Feasting with Fire

Virginia historian Rebecca Suerdieck orchestrates meal preparations during her recent class. Photo by Kate Guenther.

While not strictly a naturalist activity, I did get the chance to participate in an all-day, hands-on 18th-century cooking class at Sky Meadows State Park near Delaplane, Virginia, earlier this month. The teacher, Rebecca Suerdieck, is a second-generation historic re-enactor who literally grew up at Colonial Williamsburg! Not only does she know her open fire and hearth cooking, she knows what visitors to Williamsburg have been asking for years to have in a workshop. And Rebecca delivered by letting the seven of us be the sous chefs and do the chopping, tying, mixing, cutting, and taste-testing that went into preparing the seven dishes we made—followed by a feast!

The menu:

  • Herb-stuffed roasted pork loin made in a reflector cooker
  • Buttered roasted carrots
  • Sweet potato bake in a Dutch oven
  • Fresh cheese
  • Cornbread and buttered molasses in a Dutch oven
  • Salad with a creamy balsamic dressing
  • Apple pie in a Dutch oven

The whole meal took about 5 hours to prepare and according to Rebecca’s husband, Mike, it takes about 60 pieces of wood to make enough coals to make the 6-course dinner. All the recipes were from authentic 18th-century Virginia cookbooks, so we got to read all the old text and try to make sense of it. We learned a lot about fire skills, too.

Rebecca teaches about 5 of these workshops each fall in various historic kitchens around the state. You may want to check it out and take a fun road trip next year. I know I’ll be going back! https://cookingandfire.wixsite.com/workshops

– Kate Guenther, Cohort I, November 2022

Recipe from an 18th-century Virginia cookbook.

Photos by Kate. Click on one to make it bigger and start a slide show with captions.