A hands-on lesson on cooking pre-1860s

9/19/2013 8:00 AM
By Associated Press

SARATOGA, Wis. (AP) — As your day comes to an end, you might begin to wonder: "What to make for supper?"

Will you go to a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant? Pick up a pizza or make a quick run to the neighborhood grocery store? Or perhaps zap something in the microwave to get something on the table in record time?

Go back in time a bit more than 100 years, and none of those would be an option. Thanks to Pioneer Cooking 101, a class being offered by "residents" of Historic Point Basse, people are getting a chance to experience cooking methods used before the 1860s.

More than a dozen people participated in the first of the four-session course, held on the Point Basse grounds south of Nekoosa. The first three, three-hour classes focus on fire building and cooking techniques, including boiling water using hot rocks, campfire and open hearth cooking and cooking and baking using an 1850s-style range. The classes are taught by Historic Point Basse volunteers, some dressed in period clothing.

Participants will showcase their learned skills at a graduation potluck during the fourth session, when they can cook up their own meal.

Some of the techniques were derived out of necessity and respect for religious observances, said Mary Crump of Vesper. Since Quakers weren't allowed to do any kind of work on Sundays — including cooking — they would put beans in a pot on Saturday and cook them overnight so they could eat on Sundays, Crump said.

Cooking eggs on stone or bread on a stick might have meant survival back in the day, but these days, it can be done for fun, Crump said.

"If nothing else, it keeps your kids or grandkids happy," Crump said.

Bonus? When you cook on a stick, there aren't too many dishes.

Fire is essential for most of the dishes, and Joe Greco shared techniques with eager participants. Greco explained ways to put together a fire-starting kit with flint and steel.

The fire came in handy when Tom Brehmer showed the group how to boil water using hot rocks. In less than 10 minutes, the water in the cauldron went from 91 degrees to boiling — even though Brehmer and others were watching the pot.

Other dishes included pears in squash bowls, eggs and bacon cooked on rocks and polenta and Northern pike wrapped in grape leaves, tied with corn husk strips and cooked on wood planks on hot rocks.

As Brehmer demonstrated techniques, he shared food history with the group, which listened attentively.

This is the second class offered by Point Basse, and the first taken by Don Matthews, 62, of Wisconsin Rapids.

"I've been working out at the Wakely for a couple of years, and Tom (Brehmer) has made quite a few great meals," Matthews said. "So I wanted to see how he did that."

Matthews also has a cast iron dutch oven and wanted to learn how to use it, he said. Dutch oven cooking is one of the topics for the next session. Matthews said he found the class not only tasty, but educational.

"Not only about cooking meals, but they had a lot of history involved, too," Matthews said. "It was really kind of an all-around class, which was a (pleasant) surprise to me."

Matthews' favorite first-night meal used the underground cooking method, which consisted of a hole in the ground, and layering hot rocks, maple leaves and beef, carrots, potatoes, onions and apples.

And while some of the methods take a bit of time, it might be a fun way to cook up an interesting and tasty meal, right in your back yard.


Information from: Daily Tribune Media, http://www.wisconsinrapidstribune.com

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