Upper Canada Village is one of the Canada’s largest living history sites and brings to life this part of Ontario in the 1860’s. More than forty historic buildings were moved from the St. Lawrence River banks in 1961 to save them from the flooding that would develop the St. Lawrence Seaway. At each building visitors are greeted by interpretive staff in period costume who tell the stories of that home and life of the past. The culinary customs of the day are demonstrated in the gardens, kitchens, bakery, cheese factory and general store around the Village. In the summer children can participate in Time Traveller’s programs and live for three days to a week in the Village as a child in the 1860’s. They help with the chores and learn how food was cooked in the past.
Guests can enjoy a traditional meal at Willard’s Inn. Here is a peek at some of what you can see.
Bread making and eating
The smell of baking bread led me to the bakery. The baker’s muscles rippled as they kneaded two massive balls of dough in a big wooden trough. Keith Johnston and Eric Forbes have been making bread in period dress at Upper Canada Village for many years. The two of them work together like a well oiled machine. They cook their bread in a wood oven that fires up during the night. In the morning the fire is removed and the bakers know “by feel” if the temperature is right to bake the bread.
Every day, they produce many loaves of bread just as they would have in the past to feed the men in the work camps and soldiers. Each man was entitled to 2 – 2 pound loaves a week so each clump of dough was weighed to ensure equality. Bread was important to the men. White, bleached flour was expensive in the past and only the wealthy could afford to serve white bread. Common men ate whole wheat bread made from locally grown and milled grains. The grain now comes from Bellamy’s Mills.
Bread was sold for 3 cents a loaf and it cost 2 cents to make. Cakes of yeast were imported from Germany. Families made their own bread in those days and selling it sometimes supplemented the farm income.
Keith and Eric and their assistants are proud of their bread, and so they should be. School kids lined up at the Gift Shop to buy a loaf to take home as a souvenir. They had learned the magic of bread making.
Making Canadian Orange Cheddar in the Village
Dennis McKnight gently stirred the long metal vats of heating milk with a rake, just like he has for the past eight summers. He was making Canadian Cheddar the old way. He showed us how the milk separated into curds and whey and told us how he would turn that mush into cheese.
Surprising how much work goes into a hunk of cheddar, I thought after learning that it took 900 lbs. of milk to make 90 lbs. of cheese.
“Everyone made their own cheese at home, back then,” Dennis said.
We learned how the cheese industry started in Canada after the British began to buy our Canadian cheddar when they stopped buying it from the United States in 1864. They would import it on one condition – that it was orange. Secret be known, white and orange cheddar are made the same way and have the same taste. Dennis taught us that orange cheese has annatto added which is an oil squeezed from the South American Lipstick Plant. The locals provided the milk to the cheese factory, but couldn’t afford to buy the cheese that was imported to England. They shared in the factory’s profits and took home the whey to feed their pigs.
I would taste the bread and cheese at Willard’s Hotel for lunch after stopping in at the Louck’s Farm to see what they are eating today.
What’s cooking at Louck’s Farm?
Dinner was cooking in the summer kitchen in the woodshed of the Louck’s 1850’s farmhouse. The fancy cast iron woodstove was fired up for a meal of salt pork with governor’s sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, carrots, garden salad, homemade bread and a jelly roll cake with fresh strawberries. Barbara McKnight and Lynne Chagnon acting as members of the Louck family had been busy cooking all morning to feed their hungry farming family. The table was set with blue willow dishes and looked so inviting that I wished I could be invited to sample the fare.
Dining out with history at the Village’s Willard’s Hotel
I headed to Willard’s Hotel, an historic eatery for modern folk. A sign on the porch said “Only Heritage Meals served here”
Built originally in 1790 as a home for a New York Loyalist, it was then bought by John Willard in 1830 who was a tavern keeper from Montreal. It was located halfway between Cornwall and Prescott and made a welcome stopover for travellers.
On the Menu’s Midday Bill of Fare was a variety of dishes replicating meals served in the past. I chose the Village Bread and Cheese, served with fruit chutney, so I could taste the creations of the bakers and cheesemaker I had earlier seen working. My husband tried the Welsh Rarebit, “Old cheddar and dark beer cheese melted over sautéed mushrooms and onions on a thick slice of village bread spread with a grainy mustard”. Both were divine. Also served were such classics as Split Pea Soup, Bangers and Mash and Johnny Cake served with Maple Syrup and whipped cream.
This eatery gives the visitor to Upper Canada Village an authentic culinary experience of the past.
I left Upper Canada Village with warm bread under my arm and a plan to dust off my Grandmother’s cook books.
VISITING UPPER CANADA VILLAGE IN MORRISBURG, ONTARIO
For information about the village: http://www.uppercanadavillage.com
Hours of Operation:
May 18 – September 3/13 – 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM daily
Sept. 3- Oct. 1/13 – Wednesday to Sunday – 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Special Event : August 17 – 18/13 – FOOD LOVERS’ FIELD DAYS
Sample and buy food from an outdoor farmer’s market held on the fairground field of Upper Canada Village. Ontario food growers and producers will show off their best for those who love to eat.