The Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley Celebrates their 19th Anniversary!
On September 22, 2016, the cooks had their Birthday at their home hearth at the Polk Site. We prepared a cold feast and shared it with past cooks and guests, along with the staff of the Polk Site.
We ate, told our stories of past times, and had a great time being together.
Our feast included a fantastic salmagundi with delicious historic salad dressing using tarragon vinegar made from kitchen garden tarragon; cold meat pies–chicken and beef; brandied peaches and pound cake. Of course, we ended with our celebratory Syllabub!!
February 2016 A Lust for Bear Fat
I admit it. We ladies of The Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley lusted after bear fat. Since June 12, 2003—Bear Day, we have lusted for it. We had 22 cooks come to cook bear meat that day. This first encounter was not enough.
Wanda Hubicki’s husband knew someone who gave us bear meat. We sauted it with vegetables and stewed some. All and all, we deemed it delicious and tender. But we learned that older bears needed slow cooking, braised in red wine or some liquid of choice till well done.
That same day another man showed up with a quart of rendered bear fat. Carolyn Dilda knew of someone who knew of someone who sent this man to us. That quart of bear lard amazed us! It was divided into 3 layers at room temperature. The top was oil; good for salad dressings? So we made salad dressing with it. Pretty OK! The middle layer was a slurry which we used to saute the bear meat. The bottom layer was solid.
Since that day, all of us ladies have asked anyone and everyone we know who hunted or knew someone who hunted bears for a gift of bear fat. Our request went unanswered for 12 years. In December of 2015, we received 2 huge bags of thick 3” slabs of pure white bear fat. My chiropractor knew of a hunter who hunted black bears in the Fayetteville area. We got our FAT.
Soon we are going to render the fat like we did pig leaf fat. We hope the rendered bear fat will separate into 3 layers. We will make salad dressing with homemade tarragon vinegar, served on early spring greens and saute pork medallions rubbed with salt, pepper, nutmeg , and rosemary. The solid lard will be made into a paste for a dried fruit tart. We had read that bear lard pie crusts are superior. We will see. A new Bear Day is coming [it was February 22, 2016].
Our original interest in bear meat and lard came from reading John Lawson’s account in “Lawson’s History of North Carolina .” He stated in that account:
“The bears here are very common….The Flesh of this Beast is very good and nourishing, and not inferior to the best Pork, in Taste. It stands betwixt Beef and Pork, and the young Cubs are a Dish for the greatest Epicure living. I prefer their flesh before any Beef……their fat being as white as Snow and the sweetest of any Creatures in the World…We prefer it above all things to fry Fish and other things in.”
Linda Beverly and I have discovered in the food time line web site that bears have been used for a very long time—since 17,000BC. The fat, particularly, was the most available source of fat for the Native Americans and the European settlers until the hogs and cattle got established in the new world. This fat provided needed calories and nutrients to the human diets and the liquid bear grease was as good as olive oil in salad, according to the Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Vol. 2.
Bear fat was used in cooking, soap making, salves, waterproofing leather things, lubricant for wheels and bows and arrows, and fuel for lamps. Native Americans covered themselves with bear grease in the winter to help keep them warm. It became a very important and valuable commodity in the 18th and 19th centuries. Records showed that in the 1800’s that bear grease could be sold for $1.00 a gallon. A town in Arkansas was named “Oil Trough” because of the volume of rendered bear fat it produced. Records also show the Hudson Bay Company viewed bear fat as a valuable product.
Throughout our American history, people have ‘lusted’ after independence, freedom, land, education, enough food, gold, space adventure and even Bear Fat.
June 2015, national ALHFAM conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Our motto has become:
“Coming together is a beginning,
Keeping together is progress,
Working together is success.”
These were our opening words for our national ALHFAM panel discussion on “Cooks, the Greatest Tool is YOU!” at Williamsburg this June 2015. All six active cooks participated along with 4 panelists, discussing beginning a cooking guild and keeping it together. Our guild is the best example of “working together is success”. We are in our 18th year! HUZZAH!
Cooking guild is presenting a workshop February 20-22, 2015 at the regional ALHFAM meeting in Huntsville, Alabama.
FATS is a four letter word!
Lip-smackin’, finger-licken’ good. Cooks from caveman to contemporary have known that fat lifts food to a cosmic level. The favored fat changes with the period and the purpose. Come have fun with fats – butter, lard, suet, drippings, and “modern” hydrogenated shortenings. See what a difference each makes in pastry and other recipes. Learn tidbits about each type of fat. Food preparation will be done 18th-century style.
A report from hearth cooking at Westmoore Pottery, Seagrove, NC, October 18, 2014.
What was said:
Carolyn and Audrey, I wanted to thank the Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley again for coming to Westmoore Pottery. I hope the two of you can pass this along to the others who came as well.
I’ve had so many good comments already, including some coming from neighboring potteries who said that visitors who’d already been here for the Hearth Cookery were raving about it, saying how much they’d learn, how good the food was, how knowledgeble the cooks were, etc. etc.
Below I’ll copy one email, from Theresa Raker, to give you an idea of the response!
I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the cooking last Saturday! I learned a lot, the food was wonderful, and of course I loved looking at all your great pottery that they were using!
I am doing my colonial period stations this week in 8th grade. I dress up, they weave, sew, etc and because I saw the butter demonstration, I am having the students make butter from the heavy whipping cream and they love it!! I wouldn’t have done that part if I hadn’t seen it this weekend. I have just never tried it.
So, I just wanted to say thank you and I hope your shoulder is mended soon as well.
The Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley cooks at the hearth
Scots Irish Backcountry Food Bill of Fare
Bannocks/Oatcakes/Corncakes with butter, apple butter, honey
Pork on a String over onions
Pumpkin, stuffed, in the coals
Persimmon Pie, Apple Pie
Metheglin, (ginger/honey/lemon beverage)
October 18, 2014, Westmoore Pottery, Seagrove, North Carolina
One of our cooks is appointed to a national ALHFAM position.
Carolyn Dilda, one of our cooks in the cooking guild, has become the new Chair for ALHFAM Foodways Committee. She comes very prepared for the position for she has been a hearth cook for over 25 years and is a co-founder of our ‘Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley.’ She, along with her co-chair Eve King, will help ALHFAM [The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums] cooks network more effectively and make sure that foodways presentations have a strong showing at the annual and hopefully regional conferences.
Two of our cooks cook with Ivan Day at his hearth in northern England
Sweet Lamb Pie, Tort du Moy, Roast Beef and Dripping Pudding, Flummery, Black Caps, Prune Tart, and Pineapple Ice Cream. Doesn’t sound like typical everyday fare in the 18th century North Carolina backcountry, does it? But these receipts are found in 18th century cookery books, many of which were available to the colonists and are the ones used by the Cooking Guild as they practice period cooking techniques at the James K. Polk Historic Site.
Carolyn Dilda and Linda Beverly, two members of the Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley spent three weeks in May and June visiting England and Scotland. The primary reason for their trip was to attend a Georgian Cookery Class by noted food historian, Ivan Day.
In the quaint Lake District village of Shap, England, they discussed the history of British foods and cookery books using Mr. Day’s comprehensive library of Georgian recipe books. Then it was on to preparing the dishes listed above using basic skills such as roasting on a spit, making different pie crusts, and using 18th century cooking gadgets. These techniques and basic principles will be valuable as they continue to interpret historic foodways and pass their knowledge on to others.
Before and after their class, Carolyn and Linda visited many historical sites and museums from a recreated 1700’s Highland township with turf structures and traditional “blackhouses” to the remarkable Stirling Castle, once home to Mary, Queen of Scots. Kitchens were high on the list to visit and ranged from a small fire pit in the middle of a turf dwelling to the gleaming displays in grand houses. Many of these historic sites had specific programs for children, most of them were hands-on activities, and gave Carolyn and Linda many ideas to bring back with them.
All this, combined with the breath-taking beauty of the glacier-carved mountains and valleys with the scattered remnants of ancient standing stones and castle ruins, resulted in an unforgettable experience.
As printed in the MHA Docents Dandelion Newsletter, September-October, 2014. Written by Linda Beverly.
February 2014, Our State, Down Home in North Carolina, Pie vs Cake
The February Our State magazine features ‘Historic Kitchens’ and our hearth at the President James K. Polk State Historic Site was selected as one of the ten kitchens. We have a 2 page spread! P. 80-81. Carolyn Dilda, Sharon Van Kuren, Leila Merims, Audrey Mellichamp, Cathy Davis, and Linda Beverly brought in historical foods for the display. Carolyn, Sharon, Audrey, and Linda were photographed for 2 hours in and around the kitchen cabin by photographer Emily Chaplin. Linda Beverly’s photograph was selected for the article along with a picture of the dried apple pie she made for the photo shoot.