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It was 25 years ago this month (most likely April 3, to be exact),
that I started working at what was then known as Conner Prairie
Living History Museum (CP) in my home state of Indiana.

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Readers may recall that I’ve written previously about my
many adventures while employed
at Conner Prairie. It was
the birthplace of my passion for historic cooking. Even now,
I acknowledge that fact and am deeply grateful for the solid
foundation, both in general history and in historic foodways,
that was established there. Overall, my experience at Conner
Prairie was wonderful, and my years serving as an Interpreter
were some of the happiest, most glorious, of my life.

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One of my stints as a cover girl while at CP!

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However, sadly all is not well back there on the Prairie. At least,
in my view. The past that I knew, that I happily “lived,” shared
with, and interpreted for, thousands upon thousands of visitors
on a daily basis, is, sadly, no more. I say this based on what
I personally have seen and heard, as well as on what I’ve been
told by current employees and by fellow CP alums. The museum’s
emphasis now seems to be more on having a good time, rather
than on learning about the past. What daily transpires is more
“let’s have fun via interactive activities” and less “here’s how
inhabitants of this area and during this time (that’d be the year
1836, in central Indiana) lived, worked, and played.” In fact,
the institution’s very name has been changed to reflect this
new direction. No longer called a living history museum, it’s
now some type of fun-land, namely “Conner Prairie Interactive
Historic Park.” Even the site’s current slogan has veered
away from any semblance of history, living or otherwise,
with its bold proclamation of “Acres and Acres of Interactive
Awesomeness.” ugh. There’s a heavy sense of dread in my
very heart and soul. It feels as if a dear friend from long
ago has passed.

This new angle on daily operations at CP really hit home this
past summer when I was told of a blog written by a Danish
fellow* who was traveling around the United States with his
family, visiting different historical museums. One of his goals
was to determine which institutions offered the best interactive
experiences (yes, apparently that’s a vital criteria nowadays!).
The family went to several sites, including the Frontier Culture
Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Henry Ford Museum.
Second on their itinerary was my once-beloved Conner Prairie.
I was eager to read what they thought.

Then, I saw this blog photo:

(c) 2015 Martins Museum Blog

(c) 2015 Martins Museum Blog

My heart sank. Seriously?!? I was simply dumbfounded…shocked…
dismayed…disappointed. Even angered. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Why? Because below is the scene that used to greet visitors when
they walked into the kitchen of this same house:

Dr Campbell kitchen at CP c 1991

You saw a person (usually female, and in this particular case me,
but it could’ve been someone else portraying the same, or a similar,
character) DOING various kitchen-appropriate (wow, it’s a separate
room!) activities. She might be preparing a meal and cooking all or
parts of it on the cast iron cook-stove (oh, my! it’s the ONLY one
in town!) or “dressing” the good-sized table in the adjacent dining
room (again, wow, it’s separate!) with a cloth, napkins, plates,
and other assorted accoutrements or even beginning the process
of serving the folks seated therein. Or, if the meal had ended,
she might be clearing the table and washing-up all the dishes and
pots ‘n pans and putting them away in their proper spots. Naturally,
during all this, I would’ve, er, I mean, she would’ve explained each
step. Perhaps she’d start with the cook-stove, and how difficult it is
to keep it huffin’ ‘n puffin’ all day long and the challenges she faced
learning to cook on it, since, as with most females in this or any town,
she only knows how to cook on the open hearth. Then there’s
the incessant struggle to maintain a supply of stove firewood,
and the constant reminders she has to give the Doctor’s young
apprentice (or perhaps that fellow whose Contract for the Poor
Dr. Campbell holds) to chop it and fill the wood box. And then
all the times such help is non-existent, like the other day when
the Doctor and his assistant were out tending to patients, and
so she had to handle it herself. Of course, hopefully the gal
visitors encountered in this kitchen would talk non-stop (well,
I certainly did!) about the whys and wherefores of all that she

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Me, not at the Doctor’s grand house, but at the potters’ plain ‘n rugged
one-room cabin at the edge of town, down toward the river:

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was doing. Whether it was the sources of the foods that were
prepared (patients, as payment for the Doctor’s services) or
the reason for the separate rooms in the Campbell house just
for cooking, eating, and even sleeping (there were FIVE rooms!
most houses in town only had one or two) or what she really
thought of that handsome new schoolmaster, I’d, er, sorry,
I mean she, would gladly tell all. Then she’d likely yammer on
about herself and her family, her sister and two brothers, how
long she’d been the Campbell’s “hired girl,” what her duties
and chores are, and perhaps whether or not the Doctor is
a good and kind employer and how special her relationship
is with his wife, who’s teaching her about all the finer things
in life. She’s well aware that she works long hours, but she’s
mighty grateful to be able to contribute to her whole family’s
living expenses (particularly since her father passed not long
ago). And so on and so forth, ’til the day comes to an end.
Of course, the beauty and the value of it all is that, once
visitors left this kitchen and house, they could then compare
what they saw here with what they’d seen, or were going
to see, in all the other houses throughout Prairietown.

The bottom line is, visitors would’ve been able to LEARN SO
MUCH
about SO MANY things when they entered this kitchen
of Dr. Campbell’s house and chatted with the person they met
there. Through interaction with a real human being, the public
was informed, educated, and entertained. In short, it was fun!
But now, instead of an actual person showing and teaching
visitors by doing, explaining as she goes, and sharing oodles
of information, and answering your questions, both big and
small, and conducting a lively conversation, they get this:

(c) 2015 Martins Museum Blog

(c) 2015 Martins Museum Blog

Yep, a wall placard telling everyone how to “prepare and cook”
their own meal, complete with plastic food. What a deal!

So, I ask you, is this BETTER?!? I say no, but hey, that’s just
me and my opinion.

What’s interesting is that, apparently, Colonial Williamsburg has
now set its compass in the same direction. Some folks are all
for it, others are not. Personally, I have a problem with this
seemingly rampant “enh, it’s good enough” attitude. I mean,
come on! Showcasing the pirate Blackbird, who not only was
never in the town of Williamsburg, but was also killed in 1718,
long before the site’s primary time period?! And I was shocked
to read the new president’s comment, “The Blackbeard story
was fun, it was accurate-ish.” (emphasis mine)

Seriously?!?

Alas, maybe that’s what’s important nowadays. Fun. As opposed
to, say, acknowledging our historic past. And doing it accurately.
As opposed to “accurate-ish”-ly. Whatever. As far as I can tell,
it seems like it’s the ol’ Disney-fication effect, the one that
people feared was engulfing Conner Prairie years ago.

Of course, nothing’s more constant than change. The Conner
Prairie that I knew and visited when in grade school was vastly
different from what it had become by the time I was employed
as an Interpreter. For starters, back in those very early days,
it was called Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement and Museum.
Then decades later, due to major shifts in the surrounding
population, even the site’s address changed, from Noblesville
to Fishers (which kinda made the reason for naming the onsite
eatery after Governor Noble rather nonsensical). Later on, when
working for the City of Indianapolis’ Parks Department, I attended
meetings at CP that were conducted in a renovated barn, before
the modern Visitor Center was built. And heck, I can remember
a time when the first-person village of Prairietown didn’t exist!

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There have been other changes since my years at CP, many
of which seem inexplicable to me. Or maybe it’s just that
the site’s focus drifted more to offering what the public
expects, rather than on what’s historically correct. This,
from an institution that, at least when I was there, strived
for historical accuracy at all times and demanded the same
of its interpreters. In any event, there were things such as
the addition of a church (after all, every town had one, yes?
No! Not those in Indiana with a population under 200; besides,
not everyone was of the same religion, if any). Then the village
potters’ surname was changed from “Baker” to “Barker,” because,
you know, too many visitors were confused as to whether pots
or bread was baked in the kiln (despite the fact that the name
Baker was set when Prairietown was conceived, and it was
the actual name of an actual, real-life early 1800s Indiana
potter). Of course, I think the nail in the coffin was hammered
tight when the potters’ house was demolished (they now “live”
outside of town, just as most everyone else does) and their
shop moved up into town (makes for a nice little industrial
district, doesn’t it?!).

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And don’t get me started on the $450 million Civil War exhibit!
(I might tell you what I really think! LOL oy) Whatever. I could
continue, but I won’t. Besides, it’s too painful! Nevertheless,
in the end, it seems that history is being, and has been, slowly
but surely, dumped by the wayside. ‘Cuz, you know, it’s allegedly
“not fun.” And that worries, even saddens, me.

In the end, I suppose the proof of any benefits, or lack thereof,
arising from all this mucking about will come decades from now,
when the general consensus is that citizens of the United States
are either more or less informed about the overall history of their
country, as well as that of their collective past, of themselves as
a people. I’m guessing it’ll be, perhaps, the latter, since it isn’t
particularly good now, but, again, that’s just me. It remains
to be seen.

In the meantime, I commemorate this 25th anniversary by bidding
a hearty farewell to a treasured past and moving forward with heaps
of fond memories. HUZZAH!

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*NOTE: Naturally, the blog is in Danish.
To translate it, use
Google Translate. You’ll get
a version that’s understandable, albeit not perfect.
Copy the URL of the blog post and paste it into
the box on the left side of the Google Translate
page. Make sure you’re translating from Danish
to English, using the “Detect Language” function
on the left of the page, above the box. The URL
of the translated page will pop up on the right.
Then click the blue “Translate” box (also on
the right), and the translated web page will
replace the “Translate” page.
Hope that all
makes sense. Good luck!

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This year will soon be gone. Yep, in just a few short
hours, 2015 will slide into the history books. And so
I thought I’d write up one last post before it goes!

The Israel Crane House was again part of the annual
Essex County (NJ) Historic Holiday House Tour, which
took place the weekend of December 5 and 6. Of course,
I was busyImage (63) in the Crane kitchen, where
visitors were welcomed with a variety
of foods to sample. The spread featured
the usual suspects: Gingerbread Cakes;
Pounded Cheese (with crackers); and
Shrewsbury Cakes. Newly-added were
Chocolate Drops. As in previous years,
we offered hot spiced cider, dried apple
slices, a ham, chestnuts, candied orange
peels, and more. No one left hungry, that’s for sure!

I always look forward to this annual event, and this year
was no exception. The best part (besides the yummy food!)
is all the lively, in-depth conversations I have with those
who stop by the kitchen to see “what’s cooking.” It’s never
a dull moment. I have fun every year. I trust the visitors
do, too! HUZZAH!

Welcome to the Crane kitchen. Come on in!

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Our spread of goodies:

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New for 2015 were these tasty Chocolate Drops:

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I prepared and cooked a dish each day, as well. First I made
a “Squash Pudding” (Saturday) and then a “Tart of the Ananas,
or Pine-Apple” (Sunday).

Both were baked in the bake kettle:

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the Squash Pudding:

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the Pine-Apple Tart:

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Our spiced cider heated up over the fire each day:

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Also new this season was a sweetmeat I saw Stephen Schmidt,
a fellow member of Culinary Historians of New York (CHNY),
make during the “Eating Through Time” symposium held this
past fall at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM). As he
did, I followed the “To Make White Marmalet of Quinces” receipt
from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery (circa 1550-1625).

Here is a portion of one of two batches I made:

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I was also busy hearth-side on December 15 for “Family Fun
Day,” when I made oodles of “Dough Nuts,” all in accordance
with a receipt in Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and
Sweetmeats
(1828), by Eliza Leslie. We had more hot spiced
cider, as well.

Little nut-sized balls of dough ready to be boiled:

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the fire doing its magic with our Dough Nuts and our cider:

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TA-DA! our Dough Nuts! YUM!

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All in all, we had lots of good eats at The Israel Crane House
this year. Here’s to another fantastic and tasty year of cooking
over an open fire in 2016! HUZZAH!

Happy New Year to one and all!

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About a month ago, I hopped on a train and headed South
to Williamsburg, Virginia, in order to attend the 2015 Annual
ALHFAM* Conference. Held on the campus of William & Mary
College, it was hosted by its neighbor, Colonial Williamsburg
(CW)
. The five-day affair featured assorted pre-conference
field trips and workshops, a day to experience all that CW

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has to offer, another for traipsing ’round the four separate
sites that comprise Jamestown and Yorktown, and last, but
not least, two full days of informative sessions that covered
every topic imaginable, from the role of modern technology
in museum settings to the tools required to better engage
audiences of all ages to the care ‘n feeding of re-enactors
at historic sites. Yours truly led a session, as well, entitled
“Fake Fanny Receipts and Other Travesties…,” wherein
I delved into the folly of using any of the ever-increasing
number of so-called “historic” recipe compilations, instead
of the truly authentic, original historic cookbooks (more
on that later).

Naturally, I took photos during the Conference. However,
just days before I left, my trusty camera went all wonky.
It still captured fantastic photos, but at a price. You see,
when I’d frame a shot, I’d do so blind. There’d be nothing
on the view screen, as it was completely blank! So, I had
to eyeball it, click the button, then check the resulting
photo (which it still showed, thankfully) to see if I got
what I wanted. If yes, I could go on to the next, but if
NOT, then I had to adjust, ever-so-slightly, how it was
aimed and try again. Repeatedly! Getting exactly what
I desired was rather hit ‘n miss (mostly, miss! although,
it did get easier as time went on). Of course, then I had
to sort through ’em all and delete the pesky “not-quites.”
dagnabit If I’d had enough time, I would’ve purchased
a new camera before I left, but alas…. So, I made do.
Besides, it was certainly better than nothing!

In any event, I’ll start sharing a few photos. And I’ll
begin with those that deal with my favorite subject,
historic cooking. Others, of the more general sort,
will follow. Enjoy!

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I’d have to say that, for me, the biggest and most
fan-ta-bu-lous thrill of this entire trip, was…well,
other than the fact that I got to wear THIS at all
times, all day, every day, everywhere I went…

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Woo-Hoo and HUZZAH! What fun!

Oh, sorry. Let’s see, where was I? Ahh, yes…the greatest
thrill was…walking into the recreated Rev War military
encampment at Yorktown and seeing this…

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…a fully-operational (albeit a partial) camp kitchen. HUZZAH!

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Now, I’ve read much** about the building and use of these
set-ups, have seen numerous period depictions of them, as
well as photos ‘n videos of modern-day attempts to re-create
them, and I always discuss the details of their use whenever

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I present my “Cook Like a Soldier” program, but this, THIS,
was the first time I’d ever seen one! AND seen it being used!
Wow! It was absolutely marvelous. I only wish I could’ve not
only stayed longer in order to explore it further, but also been
able to cook on it. How cool would that be?!

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There were also a couple of gridirons made outta barrel hoops…

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and the obliging barrels, filled with soldiers’ rations…

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It seemed that our time at this site was extremely limited, so
I know I missed alot. Maybe, some day, I’ll be able to return?
Here’s hoping!

Up next are various views of the communal clome bake oven
at the re-creation of the Jamestown Settlement (which, BTW,
is separate from the site of its actual location). Unfortunately,
no baking was being done at the time.

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In the section of the Jamestown Settlement site known as
the Powhatan Indian Village, a young fellow was cooking
squirrel and pigeons over an open fire…

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He was munching on previously-cooked fish and other stuff, as well…

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NEXT: Photos taken during my pre-conference field trip

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*ALHFAM = Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums

**For more information, read John U. Rees’ highly-informative articles.

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Before we say “Farewell” to December and 2014, I thought
I’d share a few photos taken at The Israel Crane House
recently, during the annual Essex County (NJ) Historic
House Holiday Tours.

I thoroughly enjoy this event every year, and I always
look forward to it. It offers a marvelous opportunity
to share food and in-depth discussions with visitors.
This year, the crowds were non-stop on Saturday,

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when it poured rain, and they tended to ebb ‘n flow
on Sunday, when we had sun with clear blue skies.
Go figure!

As in the past, quite a spread of goodies was available
for visitors to enjoy. It consisted of the usual suspects,
ranging from a baked ham to shelled walnuts and roasted
chestnuts to hot spiced cider. Several items that’d been
prepared in advance were offered, as well. Of course,
all were done in accordance with receipts from several
of my favorite historic cookbooks. They included…

Hannah Glasse’s “Ginger-Bread Cakes” from her book
The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747). And
as I’ve mentioned here previously, these are unique
in that treacle is specified, rather than molasses:

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“Shrewsbury Cakes,” from American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons:

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Open any cookbook written prior to 1830 or so, and you’re
bound to find a receipt for these small cakes. Sadly, they’ve
since fallen out of favor.

“Pounded Cheese” per Dr. William Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle (1817):

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And “Naples Biscuits,” from the 18th century receipt book
of the James Logan Family of Germantown, PA. These were
generally made in advance for use in other dishes. Numerous
historic receipts specify that grated Naples Biscuits be added
to other ingredients. However, they were often served just
as they are, along with tea or another beverage:

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I usually make a dish or two during each year’s event, as well.
This year, I put together a Potato Pudding. Time was sorely
limited, so I mixed all the ingredients on the first day and
baked it on the second. I followed the same receipt that I’d
used previously for a Culinary Historians of New York (CHNY)
program. It’s from an early 19th century manuscript cookbook,
which is part of a new online collection of such sources. The type
of potatoes to be used are not specified, so I chose sweet:

into the bake kettle…

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it’s a-baking:

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between the visitors and staff, it didn’t last long!

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All in all, it was a highly successful AND enjoyable event.
I can hardly wait ’til next year’s!

In the meantime, Happy New Year to all! I hope your 2015
is as good, no, better, than your 2014. I’m looking forward
to everything it has to offer. HUZZAH!

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About two weeks ago, I headed up north to participate in the Wilton
[CT] Historical Society’s
annual “Colonial Days” program for the area’s
fourth graders. It was an amazing four-day event, and the different
groups of young’uns were daily kept mighty busy with lots to see
and do. Everyone partook of a wide variety of activities at numerous
stations that were situated throughout the Society’s complex, ranging
from flax and wool processing to hauling buckets of water with a yoke
to creating a pincushion to watching a blacksmith at work to assisting
with a small-scale barn raising and more.

And then there was me, happily ensconced in the kitchen of the Society’s
Sloan-Raymond-Fitch House. Together, the students and I talked about
cooking over an open fire in the 18th century. We covered everything,

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including the process, the equipment and utensils, and the food. And
since they all just happened to arrive when the main meal of the day
(aka dinner) would’ve been prepared and cooked, we also chatted
about how they might’ve assisted and the chores they likely would
have done. Each child then had the opportunity to try three: grinding
peppercorns; cutting up sweet potatoes; and churning butter. When
their chores were completed, each student was then able to enjoy
some freshly-churned butter on a piece bread and to sample a cup
of the resulting buttermilk. The whole room was a beehive of activity,
what with our lively discussions and the sounds of ambitious little
helpers doing their chores. Alas, our time together was far too short,
and soon they were all on their way to the next station. Another group
of eager young folks arrived, and we began once again.

Overall, I think everyone had a marvelous time. I know I certainly did.
HUZZAH!

_________________________

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In addition to the various foods that I prepared ahead
of time and brought in for visitors to enjoy at The Crane
House
during this past December’s Essex County (NJ)
Historic Holiday House Tour, I also did a bit of cooking.
My plan had been to do two dishes, one on Saturday
and another on Sunday. However, for various reasons,
including some poorly-burning firewood that resulted
in few coals, I was able to make only one. So, I did all
the prep work, the mixing of ingredients and the rolling
out of dough and what-not on the first day and then
baked it on the second.

Oh, and “it” was a Veal Pye:

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I used this receipt from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery,
Made Plain and Easy
(1747):

To make pretty Sweet Lamb or Veal Pye.
FIRST make a good Crust, butter
the Dish, and lay in your Bottom
and Side-crust; then cut your Meat
into small Pieces; season with a very
little Salt, some Mace and Nutmeg beat
fine, and strewed over; then lay a Layer
of Meat, and strew according to your
Fancy, some Currans, clean washed
and picked, and a few Raisins stoned,
all over the Meat; lay another Layer
of Meat, put a little Butter at the Top,
and a little Water, just enough to bake
it and no more. Have ready against it
comes out of the Oven, a White Wine
Caudle made very sweet, and send
it to Table hot.

Usually I make a mincemeat pie for this annual event,
but I decided to do something a bit different this year.
Besides, the ingredients were nearly the same; there
were just less of them. And then there was the fact
that I didn’t have to deal with all that “pesky” mincing
of everything. Ahh, well…perhaps I’ll go back to it next
year. Or not? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see!

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scan0002The annual Essex County (NJ) Historic Holiday
House Tour was held this year on December 7
and 8. The public was able to tour assorted
historic sites located throughout the County
on both days. Naturally, all the properties held
under the auspices of the Montclair Historical
Society
were included in this event.

Of course, I was busy greeting the many folks
who stopped by the kitchen during their tour
of The Israel Crane House. The crowds on Saturday tended
to ebb and flow, but they were virtually non-stop on Sunday.
It was fantastic! I SO enjoy this program every year, as it
gives me an opportunity to chat at length with visitors. We
always cover an assortment of topics and have some mighty
interesting conversations. HUZZAH!

Engaging and enlightening discussions weren’t the only thing
that I shared with the guests. There was a rather wonderful
spread of tasty treats for all to enjoy, as well. And this year,

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the offerings were pretty much the same as in years past. And
so the following goodies were set out for guests to enjoy.

Shrewsbury Cakes, made in accordance with Amelia Smmons’
receipt in her book American Cookery (1796):

Shrewsbury Cake.
Half pound butter, three quarters
of a pound sugar, a little mace, four
eggs mixed and beat with your hand,
till very light, put the composition
to one pound flour, roll into small
cakes—bake with a light oven.

N.B. In all cases where spices are
named, it is supposed that they be
pounded fine and sifted; sugar must
be dried and rolled fine; flour, dried
in an oven; eggs well beat or whipped
into a raging foam.

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For our Gingerbread Cakes, below, I followed the receipt
in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747), by Hannah
Glasse (1747):

To make Ginger-Bread Cakes.
Take three Pounds of Flour, one Pound
of Sugar, one Pound of Butter, rubbed
in very fine, two Ounces of Ginger beat
fine, a large Nutmeg grated; then take
a Pound of Treakle, a quarter of a Pint
of Cream, make them warm together,
and make up the Bread stiff, roll it out,
and make it up into thin Cakes, cut them
out with a Tea-Cup, or a small Glass, or
roll them round like Nuts, bake them
on Tin Plates in a slack Oven.

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I particularly like Glasse’s version, as she calls for using treacle
(“Treakle”) and not molasses. Yes, the two are similar, as both
are obtained during the sugar refining process, and either one
can be used. However, the taste of each is VERY different! And
I find that small cakes made with molasses tend to be blander
than those with treacle. The latter have a bit of a bite to them
(which I like BTW!).

If you’re interested in more information on the difference
between treacle and molasses, and their respective places
in the process of sugar refining, see my previous post HERE.

Pounded Cheese was also offered, along with store-bought
Water Crackers, which are made by Carr’s, a British company
that was founded in 1831.

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The receipt for the above cheese is from the 1817 cookbook,
The Cook’s Oracle, by William Kitchiner, M.D.:

Pounded Cheese.
Cut a pound of good mellow Cheddar,
Cheshire, or North Wiltshire cheese
into thin bits, add to it two, and if
the Cheese is dry, three ounces
of fresh butter, pound and rub
them well together in a mortar
till it is quite smooth.

Obs.–When cheese is dry, and
for those whose digestion is feeble,
this is the best way of eating it
and spread it on Bread, it makes
an excellent Luncheon or Supper.

N.B. The piquance of this buttery,
caseous relish, is sometimes
increased by pounding with it
Curry Powder, Ground Spice,
Cayenne Pepper, and a little
made mustard; and some
moisten it with a glass of Sherry.

If pressed down hard in a jar,
and covered with clarified butter,
it will keep for several days
in cool weather.

Also on hand both days were a smoked ham, candied citron,
dried apple slices, roasted chestnuts, and so on. OH! And
our delightful hot spiced cider. Which, according to one

IMG_1078

visitor, was MUCH better than what he’d been served
at another Tour site. HUZZAH!

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