Historic dining in Nova Scotia

Dining at Memory Lane 1940’s Heritage Village, Nova Scotia Cookhouse Style.

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I scooped the baked beans into a bowl and spread molasses over the moist brown bread. This was going to be dining east coast style at it’s best.

From the minute I walked into the old Hosking General Store I noticed the shelves were stocked with nothing familiar. When I walked out through the back door, I was thrown back to 1940 in the community of Lake Charlotte, Nova Scotia.

Memory Lane Village was created in the year 2000 as a solution to losing important heritage buildings that were to be torn down along the eastern shore. The various buildings were relocated to one site and now show us what life was like along the coast in the 1940’s. Visitors can drop into eighteen buildings including a home, schoolhouse, church, store, prospector’s cabin and fisherman’s shed. If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, you can enjoy a drive around the village in a 1928 Model A Ford, – a slow drive reminding us that life did not move as quickly back then.

Electricity did not arrive in Lake Charlotte until 1945, a surprising fact that caused me to pay special attention when I visited the icehouse, especially important to the community before refrigeration.

The most impressive part of the Village is that an army of 200 volunteers works to keep the village running. None of them will forget that era, because they live it and learn when they are helping with the village. And they love to visit the cookhouse for lemonade and a homemade cookie. Some of the volunteers dress in period costume. This added to the atmosphere, and it felt that ghosts of the past were with me. Special events are planned each summer with canning demonstrations, clam digging and musical events.

I dined with history in the cookhouse located in the village. There was a choice that hot summer day between a hot meal or a cold plate.

The food brought back memories of the meals that were served in my grandmother’s kitchen in Nova Scotia. These are timeless east coast meals and are still served regularly in kitchens in this part of Canada.

The hot meal began with a hearty soup, moved on to baked beans and homemade brown bread with molasses (if you choose to add molasses). The cold plate was made of salad, slice of ham, chow-chow, a hard boiled egg, tomatoes, brown bread, and of course molasses. Both meal options included cookies, gingerbread, and a rhubarb dessert with coffee or tea or lemonade. Visitors eat on benches at long tables just like the hungry lumbermen would have done. I peeked into the kitchen to see a table covered with loaves of brown bread right from the oven. Of course we scraped our plates, following the rules as posted on the walls.

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Loaves of homemade bread in the kitchen of the cookhouse

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The rules were followed in the cookhouse

To bring the buildings to life, we borrowed a tablet programmed with information and interview videos with people who lived in this area back in the forties.

In one film clip, a man who had lived and worked in the lumber camps explained that the cookhouses in that area fed and housed the lumbering crews or the gold miners who stayed in bunkhouses above the cookhouses. The baking pans were purchased from army surplus after the war.

He remembered the cook waking up at 5 am, preparing a breakfast of bacon, beans, eggs, toast, coffee and tea and having it all ready for the men at 6 am. There were rules of behaviour in the cookhouse and nobody dared break the rules – their meals depended on it. After the men ate they took their plates to the front, scraped them and put them in the pan ready to be washed.

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A Cookhouse hero holds a loaf of bread

A coastal garden demonstrates how and what food was grown in the 1940’s to feed a family. Being largely self sufficient, they depended heavily on growing and preserving food to feed themselves summer and winter. Fishing was an important part of life in this area and a clam factory shows us where workers canned clams, lobster, and herring.

The icehouse was filled with blocks of ice stored between layers of sawdust. When a family needed ice for their icebox, big scissor-like tongs were used to move the ice.

The Webber House shows us how a home was transformed after electricity arrived in the 1940’s. I was alone in the house when I visited, but my imagination filled it with life. Fully furnished as it would have been in the forties, it felt as though the family had left the home unlocked and gone for a drive, but would be back soon. Red long johns danced on the clothesline drying quickly in the sun and wind.

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I imagined Mrs. Webber would be making homemade doughnuts later that day. I am including a recipe from an American recipe book dated 1938 called:

The way to a man’s heart – The Settlement Cookbook 

Doughnuts

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar 
  • 2 tbsp. melted fat 
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp.nutmeg
  • 1tsp.soda
  • 2tsp. baking powder
  • about 1 quart flour  
  • Beat eggs, add sugar and shortening; mix rest of dry ingredients, combine the two mixtures with the milk. Place in refrigerator overnight to make a lighter dough and use ½ cup less of flour. Knead slightly, pat and roll into ¼ inch thickness, cut or shape into form, fry in deep hot oil. Dust with powdered sugar.

I left the Memory Lane Heritage Village feeling a new appreciation for the 1940’sr gold miner. It was a filling experience to eat lunch like a lumberjack. This village is a memory and a gift given by the workers and volunteers from the Lake Charlotte community in Nova Scotia.

 

 

 

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Sherbrooke Village – N.S. Jailhouse dining.

I was visiting Historic Sherbrooke Village in Nova Scotia to experience tastes of the past, so imagine my surprise when I was led to the town jailhouse for a cooking experience.

HISTORIC SHERBROOKE 

We walked from the Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia of today and into yesteryear almost without noticing. Part of the village has been spared modernization and Historic Sherbrooke Village has been created. Man has lived on this land along the St. Mary’s River since our Mi’kmaq nation; and was also settled by the French and eventually by the English who named the town Sherbrooke in 1815.

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Sherbrooke Village 

In 1969, the Sherbrooke Village restoration project and part of the village was preserved to give us all the privilege of visiting the town as though it were the 1860’s.  Those were the days of sailing ships trading between Britain and the West Indies as well as farming, fishing, cutting and milling timber. In 1861, a gold rush hit the area and the opening of 19 mining companies caused a boom.

There are 80 buildings in the historic part of the village, with 25 open to visitors. It takes little imagination to return to history, as the costumed visitors and interpretive staff bring the village to life. The Hands on History program allows visitors of all ages to wear clothing like those of the 1860’s while visiting Sherbrooke. Hundreds of costumes are available in all sizes to be worn by the visitors. The class system was very much evident in the clothing style differences.

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The author dressed for the Hands on History program by Durba Smith and Phyllis Jack

 

“It feels different, the minute you put the big hooped dress on,” said one visitor participating in the program. As I put on my costume, I immediately stepped into history.

Visitors can explore the blacksmith and printing shop, drug store, clothier, pottery studio, general store, woodworking shop and even an Ambrotype photography studio. Farm animals, gardens and the sawmill help us to learn about how the townsfolk  provided for each other.

AND NOW FOR THE FOOD

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The Jailhouse in Sherbrooke from the 1800’s to 1968

Karen Pye played the part of the jailer’s wife the day I visited the jailhouse in my big hooped skirt. She was busy cooking cinnamon buns and taught me about the jailer’s family and the interesting house that was used as a jail in Sherbrooke until 1968. From the outside the large, frame house looked like any other. Some bedrooms were turned into cells, barred windows and all, but the family lived in the same house as the prisoners. Many of those spending time behind bars were mischief makers who had ridden their horses through the town or were found drunk in the ditch. This was a Temperance town and alcohol use was not looked upon kindly. The jailer was paid a meagre salary so earned extra cash by working at the saw mill, gold mine or lumber camp. As well as cooking for the prisoners and her family, the jailer’s wife would sew to earn an extra income. The family and prisoners ate the same food prepared in the kitchen by the jailer’s wife.

The jailer’s diet back in the 1860’s consisted of such food as bread, stews, fish, soups, hodge podge (a mixture of garden vegetables cooked with cream) and cooked garden vegetables.  Sugar and molasses cookies, ginger cake and occasionally cinnamon buns are examples of the sweets served at the jailer’s home. Of course, preserves were made to allow fruit and vegetables to be used year round.

Karen whipped up the cinammon buns with the ease of an expert. As she mixed, she recited the amounts, although I know the jailer’s wife of the past was using tea cups to measure and could do it with her eyes closed.

“Measure 4 cups of flour, and mix in 2/3 of a cup of shortening with two knives,” Karen told me while demonstrating. She added a dash of salt, 2 fresh eggs and 1 cup of buttermilk, beating until  the dough was smooth.  Of course the cast iron wood stove was heating all the while. The jailer’s wife would have been proud of her stove.

When all of the ingredients were beaten to a smooth consistency, she would pat the dough into a square and use her rolling pin to even the top. She covered the whole surface with butter that she had churned the day before, sprinkled the surface with brown sugar and topped it all with cinnamon. Karen then rolled the dough up lengthwise and ended up with a long roll. She carefully cut pieces and placed each one on a baking sheet.

“How do you know the temperature of the oven?” I asked her. She told me that she would put her hand inside the oven and if she could hold it there and count slowly to seven it would be the right temperature for cinnamon buns. A slightly lower temperature was used for bread and she could regulate the temperature by opening the oven door a crack.

While the buns were spreading their irresistible odour throughout the house, we greeted visitors with Scotch cakes. Later Karen was busy making butter. She explained that the once the milk and cream were separated, the cream was skimmed off the top and put in a butter churner. Family members often took turns beating the cream to butter with the wooden paddle that was pushed up and down.

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Karen Pye Churning Butter 

Not a bad deal being a lawbreaker in the 1860’s with tastes that came from that kitchen.

After all the work at the jailhouse, I went down to the Sherbrooke Village Tea Room for a lunch reminiscent of the meals that would have been served in the past. Fish cakes, baked beans, home baked bread, gingerbread, and many more traditional dishes were served. Afternoon tea is also served in the tea room. Although the eatery is now modernized inside, an old photo shows that building was once a hotel and restaurant and it looked much the same in days of old. To bring the tastes home to cook in my kitchen, I picked up a collection of hand printed recipes held together by a string. The print shop on site prints each page by hand and they are sold at the gift shop.

Nova Scotia’s Historic Sherbrooke remains as a living piece of history – a gift so we will all remember how much work went into cooking and living in the past.

For information-www.sherbrookevillage.novascotia.ca

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The Sherbrooke Hotel – then and now, tasty, home cooked meals are served reminding us of tastes of the past