This past weekend, along with Open House New York, another great annual event was taking place – The Historic House Festival. One of the exciting programs that I read about was being offered at the Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx.
“Join Van Cortlandt House Museum Director Laura Carpenter and other guest chefs for a hand-on history, open-hearth workshop in celebration of Historic House Trust Open House Weekend. Participants will learn more about the tools and technology used by 18th century cooks to bake even when no oven was available. Simple baked goods such as cornbread, apple and onion pie, and bread and butter pudding will be made during the workshop.”
I called them to see if there was still availability – YES! The demonstration was limited to 15 guests, and they signed me up.
And guess what – it was FREE!!
For a girl who grew up loving the “Little House On The Prairie” books, churned her own butter a couple of times and once skinned a rabbit with a pocket knife – this was right up my alley.
On the morning of, I grabbed my camera, rode the A train to 168th Street, then the 1 train to 242nd Street. I turned into the Van Cortlandt Park and headed towards the house.
The trees were starting to turn colors, and it was a cool and misty morning.
Many geese were in the park – it was so lovely and peaceful and quiet – I found it hard to believe that I was still in New York City.
I turned into the museum drive.
According to their website:
“The Van Cortlandt House Museum is the oldest building in The Bronx, New York City. The house was built by Frederick Van Cortlandt (1699 – 1749) in 1748 as a mansion for the Van Cortlandt family. The Van Cortlandts, a merchantile family prominent in New York affairs, established a grain plantation and grist mill on the property. The house was used during the Revolutionary War by Rochambeau, Lafayette, and Washington.
After 140 years of occupancy by the Van Cortlandt family and their slaves, in 1889 the property was sold to the City of New York and made a public parkland. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1967 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The house has been operated as a public museum since 1897.”
The fire pit in the back of the house was already filled with smoldering wood and glowing flames
and cast iron baking pots were at the ready.
The museum director Laura told us all about the cooking tools and techniques of the 18th century, as promised.
This lady really knows her stuff!
The cast iron pot is preheated by placing it on white-hot embers, and also topping the lid with some embers.
While we waited for the pot to heat up, we looked over our recipes.
Laura and her associate Barbi had gotten most of their recipes from the book “The Art Of Cookery Made Plain And Easy” by Hannah Glasse.
The book (a facsimile of the first American edition of this staple of the American household during the Revolutionary War) can be purchased at Amazon.
Laura and Barbi also passed out modern adaptations of the recipes that we’d be making.
First, came the Onion Pie.
The ingredients included potatoes, apples, onions, hard-boiled eggs, spices, butter and pie crust.
Barbi started to make the dough for the crust
while another guest and I peeled and sliced the eggs, potatoes, apples and onions.
I really had my doubts about those eggs in that pie, but I held my tongue and sliced away.
Then Barbi assembled the pie
and carried it to the fire.
Laura and another guest had been hard at work getting the fire just perfect – good hot coals without gigantic flames.
That wood smoke smelled delicious to me. Ummm, Fall…
The ladies somehow managed to get that pie into that hot cast iron pot perfectly!
We sat around the fire while Laura told us more about 18th century cooking.
She showed us a wafer iron, which we’d be using later in the demonstration.
Barbi brought over components of the next dish – chicken for Chicken Dressed the French Way – coated with bread crumbs and parsley.
The chicken went on the fire grill
and Barbi double-checked the recipe for the gravy.
I asked them if the museum supplied their costumes, and these remarkable women told us how they make their own costumes. They wear several layers – and corsets – all authentic to the period. And without a sewing machine! Anything that is visible is hand stitched! And, the bodice is not buttoned – it’s held together by long pins.
The aromas were starting to make all of our mouths water. Let’s check on the food.
The chicken is bubbling in the pot with that good gravy.
Yum! And, the pie is getting bown.
The food is taken off the heat.
It’s almost lunch time.
The pie is brought to the table
and there’s just one more dish to make – the cornbread. In the pot that the pie just came out of.
Laura melts some butter in the pot
and pours in the corn bread batter that she had just made from scratch (using Mrs. Isaac Cocks’ corn bread recipe from 1830) .
The lid goes back on.
A few of us toured the house (some pictures of the interior of the house will be posted on tomorrow’s blog) and Laura whips up the wafer batter, for our dessert.
Although the work for these ladies is never-ending,
they have fun while they are doing it. You can really tell that they love what they are doing, and enjoy each other’s company and experience.
It’s time to eat! The cornbread is done
and the chicken and gravy is ready
and Laura and Barbi don’t waste a drop of that delicious gravy!
That Onion Pie (with the hard-boiled eggs) – delicious! As was EVERYTHING.
After this glorious meal, Barbi made wafers
while Barbi washed the dishes in the lake. (Not really, she used the kitchen. Joke.)
Thank you, Laura and Barbi and The Van Cortlandt House Museum, for such a wonderful day of education, demonstrations and food!
It was a perfect day, and I will make these recipes at home.
Did I mention this was all FREE??
Be sure to check out the museum – at their website or on their Facebook page – for any upcoming activities. I for one can’t wait to do this again next year, and am eager to experience other events they offer throughout the year.
Thank you ladies, for your hard work, great energy, smiling faces and outstanding food!