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Memories and Musings

By Cheri Sims
One cold and snowy night last week, while lamenting the chill in the house, I was surfing YouTube for something interesting to take my mind off the weather and I happened onto the site “Early American’’ ( The beginning scene was of a young woman, in a bonnet, a long light weight dress and a small shrug sweater, the clothing was not conducive to the amount of snow she was walking through; wearing a leather strapped basket on her back. She approached a cabin in the forest and greeted a man dressed in britches and a light weight woolen coat as he chopped kindling. After their greeting the woman entered the cabin and proceeded to cook a meal. This was when I actually looked up at the name of the video and realized I was watching a reenactment of early American life and I was hooked. I did a bit of research on this couple and they do have other web sites but they are all about pictures and very little description. The delightful 1800’s video description is simply, “Follow the daily lives of Ron and Justine as they meander through 1820’s Missouri”.

Over the next hour I was transfixed as I watched the young woman maneuver around the kitchen using only kitchen tools which our ancestors would have had at their disposal in the eighteen hundreds. The title of this video is “A working class supper in 1820’s America” and while the cabin is of much newer construction it is designed and furnished much as one would imagine of an 1800’s home. The wood stove/fireplace is complete with all the cast iron tools of the day and I was fascinated as I watched the woman make Indian pudding and bake it in the coals, fry sausages and cabbage and boil potatoes without a microwave or an electric stove.

It was fascinating to watch how Justine placed the potatoes in a pot of boiling water and swung the pot over the hot coals without splashing water on the fire. I recall having seen the technique of baking in a cast iron skillet by placing the hot coals on top of the pan to bake both sides. My compliments, to Justine who was executing this reenactment, for her ability to manipulate all the cast iron accoutrements of the “old timey” 1800’s fireplace and for not catching her long dress on fire as the wood fire blazed and the coals popped and splattered on the hearth. Having worn period costumes on many occasions I know just how hard it is to function in them even if they are beautiful to look at and fun to wear.

Hubby and I visited many pioneer villages and eastern seaboard historical settlements and period houses on our travels across the USA and early Canadian historical reenactments; and we really enjoyed watching the men and women portraying family life, home.ship building and period battles. It is difficult to imagine just how hard life was in the beginning of our country and how easy we have it now. We take a lot for granted with all of our conveniences. Just think how the Donner Party would have been helped with GPS navigation or how easy it would have been to build the Canadian Pacific railroad with heavy equipment instead of hand laborers and horses.

I think you would really enjoy watching these reenactment videos; some of them also deal with reenactments of the lives of men in the 1800’s and many of the videos are devoid of sound other than that of nature and the quiet of the kitchen with gentle sounds of stirring, frying or chopping and the crackling fire; just what I needed on a cold winter’s night, the peaceful bliss of simplicity.

While I was in this comfy cozy mood I decided to look up some Early American and Native American recipes and I actually found some of which I had never heard. Corn gravy was new to me but when I mentioned it to my Mom, it turned out to be how Granny made it for Grandpa. Apparently there is some Native American ancestry in his lineage. On a website which features 19 recipes which survived the Oregon Trail I discovered a couple of them which sound quite delicious. ( There are the usual ones found on many pioneer websites like potato cakes, Johnny cakes, cured meats and jerky but I found another recipe new to me; Spotted Pup is a raisin bread type recipe. I think I shall have to make Spotted Pup and Corn gravy this week. There are hundreds of websites depicting our heritage and I believe I will have quite a lot of enjoyment watching them while the snow flies.

Enjoy the past.

Boiled Cookies
* 2 cups sugar

* 1 stick butter

* 1/2 cups milk

* 1/4 cups cocoa.

Mix and boil for 1 and 1/2 minutes.  Remove and add:  2 1/2 cups oatmeal 1/2 cup peanut butter;  1 tsp. vanilla.  Beat, blend & drop by the spoonful on was paper.   No need to bake ’cause they’ll harden by themselves.

 Corn Gravy
This recipe can be used on potatoes as a gravy or as a vegetable side dish.

Cook some meat (we use pork chops) in a skillet.

While those are cooking, cut the kernels off of leftover corn on the cob.

After taking the meat out of the skillet, put corn into the oil.

Sprinkle in 2 heaping tablespoons of flour and stir until it has browned.

While stirring, pour in about 2 and 1/2 cups of milk. Stir until thick and bubbly. Serve hot.

Spotted Pup
Pioneers used this recipe back then because they did everything they can to ensure they didn’t waste anything. Rather than eating cold rice, they decided it’d be much better to turn it into an entirely different recipe instead.

* Cooked rice

* Milk

* 1 egg

* Sugar

* Salt

* Nutmeg

* Raisins

* Vanilla

1.   Place the cooked rice in a Dutch oven.

2.   Then, pour in enough milk to submerge all rice grains.

3.   Crack in a beaten egg.

4.   Season with vanilla, nutmeg, salt, and sugar then top off with raisins.

5.   Close the lid and then let the mixture heat until the egg is fried.

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