Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 9, 2012

Old-fashioned cooking at Port Oneida Fair


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Squash fritters. Apple butter. Peach pie. Fried potatoes.

The smells of long-ago summer dishes will waft from the 1918 Charles and Hattie Olsen Farm this weekend at the Port Oneida Rural Historic District's annual fair.

"People used to eat seasonally, so I'll be cooking with what I have on hand: squashes, cucumbers, a few tomatoes, a few peaches, a whole lot of early summer apples," said Susan Odom, who will demonstrate historic cooking and talk about the "foodways" of the period in the restored Olsen Farm kitchen.

The Port Oneida Fair, Aug. 10 and 11, will offer visitors a peek at life on the rural American farmsteads of the district, located in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. With its food preservation tours, cooking demonstrations, pickling and buttermaking, the Olsen Farm is likely to be one of the most popular stops, said Susan Pocklington, director of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear.

The group is a co-sponsor of the fair along with Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes and community members. The fair is hosted by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

"The cooking is really the highlight for us here at the Olsen Farm site," said Pocklington, whose group is headquartered at the farm. "I think part of it is seeing cooking on an old stove and smelling what's coming out of the kitchen again."

Pocklington said the restored kitchen is faithful to Charles and Hattie Olsen's, down to the porcelain one-bay sink, the original wood and linoleum floors, the pantry with pull-out flour and sugar bins, and the bisque-colored insulated Glenwood utility stove. Even the china — both casual and formal — replicates the original, shards of which were discovered in the farm's side yard.

"When we restored the kitchen we did a lot of research with the family and put everything where it was originally located," Pocklington said. "We even have the original icebox that was in very bad shape. It was restored by an Amish gentleman."

Odom learned about historic cooking and animal husbandry at Greenfield Village, where she worked on a living history farm. Now she owns and operates Hillside Homestead, which offers historic farmstays in Suttons Bay.

At the Port Oneida Fair she'll demonstrate both baking and stovetop cooking using old utensils, enamelware and cast iron ware, and recipes from early cookbooks. Her favorites: The Kentucky Housewife by Lettice Bryan, published in 1839; The New Buckeye Cook Book by Estelle W. Wilcox, published in 1904; and Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book, published in 1906.

Besides squash fritters and peach pie, which often called for blanched, bitter almond-flavored kernels from inside the peach pit — now discouraged from consumption by the USDA — her menu could include apple butter from old-fashioned early summer Transparent apples and fried potatoes like the kind the Olsen children's grandmother used to make when they came home from school.

Cooking in the early 1900s revolved around the farming cycle, said Odom, whose talks encompass not only what people ate but also how and why they ate it, as well as how cooking of the period led to the cooking of today.

"One of the features of historic food that we've forgotten today is you can't go to the grocery store and buy peaches in December," she said "The seasonality of food used to be a big component of meal planning. Even the local farmers are extending seasons in some new ways you wouldn't be able to do back then."

Leelanau County of the early 1900s was about 20 years behind the times, Odom said. Farmers mechanized slower and were slower to change crop varieties. Other differences include biases against certain fruits and vegetables like carrots and garlic — considered something only Europeans and immigrants would eat — and some squashes.

"Hubbard squash was for people and pumpkins were for cows," said Odom, who grows or buys her produce from local farmers.

For authentic pies Odom uses flour instead of tapioca, a ceramic pie bird instead of pastry slits, and lard instead of vegetable shortening or margarine. She renders her own "leaf lard" from pork fat from under the rib cage.

"It makes the flakiest pastry," she said, adding that early pastry was simply called "paste."

This squash recipe comes from Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cookbook and uses summer squash like yellow crookneck squash or cymlings, also known as pattypan squash or scallop squash. It's as good for breakfast as it is for dinner, Odom said.

Squash Fritters

1 shy c. flour

1/8 c. cornmeal

¾ t. salt

¾ t. pepper

¼ t. ground sage

Mix dry ingredients together. Add to dry mix 2 eggs and 3/4 c. of milk. Mix well. Batter should be thick, almost as thick as a drop-style batter; add more milk or flour as needed. Slice a yellow crookneck squash into 1/2- inch slices. Mix the slices into the batter. Dip slices out with fork and drop them into cast iron fry pan with bubbling hot lard or oil. Cook till brown on one side. Turn and cook on the other side till brown. Drain on paper or cheesecloth and serve hot.