The Food Column: 18th-century dining 101

The Colonial-style cooking classes held throughout the year at the Old Stone House in Slippery Rock all lead up to this big finale: a full-day class Oct. 19 devoted to cooking an entire meal over the house's large hearth.

The teachers and eight students will start the day by building the fire at 8:30 a.m. Around 2 p.m., they will sit down around the parlor table, which they will set in 18th-century style with period dishes, and dine on their creations from salad to dessert.

This year's menu features a salad, mushroom soup (see recipe), rolls, fried chicken, Cheshire pork pie, carrots "the Dutch way" (with onions, parsley and butter), stuffed mushroom caps and, for dessert, pumpkin pudding. The menu is based on actual historic recipes from the late 1700s, and the courses represent "a fancier meal" for the time period, explained Bill McGary, pastor of Wampum Presbyterian Church and a volunteer cook at the Old Stone House. Dinner will even be served at the proper time, he added: "The dinner meal of the day was served around 2, or as they called it, 'two of the clock.'"

Diners will pass their plates around the table, dishing out servings from the serving vessels closest to them. "If you had passed the serving dishes, it would have been considered rude" in that time period, Mr. McGary said.

Students will learn to use cast-iron cookware over both flames and hot coals. The hearth at the Old Stone House is large because Colonial cooks "would sometimes have two or three types of fire going in one fireplace" with varying heat levels, said Aaron Cowan, assistant professor of history at Slippery Rock University and curator of the Old Stone House.

Students also will learn to read historic recipes, which predated modern measurements such as cups and teaspoons.

"There was a lot of intuitive skill involved," Mr. Cowan said.

In fact, Mr. McGary noted that at one recent cooking class, he had a British student who was visiting the U.S., and she told him that Brits still cook the way Colonial Americans did. She uses a set of kitchen scales but not measuring cups.

"She told me she could understand 18th-century recipes better than modern American ones," he said.

Of course, many historic recipes rely on neither scales nor cups; they list "measurements" like "half as many onions as carrots" or "butter the size of an egg." That, along with the use of fire without thermometers, is why Colonial hearth cooking requires so much intuition.

The point of the dinner class is not only to learn hearth cooking, but also to understand the history and cultural influences behind food, Mr. Cowan said. He noted the students will discuss the foods people of varying classes might have eaten, the differences between rural and urban diets in the 18th century, and how the seasons affected food preparation.

"Farming was organic" at that time, he said. "They just didn't call it that."

Because of the increasing societal interest in organic and local foods, the Old Stone House staff and volunteers hope to add more cooking classes next season.

Presently, they're building a historic beehive bake oven, so next year's classes should include some baking-specific offerings.

After the Oct. 19 dinner, cooking classes at the Old Stone House will resume in May. Cost for the dinner class is $35 per person, and advance reservations are required. Information: Reservations: 724-738-4964.

Celebrity chefs ...

Meanwhile, for some 21st-century cooking:

Ina Garten: The cookbook author and star of Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa" shares tips, stories and recipes from the stage. 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Benedum Center, Downtown. $45.75 or $55.75. 412-456-6666.

Reed Alexander: The teen chef and TV actor comes to Giant Eagle Market District stores. 5 p.m. Oct. 17 in Pine, 11 a.m. Oct. 19 in Robinson and 3 p.m. Oct. 19 in Bethel Park. Free, but register ahead at

Buddy Valastro: The Cake Boss will perform a new show of cakes, stories and fun. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Palace Theatre, Greensburg. Show tickets are $29.75 or $39.75. VIP tickets at $95 include a post-show meet-and-greet, a copy of Valastro's new cookbook and more. 724-836-8000.

... and a local competitive chef

Shawn Culp, culinary arts instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, has been selected for the American Culinary Federation's Culinary Team, which will represent the U.S. at the 2014 Villeroy & Boch Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg and the 2016 Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany. Chefs compete creating elaborate food presentations at each event.

Mr. Culp competed last year as part of the Regional Team (sort of a second-string to the first team).

The 11 chefs were chosen at tryouts over the summer. One of Mr. Culp's teammates is Corey Siegel, rounds cook at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., who was sous chef at the Bocuse d'Or competition earlier this year.

Charitable event

Pampered Chef party: Live cooking demo and Pampered Chef shopping opportunity. 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at the Allegheny YMCA on the North Side. All proceeds will benefit this branch of the YMCA. To order online, go to

Informational event

Know Your GMOs: Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, and other speakers address the topic of requiring labeling for genetically engineered foods. 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at Chatham University's Eddy Theater, Shadyside.


West Virginia Chestnut Festival: 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at Rowlesburg Park and the Szilagyi Center in Rowlesburg, W.Va.. Fire-roasted chestnuts, live music, refreshments, vendors of chestnut furniture and other offerings, speakers, gala banquet and more.

Shirley Plantation mushroom soup

This recipe comes from Shirley Plantation, a Colonial-era plantation that now serves as a tourist attraction in Charles City, Va. The recipe has been adapted to use modern measurements.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms

  • 6 tablespoons butter

  • 5 tablespoons flour

  • 3 cups cream

  • 3 cups milk

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

  • Rinse, trim and chop mushrooms.

While mushrooms are being prepared, place butter in pan on trivet on the hearth, near to but not in the fire. Allow butter to melt slowly.

Stir in mushrooms. Cover pan and shovel a few coals under the trivet. Allow mushrooms to simmer slowly, stirring occasionally until done, about 15 minutes.

Stir in flour and continue cooking mushroom mixture. Stir occasionally until liquid is absorbed and flour is cooked.

Combine cream and milk in a separate pan and heat over flames until scalded (almost boiling).

When mushroom mixture is ready, slowly add hot liquid, salt and cayenne, stirring occasionally.

Continue to let soup cook a few minutes, stirring until slightly thickened. Correct seasoning and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

-- Shirley Plantation, via The Old Stone House

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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