On The Farm

Gathered at the Hearth

Thinking back through the years, I recall stories that were told to me about Christmas celebrations in former times. Some of the people whose stories I remember were born in the 1880s, and they were recalling memories from the days of their youth.

The stories that I remember came, for the most part, from farmers and other people living in rural areas.

In those former times, a good number of people were still cooking over open fires in the fireplace, and to some extent, over outdoor fires.

One man told me about roasting whole pigs over hickory coals. On the day of the pig roast, a pit was dug and a fire built using hickory. The pig was turned on a spit for several hours until it reached a golden tan color.

In the kitchen there were large fireplaces where cast iron kettles were suspended over the fire by cranes, and tin reflectors were used when roasting chickens, ducks, turkeys or other game fowl.

Fire coals were raked out onto the hearth and Dutch ovens were placed over the coals. The rimmed lids were covered with coals to bake cornbread or various types of straws.

An old-time favorite dish in those days was pork or chicken dressing which was also baked in Dutch ovens. The favorite recipe for this dressing called for cornbread.

Sweet potatoes roasted in the coals and ashes was also a favorite, and leftover potatoes were great for eating the following day.

Before the blight killed off our native American chestnuts in the late 1930's, our native chestnuts were far superior to the types that we are familiar with today.

Chestnuts were roasted on the fireplace hearth, and they were often included in stuffing recipes.

At home I still enjoy cooking in the fireplace using my old cast iron, Dutch ovens and pots.

When cooking over the open fire using those old methods, I feel a kinship with those who went before us and an appreciation of their way of life in those former times.

John Coykendall, Master Gardener

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