Cooking like it’s 1822


Between my full time job and the demands of family life, most of the year, I don’t find a lot of time for socializing other than going for a brisk walk with my neighbours Anne and Chris a couple of evenings a week. Chalk it up to a holiday habit that became hard to break, but last week was a wonderful exception. On Monday we celebrated my husband Martin’s birthday; on Tuesday I met a friend and her mom for dinner before we went to see the Sound of Music on stage and then Wednesday, I hung out with my Toronto-based IACP friends at Campbell House Museum.

If you don’t know about Campbell House please do read on: this historic home offers a glimpse into how Canadians of a certain class used to live, cook and eat in  pre-Victorian Toronto. Curator Liz Driver was our host extraordinaire. She divided us into groups and we made a full menu including custard in the wood fired oven, baked apple pie in a bake kettle, and cheddar rarebit and fire roasted sirloin steak in the hearth.

The meal was sensational but the company was even better. Although we were assigned recipes in pairs, everyone was sharing stories and techniques. See that pie above?  Those are Norene Gilletz’s hands; she’s showing us how she crimps pastry. If you look closely you’ll see that the pie has several different crimp patterns. That’s because Bonnie Stern and I both demonstrated our techniques, too.

How much of your love of cooking has to do with gadgets and appliances? Is a wood fire, a pot and wooden spoon all you need to enjoy whipping up a meal or is a kitchen equipped with a dishwasher, a convection oven and other modern appliances necessary for you to enjoy cooking?


20 Responses to Cooking like it’s 1822

  1. Beth says:

    THis sounds like a fun event! I wish I was a professional foodie so I could come to these parties.

  2. Amy says:

    This was one of my best cooking experiences lately – all of the food had such a different quality than food made using our 21 century methods. Although the ingredients were simple – the flavours were rich and satisfying. My favourite was the “Scot’s Rabbit” a yummy concoction of Cheddar and beer done in an iron pot. Although it may never compare to the original – I plan to try this on my bbq in the summer!

  3. Candace says:

    Sounds like a ton of fun… but I definitely need my convection oven, dishwasher and gadgets! When I visit my mom, I joke that its just like camping when I cook in her kitchen. lol!

  4. danamccauley says:

    Amy, so glad you had fun! I loved how you got right into the event – you were seriously working that bake ove!

    Candace – I bet your mom loves those comments! Hopefully she has a good sense of humour. : )

  5. Elra says:

    I can imagine that you are a very busy lady. Good thing is, you enjoying it, right?

  6. Diva says:

    Oh that sounds like such fun – and tasty too! I’m not much of a gadget person, but I would sorely miss my dishwasher. I much prefer my knife and cutting board to a food processor … but I’ve never cooked over an open hearth.

    Also, you’ve not got me craving that rarebit. Yum!

  7. danamccauley says:

    I have been thinking about (read: craving!) that rarebit/rabbit everyday since we made it! I am absolutely going to make it again before the month is out!

  8. Cheryl says:

    I love that you photographed the crimping method. I’m a terrible crimper, and now I know the secret. Next pie’s for you…

  9. danamccauley says:

    Sounds good Cheryl! I’ll bring the ice cream.

  10. That sounds like a very fun evening and a great cooking concept. I’m a wooden spoon and a fire kinda girl so that’s right up my alley.
    What’s a bake kettle?

  11. Liz Driver says:

    Almost every time I try a “new” (!) historic recipe, it’s a revelation. Of the recipes we tried with my IACP friends, it was the roasted onions that surprised me the most — absolutely no preparation for the sweetest, most satisfying taste. We tossed the whole onions, skins and all, into an iron bake kettle, then left them to cook, covered, by the coals for about an hour, turning the pot occasionally so that they wouldn’t scorch on the side next to the coals. When we were ready to eat, Heidi squeezed the cooked onions out of their skins. Presto! Then Heidi discovered that the juice in the bottom of the pan was delicious too … people poured the juice onto their vegetable soup or over the roast beef.

    The recipe is called “To … Roast Onions,” credited to the early 19th-century English cookbook author Meg Dods and reprinted in The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian McNeill (1929). Dods is quoted as saying, “Stewed and roasted onions used to be a favourite supper-dish in Scotland, and were reckoned to be medicinal [i.e., good for you].” As McNeill writes, “Onions are roasted before the fire in their skins, peeled, and served with cold butter and salt.” I have not tried the same method in a modern oven, but I am sure the recipe would work equally well if the onions were thrown into a cast-iron Le Creuset casserole. What could be easier!

  12. danamccauley says:

    Hi Judith,

    A bake kettle is a covered iron pot similar to a Dutch oven. It’s used by putting it on a bed of hot coals in the hearth, putting an item in its bake pan inside the kettle and covering it tightly. THen more hot coals are shoveled on top of the lid so that heat radiates from the top and the bottom simultaneously. It’s essentially a little oven chamber.

    Surprisingly the pie we baked had a nice crisp crust even though the lid was on tightly and the apples were very juicy!

  13. Is it a domed lid? Or is the lid hollowed or scooped to allow for the coals?
    I actually cook in my fireplace quite a bit, this could be fun.

    I just an Alton Brown episode where he made cafloutis using the method you describe.

  14. While I love gadgets, I’d love to bake in a wood oven. Lovely to see you’ve hooked up with Liz Driver. One of these days I’ll have to give this old fashioned cooking a try.

  15. Cheryl A says:

    That’s exactly how I crimp my crusts!

    Gadgets? I love my immersion blender and food processor right now… baby food in the house!

  16. Dana and Liz, the evening was amazing and everything tasted terrific! Liz, the baked onions were so simple and yet so good. Campbell House is so special. Cooking on a hearth brought back memories of when we used to go to Winnipeg Beach in the summertime when I was a little girl and my mother would bake incredible, juicy pies in the wood stove, putting her hand into the oven quickly to “test the temperature.” I cook very quickly and rely on “machine cuisine” – mainly my food processor and microwave – but it was wonderful to take a step back into the past. Can’t wait until the next time!

    It was great fun crimping pastry – haven’t done that in a long time but I’m proud that I haven’t lost my touch!

  17. danamccauley says:

    Norene, I have a feeling you will never lose your touch! You’re just that good. : )

  18. great post !! I read a few of your other entires.where can i subscribe to your blog?Thank you for sharing.

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