Monday, July 8, 2013

Indoors Girl Goes Back In Time -- Cooking in the Colonial Kitchen

I remember sitting at the lunch table in high school, recounting to my friends the previous night's Survivor episode, and ending with a wistful sigh and saying that I have always wanted to be on that show. To my surprise, my friends laughed at me. "No offense, Ashley, but... you're kind of an Indoors Girl. You wouldn't last a day in the wilderness." This stuck with me a bit--though didn't sting as much as the time I said I wanted to grow up to be Tina Fey and they told me, with confusion: "but... she's funny." Sigh, THANKS, FRIENDS.--I'd grown up camping and hiking, but there was more than a bit of truth to the statement; I'd become less excited about things like camping and hiking as I'd gotten older and more excited about activities that involved the mall and the internet. Lately, I've been trying to rectify this, if only because my somewhat recent passion for teaching myself cooking/baking has made my butt increase its mass at an alarming rate and becoming more active has had a permanent place on my To-Do List.

Cory on the far left, refilling his musket

When my boyfriend asked if I'd be interested in joining his family for their yearly Revolutionary War Reenactment weekend at Hubbardton, Vermont, I immediately said yes. After all, this was the guy who not only donned a dress for his first ever theater experience as Francis Flute in my theater group's production of Midsummer Night's Dream, but recently bathed my cat when the cat was "sick" after overheating. He. Bathed. My. Cat. I owed him, big time. Plus, a little part of me wanted to prove the nay-sayers wrong. I might be an Indoor girl, but there's an Outdoors girl inside of me, somewhere, waiting for the opportunity to really rough-it!

In front of our home for the weekend--a floorless canvas tent.
Both our outfits were sewed, mostly by hand, by Cory's extremely talented mother.

The idea of camping for a weekend, dressed like a woman from 1777, probably wasn't my ideal vacation with him--we were hoping to find a weekend where we could escape to Cape Cod for a relaxing beach getaway but so far no dice--but he'd done so much for me recently that I decided I could handle sleeping on the ground for a few days.

This is what I imagined it would be like--wake up in PJs, have the usual camping breakfast of cold cereal and maybe some brought-from-home bagels, put on the Colonial outfit his mom lovingly made for me, wander around a faire-like setting, eat some sort of sandwich lunch, then back to camp (which I pictured as a cluster of modern tents) for a quick shower, back into normal clothes, and dinner of hotdogs and hamburgers. Clearly, I was a little off, as they explained to me a week or so before the event.

No showers. The tents were canvas, and floor-less. All food was made in big cast iron pots over an actual fire that was tended by our Camp Head Cook, Sandy. Outhouses. All modern amenities (I hid my iphone and Nook in my tent) had to be out of sight, and attendees of the event could come peruse the camps and talk to us about the reenactment. We snuck a  bit of booze, but we had to pour it into period-appropriate cups--my boyfriend's mom showed me a coveted goblet that could hold a whole half bottle of wine. I was allowed to use my camera, thankfully, but other than that, technology had to be out of sight. Plastic bottles of milk even had to be hidden by towels so as not to ruin the authentic nature for passerby.

The kitchen

So, each morning we would wake early for breakfast, dressed in our period outfits, and then the men would go off to battle while the women stayed back to prepare lunch and dinner. I was most interested in watching Sandy and the rest of the women cook. Let me tell you--these ladies know how to use their cast iron! With just a hot fire and some cast iron Dutch ovens, skillets, and spits they created meals that could have come out of a fully modern kitchen.

Isn't the pottery gorgeous? It's made by a friend of Cory's family
Check them out at PBJ Originals!

Breakfast the first morning was scrambled eggs, packed with veggies like asparagus, which I'd never thought to have in scrambled eggs but are amazing and I will be incorporating it into my brunch lineup for sure. Also some sausage, fruit, and homemade breads. A good, hearty breakfast to start the day and fuel up the men for the battle.

Helping with lunch

Immediately after breakfast, we began preparing lunch. The amount of meat, cheese, and veggies going into the quiches made me think we were making dinner--but nope, it was just the second meal of the day! By the time the men were done battling the first battle of Hubbardton (which the Americans won, btw) the quiches were done and ready to be eaten. I was amazed how well the Dutch oven cooked the quiches, just as good as a modern oven! Now on my Culinary Dream List is a Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven, since I don't think I could throw my Le Crueset into the fire without crying. That thing is my baby. My second child, if you will, since my first child is definitely my cat.

Lunch is served!

In addition to the quiche (two veggie and ham, one ham and onion, and one cheese) we had chilled vichyssoise, which is a potato and leek soup. Cold soup and I do not have a very good history, I've made them before and really disliked them, but the vichyssoise was nice and refreshing in the middle of the hot day.  I used it as somewhat of a palate cleanser to the hearty quiche.

Finally, we had some bread, cheese, and homemade pickles and pickled fiddlehead ferns. I am a pickle FIEND and I ended up stealing bites from the jars until well after lunch, breaking my no-carb diet for the weekend I found that a thick slice of cheddar on a bit of dill bread topped with fiddleheads was an amazing snack. I now wish that I'd experimented with pickling back during Fiddlehead season.


Dinner was amazing, definitely the best campfire dinner I've ever had! Immediately after lunch, the turkeys went on the spits. Five hours over hot coals, turning over occasionally, and the turkeys were perfectly crisp, with a smoky flavor from being over the fire.

The dinner spread

Also included in dinner were two stuffed pork loins, a huge vat of dill string beans, a crisp and refreshing salad with apple cider vinegar dressing, and another huge vat of stuffing. I ate so much that I felt like I was going to burst. But, as I always do, I still somehow had room for dessert.

Best camping food ever

Cory's mom had gotten the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook (which I fully intend on borrowing!) and had picked out a coffee cake recipe to try, but that night we ended up with Strawberry Gallette and bread pudding, made by Sandy, to serve to the troops for dessert. About five people rigged up a spoon-and-rope whip to whip up some cream to top it all with.

Q: How many settlers does it take to whip cream?
A: Five. One to hold the guard, one to guide the spoon,
two to pull the strings, and one to take pictures  of it all.

They seriously worked at the whipped cream for what seemed like an hour. Though it had deflated a bit by meal time, it was still the perfect topping to the desserts. And, as if to spite us, the cream re-thickened itself AFTER dinner, taking on a cool whip like consistency after being chilled. Regardless, the desserts were amazing, and yet again I was in awe of how they did this all with some cast iron and a fire.

The next morning was Cory and my last meal before heading home, and of course, it did not disappoint.

Sausage again, and some real griddle pancakes. Cory had been up early for another battle, with a pre-breakfast of fruit and bread to get him through. The rest of the regiment was more than ready to scarf down the meal when they returned, and the women held back and waited for them to take their share before serving ourselves--after all, they'd just lost the battle (the British won the second day) and many had just died on the field. Reanimating makes one hungry, you know.

I was happy to join Cory for this event, which is so special to him and his family. I was honored to be a part of it and cannot wait to do more. I guess I have an Outdoors Girl in me after all! I could tell he was happy to bring me through the museum, which told the story of the Battle at Hubbardton--a battle the Americans ultimately had to retreat from, but that weakened the British forces significantly and was a significant part of the war--plus the only one to happen in Vermont! Cory also bought me my bonnet (completing the look, I think) and a fan to help me get through the heat. I love these little treasures and will keep them close to my heart as our relationship progresses. We even got to steal a few romantic moments, like when he took me to the top of the hill to watch the sun set as the cannons went off in tribute. Surprisingly, I wasn't the sweaty mess I thought I'd be, the outfits provided good ventilation and somehow kept me cool enough so long as I didn't spend too much time in direct sunlight. My shoes, however, have seen better days. I'll be investing in some reenactment-only shoes for next year.

Overall, it was a wicked fun weekend. I always dread camping because I forget how much I actually enjoy it, and everyone I met was so nice and welcoming. "Will you be joining us again?" I was asked multiple times. "Of course!" I replied, each time, with enthusiasm. Cory's mom is already planning my second outfit, which I think will be a vest--a godsend since the jacket was a bit hot in the heat!

I was really thrilled with this bonnet.

Campfire Quiche
(From watching Kitchen Master Sandy's work)
Makes 2 quiches


  • 2 pie crusts (homemade and brought to camp in cooler, or pre-made)*
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheese

(This is what we used, feel free to sub in your own, or simply make a cheese-only quiche)

  • 1 cup chopped asparagus
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 ham steak, cubed

Equipment Needed

  • 2 Stoneware pie plates (tin/metal also works but these ones came out a little more scorched)
  • 2 Cast iron Dutch Ovens
  • 2 Iron trivets
  • Iron scoop
  • Heat-resistant gloves
  • Large, smoldering fire

-Prepare your campfire. Ideally, the fire should have been going for a while at this point and there should be a good bed of coals. The fire should be smoldering, not necessarily flaming, and it should be very hot.

-Prepare your pie crust, and fit into your pie plates. Pinch edges for the scalloped design, if desired.

-In a large bowl, scramble the eggs and slowly pour in the milk and whisk vigorously until well combined. Add in the cheese and any filling ingredients you desire. Note: you may need to add more eggs and milk if you do not use many other fillings. Pour mixture evenly between the two pie plates.

-Place a trivet into each Dutch oven and then place pie tins on top. Carefully place near the fire, but not on top of or in the fire. Place the lid on top, and carefully scoop coals from the fire onto the lid.

-Let cook for about an hour, checking every so often (while wearing the gloves) and rotating the Dutch oven so that the heat is evenly distributed. Replace coals if they get cool. Quiches are done when the filling is set and the edges are browned. It may take a bit more or less than an hour, depending on the fire.

Cory, all handsomely dressed for battle.
Me, looking frumpy because my belt wasn't fastened right
and the angle of this picture wasn't "my good side."

*If you remember, I'm not the best at making pie dough. However, I am pretty sure these crusts were brought from home. In this kind of heat, I doubt we could have cut cold butter into flour very well, plus it cut down on the amount of ingredients we had to bring with us. If you're feeling adventurous, bring along your favorite pie crust recipe and let me know how it goes!


  1. Wow! That's a pretty exciting weekend. No one in my family or my boyfriend's family does anything fun like that (or camping in general). I have a really nice Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven that I've only used on my stove, but this is pretty inspiring!

    1. I want one sooo bad to bring camping now! It's like having an oven! Hehe

  2. As much as I would like to take credit, I can't. Sandy made the strawberry gallette not I.

    1. I'll fix that right now ;) I knew you had planned on making something, I assumed it was the galette!

  3. That is so fun! I had no idea they did that in Vermont. It makes me wish I could have gone when I lived there. Seriously cool that you got to take part in it. And you're right, that food looks amazing. I'm impressed.

  4. I'm definitely an indoors girl, too :) But I know I would like campfire quiche!

    1. Food is a good way to convince me to try new things, hah.

  5. Holy smokes. Those real griddle pancakes look amazing...need to put making/eating those on my food bucket list!

    1. I bet you could recreate it on the stove... but doing it over a campfire feels that much more advanced ;)

  6. This sounds like such a memorable weekend & I am pretty sure I would love campfire quiche!

    1. With all your travels, you should stop by a reenactment sometime :)

  7. How fun! The food looks amazing! And I can't believe you all braved the heat in those heavy long-sleeved outfits. Hope you've had a chance to cool down since then! ; )

    1. They really weren't that bad! I felt worse for my boyfriend, who had a WOOL coat! But he swears once you sweat the moisture cools you down... gross, but true, hah.

  8. oooh the food actually looks really yummy but yeah I'm def. an indoors girl (I grew up camping, etc. but always hated it lol)

    1. I liked camping when I was younger, but these days it's not my favorite. Especially on a floorless tent! hah...

  9. How cute is your bonnet?! You would make an amazing ye olde wife ;)

  10. How fun!!! I not only enjoy seeing the costumes but it was interesting to see what you guys cooked. And you two are so cute together!! :D

  11. Oh wow this is so stinking cool! I think I would love to do something like this!!! You guys are too cute in your costumes too!

    1. My boyfriend would balk at the word "costume"--his is a UNIFORM, hehe. I guess mine would just be called an "outfit." I cannot wait for his mom to make me a corset/bustier type thing for the next one!

  12. Ashley, it was great to meet you. I enjoyed reading your story of this past weekend at Hubberton. I hope you will come join us again real soon!


  13. You two are MAJORLY adorable. And I'm amazed that everything you could cook without a real oven!!

  14. wow, this looks like so much fun! you look so cute :)

  15. Your weekend looks like such a riot! Old school cooking and men with muskets! Fun! And don't worry, 18th century clothes weren't known for their Body hugging styles :)

  16. This was such an interesting story, and your photos were perfect to show everything. Who would have guessed all that tasty food could be cooked in cast iron. And your little cap is darling.

  17. What a cool experience. Just loving the photos.

  18. What a great post - and I love that you shared the experience! Thanks for linking up to All My Bloggy Friends - I can't wait to see what you share this week!