Leave the measuring cups at home

Hearth cooking demonstration this weekend

  • Lorraine Walker

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 04, 2016 7:26PM

Nineteenth-century New England cooks never used measuring cups.

“In a modern kitchen, we measure everything. That goes out the window here,” said Lorraine Walker, inside the Phoenix Mill House, a drafty, colonial building behind the Monadnock Center for History and Culture.

“It’s OK to be a little loose with ingredients,” she said.

Walker and John Patterson, her mock puritan husband, will teach the art of open hearth cooking to six participants Saturday inside the Phoenix Mill House.

To register, visit monadnockcenter.org/event/hearth-cooking-workshop/.

Space is limited, and participants must be at least 18 years old.

What’s on the menu? Gourd soup with fried bread; pork, sage and apple pie; hand-churned butter and gingerbread cookies.

As mouth-watering as this meal sounds, preparing it won’t be a cakewalk, explained Walker.

“Nothing is as fast as it is today,” she said.

To bake bread at home, for example, you can preheat a conventional oven in 10 minutes.

To do the same to a colonial, beehive oven might take two hours. But, that’s half the fun, said Walker.

“Reading about [history] is one thing,” she said. “Actually doing it is another.”

Walker first got involved after watching Ellen Derby, the historical society’s former director, demonstrate hearth cooking. Walker loved the atmosphere so much that she volunteered to regularly demonstrate how to cook on an hearth. Patterson, also a history buff, volunteered shortly afterward.

Open hearth cooking starts with the beehive oven, named because the arrangment of the bricks resembles a beehive.

After Wood is fed into the oven, the embers warm the bricks. Food can also be prepared in the hearth. Skillets are elevated over the hearth by iron legs.

Pots can be hung over the hearth by a crane that acts like a stovetop.

The trick is to not let the fire die out, said Walker.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 228.