This past week was my first as a historical presenter at Daggett Farm in Greenfield Village. What an experience to live a few days in 1760 and share that experience with visitors who stopped by. There’s so much to learn about life during this time in colonial America but I think what stood out right from the start is how important the hearth is.
This over-sized fireplace may not look like much to you but in 18th century America, it provided light and energy for heating the house and cooking.
Being a “one picture worth a thousand words” kind of person, I realized how much I take modern conveniences for granted when Joan (one of the longtime presenters at Daggett Farm) taught me how to make a simple loaf of bread.
On the hearth.
Things get going only when the fire starts blazing. Joan demonstrated, in her very organized way, how to build a fire with the Big Three –
- Logs and
- A match.
Then she started mixing the ingredients together for the bread.
As someone who cooks from recipes, I marveled at how the bread dough evolved from a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Not something I see often, especially since I’m usually buying bread ready-made and wrapped in plastic.
Once all the ingredients were added, the next step was kneading the dough until it was just the right consistency.
Joan covered the bowl of dough and set it on the hearth so that the heat would cause the dough to rise. And so it did.
Then the redware pottery dish and the bread dough were set into a cast-iron bake kettle or what we know today as a “Dutch oven”. But this colonial version is pretty unique. You place hot coals from the hearth under the bake kettle and on top of its lid and that’s what provides the heat to cook what’s inside.
This video shows how a Dutch oven was used to cook food on the hearth –
After cooking for about an hour in our cast-iron bake kettle, here’s the loaf freshly baked honey-wheat great we enjoyed for our dinner at Daggett Farm. This experience gave me a whole perspective for how the fireplace I think of as “ambiance” in my house was critical to a stable lifestyle for a family in colonial America. Without it, there wouldn’t be bread – or much of what we take for granted in our modern times.
Have you ever cooked over a hearth or open fire before?