Gathering Around the Hearth

While I might not have a huge open hearth to cook over in my 18th-century home, it hasn’t stopped me from dabbling in the art of primitive cooking. I’ve always been a believer that if you dream it — and begin living into the dream — that whatever you envision will come true.

And so, with the absence of an indoor hearth to cook over — and much to my husband’s chagrin — I have been purchasing the tools I need for that dream to materialize someday.

The pots are piling up waiting for a hearth to call home.
This is not my kitchen…but rather it is my dream kitchen.

The Dutch ovens are piling up in the kitchen, as are the various sized copper pots to hang from an iron rod. I have the iron spoons, spatulas, forks and ladles, all with long arms to prevent me from getting too close to the flames, hanging near my non-operational fireplace. I’ve also added a slew of 18th-century cookbooks to my reading list. I’m enjoying learning just what a hoe cake is and how delicious it sounds to wash down a piece of cornbread with some cherry bounce or to serve some syllabub — a Colonial whipped cream concoction enhanced with a good amount of sherry — rather than pie for dessert.

For now, any primitive cooking is done outside over the fire pit. Perhaps that is a good thing, as a fire blazing amid centuries-old wood and crumbling mortar is probably not ideal.

For long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with cooking over a flame. There’s just something comforting about gathering around a hearth filled with the smells of food bubbling, broiling and baking over glowing embers. Two years ago, I stepped back in time, entering a village of 18th century homes to master the art of open-hearth cooking. For three nights, I lived without electricity and running water. I even slept on a rope bed that was topped with a mattress filled with straw.

One of the old houses that are on the Eastfield Village property in New York. Eastfield Village has been created as a summer college for mastering the primitive arts, such as open-heart cooking, printing, blacksmithing, etc.
Some might dream of luxury homes with stat of the art appliances. This my friends, is my dream house. One of the homes at Eastfield Village.

Just a little bit of trivia here. The old saying, “sleep tight” comes from those rope beds as every night, before retiring, if you didn’t want to sleep on a sagging pile of blankets, you would have to tighten the ropes. “Sleep tight” was often followed with “and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Did I mention my “mattress” was filled with hay? Luckily, there were no bugs biting me.

So for three days I lived in another time. It was heaven on earth! There was another “early living skills” class going on in the printer’s shop the same time my cooking class was being held. Someone in that group had a fiddle. One night, I came out of the hot kitchen and sat on the cool stone step and listened to the sounds of music and laughter filling the air. Dusk descended and slowly the houses began coming to life with just the peaceful glow of candles and fires that were being lit within. I closed my eyes and smiled. This was how I wanted to live. I vowed when I came back to the 21st century, I would fill my days with more candlelight and homecooked meals over a fire.

The candles were lit as it was getting late. Still, the chicken in the reflector oven (in front of the fireplace) was not ready. It was a long night. By the time we finally sat down to eat, it was indeed the best chicken I had ever tasted.

That vow, though, quickly got broken as the demands of modern living tugged at me. Electric light filled my nights along with blue light from computers and handheld devices. And home cooked meals were replaced with grab and go cuisine.

Today, though, I have renewed my vow to live in the way that truly brings me joy. Today, I share with you my new Sabbath tradition. (They say sharing what you want to commit to is a good way of keeping that commitment as someone will hold you accountable…and so, who out there is going to hold me accountable?)

Rather than having a traditional Sunday dinner, which has also fallen by the wayside for so many families, Mondays will be my 18th-century cooking day. This will be my day to turn off the computers, get the fires outside going and begin making a meal. That is one thing that struck me during my cooking class: The amount of time and energy it took just to prepare one meal. After breakfast was eaten, we didn’t have time to sit around. There was more wood needed to get the bread oven the right temperature if we would to have a meat pie for supper that night. And then there was one dinner in which we didn’t eat till 9 p.m. as the chicken in the metal reflector oven in front of the flames was taking longer than we had anticipated. And then there was the day we burnt the tops of all eight pies … but that is another story.

And so, it is still Monday morning on this the first day of my 18-century cooking Sabbath time. The chicken is roasting nicely. The fresh collard and mustard greens have been picked from the garden and are now simmering down with bacon drippings. Next on the list is to make the spoonbread sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg and to be cooked over the fire. The fire is being a bit finicky as some of my wood is damp from last night’s storm. But I will make it work. And if I am inspired, I might make a cobbler with the abundance of rhubarb I have.

Getting the spoon bread ready for the skillet. Lots of freshly grated nutmeg is a must. Nutmeg — the spice of Colonial America.

Well, I would love to share more, but I have a fire to tend to. But I am curious to hear from you. How do you observe the much-needed Sabbath rest God invites us into? And, if not observed on Sunday, what day have you carved out to step back, rest and recharged your Spirit? (If your Sabbath involves cooking, send recipes my way!)

2 thoughts on “Gathering Around the Hearth

  1. I love this! Absolutely wonderful idea to unplug and be present in the moment. We are all so very connected and a societal expectation has crept up in being “connected” all of the time. Connect with what is important to you! My Sabbath will be Sundays after Labor Day. I’ll hold you to your Mondays! Connect with all of your senses and be present in each moment of what you are doing. God Bless you on your latest adventure!

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