I've had many adventures in historical cooking over the course of the season at Strawbery Banke, including a newly found love of baking pies. who knew. My mother might be the most surprised about all of this.
As the season cooled I have thought of firing up the bake oven at Wheelwright house (where I cook at the hearth most Thursdays) but was reluctant. I've never done it before, it has been a fairly warm season, and I would feel bad firing it up without a good supply of items needing to be baked. Things came together recently when I had two days in a row in Wheelwright, and the weather has turned decidedly chilly. I took day one to read some of the materials in the house compiled by earlier hearth cooks and to make a ton of pie crusts and various fillings.
I knew that the oven itself did not have a flue, it uses the main fireplace flue. I was worried about getting a fire started in there because of the airflow, but it turned out to be no problem at all. I started a good fire, kept adding to it, and all morning I watched the oven get hotter. By the time I thought to put an oven thermometer in there it was up to 650 degrees. Yup. I fired the oven. I raked the coals out, mopped the ashes with a soaked broom, then waited for it to cool down before I put in the first two pies. I did not wait long enough. The first two quickly burned to black. I waited a bit longer, and the next two turned out edible if you picked the burnt bits off the top. Ah well, I learned a lot.
I seem to have an admirer at the museum. I do not know what I did to deserve the praise I've received, but it does mean that I've attempted several cooking methods I might not have without of the confidence of others. This weekend in Shapiro house I made Sauerkraut. Actually, I started sauerkraut. It was not nearly as hard as I had thought it would be; I collected cabbages from various gardens throughout the museum, washed them, chopped them and then put them in a big crock and smashed the cabbage bits with a big masher. When possible I got kids to help me with the mashing, I probably should have got the adults to help me too because my hands were sore by the end of the day since I had made butter the day before and the motions were very similar. The reason why I saw I only started it is because to make sauerkraut the cabbage must ferment in its own juices. So I won't actually know if I've made sauerkraut for another couple of weeks. Just in time for the Museum season to be over. Sigh.