The last time I wrote about the kitchen at Grand Portage, I had just finished my first solo day in the kitchen. Since then I have worked in the kitchen one or two days a week. Every time we work in the kitchen we write what is cooking on a chalkboard and set it outside. People like to read it as they enter.
I wanted to share with you some of what is cooking in the kitchen on the days I have worked in there. I have fun finding era-appropriate recipes and trying them out. If we bring in our own ingredients we can take what we make home for supper. But whether or not I take it home, I usually make a double batch so there is some to share with the other Rangers.
I am now an old hand at the bake oven. I can keep both fires going without getting stressed. People love to see the fire in the bake oven and learn about baking in it. I build a good fire in the bake oven and keep it going for four hours. Then I go to lunch and, by the time I get back, the fire has died down to coals and I can rake the coals out of the oven. I swab the oven out with a sponge on a pole and let it cool to the right temperature.
In the morning, I mix up bread and let it rise. Usually the bread is on the second rising when I go to lunch and is ready to put in the oven as soon as it cools. While the oven is cooling I mix up some cookies, scones, or put a pie together.
Of course, while I am doing all this I am also cooking something over the hearth fire and talking to the 300 guests who come through the kitchen every day. Multi-tasking 18th Century style!
Challenges in the kitchen include getting water (hauled from the “well”) and doing battle with the flies. At this time of year the flies are winning. No screens on the doors or windows mean the flies cover everything as soon as I set it down. I wash dishes before I use them, scrub them good after I use them, and keep them covered with towels while I am using them.
After the one charcoal pudding, all my stuff has turned out pretty well. Sometimes I even have time to take a picture. The Rangers know what is cooking in the kitchen on the days I work in there – and what time to stop by to sample the wares!