This week’s topic brings back memories of days gone by and just might stir up the desire in you to cook over an open fire. Well perhaps not you. Maybe someone you know.
In any case, I thank you all for listening and hope you find this information useful. Thank you, thank you to all of you veteran homestead-loving regulars and welcome to all of you new listeners out there. Let me know what you’re interested in and I’ll see if I can come up with some compelling dialogue.
- Homestead Life Updates
- Cooking on the Hearth
- Mint Sauce (for Lamb Roast)
Homestead Life Updates
Our newest addition, Butter, had her calf. Butter is a purebred Jersey with certified A2A2 genetics. If you are not familiar with what that means, well that’s a podcast for another time. The health benefits of raw milk from cows with A2A2 genetics are substantial. We have four calves now—with 2 more still to come.
Finally, the last ewe had her lambs. She has a lovely set of twins. That brings our total lambs this season to 9. All are alive and well. Only one issue. But Lambert is doing well on his bottle. Every morning and afternoon I go out and call “lambikins” and he comes running. As soon as he has finished his bottle, he turns around and trots back to his mom and 2 siblings.
The quail have hatched. We have 24 baby quail in a brooder right now. They peeped a lot when they first hatched, but now they are as quiet as church mice. I’ve spent lots of time just watching them run around pecking here and there. In three weeks’ time they will be fully feathered and ready to move to their quail condo. By 8 weeks, the hens will be laying eggs and I will start the process all over again until we have the number of birds we want for breeding stock. Our goal is to raise all of the eggs we eat. Eggs and coffee are the only items I currently buy from the grocery store. Soon to be only coffee.
We have 3 steers soon to be up for grabs. If you are interested in a ¼, ½ or whole steer, please get on the list quickly. The first one will go to processing in late June and will be available for pickup around mid-July. We are always limited in the amount of grass-fed beef that we have available. Again, please get on the list early.
The tomatoes are in the garden. It was a bigger job than I thought, but I persevered and got them all in the ground. The beans are up. I still need to plant the green beans. And just today we got the sweet potato slips. Once the beans and sweet potatoes go in, I will have planted that entire garden. Oops, I almost forgot. I need to plant the sunflowers between the tomatoes.
I’m amazed at how much I accomplished on my own with this garden. Sure, Scott did a lot of the heavy work with the mulch and initial fertilizer, but the rest was all me. I’ve never done that much on my own before. Diet and exercise is working wonders for me.
Not much to report on the creamery this week. We’ve been tied up with other tasks and another week has slipped by with only a little progress. Life on the homestead is constantly filled with meaningful, fulfilling tasks. Scott really does have a lot on his plate right now. He’s doing a great job juggling all of his responsibilities. He is so awesome.
Cooking on the Hearth
In the Cooking Through the Ages FarmCast I finished up with a recipe for cooking cornbread on the hearth. There have been so many questions about hearthside cooking, I decided to do an episode on the techniques and knowledge that our great-great-great-great grandmothers used to cook meals for their families. When the United States was founded, all cooking was done over a fire. Most often it was done in the fireplace of the home.
Knowledge of fire-building was a part of everyday life. There were specific tools and implements that assisted in the cooking process. I’ll talk about those as well.
Today we see a fireplace is a charming optional feature for a home. In yesterday’s world a fireplace was absolutely essential to living and the virtual center of family life. It was the primary heat source, was a major source of light, and provided the means by which all food was prepared.
We have a wood stove and perhaps you do too. Once the match was invented, fire building became pretty easy. We merely crumble up some newspaper, lay on some wood, then strike the match. Before this modern convenience, coals had to be carefully banked at night to ensure a ready fire was easily built for the next day’s meals. A “cold fire” meant using flint and steel to strike sparks in extremely flammable tinder, skillful application of air and carefully feeding small twigs, then larger and larger sticks into the flame.
Another convenience of today that we may take for granted is our screened fireplaces. Together with normal precautions, fire hazards from sparks and coals hitting the floor are reduced to nearly nothing. In the past, the fear of fire meant constant vigilance. A coal of fire accidentally falling on the floor causing a fire was not uncommon in the days of large fireplaces with steadily burning fires and no protective screening. In fact, hearth injuries were second only to childbearing as the leading cause of death in women.
Certain safeguards made the difference between a pleasurable, rewarding cooking and heating experience and possible tragedy.
Some things kept on hand included having a bucket of water nearby and a woolen blanket that could smother flames. Long skirts would be tucked up and out of the way when working at the fire. Women often checked the lower hem of their skirts for smoldering cloth if their dress was dragged across live coals. Have you noticed how women wore hats in the past. Their hair was covered and no bare feet were to be found near the fire.
Carefully thought out steps also guarded against accidents. The immediate area needed to be kept clear when moving hot coals. Heavy iron pots filled with simmering liquid or food were not easy to handle. Extreme care was taken in removing them from the crane or lifting them from the coals. Frying foods and roasting meats require care to avoid burns from splattering fat. Staying continually alert was the best protection against mishaps.
Building a Fire
Everyone has his or her own theory for “correct” fire building. Here is a relatively simple method that has worked quite well for us. Sometimes we have to start with a clean fireplace. However, old ashes provide insulation and helps to maintain heat. We usually crumple several sheets of newspaper on top of the existing ashes for kindling. In the 18th century scrapwood, bark or small and dry branches would be used in lieu of paper. Next, we lay the wood on the kindling in a grid pattern, starting with soft kindling wood such as pine. On top of the kindling, we lay a mixture of hardwood and softwood in slightly larger pieces. Next follows another layer of hardwood. At that point, we would simply use a lighter to make a flame on the end of a very small piece of pine kindling and light the newspaper at the rear of the fire. Starting the fire at the rear allows the fire to start warming the chimney. After the fire is well-established, we add large pieces of wood to keep the flames burning steadily. Hardwoods for this purpose include oak and hickory. Cedar has a tendency to “pop”, creating a possible fire hazard without the door on our stove or the fire screens I mentioned earlier. So no cedar in an open hearth. You can use fruit woods, such as apple and cherry, to provide a tantalizing aroma and impart a delicious flavor to roasting meats.
Cooking on the Hearth
The fire should be started well before actual cooking begins. You might think that Hearthside cooking is all done directly over a fire. Not true. Though flames are necessary for roasting and cooking on a crane (I’ll talk more about the tools next), the quantity of coals is more important. It will be at least two hours of preparatory fire burning before a large amount of coals is ready to be raked or shoveled into individual mounds on the hearth. Moving the coals around and piling them creates cooking areas something like the burners on your modern stove. Most hearth cooking—baking, frying, simmering—was done over glowing embers. The need for a steady supply of embers necessitates a continuously burning fire.
Equipping a Fireplace Hearth for Cooking
If this topic of Hearthside cooking is of interest to you as a hobby, there are tools are available still available for purchase. Artisans are producing ironwork, pottery, woodenware and tin-ware for reasonable prices. With a few basic implements, any fireplace can be made ready for cooking. The following are essential for open hearth food prep:
- A swinging crane
- Pot hangers—S-hooks, trammel, ratchets
- Dutch ovens—a minimum of two
- Long handled tools including spoons, ladle, meat fork, and spatula
- An iron pot
- Poker, tongs, and shovel
The swinging crane, a hinged device bolted into the side of the fireplace, was a major development in kitchen furnishings. Prior to the crane, the lug pole was used. It was a fixed device suspended across the upper portion of the fireplace and fitted into the brick itself. To use the fixed lug pole you had to step on the hearth and leaning into the fireplace to suspend or remove those heavy iron pots filled with food or water. At best, this was dangerous. The swinging crane brought new flexibility and safety since it could be swung out and away from the fire for use.
Pots were suspended from the crane by a variety of hangers. The simplest is the S-hook, which can be linked together with others to raise or lower a pot over the flames and thus regulate the amount of heat for cooking. I use a version of this to raise and lower the height of the lights over my plant seedlings.
Other pot hangers included the trammel, basically a flat hanger with the hook and eye arrangement. The eye goes over the crane and there is a hook for the pot handle. The trammel is too long and cumbersome for modern fireplaces, but they were very important for the large fireplaces found in the days of colonial America.
A Dutch oven is probably the single most important item for Hearthside cooking. It can be used to bake bread and desserts. You can use it to stew meats and vegetables or to brown foods. Standing on three short legs, the Dutch oven would be placed on a bed of coals and its contents would be covered with a tightfitting lid. Additional coals are then shoveled on top. Voila! An oven is created. The coals are replenished as needed. Generally, cooking times are equal to those given in modern recipes. With this most important piece of equipment, anything done in a modern oven can be duplicated on the hearth.
Long Handled Tools
A variety of long handled tools are needed for stirring, mixing, turning, basting, skimming, and labeling. Made of iron or wood, they include spatulas, meat forks, spoons, strainers, and ladles. You can find these today for use with outdoor grills.
Trivets refers to a tripod used to elevate pots from the coals of an open fire. In fireplace cooking they were used to hold pots and kettles for cooking over the coals and for keeping already prepared foods warm.
An iron pot, hung on the crane, is indispensable for soups, stews, and boiled puddings. Usually equipped with legs, the pot is also useful for simmering directly over the coals.
Tongs, Poker, Shovel
The same equipment used for our woodstove—tongs, poker, and shovel—are also needed and for the same purpose as times past. They are used to manipulate the wood and coals.
Hearthside tools could be supplemented with an endless array of additional utensils, especially those for roasting.
For roasting meats and fowl, a pair of andirons or firedogs, fitted with hooks to hold an iron spit, is one such accessory. Food to be cooked is skewered on the spit and then suspended between the firedogs. The simplest of these spits has a handle at one end. The meat is turned on the spit for even roasting.
A necessary adjunct to roasting is a dripping pan, generally made of iron. It is placed underneath the roasting meat to catch its juices. The juices are then used for basting and later used to make gravy.
A long handled frying pan is another helpful utensil for open hearth cooking. Set on a trivet or made with three legs to stand over the coals, the frying pan is helpful for frying or sautéing.
A griddle for baking over the fire is another useful kitchen utensil used to bake a variety of muffins, buns, and pancakes. Its handle is secured to the crane by a pot hanger. Also needed for baking are pie and cake tins and tart and biscuit pans.
We’ve come a long way baby. It’s still fun to use some of these traditional techniques. They are applicable on your camping trips or backyard firepits as well.
A colonial meal would be composed of foods dictated by the season and the weather. In a future podcast I’ll talk about the traditional seasonal cuisine of Virginia.
Eliza Leslie’s Mint Sauce Recipe
We have lots of lamb. Cruise on over to our website www.peacefulheartFarm.com, and place in order. Then stop by the farm on Tuesday mornings between 10 and 12 or Saturday afternoons between three and five and pick it up. And to go with that lamb you might want to try making this wonderful mint sauce.
This is Eliza Leslie’s mint sauce recipe in its original form.
Take a large bunch of fine fresh green mint, that has been washed well. Strip the leaves from the stems, and mince them well. Put it into a pint bowl, and mix with it gradually some of the best cider vinegar. This sauce must not be the least liquid, but as thick as horseradish sauce or thicker. Make it very sweet, with the best brown sugar. Mix it well, and transfer to a small tureen, or a little deep dish with a teaspoon in it. Serve it up always with roast lamb, putting a teaspoonful on the rim of your plate.
A quart or more of mint sauce, made as above, but with a larger portion of sugar and vinegar, will keep very well for several weeks, in a jar well corked.
As I’ve said before, early recipes can really only be followed by the best of cooks. Here’s what the recipe looks like in our modern lingo.
Makes approximately 1 cup
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar (or more to taste)
- 1/3 cup minced fresh mint leaves
- Combine vinegar and brown sugar in small saucepan. Set on trivet over hot coals and heat until warm.
- Remove from heat and add mint leaves. Stir well and set aside to cool.
- Pour into sauce boat and serve as accompaniment to roast lamb.
- Follow hearth direction 1, heating vinegar and sugar over low heat.
- Complete following hearth directions 2 and 3.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s traditional hearth cooking topic. The mint sauce recipe is available FREE for download at www.peacefulheartFarm.com/category/recipes/. You’ll find all of my other recipes there as well. And again, don’t forget to pop over to the online farm store to make your lamb purchase to go with that mint sauce.
Speaking of lambs, we have been extremely blessed this season with nine healthy lambs. It doesn’t always happen that way and we are grateful.
Remember to get on the list for purchasing ¼, ½ or whole beeves.
As we get ramped up for our herd share program, we will be busier than ever. But we’re never too busy to listen to your input. Stop by website and leave us your feedback. We’d loving your ideas.
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As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”
Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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