Open Hearth Meat Cooking Classes at Fort York, Toronto.

The open hearth fireplace in the Officers Mess Kitchen at Fort York
The open hearth fireplace in the Officers Mess Kitchen at Fort York






“If you are on fire… YELL,” Briget Wranich told our class. She was dressed in a long dress, as a Fort York cook. Our class of six stood in front of a raging open hearth fire – 500 degrees hot, we were told, wondering how we would cook and eat five meat and poultry dishes in the next few hours. We were taking The Roasted Meats and Made Dishes course at Fort York in Toronto, Ontario.  It is one of the monthly classes in the Historic Cooking Class series given at the Fort. Our course would be given in the Officer’s Mess Dinner Kitchen,an original building at Fort York dating back to the early 1800’s.

The senior officers enjoyed the high life at Fort York. They were required to pay dues from their monthly pay towards the Officers mess where they ate meals and a formal three-course dinner daily and often entertained guests from the nearby town of York (now Toronto.) On special occasions, the meals were even more elaborate and included many courses. The cooks were women from York and wives of the soldiers. After a day in the kitchen I began to realize how hard their daily work was. The foot soldiers that lived and worked at the Fort were given rations and cooked and ate together, often combining their food. Here is a soldier’s daily ration: 1 ½ lb. of soldier’s bread (a coarse bread made with whole grain flours) 1 lb. of meat – often a boney, fatty piece of meat rice dried split peas 1 pint of ale They boiled their meats to make stews and soups to stretch the food. Eight soldiers might combine 8 lbs. of meat into a stew giving them a hearty meal, much more food than they might have had in England. The officers were fed like aristocracy and enjoyed roasted and grilled meats. The left over pieces would be used to make curries, fricassees and ragouts.  They had delicious side dishes and desserts.

John Hammond, and expert meat roaster shows the class a Tin Kitchen
John Hammond, and expert meat roaster shows the class a Tin Kitchen

We cooked a large Roast Beef in what is known as a Tin Kitchen, an open metal reflector oven on legs that was placed in front of the very hot (500 degree) open fire.  John Hammond, an expert meat roaster who was teaching us that day, showed us how to carefully place the spits through the roast to enable it to be turned to cook it evenly on all sides.  He placed the Tin Kitchen in front of the fire and checked on progress periodically, basting it with drippings.

Our next adventure was Chicken Curry, the dish we would have with rice and salad for lunch. That was a surprise as we often think of curry as an East Indian dish. We were reminded that the British settled India and curries became very popular at that time.Rice was grown in the Carolinas and brought north. We used a recipe from A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs. Maria Rundell, a book dating from 1806.The chicken curry was a spicy blend of meat and sauce.popular curry mixture used at that time was Dr. Kitchener’s Curry Powder. Here is how to mix a large jar full for future use. 12 tbsp. Tumeric, 5 tbsp. Cardamom 10 tbsp.  Coriander ,5 tbsp. Cinnamon, 5 tbsp. Black Pepper , 1 tbsp. Cumin,5 tbsp. Ginger.

(See recipe section for the old and the modern translation of that recipe)

Our next dish was To Roast a Fowl with Chestnuts from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glass written in 1796. This lesson caught my interest because the chicken would be hung on a string in front of the open-hearth fire. We made the stuffing from a combination of chestnuts, chicken livers, bacon, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mace, pepper, salt and nutmeg. The livers and bacon were boiled and then we used a mortar and pestle to blend the chestnuts, liver, and bacon with the parsley and other herbs and spices.  We stuffed this into the chicken and John demonstrated how to use metal skewers and cotton string to wrap the chicken into a package that could be hung on a nail in front of the fire. He wound it up and, voila, the chicken turned, roasting gradually over the fire. When cooked, it was beautifully golden and the stuffing was divine. (See recipe section)

John Hammond and Bridget Wranich admire a perfectly cooked chicken with chesnuts.
John Hammond and Bridget Wranich admire a perfectly cooked chicken with chesnuts.
Pam Edmonds adds ingredients to a Pork Pie as volunteer Sherry Murphy looks on.
Pam Edmonds adds ingredients to a Pork Pie as volunteer Sherry Murphy looks on.

The Pork Pie was made using a pastry put in a clay dish and by layering pork, onions and apples and adding spices. We cooked this in a wood fired oven, always a tricky affair, as it is difficult to maintain heat at an even temperature.  To guess the temperature, John bravely put his arm in the oven and counted. If he could stand the heat counting to 8, the oven would be close to 350 degrees. Our pork pie had an overly cooked top that day, but tasted delicious, and taught us the challenges of baking dishes in a wood fired oven.

The Lamb Chops were breaded with crumbs, cooked in a pan over coals.  The Robart sauce was popular at that time and we used a recipe from A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Rundell dating from 1806. The ingredients in the sauce were butter, onions, flour, gravy, salt and pepper, mustard, vinegar and onion. This sauce was poured around the chops and a garnish was added.   During a tour of the officer’s building, we visited their dining room. The table was set perfectly with fine china. “How grand to dine at a table this fine every day,” I thought. We headed back to the kitchen to enjoy the food we had cooked. The volunteers had also added a ragout of roots. Dinner rolls to accompany our meal were baked by volunteer Sherry Murphy, who is an expert at cooking bread in wood fired ovens. It felt quite grand to be dining on meats, and poultry as cooked for the British officers of Fort York. Leaving that day, I walked through the Fort glancing ahead at the skyscrapers of Toronto, planning to dine like an officer soon – in my kitchen. To learn more about the cooking classes at Fort York in Toronto, Ontario:

The Officers Mess building at Fort York in Toronto
The Officers Mess building at Fort York in Toronto



Cameron’s Doppelbock Beer – A brew with a history

Brew Master Jason Britton with a bottle of Cameron's Doppelbock Beer
Brew Master Jason Britton with a bottle of Cameron’s Doppelbock Beer


Sipping on a bottle of CAMERON’S beer, a story of historical interest caught my eye on the label.

“Doppelbocks were Teutonic inspired dark lagers brewed with Germanic malt, and were served by the Bavarian monks during times of fasting as “Liquid bread.”

I was interested in the inspiration for Cameron’s Deviator Doppelbock beer, and learned that it is brewed in Oakville, Ontario. Off I went to chat with Brew master, Jason Britton who took time from a sales meeting to tell me a story about the inspiration behind that particular brew.

Jason was travelling in the Bavarian region of Germany to visit a friend who was living in the countryside. They went to visit a very old brewery in Mittenwald and enjoyed a tour of the very old operation. After the tour, the brew master grabbed his ceramic stein and gave him a taste of what they were brewing.

“It was the best beer I’d had,” he said, and vowed to go back to Canada and produce this type of beer. They began brewing it with the classic ingredients from Germany. Then he started to break all the rules and began to age the beer in old bourbon barrels from Kentucky to create “another layer of complexity,” in the taste. He was passionate as he described this memory and how he created that beer.

“Check on the website for more history,” said Jason as he headed back into his sales meeting.

The Cameron website contains a time line with the history of brewing that dates back 6,000 years to a time when the Sumerians of the Middle East would crumble bread into water making a mash that they drank from a common bowl with straws to avoid the floaters of bread. It goes on to describe how European monks were the first to develop a brewing process and used hops to preserve the brew and give it a refreshing taste. They drank a weaker version daily and created stronger brew for special occasions.

Visit the website for more interesting historical brewing facts. Check out one theory on the landing of the Mayflower.

You can visit the Cameron Brewery for tours and tastings on Saturdays and more information can be found on the website.

“Liquid bread” Who knew?

There is interesting food history being sipped every time we chug a beer.

Tennessee Food Traditions to Taste or Take Home


The Old Mill and Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge
The Old Mill and Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge

This state takes food traditions seriously and many are woven into the modern day diet along with the burgers and pizza. Products are sold to visitors that allow tastes of the past and there are restaurants that serve foods cooked using recipes that have been around since the 1800’s.
The tradition of making preserves and grinding grain helps us remember the tastes and hard work of our ancestors as they worked to preserve food to last through the winter when fresh foods were not available.
Here are a few of the food producers that are preserving food history and places to dine out with history.

Foods of the Smokies sells food products in the Great Smoky National Park visitor’s centers. Area farms make everything from jams and preserves to sorghum molasses, using the cooking techniques of the past.
I tasted some of the samples and particularly enjoyed the Pumpkin Butter. Although pumpkins are grown far and wide, I had never heard of using them to make preserves and went searching for a recipe for this local specialty.

Deb Dwyer has offered to share her family recipe for Pumpkin Butter that is featured on her blog, Appalachian Folkways.
See the recipe section for this recipe.

Jars of Moonshine at the Ole Smoky Distillery
Jars of Moonshine at the Ole Smoky Distillery

At the Ole Smokey Moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg you can taste and buy corn whiskey as it has been made in these parts since the pioneers settled. Moonshine was made by farmers and sold as a way to make extra income.
During the Prohibition period, when no alcohol production or consumption was legal, moonshine corn whiskey was made in homemade stills.



Moonshine made the old way.
Moonshine made the old way

Moonshine Sutton is a present day pioneer who continued to make and sell moonshine illegally until he committed suicide to avoid being sent to jail. His widow helped the Ole Smokey Distillery develop a business that carries on the tradition by selling moonshine whiskey bottled in preserve jars. This booming business is located on the main street amidst the tourist attractions in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and visitors can watch the whiskey being made in stills behind screened windows.
Vats of fermenting grains are the beginning of the process, all on display at the distillery. The Ole Smokey Distillery tells the story of historic Moonshine production on plaques in front of the production. Pic

Thomas Sutton has been cooking pancakes at The Pancake Pantry for 37 years.
Thomas Sutton has been cooking pancakes at The Pancake Pantry for 37 years.

The Pancake Pantry – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

“Where should we go for the most authentic pancake experience?” I asked a lady working in a store.
“Everybody heads to the Pancake Pantry, three blocks on the left.” she said with no hesitation.
Waiting in line for twenty minutes seem to make the table even more precious.

This establishment was the first pancake restaurant in Tennessee and has been serving for 54 years. They now serve 24 varieties of pancake, including some fancy innovations.
We wanted to sample the more traditional types and ordered cornmeal as well as sweet potato pancakes.
I headed into the kitchen to meet Thomas Sutton who has been flipping pancakes for this establishment for the past 37 years. He never stopped moving and I’ve never seen so many pancakes in one place.
Light, fluffy and filled with tradition of pancakes of the past, this is a Tennessee restaurant legend.

The Old Mill Historic district of Pigeon Forge
The Old Mill Historic district of Pigeon Forge

The Old Mill Historic District of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Today the historic district of Pigeon Forge works hard to keep the traditions of the past alive. They like to say, “If you turn at stoplight 7, you go back in time 175 years.”
A historic district has been preserved amidst a world of tourist attractions that has grown up around The Old Mill, once the center of town. A pottery studio and gallery, a candy shop that makes candy with equipment from the 1920’s, a metal forging shop and soon, a corn whiskey distillery.

Chuck Childers is the miller at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge.
Chuck Childers is the miller at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge.

The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge has been grinding grains since 1830 and continues to produce today. Families would bring their corn and grain to be turned into cornmeal or flour and would pay by leaving some of the grain to be sold in the local store. The mill was the center of the community, a place where the locals would collect their mail, post notices on the door and catch up on the latest news while having their grains milled.
Chuck Childers has been the miller at the Old Mill for the past few years. He showed us the workings of the mill and showed us how little has changed about the way they grind the corn to make cornmeal and wheat to make flour in the last 175 years.
The water wheel still provides most of the power that turns the grindstones.
“When we get too busy we need to use electricity for a short period of time, but revert back to water power as soon as we can.” said Childers.
The Mill is known as a production mill because it is in full time production grinding grains and producing other mixes and products that are sold on their website.
A full range of flours, coatings and mixes can be purchased online. They range from 100% pure cornmeal, flours, oatmeal and grits to mixes including for coatings of fried green tomatoes and hushpuppy and sweet potato biscuit mixes. These are all based on old time foods and are making old time food traditions easier to cook.

Fred Stritch works on old machinery to make handmade candy
Fred Stritch works on old machinery to make handmade candy

The Old Mill Candy Kitchen

Interesting machines can be seen through the window of the Candy Kitchen in the historic district of Pigeon Forge. Fred Stritch the candy maker showed us his taffy puller, a machine that has been dated at over 200 years old. Another machine cuts and wraps the taffy logs and is over 100 years old. The shop makes many kinds of traditional candies, chocolates and fudges and has the look and tastes of an old-fashioned candy shop.

The Old Mill Restaurant

Located in a building next to the Old Mill is a popular restaurant with a rustic style. Classic home cooked style meals are served that includes the food traditions of the south. We dined on Rainbow Trout and with the meal came a corn soup, hushpuppies, and corn biscuits, salad, a choice of potatoes (I chose a baked sweet potato) and dessert. They are famous for their Pecan pies. All breads are made with flour and cornmeal ground in the mill. Good down south cooking can be eaten at the Old Mill Restaurant.

The Pottery House Cafe and Grille
Pottery House Café and Grille

Pottery House Café and Grille

Across the street from the Old Mill Restaurant is the more modern café. It has a menu ranging from full meals to hamburgers, as well as interesting takes on traditional foods such as deep fried pickles and fried green tomatoes. I dined on catfish with a jalapeno corn pudding for dinner. Desserts include traditional pies and all breads are baked using the cornmeal and flours milled at the Old Mill.

Pokes, Ramps, and Hoe Cake – Tennessee’s culinary history lives on

Jim Jenkins and Susan Melchor - Great Smoky Mountain National Park employees who were very knowledgable about the food history of Tennessee.
Jim Jenkins and Susan Melchor – Great Smoky Mountain National Park employees who were very knowledgable about the food history of Tennessee.

“I love my poke salat in the spring” said the guy sitting next to me at the restaurant table when I asked him about his favorite Tennessee food tradition.
For a moment I could not believe I was in the USA. What was poke and ramps and …did people really eat bottom-feeding catfish? In days gone by game was hunted, but it seems that one modern version of catching game to eat in Tennessee, I learned, is to dine on road kill accidentally driven over, but acceptable to grill by law as stated in the Road Kill Bill.
Dining out with history in Tennessee proved to be tastes and stories I will never forget.

The rangers at the Visitor’s Center in Great Smoky Mountain National Park were a wealth of food history information. During a food tasting of preserves that are sold in the parks gift shops, new and exciting tastes were explained to me. While visiting, I met many from Tennessee who still spice their meals with the old food traditions. Here is a nibble of some of the interesting foods that were eaten in the past and continue to be enjoyed today.


Jim Jenkins, a ranger I met loves RAMPS.
Ramps, I learned are a type of wild onion that grows in the Smoky mountain region. They are a cross between an onion and garlic but with a much more powerful taste. They grow plentifully in Great Smoky National Park and are considered to be a delicacy. Years ago, ramps were eaten early in the spring because they were the first fresh edible plant that could be found after a winter of eating dried foods. Ramps were considered to be a revitalizing spring tonic. In the spring, in the Smoky mountain area, ramps can be purchased by the side of the road, but most ramp lovers just head into the fields and find their own. See recipe section for grilled ramps. Many Ramps festivals have sprung up in the south. See Food Events Section for details.
One festival has been running since 1954 and was started as a gimmick to attract more visitors to the area.

Pokeweed, (common name) is a broad leaf plant that grows in Tennessee and other states with a similar climate. Here is a food you won’t find in the grocery store. It was processed and canned until 2000 but was discontinued when sources became scarce. Do not go poking around the ditches for pokeweed with no knowledge of how to cook this plant – for it can be highly poisonous and must be picked at the right time and cooked properly.

Native Americans used pokeweed as a medicine to clean the body and purge bad spirits.
The leaves were used as a cooked leafy green in the past and are still enjoyed by some today. Pokeweed berries were used as a dye in the past. There is a popular story in Pigeon Forge about the musician Dolly Parton who was raised in poverty, using the pokeberries instead of lipstick when she was younger.
When cooking pokeweed as a green, the leaves must be picked when small and young, at the beginning of the season. Later in the season, the root, stem and leaves of this plant are poisonous. The leaves must be rinsed several times, boiled in hot water, rinsed again and drained. One recipe instructs cooks to fry the leaves in bacon fat and add bits of bacon to serve. The young stems can also be cooked in a similar way as asparagus.


Sorghum molasses has been made since pioneer times. Rather than using sugar cane that is used in Blackstrap molasses, sorghum cane was grown in the Smoky Mountain area. Mules were attached to a frame to power a crushing machine and walked in a circle to crush the cane squeezing out the juice that was then boiled and reduced to syrup. Sorghum molasses as well as honey were the sources of sweetening food historically. This molasses is still produced today and this unique local taste is still enjoyed by many.


When farmers went out to the fields to work for the day, they made hot hoe cakes in the fields for their lunch. Here’s how they did it.
They took all the makings of a Johnny Cake (cornmeal mush and salt) They added a little butter, patted it into the shape of a cake and cooked it on their hoe (a garden tool still used today) over hot coals in a fire. A brilliant bit of cookery.

Although road kill cannot be considered a food of the past, it can be linked with hunting techniques of the past “gone modern.” The Road kill Bill was proposed in 1999.I understand the bill was passed in Tennessee. Several other states have passed a similar bill. The bill states that animals killed on the road can be taken “for personal use and consumption.” This bill was the topic of much humor in the press. There are websites and blogs that give recipes for various types of road kill. Wild game is regaining popularity with adventurous cooks.

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