin kitchen in use.
I will admit that I’m not much of a cook,  though I have done a bit of it here and there.  It's just not my thing,  you know?  However,  my wife is an amazing cook,  and every-so-often she will attempt a few of the old recipes  (or  ‘receipts,’  as they were known then)  from a few of the facsimile cook books I have acquired  (see listing at the bottom of this post).
If you've ever read an old cookbook,  you'll find that,  upon deciphering the recipe,  they were written for the people of  ‘their’  time:
Nearly 300 years old! 
No,  this isn't my copy.  I found this photo on a site called 
Gherkins and Tomatoes.  
(I hope the author doesn't mind me posting her photo - 
I cannot seem to get a hold of her.)
Though the following was written nearly a hundred years after the colonial period,  the art of preparing a chicken was done much in the same way  (from the 1877 Buckeye Cookbook):
“Do not feed poultry the day before killing;  cut off the head,  hang up by the legs,  as the meat will be more white and wholesome if bled freely and quickly.  In winter,  kill them three days to a week before cooking.  Scald well by dipping in and out of a pail or tub of boiling water,  being careful not to scald so much as to set the feathers and make them more difficult to pluck;  place the fowl on a board with the neck towards you,  pull the feathers away from you,  which will be in the direction they naturally lie  (if pulled in a contrary direction the skin is likely to be torn),  be careful to remove all of the pin-feathers with a knife or a pair of tweezers;  singe,  but not smoke over blazing paper,  place on a meat-board,  and with a sharp knife cut off the legs a little below the knee to prevent the muscles from shrinking away from the joint,  and remove the oil-bag above the tail.  Take out the crop,  either by making a slit at the back of the neck or in front  (the last is better),  taking care that everything pertaining to the crop or windpipe is removed,  cut the neck-bone off close to the body,  leaving the skin a good length if to be stuffed;  cut a slit three inches long from the tail upwards,  being careful to cut only through the skin,  put in a finger at the breast and detach all the intestines,  taking care not to burst the gall-bag  (situated near the upper part of the breast-bone,  and attached to the liver;  if broken,  no washing can remove the bitter taint left on every spot it touches).  Put in the hand at the incision near the tail,  and draw out carefully all intestines;  trim off the fat from the breast and at the lower incision;  split the gizzard and take out the inside and inner lining  (throw liver,  heart,  and gizzard into water,  wash well,  and lay aside to be cooked and used for the gravy).  Wash the fowl thoroughly in several waters  (some wipe carefully without washing),  hang up to drain,  and it is ready to be stuffed,  skewered,  and placed to roast.”
Preparing a meal at the Giddings House
In a colonial homestead,  a circuit-riding preacher might be served a chicken pie,  a mess of greens,  and sweet apple dumplings.  Of course,  to prepare such a meal the housewife would have to first
"Pick and clean the chickens without scalding  (authoress Amelia Simmons is obviously assuming the cook already knows this step),  out their inwards and wash the birds while whole,  then joint the birds,  salt and pepper the pieces and inwards.  Roll one inch thick paste No.  8  and cover a deep dish, and double at the rim or edge of the dish,  put thereto a layer of chickens and a layer of thin slices of butter,  till the chickens and one and a half pound butter are expanded,  which cover with a thick paste;  bake one and a half hour.
Or if your oven be poor,  parboil the chickens with a half pound of butter,  and put the pieces with the remaining one pound of butter,  and half the gravy into the paste,  and while boiling,  thicken the residue of the gravy,  and when the pie is drawn,  open the rust,  and add the gravy. "
(from The First American Cookbook, originally printed in 1796 as  AMERICAN COOKERY,  or  The Art of Dressing Viands,  Fish,  Poultry and Vegetables by Amelia Simmons.

And how about bacon  (from American Cookery with spelling and punctuation,  once again,  left intact):
To each ham put one ounce saltpeter,  one pint bay salt,  one pint molasses,  shake together 6 or 8 weeks,  or when a large quantity is together,  bast them with the liquor every day;  when taken out to dry,  smoke them weeks with cobs or malt fumes.                                                                       
The Good Housekeeper makes it a point to state to always bear in mind that to eat the blood of animals is as positively forbidden by God as to shed the blood of a brother.  In this view,  the Scotch black puddings,  made of hogs blood,  are an abomination,  which it is strange a Christian can partake.
Imagine writing that in a modern cookbook... 

~Let's take a visit to the Giddings to hear another explanation of hearth cooking:~ 

Would you like a little ketchup to accent your meat?
Yes,  I said  "ketchup!"
Well,  in colonial times it was known as catchup  (according to Mrs.  Glasse in 1776,  which tells me the pronunciation is as it's spelled,  and not  'catsup'  like so many folks today say).  But this catchup  of 250 years ago consisted of mushrooms,  cloves,  mace,  red wine,  and ginger,  and the receipt tells you that once it's mixed to let it sit for six days,  stirring every-so-often,  then bake it.  And,  remember that when it is cold to  bottle it in pint bottles,  cork it closed,  and it will keep a great while.
~A sugar loaf and nippers~
As far as sweeteners:  aside from the late winter/early spring tapping of the maple trees that grew locally to make syrup and molasses,  there was honey,  which they may have very well gotten from a bees hive they had on their property.
If one had money or barter,  a loaf of sugar could be bought at the local market.  From the book  Tidings From the 18th Century,  we learn that  white sugar comes in large,  hard cones that we call loaves.  They weigh from eight to ten pounds and come wrapped in purple or blue paper.  Fortunately for our pocketbooks we do not have to purchase a whole loaf---the grocer will cut off pieces for sale.  He uses sugar nippers or a sugar hammer to cut the loaf,  just as we do at home.  A loaf of sugar can last some families for a year,  but a wealthy family may use it in a month.

Many rural colonist's dining tables were not at all like the kind we have today;   it was literally a board, long and narrow,  and sometimes three feet wide,  without any legs attached,  but was,  instead,  was set upon saw-horse-type supports and was called simply a table-board.
And in many cases,  on either side of this table-board was a long backless bench rather than chairs.
This sketch from the children's book, "The Cabin Faced West,"  gives a bit of an idea of a table-board.

However,  the more well-to-do,  such as John Giddings,  had a fine dining area with a table beyond a board and saw-horse legs - something we may be a bit more familiar with.
Patty and I dined with Mrs. Giddings,  who kept an eye out 
for her husband.
(No,  we really were not in this room.  It's a little photo trickery.  
I just wanted to show folks in a fancy dining room)

Table settings might include a trencher,  which was a block of wood shaped and hollowed into a rectangular bowl where inside was placed porridge,  meat,  vegetables,  pottage  (a vegetable soup with or without meat),  and other foodstuffs to eat.  Families,  many times,  ate from trenchers two-by-two:  a man and his wife,  for instance,  may eat from the same trencher,  as would two siblings.
There were also wooden bowls and plates as well.
A colonial table - including a serving of beef!
But it was not only wood tableware that folks ate from.  Redware was popular with middling class,  for it was cheap to obtain or easily made by a local from the iron-stained red clay.  Redware plates,  cups,  and bowls may have been a little rough but they worked wonderfully for many.
Pewter was also fashionable amongst colonists,  though was more expensive than redware.  Initially pewter was for the upper class,  but by the time of the American Revolution it was seen on many merchant-class table-boards.
Tankards for drinking were made of all three materials listed here:  wood,  redware,  and pewter.  Horn was used as well.

~Here,  in a video clip,  Daggett House presenter Julie was kind enough to explain about the different eating utensils:~

In the farmer's home there was little they used that would have been perishable so as to not make extra work for the mistress:  no frail and costly china or glass to wash with extra care,  no elaborate  silver to clean - only a few pieces of pewter to polish occasionally.
By the way,  while tin was mentioned in advertisements of the time,  research shows the metal was mainly used for basins and cooking utensils and not for dishes. 

What people chose to eat and how they cooked their meals was what they considered to be edible and familiar.  Colonists cooked many dishes from memory and experience,  eventually acquiring an  'American character,'  and they certainly encountered new foods which,  in some cases,  came from the local Indians.
Though cookbooks did exist,  as shown earlier in this post,  most colonial women cooked many dishes without the use of one;  they learned from their mothers how to make the everyday foods that the majority of people in their area ate,  therefore,  unless the meal to be served was for a special occasion or an important guest,  it was done by memory as she was taught.
The table being used here is not a long board as explained above - 
it is,  however,  a colonial-era table.  It would be a waste of space 
to use such a large board when serving a small group.
When Betsy Phelps,  who was visiting friends in Boston,  wrote to her mother in Hadley in August 1797,  she spoke fondly of the family meal:  "Now I fancy you are eating dinner assembled round that jovial table - partaking of a wholesome repast - it makes my mouth water - as the saying is,  to think of it - good fatt meat - with green sauce is too delicious."
The variety of food our ancestors could partake in would probably amaze most modern folk:
For breakfast,  one might have ham and eggs or salted fish prepared with cream,  or bean porridge,  or maybe even cold corned beef with hot potatoes and hot biscuits resembling muffins.
For the large mid-day meal,  commonly referred to as dinner,  most colonists ate much better than many believe.  An assortment of puddings,  such as bread,  apple,  carrot,  potatoe,  or rice,  would be available,  and would have been served first,  followed by a staple such as beef,  poultry,  mutton,  lamb,  or fish.
A colonial dinner at the Daggett home.
An interesting description comes once again from Alice Morse Earle:  "In some homes an abundant dish,  such as a vast bowl of suppawn  (cornmeal)  and milk,  a pumpkin stewed whole in its shell,  or a savory and mammoth hotchpot was set,  often smoking hot,  on the table-board;  and from this well-filled receptacle each hungry soul,  armed with a long-handled pewter spoon,  helped himself,  sometimes ladling his great spoonfuls into a trencher or bowl,  for more moderate and reserved after-consumption---just as frequently eating directly from the bountiful dish with a spoon that came and went from dish to mouth without reproach or thought of ill-mannered."
Dinnertime with the Daggetts

One of the more interesting aspects in learning about the food of colonial times is seeing they had such an array of treats in the later colonial period that are still familiar and popular with us today:  doughnuts,  pumpkin pie,  waffles,  cookies,  chowder,  gingerbread,  apple,  orange and lemon tarts,  all kinds of cakes such as a pound cake,  and,  of course,  cranberries.

 ~Click the clip below to watch the  "Daggetts"  make and bake an apple tart:~
So they didn't have Ding Dongs or potato chips...upon seeing what they did  have,  who needs the chemically-laden modern garbage, right?

Cyder  apples
The chief beverage for our colonial ancestors was not water or milk,  for water wasn't always good to drink,  and the warm cow's or goat's milk wasn't a high preference.  It was cider that was commonly served at meals,  and the importance of cider in the history of our country cannot be overstated.  If a farm had a large enough apple orchard they might also have had a cider mill or press as well,  for most of the apples would have been made into cider rather than to have been eaten off the tree - a farmer planted apple trees more for drinking than for eating.  A typical farmstead might have had a dozen different apple varieties,  and the taste of many of these ancient  'brands'  were far different than the sweet edible fruit that we know them to be today,  and cellars would have been filled with the Roxbury Russets,  Rambos,  and Baldwin varieties,  waiting to be mashed and smashed into liquid;  the intense smell of cider permeated the dirt cellars of farmsteads throughout this country.  And,  according to one source,  it was the one who awakened last whose job it was to draw the day's cider from the hogshead  (a large cask or barrel).
Note the hogshead to the left in the Daggett kitchen.
"In addition to cider,  the common man drank nut milk,  tisanes of spruce needles  (similar to a tea),  conserves dissolved in water  (conserves are a mixture of several fruits cooked to a jam-like consistency),  cherry bounce  (brandy flavored with fresh cherries),  and meat broth."
As written in Ann Chandonnet's Colonial Food book.
There was also a fondness for sweetened warm ale with nutmeg.  If a measure of rum or brandy was added,  the mixture was called flip,  and was popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the 17th,  18th,  and 19th centuries.
Men drinking by the hearth didn't necessarily want to wait for someone in the kitchen to warm up ale or flip in a pan.  Instead, they used a red-hot poker from the fire and stuck it into a tall pewter tankard of the mixture to heat it before drinking it.
Tea and coffee were also popular,  as was chocolate  (for folks of a higher income).
The chocolateer making a treat at the Giddings house.

And click the link below to see a video clip of the chocolate-maker in action and in explanation:

I've read where in some families children stood behind their parents and other grown persons,  and food was handed back to them from the table---this,  however,  would have been among people of a very low station and social manners.  In higher statures children stood at a side-table and,  with trencher in hand,  ran over to the great table to be helped to more food when their first supply was eaten.
The chief thought on the behavior of children at the table,  which must be implied from the accounts available of those times,  is that they were to eat in silence,  as fast as possible  (regardless of indigestion),  and  "leave the table as speedily as might be."
Children were not to seat themselves at the table until after the blessing had been asked and their parents told them to be seated.  They were not to ask for anything at the table,  not to speak unless spoken to,  always to break the bread and not bite into a whole slice,  not to throw bones under the table,  to hold their knife sloping and not upright,  and to  "look not earnestly at any other person that is eating."
These rules of etiquette comes from a mid-18th century book called  A Pretty Little Pocket Book,  which has a list of rules for the behavior of children at the table,  among other colonial-era information.  How seriously these rules were taken by the citizens from the 18th century,  I suppose,  depended on their class. I would imagine the higher the class,  the more apt for the rules to be followed.
Again,  that's my opinion.  Hopefully someone can prove me right or wrong on this.

Housewives generally rose early in the morning to rekindle the fire on the kitchen hearth,  using bellows to coax a flame back to life from dying embers hidden under a bank of ashes from the night before.  Because of women's association with the open flame,  there have been many stories over the decades of those who were severely burned by their petticoats catching fire.  Numerous research shows that,  though this horrible accident did happen,  it was not a common occurrence.  Most women were familiar enough with fire and clothing that they took great care to be as mindful as they could while cooking or doing their laundry. 
However,  there were times when such a tragedy did take place,  and,  as one broadsheet reported back in 1786,  the fire  "burnt the poor woman so excessively that she expired in a few minutes."
Making a good flame in the Giddings House kitchen:  as you can 
see,  it would be very easy for women's skirts to catch fire,  but 
that was a rarity.  The ladies of the colonial period took great care 
to ensure safety.  It was the young children they needed to be 
concerned about.

Unfortunately,  accidents with children seemed to be more common.  Here is one example,  from 1742,  telling of a kettle of boiling water over an open fire that fell and spilled upon four children who  "lay upon the hearth,  which scalded them in so terrible a manner that one died presently after,  and another's life is despaired of;  but the other two,  tho' much scalded,  'tis hop'd may recover."
Hearing of any death in any manner,  especially where children are involved,  is always so sad,  even if it took place over 250 years ago.  And,  though I have not ever experienced anything of this sort,  for which I am very thankful,  I still feel that sense of sadness when I read about it,  no matter how long ago it happened.
Yeah,  weird,  I know...though I do.

     ~     ~     ~ 

Our kitchen garden:  small but functional. 
What you see here,  grown from heirloom seeds, 
are Artichoke,  Basil,  Cherokee,  purple 
tomatoes,  Cucuzza,  Cucumbers,  Cayenne 
pepper,  Ancho peppers,  Habanero peppers,  
Collard greens,  Thyme, Beets,  and Okra.
Yep – history can be found where you
least expect it!
The kitchen truly was the heart of the 18th century home,  just as it sometimes still is today.  My wife,  Patty,  has an old soul and still makes and bakes full home-cooked meals,  though we buy our meat from the butcher instead of slaughtering our own animals  (we live in the city,  therefore we have no animals to slaughter).  But we do grow our own vegetables - my son has quite a kitchen garden growing in our tiny yard,  all from heirloom seeds.  And Patty loves to can the tomatoes grown as well as our neighbor's pears from their tree.  My daughter also makes her own jam from our raspberry vines.
Then there's me:  I have - yes,  we're talking about non-cooking me  here - also cooked over an open flame at times at our living history events!  Go figure,  eh? 
And we go apple picking every September and have pies weekly through Christmas!
I'm a very lucky...bless'!.
By the way,  in my house we do eat together as a family for our evening meal,  just like we're supposed to do.
Yep - a traditional family keeping the traditions alive.
All for the love of history.
 Living history is not only about battles,  it's also keeping the 
many aspects...the character and lifeblood...of the past alive. 
As you can see from this photo I took at a historical reenactment,  
the basic idea and skills of hearth cooking is still alive and well,  
though the presentation is different  (to those in the know,  a 
number of objects shown here may not be correct to the colonial 
period,  though it is wonderful to see that the  "open flame-style"  
of cooking really is alive and well for so many).

And I give a bow to the historic presenters at such places as the Daggett Farm and Giddings home inside Greenfield Village,  for they are  'right there'  - doing it exactly how our ancestors did 250 years ago.
By the way,  all food presented here was non-chemically GMO.
To your health! 

By the way,  there are more pictures in this posting from the Daggett house than from Giddings due to the fact that Daggett is more of a living history interpretation while Giddings is more for presentations,  though the process is nearly the same for both houses.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  

I would like to mention,  by the way,  that since this post was originally written,  I have been able to take part in colonial dining in a very real sense:
A few of us have been able to take part in living history reenactment experiments
where we live for a full day inside a colonial-era cabin,  which includes
food preparation and cooking on the hearth.

Note the tin kitchen on the left.
I can tell you the food here was absolutely period-perfect!
It helps that we have Larissa,  who has spent 25 years working and cooking at the Daggett House, as part of our group.
And then...
...yes,  we enjoyed this feast!
As close as I will probably ever get to my dream of eating at the Daggett House.

I sincerely hope this posting gave you a better idea of how our ancestors lived their everyday lives during the early days of our country's history.  It's this  sort of history - all of it - that I find extremely fascinating,  don’t you?  The writings in the diaries and cookbooks tell me more about our ancestors than virtually any modern high school or college history book filled with only war,  politics,  and opinions,  but little on how our forefathers and mothers lived.  As Henry Ford was trying to explain in his oft-misquoted  "history is bunk"  comment,  history is more than names and dates of the famous;  it's more than war and politics.  History is also made up of regular everyday people - the citizens - who survived under what we would consider harsh conditions.  We need to learn of those who are not unlike you and I - the majority - who may not have gotten their names in the history books,  but were,  nonetheless,  every bit as great and important as anyone else - like you and I - much in the same way we learn about the famous men and women who played such major roles in this country's formation.
That's how we can,  as historians,  fully understand the times in which they lived.
Unfortunately,  many folks have a tendency in our day and age to over-simplify the roles of a colonial family with the insinuation that those who lived before our own  "enlightened"  time were backwoods,  backwards,  and just not as intelligent as we are.  But I heard such a great line from someone on C-Span a short while back that explains it all perfectly:
"People in the past were every bit as smart as people are today.  They just lived in a different time."
 "Anna,  this recipe sure looked easier on the Food Network."
"Well,  Mehetable,  maybe we should've picked up a pizza instead."
"What's a pizza?"
"What's a food network?"
I have nothing but admiration for these folks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What I have written in this posting is only a taste  (pun intended)  of what it was like to prepare and eat a colonial meal.  To learn much more I suggest you check out the following books,  for nearly all of the information for this post  (sometimes line by line)  came from them.
Colonial Food by Ann Chandonnet
Food in Colonial and Federal America by Sandra L. Oliver
Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle
Tidings From the 18th Century by Beth Gilgun
The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of "American Cookery 1796" by Amelia Simmons
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Mrs. Glass (from 1776)
America's Kitchens by Carlisle & Nasardinov
Everyday Life in Colonial America by Dale Taylor
Apples of North America by Tom Burford
Our Own Snug Fireside by Jane C. Nylander 
Going Going Gone - Vanishing Americana by Susan Jonas & Marilyn Nissenson
And some of the story-descriptions quoted came from this book,  A Day In a Colonial Home by Della Prescott  (with slight modifications by yours truly)
~ Other information came from my presenter friends who've worked at the Daggett House  (and Giddings when its open)  inside Greenfield Village:  Larissa,  Angela,  Jordan,  Roy,  Cindy,  Suzanne,  Patience,  Sharon,  Rebecca,  Courtney and others  (I know I unfortunately missed a few - sorry!)  are a wealth of social history information and they have helped me greatly with some of the information here.
I am honored to be counted among such people.

Interested in period - mostly colonial - cooking videos?
Check out THESE videos from Townsends.
Townsends also has cookery for sale HERE
And so does Samson's Historical HERE
I would like to tell you about a special cookbook for those of you who have an interest in preparing a period meal over the hearth  (or over your back yard fire pit if you haven't a hearth).  It's called  "A Book of Cookery"  by  'A Lady.'
Well, that Lady  is none other than Kimberly Walters,  small business owner of  K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse,  where she not only sells her cookbook,  but also period-correct 18th century jewelry.  Although I'm not much of a cook myself,  I do collect information about period meal-making and love to look at books of old recipes,  for I do enjoy a period meal,   especially if it can be made as authentically as possible.
Tasting the past,  you know?
A Book of Cookery  did not disappoint.
You see,  Ms.  Walters,  a living historian,  collects period cookbooks - originals and a few replicas - and has taught herself how to cook over an open hearth at the Washington Headquarters as a housekeeper modeled after George Washington's own,  Mrs.  Elizabeth Thompson.  She has also taken a few open-hearth cooking classes at Gunston Hall Plantation in Virginia.
And this is what makes  "A Book of Cookery"  worth your hard-earned money,  for Walters spent countless hours honing her skills by actually practicing the art of open-hearth cooking first hand,  and has also learned,  over time,  how to apply not only modern measurements and decipher 250 year old directions/instructions,  but to also use modern ingredients to allow today's cook access to items a bit more easily accessible to replace those that may not be available today  (or pretty hard to get).
And that is quite a feat!
To add to this Ms.  Walters includes quite a bit of historical information,  also taken from original cookbooks,  to allow the reader a better understanding of the process of kitchen and even home life of the colonial period. 
Perhaps my favorite part of this book is the chapter on what was seasonally available by month for such foodstuffs as meat,  fish,  poultry,  fowl,  and vegetables.
Then there's the descriptions of cooking utensils and what each is used for.  It would be pretty difficult for even the most novice of cooks to make a mistake.
You see,  a book such as this shows the difference between historians  (like many of us involved in reenacting/living history and historic presenting)  in comparison to so many others who snub their collective noses at us as they wave their very expensive piece of paper in our faces:  we as living historians dig deeper into the psyche of the people who lived back then by way of the minute everyday life chores rather than stick with strictly the  "history"  books most colleges begin and end with,  therefore,  we have a deeper understanding of life as once lived.
"A Book of Cookery"  has my stamp of approval on many different levels and can be purchased through the link above  (click on Sign of the Gray Horse link) or HERE at
In the Plympton House,  the kitchen pretty much was  the house!
By the way,  if you are one of the bless'd who live near a living history museum,  please frequent;  learn what you can.  Watch and listen to the presenters.  Donate whatever you can to ensure its survival for future generations.  And if you happen to be in a living history/reenacting group,  suggest doing presentations for them.  Not only will you have fun,  but you'll be teaching the visitors who otherwise may not have a chance to learn your knowledge,  and you'll also be helping the museum out to boot.
All you have to do is ask!
Please remember,  history is not just what the school books tell us.  To really understand our ancestors,  one must dig deep - deeper than most - and cookbooks such as those mentioned in this post that may be passed off as  "fluff"   by many with degrees in the subject are,  in actuality,  filled with societal information that can tell us as much,  if not more,  about everyday life than nearly any other type of history book. 
(Most of the pictures throughout this posting were taken at two authentic colonial-era homes - the 1750 Daggett breakback/saltbox farm house originally from rural Connecticut,  and the Giddings House,  built around the same time in Exeter,  New Hampshire - both now relocated inside of the historic Greenfield Village open-air museum in Dearborn,  Michigan.  Anything from the colonial period of American history in Michigan is a rarity,  so we are very lucky to have at least a couple of transplanted ones.)
Here are other postings I wrote related to this topic:
In the Good Old Colony Days
A Taste of History 
A Celebration of Autumn Past

Until next time, see you in time.

~   ~   ~


The BUTT'RY and BOOK'RY said...

Excellent!! Thanks for another interesting
informative post with wonderful videos and
the loveliest pictures! :-)
Many blessings and warmth Linnie

Simply Shelley said...

Very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this. Blessings

Unknown said...

The name of the painting is The Cook by Gabriel Metsu ca. 1657-62 at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Historical Ken said...

A Facebook comment from Marlene:
this is my favorite blog yet! You are perhaps the most prolix writer I have ever met, but I love all the info! You hit a big nerve with me on this one. My biggest wish in a home--a fireplace in the kitchen! I cannot tell you how often I have googled that phrase, desirous of seeing pics of that glorious sight! My friend Bethie lives in an old farmhouse in Washington Crossing (Titusville, NJ) and she has such a treasure. I wept like a baby when I first beheld it!
The videos were fabulous! I learned something, even many things, from each one. (I especially loved the one shot in the Daggett house where you could hear the train whistle in the distance!)
If I were younger I would want to attempt to cook with one of those kitchen fireplaces. Alas, my back informs me that my days of squatting and/or constantly bending over are done!
The info on their utensils was enlightening. I can honestly say I did not know about the knife with the curved side and how it was used. Wonderful research and I applaud you for all the intensive study and effort you put into this. LOVED IT ALL

Historical Ken said...

From Jessica (via Facebook):
This was really fun to read & watch the videos, thanks for sharing!

Evelyn said...

A co worker asked what are the kernels that you have to remove from the beef?

Gramma Pia said...

Your readers might enjoy my cookbook Simplefare;Kitchenlore and Recipes from the 1800's filled with authentic recipes and colorful images. Check out

Jackie Fisher said...

Thanks for sharing this realistic view of colonial times. I love all the details, utensils used and cooking with a dutch oven to name a few. Now I really know what a hogshead is and what a cabin kitchen in colonial times looked like.