Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Taste of History: A Fall Flavors Weekend

A beautiful late September morning dawns...


...and the day begins
I’ve lamented for nearly a decade about the loss of the annual Fall Harvest Days festival that historic Greenfield Village used to have. This was where one could find a number of different fall activities occurring throughout the Village including corn shucking, threshing, the process of winnowing, food pickling, and numerous other seasonal historical ‘chores’ of the past. They would also have live music, hayrides, and cider & doughnuts. It was a real old-time shindig, and a wonderful opportunity to teach young and old - in a fun way - about harvest time in 19th century America.  
An old-time string band entertains at the Fall Harvest Days Festival in the late 1990's

Unfortunately, for some reason the last one they held was in 2005. Oh, they have had fall activities here and there but nothing like the celebration-type excitement that made the Fall Harvest Days festival so wonderful and fun.
I complained about this loss. Believe me. I complained.
I am going to guess that others have complained as well…and I think the powers that be may have listened, because in 2010 the Village brought back their fall harvest.
W-e-l-l…kinda sorta.
What they did was come up with a sort of replacement: the Fall Flavors Weekend. Fall Flavors is just as you probably imagine it to be: a festival of food. But this was food that was eaten most often during harvest time 100+ years ago.
Historic food.
We went that first year and I have to admit that I felt a tinge of excitement. Just a tinge. Was this going to be the Fall Harvest Festival under a new name?
For the most part, visitors toured the Village homes and saw lots of cooking, from the colonial period through the early part of the 20th century. And the recipes were those taken from the cookbooks of whichever year was being represented in the home.
Not quite the way it was presented a few years earlier, but heading in that direction.
So I mentioned casually to numerous people who worked at the Village that maybe this was a new beginning of the comeback of the Harvest Festival. But I wasn’t going to hold my breath.
They seemed to have high hopes as well.
I returned to Fall Flavors in 2011 and then again in 2012, and each year new additional activities were brought out that supplemented the cooking theme. Their direction was heading more and more into the commemoration of the Fall Harvest Festival as it once was celebrated, both in the literal past and in Greenfield Village’s past.
Well, this year of 2013 was the best Fall Flavors Weekend yet. In fact, aside from not having a string band playing old time music, someone showing the process of winnowing, and cider & doughnuts, the Autumn Harvest Festival, for all intents and purposes, is back: corn husking & shucking, threshing of grain, hand-press cider making, traditional cooking of harvest foods, food preservation, an heirloom apple orchard tour & tasting, a farmer’s market, and, with God’s blessing, fall leaves showing their beautiful colors.
I am a happy man!

Time tunnel...
Now, since harvest time centers on reaping, let’s talk about food - - - in a historical sense.
Food is one of those items rarely thought of as historical. But GMO awareness (Genetically Modified Organisms) and the quickly spreading truth about the Monsanto Corporation’s very questionable biotechnological practices have made many people weary of all of the chemicals laced in their foods. An example of what I am speaking of here can be found on the label of something as simple as a bottle of syrup; you may recall that a few years ago I wrote this little diatribe about that wonderful substance I pour onto my pancakes on Sunday morning:
“I have in front of me a bottle of Log Cabin Original Syrup. These are the ingredients as listed on the bottle: corn syrup, liquid sugar (natural sugar, water), salt, natural and artificial flavors (lactic acid), cellulose gum, preservatives (sorbic acid, sodium benzoate), sodium hexametaphosphate, caramel color, phosphoric acid.
Now here is what's in the bottle of Spring Tree Maple Syrup that is also in front of me:
100% pure maple syrup.
What would you rather put into your body?
Methinks that the Log Cabin syrup is somehow not quite as original as they say...”
It’s not just Log Cabin syrup, by the way, but nearly any item one purchases from the local grocery store tends to be laced with multiple chemicals that we can’t even pronounce, much less want to consume.
Is it any wonder that organic kitchen gardens are quickly becoming the norm in so many neighborhood yards? And farmers markets, once found only out in the country, are sprouting up throughout the major cities and suburbs.
Best of all, many who are growing their own vegetables are also using the non-GMO heirloom seeds to do so!
While at the Fall Flavor Weekend event at Greenfield Village, we took a guided tour of the organically grown heirloom apple trees in the Firestone Farm orchard.


Sheep being herded into the heirloom apple orchard at Firestone Farm.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:11-12)



It was a very well-informed tour by very knowledgeable tour guides.
  This orchard is filled with a number of 19th-century and earlier varieties of apple trees, and we were able to see a wide selection of red, green, brown, yellow, and speckled apples growing upon them. Names like Rambo (around 1640), Baldwin (1740), Maiden's Blush (early 1800's), Belmont (late 18th century – one of Johnny Appleseed’s favorites!), Roxbury Russet (from before 1649 - possibly America’s oldest apple), and Hubbardston Nonesuch (early 1800’s) can be found there. They all have different characteristics, flavors, and ultimately were used in different ways, either for sale, or for the family’s own use. With such a large amount of apples, there was a need for storage, and those not carefully packed away in sawdust were made into apple butter, apple sauce, pies, dowdies, dumplings, fritters, and cider.

The Belmont Apple, which was grown in Belmont County, Ohio, and named after the county, had its start in Quarryville, Pennsylvania in the late 18th century. It produced absolutely delicious apples, whether eaten fresh or cooked. The great legacy that Johnny Appleseed spread throughout Ohio and Indiana started, in part, with the Belmont apple.
The Roxbury Russet is a high-sugar cider apple that is also good for fresh eating or cooking and keeps well. It may be the oldest American apple, having originated in Roxbury, Massachusetts, before 1649.

 A bit of an anecdote here: while on the tour, the presenter mentioned that no chemical pesticides are ever used on these heirloom trees. One of the folks on the tour asked what was it they used, then, to keep the bugs off the precious apples. The presenter told the man that they used nothing and have had very little bug problem in all of the years they’ve been planted here. The man found it hard to believe that they grew fruits and vegetables without chemical sprays to keep the bugs off. I personally find it interesting that modern people can't imagine a time when things were grown without the use of bug-killing chemical sprays.
Another humorous story occurred when another visitor asked if the apples we were taste-testing were 'antique apples.' Of course she meant to say “heirloom apples” but the word would not come to her. My daughter caught it immediately and chuckled.

 We mentioned the Roxbury Russet as being excellent cider apples. The pictures below show the process of the farm hands making cider from the heirloom apples in their orchard. We watched them use their period hand-press to make the sweet drink. It was a slow process even with two people - one to cut up the apples and the other to press the juices out.

The cider-making hand press in action
 
It is a slow process to make cider. According to a Firestone Farm presenter, it takes one bushel of apples to make three gallons of cider.


"Is it cider yet?"

Now, what's this farm girl doing?

Making apple butter from heirloom apples. I heard it tastes amazing.

 It’s kind of strange, don’t you think, to think of apples as being historical. I mean, they’re just apples, right?
Well this is the intended point that the Fall Flavors event is attempting to teach: historical food and period cooking. 

Over the years I have collected numerous period cookbooks: The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy from 1747 (London), The First American Cookbook from 1797, Early American Cookery from 1841, and The Buckeye Cookbook from 1877, as well as a couple of food history books such as Food in Colonial & Federal America and Victoria’s Home Companion. Now, I’m not a cook, though my wife is an amazing one, and I had hopes she would attempt a few of the recipes (or ‘receipts,’ as they were known then).
But upon opening the books up, it’s easy to see that they were written for the people of ‘their’ time. 

Nearly 300 years old! No, this isn't my copy. I found this photo on a site called Gherkins and Tomatoes. (I hope the author doesn't mind me posting her photo - I cannot seem to get a hold of her.)
A little closer to "our time" - 1877 -  The Buckeye Cookbook shows that we are still very separated by time. Here is a snippet directing the cook on how to prepare a chicken:
“Do not feed poultry the day before killing; cut off the head, hang up by the legs, as the meat will be more white and wholesome if bled freely and quickly. In winter, kill them three days to a week before cooking. Scald well by dipping in and out of a pail or tub of boiling water, being careful not to scald so much as to set the feathers and make them more difficult to pluck; place the fowl on a board with the neck towards you, pull the feathers away from you, which will be in the direction they naturally lie (if pulled in a contrary direction the skin is likely to be torn), be careful to remove all of the pin-feathers with a knife or a pair of tweezers; singe, but not smoke over blazing paper, place on a meat-board, and with a sharp knife cut off the legs a little below the knee to prevent the muscles from shrinking away from the joint, and remove the oil-bag above the tail. Take out the crop, either by making a slit at the back of the neck or in front (the last is better), taking care that everything pertaining to the crop or windpipe is removed, cut the neck-bone off close to the body, leaving the skin a good length if to be stuffed; cut a slit three inches long from the tail upwards, being careful to cut only through the skin, put in a finger at the breast and detach all the intestines, taking care not to burst the gall-bag (situated near the upper part of the breast-bone, and attached to the liver; if broken, no washing can remove the bitter taint left on every spot it touches). Put in the hand at the incision near the tail, and draw out carefully all intestines; trim off the fat from the breast and at the lower incision; split the gizzard and take out the inside and inner lining (throw liver, heart, and gizzard into water, wash well, and lay aside to be cooked and used for the gravy). Wash the fowl thoroughly in several waters (some wipe carefully without washing), hang up to drain, and it is ready to be stuffed, skewered, and placed to roast.”
THIS I find extremely fascinating, don’t you? This tells me more about our ancestors than virtually any modern history book.
One of the more interesting aspects in reading these cookbooks is seeing the variety of treats from ‘back then’ that are still familiar and popular with us today: doughnuts, pumpkin pie, waffles, cookies, chowder, and, of course, cranberries – all from the colonial period, by the way.

Don't you just love a harvest meal? Just look at all the good food waiting to be served and eaten! Yes, this was cooked at Firestone farm by way of a period cookbook. All of the presenters eat the fine food made by the women of the house. I hear it's amazingly good.

Now, let's look at a bit of the history of a home-cooked meal - - - - 

The 1750 saltbox home of Samuel & Anna Daggett

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the most important room in any home is not the bathroom (indoor bathrooms are a fairly recent commodity), nor is it the bedroom. And it's certainly not the family room.
It's the kitchen. From days of old through our modern times, the kitchen is the one room where all the action takes place. It's where everyone seems to gather. It also has the  best smells! 
A common feature of a colonial kitchen was the massive fireplace in which the ingredients were turned into a veritable feast by the skilled cook. Swinging iron arms protruding from the surrounding stone or brick held massive pots, enabling the cook the luxury of moving the pots closer to or further from the fire, and Dutch ovens, setting on the hearth with coals underneath and on the lid, evenly baked cakes, pies, and other delights.

The fireplace where the cooking was done. Well, some of the cooking. You see, the Daggett House kitchen is elongated and would be difficult to show cooking there to the thousands of people who step into the historical house, so they do most of their cooking in the main room, or Great Hall as it was known. Note the "swinging iron arms protruding from the surrounding brick, holding the massive pots."

The next few photos will show a typical colonial farm house that, in the mid-1700's was built and owned by Samuel & Anna Daggett and their three children:

Here we see a Dutch oven in use (that's the black pot with the pie inside). Notice the coals on top of the lid as well as below the pot. It's done that way in order to bake the pie more evenly.
Here is the Daggett kitchen. It would be a tight fit to get more than a few people in here at a time. Though the fireplace here is rarely used for cooking by the presenters, the kitchen is still where the food is prepared.

And the lucky presenters get to eat the wonderful hearth-cooked meal.

This next home, built around the same time as the Daggett Home, will take us from colonial farm to colonial city and.is known as the Giddings House, after it's original builder, John Giddings, a prosperous merchant and shipbuilder who lived there with his wife, Mehetable, and their five children.


The Giddings House: built around the same time as Daggett but, since the owner was a ship merchant, it was more upscale.
However, as upscale as it was, cooking was still pretty much done the same way. Here we see a servant girl cooking for the Giddings family. Note that the utensils are very much as what the farming Daggetts had.

The kitchen is larger in Giddings and had the room for additional furniture to aid the cook.

Here is a better look at the Giddings kitchen. That's the fireplace on the right.

Moving ahead into the future, we see that the average American kitchen had changed little by the early 19th century, though by mid-19th century the kitchen had advanced drastically. The biggest development was the cast iron cook stove replacing the fireplace and the traditional cooking tools used; Dutch ovens and ‘spiders’ with three legs for use over coals in the hearth were replaced with flat bottom skillets and pans that instead sat upon the surface of the stove.  
 (Look at the colonial cooking photos above and see if you can find the 'spider'.)

 Now let us look at some pictures of 19th century cooking from the Firestone Farm kitchen. :

The Firestone Farm, as it stands now in Greenfield Village, is, like the Daggett house, a living history re-creation of life on a farm. This home and surrounding land has been restored to look as it did in 1882, when the parents of future tire magnet Harvey remodeled the 1830's house to give it a more modern look. Note the heirloom apple orchard to the right of the barn.

The Firestone women have plenty of room to work in the large and functional kitchen.
 
What a difference this cast iron stove made over cooking on the hearth.

And what a meal these Firestone ladies make!
The men of Firestone are never at a want for food, that's for certain.

Historical presenters cook period food in a traditional manner in the homes at Greenfield Village. But, unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to taste any of what is cooked. Wouldn’t it be great to actually be able to taste this period food?
Well, we, the visitors, actually can
The Eagle Tavern:

Built in 1832, the Eagle Tavern now serves as a stage stop from 1850, with hosts, servers, and food to match.
 Previously, when I would eat at the Village's Eagle Tavern (the premier 19th century restaurant bar-none!), I knew I was eating “what they used to eat in the old days,” but never really gave it much thought. I’ve always known, however, that the Eagle Tavern serves up period-oriented food seasonally; in other words, just as it would have been in the 19th century, the menu changes with the seasons. For instance, during the early summer one would find the following on their menu:

Roasted Herb Chicken with Rice
Savory Noodles with Summer Squash and Herbs
Venison Croquette
Pan-Fried Trout with Lemon Butter
and
Ham-Steak with Walnut Catsup

And for side orders:
Dressed Tomatoes and Greens
Salmagundi
Potato and Sausage Pie
and
Fried Eggplant with Stewed Tomatoes

And for dessert:
Strawberry Shortcake
Blueberry Fool
and
Peach Crisp


During this autumn time of year, their menu includes such delectable delights as:

Whitefish Served on a Cast Iron Skillet
Venison, Turnip, and Carrot Pie,
Fricasseed Chicken with Biscuits
Smoked Trout with Pickled Vegetables
Smoked Pork with Sauerkraut
and
Savory Noodles with Buttermilk Spinach and Herbs

And for sides one can order:
Bubble & Squeak
Salmagundi
Onion Pie
and
Smoked Trout with Pickled Vegetables

And how about dessert?
Pumpkin with Whipped Cream
Cider Bread Pudding with Nutmeg Custard Sauce
Apple and Cranberry Pandowdy

 As you can plainly see, this is not your typical, normal everyday 21st century restaurant fare.

Here is my Fricasseed Chicken with Biscuits - - oooo...and Brussels Sprouts, too!

 (For knowledge sake, here is the Tavern's night time Christmas feast: apple sauce, cranberry relish, butternut squash soup, pork & apple pie, , roasted chicken with cherry sauce, roasted rib of beef with brown sauce, brussels sprouts, buttered carrots, herb roasted red potatoes, and a French charlotte with vanilla sauce for dessert. Oh, and hot cider to drink.
All very traditional and accurate for a mid-19th century Christmas meal.)

As you will see by the following photographs, the Eagle Tavern is as authentic looking as a mid-19th century tavern could be. It's a literal step into the past:

Daytime or during one of their rare evening suppers, the Eagle Tavern is always lit by real - not electric - candles, as well as the fireplace.

Every-so-often a group of us will visit the Tavern while wearing our 1860's clothing. This adds greatly to our period dining experience.

But there’s a reason for such a menu and the atmosphere: it's about historical accuracy. 
It’s in this way that the ability to give the patron of the Eagle Tavern more of a sensory perception of the past by way of taste rather than only sight and sound (and many times smell) can be had and explored. And, best of all, the food is produced locally, just as it would have been in the 19th century. This includes the meat from the livestock, vegetables, and even the drinks; most are from within 150 miles of the museum (and are mostly from Michigan, though occasionally do extend into northern Ohio).
It wasn’t until recently that I fully realized to what extent this venue goes in its historical food preparation.
By the way, their drinks – hard and soft – are also historically accurate. 

Our server (not sure what the waitresses were called at that time) gets the drinks from the barkeep.

From a posting in the Dining in Detroit blog:
"We're historically accurate with everything else here; why not drinks?" Director of Food Services and Catering Jesse Eisenhuth points out. In that spirit, they carry a selection of "Spirituous Liquors" in the Eagle Tavern and bar from Michigan's New Holland Distillery, which include whiskey, gin, two kinds of rum, and a "Michigan grain spirit" (called such because "vodka" would have been unknown at this time, except maybe as moonshine). New Holland's spirits were also chosen because the labels have a look more suited to the 1850 era (versus something like the cheeky 1920s-era pin-up girl on the Valentine Vodka label, superior though the product may be). Beers (called "malt beverages" on the menu) are custom-made from Detroit's Motor City Brewing Works with labels exclusive to the Henry Ford, and are bottled in such a way as to appear more era-appropriate (though bottled beer would not have existed back then). "With everything we do we consider 'how can we position this properly to have it here?' We're not going to the extreme of carrying Bud Light. We're still keeping our look and feeling [with these beers]."
The cocktails are another example of this practice. Classic cocktails are prepared in classic ways, like the Mint Julep which is really a simple preparation of simple syrup, muddled mint and bourbon or brandy. "It's also part of the educational process, which is part of our identity here," Eisenhuth explains. "We can make the drink however someone wants it - with more syrup or with rum instead - but how we make them here is historically accurate." The drink recipes have been changed to be more local and era-appropriate; for the Mint Julep, the Greenfield Village Herb Associates grow their own mint that is used in the drink. They make their own simple syrup (as they would have done in 1850), as well as their own aromatic bitters using a recipe from the Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide published in 1862. "The drinks wouldn't have been fancy back then," Eisenhuth notes. "They would have only had two or three ingredients just to mask the flavor of the alcohol." (Hence the use of bitters, which do that job rather well. And let that serve as a warning to you.) 

If you still question their commitment to the authenticity here, then know this: currently they are planting Orange Pippin trees, which is a specific kind of apple, in the Village so that in time they can make the historic bitters recipe really as it was made.
One more time: they're growing apple trees in order to make more historically accurate bitters. Lots of bars are making their own bitters nowadays, but how many can claim that?
All in the name of authenticity.

One of the most interesting features inside the Henry Ford Museum (a separate indoor facility that houses, in a traditional museum atmosphere, many more objects not found in the adjacent Greenfield Village) is the kitchen display in the home arts area. There are four kitchens which show, over the course of 200 years, from the colonial era through the mid-20th century, the changes in what many consider to be the most important room in a house.

A kitchen around 1770

A kitchen from around 1840

A kitchen from around 1890

A kitchen from the 1930's
This is a wonderful set up. If I had one minor complaint it would be that they should have a placard next to each kitchen explaining the progression and new innovations from the previous one. 
I find it fascinating to see how this most beloved room in the home has changes considerably over the course of 160 years.

Let's remember the most important part of food preparation: reaping what you sow. I'd like to write something I'm sure many of you may have read, especially as children, but can be taken out of the book and placed before your eyes as something very real.
Let's see if you can guess what book it's from:

At noon the threshers came in to the table loaded with food. But there was none too much, for threshers work hard and get very hungry.
By the middle of the afternoon the machines had finished all the threshing, and the men who owned them drove them away into the Big Woods, taking with them the sacks of wheat that were their pay. They were going to the next place where neighbors had stacked their wheat and wanted the machines to thresh it.

 Pa was very tired that night, but he was happy. He said to Ma:
“It would have taken Henry and Peterson and Pa and me a couple of weeks apiece to thresh as much grain with flails as that machine threshed today. We wouldn’t have got as much wheat, either, and it wouldn’t have been as clean.

“That machine’s a great invention!” he said. “Other folks can stick to old fashioned ways if they want to, but I’m all for progress. It’s a great age we’re living in. As long as I raise wheat, I’m going to have a machine come and thresh it, if there’s one anywhere in the neighborhood.”
 
(From the book Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder)


  I suppose in the great scheme of things the autumn harvest and the food it produces is a minor footnote to most historians. But I see it differently: if we’re to fully understand the whys and wherefores of the lives of our ancestors, then why shouldn’t we at least make the attempt to grasp the entire spectrum and include what they ate and drank in the experience?
And it's these thoughts that make me wonder - maybe the Fall Flavors Weekend was meant to be, for that’s how I discovered food history. And believe me when I say that Greenfield Village takes their food history seriously.
Coupled with the harvest activities during the Fall Flavors Weekend, I don’t know if there is another place that gives such an authentic and historically accurate dining and harvest experience like you can get at Greenfield Village. I mean, seriously (and especially for local folks), if the closest you come to experiencing the beauty and bounty of the season is a quick trip to an apple orchard, then take whatever opportunity you can and head over to Greenfield Village for an amazing historical sensory travel into the past. 
I am not saying this as an advertisement for the Village, for I do not work there. I say it as a historian and lover of social history.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you would like to know more about the history of the Eagle Tavern, please click HERE
If you would like to know more about eating historically at a reenactment, please click HERE
For a historical posting on the Fall Harvest, click HERE
If you would like my 2012 perspective on the Fall Food Flavors Weekend, click HERE

To purchase the historical cookbooks, click the title desired:
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy from 1747
The First American Cookbook from 1796
Early American Cookery from 1841
The Buckeye Cookbook from 1877
Food in Colonial & Federal America
Victoria’s Home Companion











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