Open Hearth Cooking at Remick Museum

Last weekend, Dan and I spent a wonderful day at the local Remick County Doctor Farm and Museum in Tamworth, New Hampshire. We were there to take an all-day Open Hearth Cooking Class with the staff. We’ve taken several classes, but this was by far the most in-depth class. There were twelve of us in the class, and we literally started with making the fire and then went through the whole process of cooking a hearty – and very filling – dinner. The menu consisted of pumpkin soup, chicken roasted in the tin oven, parsnips and carrots boiled and mashed with a nutmeg cream sauce, fried potato cakes, soda bread made in the dutch oven, and a molasses cake with homemade whipped cream. 
To get this all done we all had assignments. But we did all watch the chicken festivities. I’ve worked in many museums that had a tin kitchen, but I’d never actually cooked using one. So it was fascinating to me to watch the chicken get properly stuffed, trussed, and then skewered in place.
Someone’s lucky job was to turn the handle every fifteen minutes to keep the chicken properly rotated in front of the fire. The reflection from the tin helps cook it through, but the nice crisply skin is the result of the open flame.

With the drippings collected on the bottom of the tin kitchen someone made gravy which looked absolutely disgusting and tasted divine. (Note to self, not all things that look gross are gross).

While the chicken cooked, we moved from the VERY hot fire into another part of the kitchen to make homemade butter in a churn and whipped cream in another type of churn. Needless to say, both taste wildly different than what we buy in the store. For those of you why buy whipped cream in a can or Cool Whip, really don’t do it!

After that we had to hurry to get the remainder of our food ready. Dan and I whipped through peeling carrots and parsnips using the back of a knife (until we gave up on this authentic method and used a peeler), chopped them up and put them to boil in a big kettle over the fire.

All of us got to make small loaves of soda bread. We then loaded up the little shaped loaves into a dutch oven with coals underneath and coals on the lid to let them bake.

Dutch oven is to the right of the tin kitchen. I didn't get a good photo of how it works. Sorry

Dan and I also got drafted to do the potato cakes. We peeled, chopped and boiled the potatoes. Then mashed them with 1 egg, a bit of fresh rosemary, salt and pepper and then formed them into cakes. We floured them lightly and then cooked them in butter over coals in a “spider” (a cast iron skillet on legs so that it can be placed over coals).

It got very hot cooking them and at one point we had to drag Dan away so he wouldn’t faint. We were cooking in the dead of winter, mind you in a heated room. But it was really hot, hard work.As our teacher Erica said, there’s no romance to this kind of cooking once you really do it. This is very true. But the taste! Everything was so yummy, even with the accidents where ashes got into things (we got most of them out I’m sure before eating).

After a flurry of activity, we all sat down and gobbled the meal us while washing everything down with homemade Raspberry Shrub. After helping with clean up, we rolled home feeling incredibly full. What we needed to do was go out and work on the farm for another five hours, but sadly life isn’t that way anymore.

Chicken, veggies, potato cake, and bread

So what was the main takeaway from this experience?

  • That cooking a full meal over an open hearth was hot, tiring work.
  • It would have really helped the woman of the house to have a large number of daughters in the family to help. Heaven help the woman who only had boys in her family!
  • The food tastes incredibly good without all those preservatives and who knows what that is in most of our food today.
  • That once the cook stove was introduced, after the initial shock of trying to learn how to use it, it would have been a huge boon to the housewife.

Next month’s class is indeed that. We will learn how to cook on the Victorian cook stove at the Remick.

One Response to “Open Hearth Cooking at Remick Museum”

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  1. Bev says:

    That sounds like so much fun! Something I’d enjoy doing!

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