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1900-era cooking

By Staff | Jan 2, 2013

KATE DAHL takes a pear pie from the shelf of a pie safe in the 1900 farmhouse at Living History Farms, where Dahl works. The pie was baked in a 1900-era wood-burning cook stove.



URBANDALE – Lots of cooks toss around the idea of an “old-fashioned” dinner, but Kate Dahl makes it happen as part of her job.

Dahl is an employee of Living History Farms, the outdoor museum in Urbandale that brings Iowa’s rural history to life through several working period farms. Dahl is among the employees who prepare meals at the 1900 farm, where the entire experience of the meal is based on cooking, eating and entertaining in the manner of a farm family in 1900.

Prior to cooking her first meal for a roomful of Living History Farms guests, Dahl admits that she was nervous.

KATE DAHL stands beside a 1900-era wood-burning cook stove, where she prepares meals for guests at Living History Farms. Dahl sad that mastering the fire for the stove is the most difficult transition from a modern oven. However, she sad food tastes better from the old stove.

“People have expectations and you want to make sure you give them that,” she said. But that tension turned to pride after the guests raved about her meal. “After the meal I text-messaged my parents ‘They loved my food!’ There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment.”

Dahl, a Drake University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history, is in her first season as a cook on the 1900 farm. She was asked to join the historic meals crew after working this last summer as a domestic assistant on the farm, where cooking was part of her role. Growing up, Dahl said she also enjoyed cooking with her grandmother.

The transition from cooking for fun at home to cooking authentic 1900 era meals was not as difficult as one might imagine,” Dahl said. “All these recipes are very familiar.

“I enjoy getting to use recipes from the period cookbooks. You see how they’ve both evolved and stayed the same.”

Some of the familiar recipes that surprised her included macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly. Dahl said 1900 families used peanut paste and fig jelly for a picnic food.

KATE DAHL stands outside of the 1900 farmhouse on the grounds of Living History Farms in Urbandale. Dahl, an employee of the farms, cooks period-appropriate meals for guests as part of her job.

The most difficult transition for a cook is from a modern gas or electric stove to a wood-burning cook stove.

“The hardest part is fighting with the stove,” she said. “If you don’t have good wood or if the fire is being stubborn that can really impact your cooking time.”

Even the 1900-era stove, however, has similarities to cooking with a modern stove. A normal fire will heat the oven to about 350 degrees. “It’s a temperature that a lot of food we use today gets cooked at.”

The wood-burning stove cooks primarily in only one direction, which requires a lot of attention. “It’s not that different (from a modern stove) but it seems harder because you are paying more attention to the stove,” Dahl said. “So much of what we do today is internal temperature. Back then it was kind of pulling it out of the oven and take a look.”

The old-fashioned stove has its modern counterpart beat in one significant way.

“Things do taste better in the wood-burning cook stove,” Dahl said. The difference is the moist heat that a wood-burning stove produces, compared to a modern gas or electric range.

The historic dinners attract many repeat customers, some of whom try the recipes at home. When they return, customers say that the recipes just don’t taste the same on their modern appliances, Dahl said.

Living History Farms’ guests enjoy the whole meal, but there’s no doubt that dessert is their favorite.

“Pie is the favorite. Pie is what guests get excited about. It’s not something they’ve had from scratch very often,” she said. In addition to baking in a wood-burning stove, the crust of the pie is made from lard, which results in a flaky crust. The result is a dessert that elicits rave reviews from many guests.

Living History Farms’ historic dinners are available through March. To make a reservation or for more information, call (515) 278-5286 or log on to www.livinghistoryfarms.org

Living History Farms provides recipes of everything served at its historic dinners. Those include the following: pear pie, corn and tomato casserole, and basic yeast bread.

Pear pie

Pie crust (double crust)

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon salt

2/3 cup lard

6-10 tablespoons cold water

Blend lard and dry ingredients in a bowl with your fingers or a pastry blender until you have very small crumbs.

Gradually stir in water until you have a stiff dough. Roll out on a floured board.

  • Pear filling

5 cups sliced pears

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup tapioca (optional)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix well. Bake in a double pie shell at 375 degrees for 1 to 1.5 hours.

  • Apple filling

7 cups sliced apples

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix well. Bake in a double pie shell at 375 degrees for one hour.

Basic yeast bread

2 packages yeast

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and a pinch of sugar. Set in a warm place and allow to foam for a few minutes. Blend until creamy.

2 cups warm water

2 eggs

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons salt

3 1/2 cups flour

Mix the above ingredients with the yeast that has been rising.

Gradually add 5 to 6 cups more flour until dough is very stiff. Let dough stand for 10 minutes. Knead for 10 minutes, adding one more cup of flour if needed.

Let rise, punch down. Let rise, punch down again.

Form into rolls or loaves, let rise.

Bake at 375 degree. Makes 30 rolls or 2 large loaves.

Corn and tomato casserole

(Adapted from Pride of the Kitchen, 1898)

2 cans sliced tomatoes, drained

1 can creamed corn

1 can whole kernel corn

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons flour

Crumb topping for casserole

1/2 cup butter

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

4 cups bread crumbs

Saute onion and garlic in butter. Take off stove and add remaining ingredients, except corn and tomatoes.

Sprinkle on top of corn and tomatoes and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

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