The Life and Work of Donald Grant Mitchell ~ Sunday May 3rd, 2015 2-4 PM
Those of you who came to our open houses last year or attended a tavern night may have noticed that we are trying to incorporate more hearth cooking at the museum these days. Last year, we had our chimneys lined with a new product that makes the chimneys safe to use but also preserves the dimensions of the flue. The size of the flue is directly correlated to the size of the fireplace, and modern flue liners are often way too small for the larger fireplaces that we have in our historic houses (that’s why old fireplaces with small liners are often smoky). Now with our newly lined chimneys we can safely have fires that allow us to demonstrate more hearth cooking techniques.The Darling house was built with somewhat of an “old fashioned” design to its cooking hearth. The hearth was designed to have lug poles which were initially green pieces of wood that were hung from ledges just above the fireplace from which trammels could be hung to hold the cookware. Trammels are iron devices that hang from the log pole and have a hook at the bottom from which to hang a pot. Trammels are designed to be raised or lowered above the fire depending on whether you wanted to cook using a “high, medium, or low” setting.
The Darling house has two period trammels: a hole trammel and a saw tooth trammel. By 1772 when the house was built however, lug poles were often being replaced by cranes, which are horizontal metal arms that swing on hinges attached to the sidewall of a fireplace. Cranes were safer than lug poles, which could eventually burn and fall into the fire along with whatever meal was cooking at the time. Cranes were also easier to use as they could swing out away from the fire. We do have safe lug poles now, so not to worry, our pots won’t end up in the fire. Perhaps the Darling’s didn’t think having a crane was worth the extra cost, since most cooking at the hearth in fact actually occurred in the coals and not directly over the fire.Generating red-hot coals for cooking is an art (as opposed to generating ash which most of us do in our fireplaces). Hard dry woods are of course essential, but the stacking of the wood in the fireplace as well as creating a slow burn are equally important.
We are still perfecting this art at the Darling House hearth. Cooking over coals is usually done in posnets, various forms of cooking vessels all with short legs to sit in the coals. Pans with long legs are often called “spider” pans, a whimsical name that originated in New England in the 17th century. Most of us however, are probably most familiar with Dutch ovens (also called bake ovens). Contrary to how they are often used today for soups and stews, the Darlings might have more often used them for baking.
At our next open house, Sunday April 19th from 2-4 PM, stop by and visit us as we attempt some baking in a bake oven, some frying in a spider pan, and some soup making over the fire. As we explore more hearth cooking at the Darling House, we will continue to share our new findings with you, and in future news letters we will also share some fireplace recipes.