It All Started With A Turkey Pottage...

I remember vividly the first historic meal I cooked.

The year was 1627 (present time 2007), and I was on my second day of being onsite as a Pilgrim.  Even with the two weeks of intense training I previously went through, it hadn't prepared me for the immensity of the position.  My mentor (who happened to be playing my maid servant) bustled around the hearth with great ease, entertaining the public who came in with greetings and conversational starters like "You must have traveled far being in such a state of undress..."  I, on the other hand, moved awkwardly and unsure, still trying to find my footing around such a foreign area and not really sure if I wanted to try out my new accent yet.  But I tried my best to smile and help out with the meal that would be our "dinner" for the day, a turkey pottage.  Simple in its elements, yet so filling and tasty, it was by far the favorite meal to have in the village.  Turkey meat, already cooked and cut up, put in a cast iron pot with chopped herbs and onion, water put over it, a dash of vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper, and place it over the fire to allow all the flavors to come together at a slow simmer.  Then, when the water is hot enough you add the corn grits that will thicken in the broth and make a very flavorful stew.  And that task went to me.  While our one room wattle and daub house was full of guests, I took the bag of "grouts" and poured them into the pot that was currently on the ground in front of the fire, stirring as I did it.  Now, at that moment, I have to give my mentor all the credit in the world because she didn't pause her conversation, or even flinch as I did this.  She waited until the guests had left the house and, very quickly, ran to the pot and started to pour out  the pottage mixture in a waiting bowl, which at this point was in danger of pouring over the sides of the kettle.  It was later explained to me that I was only supposed to add half of the amount of grits to the amount of liquid in the pot since it would absorb the liquid and expand, like polenta.  Luckily she took in all in stride and we ended up with ALOT of pottage to share with our fellow Pilgrims.   And made my first cooking experience quite memorable.

Fast forward 11 years and that pottage was only the beginning of my exploration into the world of historical hearth cooking.  From the 6 years of being a Pilgrim, cooking almost every work day a variety of meals with new and exotic flavors, like Mace and Violets, and new techniques with a wood burning fire.  Follow that experience by "time traveling" 170 years in the future to a 1790's farm house, and access to even more cooking apparatuses and a whole historic farm of ingredients to use.  For an amateur food historian it was an eye opening experience, and it reflected in the new foodways programs I worked on there.  Pause for a year as I welcomed my son into the world and got my feet as a new Mom.  Then, two years ago, I found myself again learning about a new era of early American cooking, by joining a Revolutionary War reenacting group and a whole new era (even though it's only 20 years earlier than my previous work) and cooking in a new way, mainly being a campfire cooking area rather than a hearth.

All these experiences have led me on a wonderful crusade through a small sliver of historical cooking, and developed a passion for everything historic foodways (from antique shopping to cook books to cast iron).  Believe me, my husband can attest to my current growing cast iron collection.  And his perplexed look when I walk in from antique shopping with some strange cooking or foodways item (the most recent was a historic barrel butter churn and an egg dipper).  And it also has opened me up to a whole new world of recipes that I never knew existed, ingredients I've rarely used, and cooking techniques that were normal hundreds of years ago but I find new and exciting.

But what to do with this knowledge I'm learning?  This passion I'm creating?  With all this cooking/researching/collecting I'm doing?

"Why not write it down?" said my husband.

So here we are...


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