On December 4 a few of us in Texas gathered at Henkel Square in Round Top for a hearth cooking workshop.
The instructor was Hal Simon. Hal has nearly 20 years experience in historic cooking and served as the curator of a living history museum in Texas for over a decade where he managed both open hearth and wood stove cooking programs. Hal is very knowledgeable and freely shares this knowledge. We were very lucky to have him for our workshop.
The weekend began on Friday; some of the participants came for some distance so we stayed over at Henkel Square to be ready Saturday morning bright and early. I decided to stay in one of the Zapp-Von Rosenburg stranger rooms. These little rooms are surprisingly comfortable.
Vicki Betts had a hearth crane made for "her" little cabin at the site. We were very disappointed to find out that it didn't fit by just a few inches. We had planned to use the hearth in her cabin with the crane. So we now changed over to the Muckelroy kitchen sans crane. However Scotty, the site manager, offered to grind down the little bit needed so the crane will be available for other events.
In the evening we went to dinner at Scotty's restaurant in town, which is really good. After we went to the church to utilize the electricity to peruse over Godey's 1862, CDVs, and other pictures of original garments. We decided to call it a fairly early night so that we would be ready for Saturday.
Hal arrived early Saturday, unloaded equipment, and started the fire. Hal provided great handouts. Not only did we have the recipes for the day but he also included an extensive bibliography, a listing of vegetables and fruits that were grown and available in Texas, weights and measures equivalents (IE: 1 lb. of wheat flour equals 1 quart), recipe comparison between period text and modern redaction, internet resources, period table setting diagrams and photos of the use of hearths for cooking. In addition he and Vicki brought several reproductions of period cookbooks and other books on hearth cooking.
First, Hal went over the handouts and made some interesting points. In the redaction section he talked about being careful when using a modern redaction as sometimes the modern chef might make some changes in the "translation" which will actually create a different dish than what the period recipe was for. In the measurements section information was provided such as "a common tumbler holds 8oz." or "a common teacup holds 6oz." Hal double checked these using period reproductions and they were spot on.
Our lunch was to be onion soup and Gaspacho-Spanish or bread salad. Both were very good. The onion soup was divine and as the onions were browned in 2 sticks of butter, it had a wonderful buttery taste.
After eating we prepared the bread pudding as it had to sit a bit before cooking. Then on to the forced meat balls (that's Forced, with an F). This required the dicing and pounding of beef and suet together.
Once the herbs were added the meat was formed into balls, rolled in bread crumbs and pan fried. The potato balls were basically the same but with mashed potatoes. At the same time this was going on cabbage was being sliced and dressing made for warm slaw.
We had a bit of a problem with the bread pudding as the dutch oven we had was too shallow for the pudding dish. We found an oven on site that was deep enough but it had no lid so we improvised. But the lid was too thin and caused the top of the pudding to burn. Oh, but it was still so good. We did not put on the cream as it was too warm by this time to froth the cream. The pudding had suet in it! Beef fat in a dessert! It was the strangest sensation to bite into this sweet pudding with fruit and get a piece of the suet. The textures just didn't match :). It was delicious though and can only imagine how it would have been with sweet cream.
Hal had intended to also cook biscuits and a roast or mutton; however, by this time everyone was full and tired so we called it complete. Now remember this workshop was on December 4; the week before the weather was wintery barely getting out of the 50s during the day and down to the 30s at night. But on December 4 it was almost 80 degrees. You can imagine with such a large fire, only a couple of windows that didn't open all the way and the heat outside, we were all very warm. Poor Hal was soaked. The first comment from visitors was the heat, then the smell of the food. This workshop really brought to life what was required in the 1860s to produce a meal. Obviously the ordinary person did not cook such a large meal or perhaps not as fancy but still the work, time and discomfort involved was amazing. We were at this practically all day long; when would a person get the rest of their chores done? Take care of the children, etc. ? These types of workshops really put a new dimension to Living History.
Since we ended earlier than expected Vicki decided to head on home but Penny, Elin and I stayed on site for the night. We spent the evening with wine, grapes, cheese, cookies and conversation. Then, guess what arrives...a norther! Gotta love Texas.