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By December 18, 2013 Read More →

X-treme Hearth Cooking

 The Youth Select Chorus of the Monadnock Chorus stopped by and entertained us with carols. December 14th dawned cold with the first major storm of the year coming in the afternoon. John, Lorraine, Mary and I arrived dressed in warm layers prepared for a day of extreme hearth cooking. From the start, the temperature made for a very different day from our October and November Saturdays before the hearth. We had no idea if anyone would brave the cold and come out to sample our Christmas menu of mincemeat, plum pudding, roasted chicken, bread, ginger cakes and hot chocolate.

Mary brought barley bread dough for the beehive oven and we set it out to rise while the oven fired. The rounds of dough did not rise a bit by the time the oven was ready. As we huddled around the fire, I was reminded of an entry in an early 19th century diary from Hancock. In the diary, a young housewife described a day of extreme cold. She finished her day before the hearth washing dishes in a basin of hot water and as she turned from the fire to lay a clean dish on a towel to dry “the ice formed upon it.”

Throughout the day, the cold continued to vex us. Lorraine had made up the ginger cake dough ahead of time. We planned to make the ginger cakes in the Dutch oven and have fresh cakes ready for visitors throughout the day. When Lorraine tried to pull the dough out of the bowl and roll it out, the butter had hardened and the dough was unworkable. We had to take it into the main building and set it it into a larger bowl of hot water to soften it. After an hour or so, we could roll it out and begin our baking. The ginger cakes, kind of of a cross between a ginger cookie and gingerbread were tasty when they came out of the Dutch oven but when they cooled they were as hard as rocks.

John had fired the beehive oven really hot, just what you want for a day of baking. But we overestimated the time our bread would take. When we open the oven after an hour, we had two charred balls of barley bread. One success was the roasted chicken. Skewered onto the spit of the reflector oven and placed close to the main fire, the chicken took three hours to roast. Golden brown, juicy and flavorful, it was a welcome warm treat for us and our lunch time visitors.

The Youth Select Chorus of the Monadnock Chorus stopped by and entertained us with carols. We warmed them up with cups of rich traditional hot chocolate. Hot chocolate in the 18th century was not made with powdered cocoa. Instead, chocolate is melted with hot water and milk or cream. A small amount of sugar is added to balance out the natural bitterness of the chocolate. All of our youthful guests took advantage of the sugar bowl to sweeten up their cups, as the traditional recipe was much less sweet than today’s hot chocolate. In the 18th and early 19th century, hot chocolate was a common item for breakfast and as an after dinner drink.

Although we had a small but steady stream of appreciative visitors, we we happy to bank the fires and clean up at the end of the day. Over the three Hearth Cooking Saturdays, nearly 200 people visited to learn about cooking in the past and to enjoy our triumphs and commiserate over our failures at the open hearth. Our heartfelt thank goes to Roy’s Market in Peterborough for sponsoring the 2013 Hearth Cooking series.

Stay tuned- next week, we will publish a post with our recipes!