Home is where the Hearth is.

It has been a busy summer. For the past month I have turned my attention from the wood cook stoves to the open hearth. Through research into the types of food 19th century Upper Canadians would have cooked, I have prepared a selection of main courses and desserts.

Last weekend I made a Cottage Pie (similar to Shepherds Pie but made with beef instead of mutton). What I liked about this recipe was that it allowed me to use several types of cooking techniques, boiling, frying, and baking. The end result was a dish full of delicious comfort food. I also had the opportunity to use a product called Mushroom Ketchup in the preparation of this dish. It used to be popular condiment, and I was surprised by the deep earthy mushroom flavor it gave to the dish.



Today I played around with some bannock recipes and think I found a winner. The bannock griddled up golden brown and easily cooked all the way through, something some bannock recipes don’t do very well.


Finally, I turned my attention to my sweet tooth and made a boiled plumb pudding. The pudding cooked for 3 hours, and came out great, made even more perfect with the addition of a rum hard sauce. For this recipe I tried using a pudding bag with a draw string, and found it very difficult to remove the cooked pudding from the bag. In the future I will go back to using a large square of cloth that can be tied with string and easily opened once the pudding is cooked.


I am going to be co-teaching a hearth cooking workshop in Pickering Ontario in October, and some of these recipes are going to be featured in the program. It will be wonderful sharing this form of cooking with folks who are eager to learn about it and I anticipate that it is going to be a great time. Until then, I will continue to research and test recipes. More to come….

I Lyed!

Lyed corn that is!

This product is made by soaking corn in a weak lye bath that removes the outer hull from the kernel. It can be made from white or yellow corn, and is sold in whole or cracked kernel varieties. It originates from the aboriginal peoples of North and South America, who discovered this technique of drying corn so that it was more palatable, and could be stored for later use.

My adventure with lyed corn started forty years ago when my father, a member of the Cayuga Nation, took me for a visit to the reservation where I was fed a bowl of corn soup. I remember it tasting delicious. Chewy, and salty, and smoky, with big chunks of fry bread to soak up all the broth at the bottom of the bowl. That soup has haunted me for years.

Fast forward 40 years later. I was researching 18th and 19th century upper Canadian recipes for a course on hearth cooking that I am going to be co-teaching in October. What do I stumble across but an 18th century recipe for corn soup. As I read through the ingredients, my mind rushed back to the corn soup of my childhood.

Corn soup in the Haudenosaunee culture is based on some basic ingredients – lyed corn, beans, salt pork and water. The soup I made did not have beans, used chicken stock as a base, and had some cream and butter stirred in just before serving, but the star of the show was the lyed corn.

The following pictures show the lyed corn I used in its dry state and after cooking. ¼ cup of dry corn expands to just under 1 cup when cooked.

The dry corn is soaked in water overnight, and boiled for 3-4 hours until the corn kernels soften and burst open, sometimes referred to as popping. The result is a fairly bland tasting corn with a chewy texture that works beautifully in soups.


Close up of kernels that have popped.

I made the soup in a cast iron pot over an open hearth fire, which added an extra smokiness to the finished product which I would categorize as comfort food, plain and simple…no lie.


Note – The Haudenosaunee confederacy is made up of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations.

Blue Ribbon Buzz

I participated in a “Blue Ribbon Cooking” competition today at a pioneer village. Each historic house or building on the property had a team of cooks making sweets, and guests were invited to taste the various offerings and vote for the treat that they liked best. I was working out of a c 1850 Inn and our team made sugar cookies rolled in nutmeg and sugar and baked in a wood burning cook stove.


Some visiting craftspeople were located throughout the village adding ambiance by spinning, weaving, making rope, and playing various musical instruments. One of the highlights of the day was going for a promenade through the village to visit the other cooks and sample the foods they were making. I can say that my personal favorite was the vanilla ice cream, a little cup of ice cold bliss, and I am sure sitting beside a red hot wood stove all day had no influence on my choice. As in times gone by, members of the current historic cooking community become known for certain things. “Have you tried Julie’s lemon bars?” “Sue makes the best pound cake”. As of yet I have not landed on a speciality. I think that it is something that just happens as you play around with different recipes and techniques. I have no idea who actually won todays competition, and I have a feeling that it does not really matter because for the team of cooks, craftspeople and volunteers, everyone came out a winner and a little sugar buzzed.


Toast of the Town

Rumor has it that toasted cheese was a favorite dish of Jane Austen as evidenced by the author’s own hand…

“We were greatly surprised by Edward Bridges company… It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper, entirely on my account.”
~Jane Austen, 27 August, 1805

Also referred to as rarebit, I could think of no better dish to prepare during my final wood stove cooking examination.

The recipe I selected was originally published in “Domestic Cookery (1829)

Grate three ounces of fat cheese, mix it with the yolk of two eggs, four ounces of grated bread and three ounces of butter; beat the whole well in a mortar, with a dessert spoonful of mustard and a little salt and pepper. Toast some bread, cut it in to proper pieces; lay the paste, as above, thick upon them, put them into a Dutch oven covered with a dish, till hot through, remove the dish, and let the cheese brown a little. Serve as hot as possible.

The modern adaptation:

1¼ cups cheddar or other hard cheese
2 hard-boiled egg yolks mashed
2-3 cups soft bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon mustard
Dash of salt and pepper
8 slices lightly toasted bread

1. Blend cheese, mashed egg yolks, bread crumbs, butter, mustard, salt, and pepper.
2. Spread paste on toast. Bake in 350º oven covered for 15 minutes. Remove cover for last 5 minutes to brown the cheese.

I used a dry mustard powder instead of wet mustard, and regular ground black pepper. A very light rye bread was used as the base and in the topping. A medium orange cheddar was provided for me to use, in the future I will use an old white cheddar to give the dish a little more bite and less of an orange hue. It took about 30 minutes to bake in a slow/medium wood stove oven. I was not able to get the top to brown up as I did not have a salamander on hand, but the result was still delicious.

Note: a salamander is an iron disc that is heated in the fire and used to brown the tops of food.


The stove was the ENSIGN model made by the United Nail & Foundry Co. in St. John’s Newfoundland. It has a very small fire box and burns through wood extremely fast. Although I had heard the oven runs hot, I had a difficult time getting it to reach a medium heat. Perhaps the cool, damp weather was having an influence on the temperature. No complaint mind you, cool weather is appreciated when wood stove cooking.


Here is the star of the show, toasted cheese. This dish was a great choice for my examination, I passed with flying colors. I will certainly be making this in the future, it was buttery,savory and crunchy and hit all the right comfort food buttons. I can see why our Jane liked it so well.



Pelisse and Thank You

My sewing skills are progressing and each time I complete a project my confidence grows. To date I have made three dresses from the 18th-19th century. I have made two day caps, a fichu, a pocket, two chemises, bloomers, and a petticoat. Putting on a garment that you have made yourself is a wonderful feeling however, there have been a few pieces that I have been wanting but are still outside of my current sewing skills. This year I received some money for my Birthday, and I decided that I was going to have a few staple pieces professionally made to flush out my regency era wardrobe.

I had some cream and brown striped cotton that I wanted to make a simple day dress out of, but felt my sewing skills were not developed enough to successfully handle striped fabric. I also wanted a brown pelisse and a spencer. So here is what I had made with my birthday money.

The day dress has removable sleeves so it can serve many purposes, from a general assembly type dance, to a picnic, to an afternoon tea. It is a light cotton that will be comfortable spring through fall.


The skirt portion of the pelisse is attached with buttons when removed become a spencer.


The fabric is a rich toffee brown, and has some beautiful embroidery work on the sleeves and the skirt.


These two garments will give me four different looks, and blend well with the rest of my wardrobe which all tends to lean towards muddy brown, green, and beige shades.

The best part is how perfectly they fit. Employing the services of a professional tailor is money well invested, and I certainly understand the excitement that people of past generations must have felt when visiting the tailor to get their dresses done for the season. My garments may not be from the House of Worth, but they are just as special to me as if they had been. What a treat!

Added note- 2 June, 2014
I was searching some pictures of dresses from metmuseum.org and came across this 1815 silk dress that resembles mine. This made me smile.

a dress

Burning down the house…not!

Today was part two of the wood stove cooking course. In teams of two we had to light and heat the stove and prepare three types of dishes, one fried, one cooked in a pot on the cook top, and one baked in the oven. The dishes prepared were shortbreads (oven), apple fritters (fried), and the now famous (in my mind) lemon curd. Happily all the dishes turned out great. The lemon curd took almost twice as long to cook on the wood stove as it did on a modern stove, and I think that whipping up a batch last week in a modern kitchen saved me because I knew exactly what consistency the curd had to be before removing it from the heat. I got through the day without burning myself, burning the food, or burning down the house.


When life hands you lemons…

I am completing a course on woodstove cooking. One of the challenges is trying to cook without using a timer and temperature control. Using sight, touch, sound, and smell to understand where something is in the cooking process is a skill set that has been numbed with the use of timers and pre-packaged heat and serve foods. Next week I am going to be making a Lemon Curd recipe that was discovered in a 18th century cook book. I decided to make a batch on the modern stove, so that I could observe the thickening process, and see what the curd looked like at the 3 min point, the 5 minute point and so forth. Next week I will be attempting to make this on a woodstove located in a 19th century historic house. Good thing this recipe cooks up so delicious, this was hands down the best lemon curd I have ever consumed, so having another batch to look forward to next week will be a pleasure. 20140511_130557