A Westfield Heritage Village Christmas in Hamilton, Ontario

Lantern light welcomes visitor's to homes of the past in Westfield Heritage Village.
Lantern light welcomes visitor’s to homes of the past in Westfield Heritage Village.

IMG_0180One 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.

Kathy Johnston and grandaughters Sage and Grace making Venison Stew
Kathy Johnston and granddaughters Sage and Grace making Venison Stew

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.”

Kate Gardener mixes a gingerbread cake to cook on her cast iron stove.
Kate Gardener mixes a gingerbread cake to cook on her cast iron stove.

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.

Dining Mumu Style in Papua New Guinea

Cooked food in the firepit
Cooked food in the firepit
Hungry boys watch the Mumu cooking
Hungry boys watch the Mumu cooking

Many thanks to Ben Smith of Philadelphia for contributing this piece of historic cooking information, that is still commonly done today for special feasts.

“Cooking food in the earth,” that sounded like an interesting article for Dining Out With History.

Last summer, my niece Brianna Ralston and her boyfriend Ben Smith travelled to Papua New Guinea, where Ben grew up with his family.

He told me an interesting story about a Mumu feast, where all the food was cooked in a rock lined pit in the earth. They felt so privileged to share food with their friends from Papua New Guinea that was cooked in this traditional firepit method of cookery. Food has been cooked this way for the past 300 years and it is a custom that has been preserved to the present day.

A good series of photos is available on the Smith College Museum of Ancient Inventions, website. www.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/hsc22b.htm

Families were and some still are, lucky to own even one pot, so this method of cooking has been used as a way to cook meat ( traditionally a whole pig,) along with vegetables.  Now different types of meat are added.  Since many families continue to cook their meals over the open fire, this method of cooking works well for bigger groups of people as the meal can be cooked with no pots, only using a fire and leaves.

Ben was kind enough to share the technique with me, as he experienced it at the Mumu feast he attended. The photos were taken by his group and show the delicious food as it is cooked in the ground. Here is the description as shared by Ben Smith :Here is the process our host, Enoch, described to us for hosting a mumu(he’s the fellow in the purple shirt):

Preparing the Mumu

Preparing the Mumu

  • Dig a shallow depression into the ground, and build a wood fire in it
  • Add stones to the fire (but NOT river stones!  Those will start to shatter and explode when in a fire, shooting rock shrapnel!  This happened to us at our BBQ on the river…)
  • Once the stones are heated through, then cover over the fire and the wood with a few layers of banana leaves.  You can remove the wood if you want and leave just the hot stones, but it’s kind of a pain to do that and Enoch said you don’t have to.  In different kinds of mumu, they actually added green guava tree leaves to add smoke.
  • Pile all your food in!  They pile in lots of sweet potatoes, taro, greens (all sorts of random greens), chicken or lamb chops, hot dogs, corn, cooking bananas, pithy grass stalks called “pit-pit” (somewhat like baby corn?), green beans, tapioca root.  There were also bits of powdered tapioca starch and water stuffed into green bamboo, so it steamed into gooey, starchy globs.

    Covering the food with leaves while cooking
    Covering the food with leaves while cooking
  • Cover over all your food with lots more banana leaves, to seal them in.
  • Our feast cooked for maybe 4 hours.

When it’s time to eat, uncover the food and separate it out into bowls for serving, buffet style. You may want to cover the bowls with more fresh banana leaves to keep off the flies.  Also, beware of hungry village dogs that may snack on anything you leave unprotected!

Also, beware of hungry village dogs that may snack on anything you leave unprotected!


Preparing a Mumu in Papua New Guinea


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