Tea Party winners: Roseanna M. White's winner is Debbie Wilder, Denise Weimer's print copy of Widow goes to Andrea Stephens, Debra E. Marvin's winners for Ebook collection are Cheryl Baranski and Rachel Koppendrayer, Carrie Fancett Pagels' ebook collection goes to Joan Arning and paperback to Connie, Gina Welborn's winner is Regina Fujitani, Gabrielle Meyer's paperback copy of A Mother in the Making is Teri Geist DiVincenzo

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Ye Olden Days: Hold Your Nose, Put on Your Patience, and Have a Seat in the Colonial Kitchen

This summer I had the joy of visiting Old Bedford Village, a colonial site relatively near my home. They have an entire village set up there, and different reenactors there throughout the week. My favorite was the lady in the Biddle House, who demonstrated spinning and how one would work in a colonial kitchen.

We watched her spin some wool onto a walking wheel (also called a great wheel and a wool wheel). This baby's so big that you have to walk back and forth about six feet as you're spinning--hence the name. The wool ends up on a spool, then you detach it from the big wheel and start spinning it onto the weasel, which puts it into skeins. It takes 150 rotations to equal one skein--and because the ingenius creators of this device knew well no one was going to sit there counting to 150 all day, the weasel pops after 150 revolutions. Sound familiar? Altogether now: "Here we go round the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel . . ." =)

She then enlightened us on dying fabric in a colonial home. The dyes themselves I was well aware of--for instance, to achieve a rich brownish-yellow, you use the black walnut. For a lovely pale blue, indigo is a dream. What I didn't realize was that the dye doesn't just set in the fabric on its own. You have to add something high in ammonia. And what would Colonials have on hand for that?

Yep. The chamber pot. Apparently the urine of young boys was the best for this--they would collect the, er, sample from the chamber pot, cover it, and set the lovely brew in the corner of the fireplace until it was "ripe"--read, very strong-smelling. Then the dye and wool would join it.

After horrifying some of the moderns in my tour group with this, the reenactor moved over into her kitchen to show us how one crafted a meal in the day.

The Biddle House had a unique feature for a house of the time--a huge fire place taking up almost the entire wall of this house, divided into two sections that meet in a very wide V. The right side is a traditional fireplace, complete with a crane to swing a pot back and forth over the flame. But the left side has a stove top supported on the stone--a very thick piece of iron perfectly fitted to this side of the fireplace. On it you could put your pots, or cook food directly on the surface. Managing the fire underneath for the desired temperature, of course.
They had small, moveable ovens to show us too (bottom corner of the picture of the stove). A larger one for cooking meat, which you put onto a spit so you could rotate it within the metal box. The box was then set up against the fire. Not only would the heat cook the meat facing it, it circulated through the box to cook it all around. The lady showed us a smaller version of the same with a shelf inside it--on here they would bake biscuits and cookies. Three at a time, which means that a traditional recipe for about 2.5 dozen cookies took four hours to make.

And here I am, trying my best to avoid meals that take longer than 30 minutes to make!

by Roseanna White


  1. Fascinating post! I want to visit this house now, especially to see that singular hearth. Somebody who understood cooking designed that (or did so at the urging of a practical wife). How blessed you are to have such places near you. And I did not know that "pop goes the weasel" was in reference to spinning. Makes total sense now!

  2. Great and informative post! One of my favorite things about you grand folks here at Colonial Quills! I eat up this historic trivia - much like those four hour cookies!

    The pop goes the wheasel story is something I will definitely use in my classes at school on Nursery Rhymes. I hadn't heard that before and it is a wonderful way to weave historic facts into a language arts class. I have a great passion to ignite a keen interest in all things old into the young hearts and minds of today - hoping an appreciation of the past will encourage them to properly steward their present and cause them to consider a right vision for the future.


  3. Well Lori, if you ever head to the PA/Western MD area, let me know and I'll go with you to Old Bedford Village!

    Kathy, that's the sort of thing I loved learning as a kid, and which I share with mine now too--and they now have fun going to their other friends and being able to say, "Yeah, but do you know WHY it is that way? I do." ;-)

  4. That is hilarious about the urine horrifying the younger ones :) but, yep! that's pretty gross!!!

  5. Who knew? Not me! That is so interesting about "Pop goes the weasel!" Thanks for sharing how they had their stoves set up. The Germans had a way they commonly set up their household stoves, too. It seems like there were so many different ways, just like today, to design things. Fascinating!

  6. I am glad I live now and not back in history. lol
    I never would have guessed the kids song "Pop Goes The Weasel" had anything to do with spinning. I love to read the posts here as I learn so many new things and interesting facts about history.
    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  7. That little metal oven is called a tin kitchen. Makes the best roasted chicken you'll ever have!


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