One lone bagpipe filled the quiet winter night with Christmas songs. The village from the past was lit by lanterns and candles inviting us to enter a time when the holiday season was celebrated in a gentler and more modest way.
We were visiting Westfield Heritage Village to celebrate “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Located outside of the town of Rockton, in Ontario Westfield Village consists of a collection of thirty-five heritage buildings that were preserved by moving them to the site. Although the village officially opened in 1963, it was closed for a long period of time. It was used as a set for some of the scenes in the Anne of Green Gables television series in the 1990’s. Westfield reopened again as a heritage village in 2010 and demonstrates life in the past from as early as the late 1700’s. A school, churches, farms, stores, businesses and houses give visitors a peek at all aspects of life.
Walking along the dark path, I could see the Lockhart house dimly lit by a lantern. Opening the door of the one room log home dating from the 1840’s, I was greeted by the warmth of an open-hearth fire and the smells of food cooking. Kathy Johnston, a volunteer interpreter was teaching her granddaughters’ Sage and Grace to cook as they would have done in the 1830’s. They were making Venison Stew and an English Style Christmas pudding. Kathy explained that the venison would have been fresh at this time of year because this was just past the killing season. They would have had pork hanging in the smokehouse for the winter as well as a supply of beef. They might have killed some deer in the fall to provide meat for the venison stew. She used no recipe, (or receipt, as recipes were called in those times,) to make her Venison Stew, but used whatever she might have on hand. Kathy pointed out that no part of the animals were wasted. Early settlers would make English blood pudding and sausage from other parts of the meat. There was not enough food to waste any in those times. Here is Kathy’s description of how to make her stew:
She dredged the pieces of venison in flour, and browned it in fat in her cast iron pan or kettle over the open-hearth fire. After it was brown, she added herbs, and added liquid while it cooked in the pot for about one hour. While it was cooking, she and the girls cut up carrots, squash and onion which they added to the pot. Remember, this was before the time that potatoes were eaten. They were considered to be poisonous. While the stew simmered, the girls began making an English Style Christmas pudding. It was hard to leave the warmth of the cabin, but I was curious to see what was cooking in other homes.
We walked past the Hardware store where a new fangled popcorn machine was popping buttery corn for the children. Inside we could see Father Christmas visiting the children.
In another home, we visited Kate Gardener, also a volunteer at the village. She was making Chicken Vegetable Stew as it would have been made in the 1860’s. Time had moved on and she was using a two level cast iron stove to cook her meal. She was using a combination of chicken, parsnips, turnips, thyme, bay leaf and broth to make the stew. She added dumplings made simply from flour, butter and milk. It looked and smelled delicious. She was also trying a new recipe for a gingerbread cake, made in a pot over the stove. “Would it work?” she asked. “It is worth a try.”
A simply decorated pine tree decorated the home for the Christmas season.
Walking past the town square, we watched fire works light up the sky. In the dim light, visitors from modern times all looked like settlers from the past. Time to head out to the church to hear some Christmas music. The Mountsberg Church was built in 1854 and was moved to the village. We were treated to old Christmas music played on a variety of heritage instruments.
There was not enough time to visit all of the buildings that welcomed us in, that winter night, but we left with a feeling of what it was like to dine and celebrate “The Night Before Christmas” in times gone bye when life was simpler, but the joy of Christmas just as meaningful.
If you Go…
Westfield Heritage Village is located close to Rockton, Ontario at 1049 Kirkwall Rd. ( also known as Regional Road 552.) For hours, admission and events: http://www.westfieldheritage.ca
Special Holiday Events.
Twas the Night Before Christmas is held three Saturday’s in December. Still remaining in 2014 is December 20th – 6-9pm.
A Christmas Table is held December 21/14, but is SOLD OUT for this year. Remember to get tickets early for 2015. A heritage Christmas meal is served with entertainment.