I knew that while I had involved students in my two trips to Louisa County for Open Hearth Cooking classes, I wanted more students to get the experience. When I had been putting together the Material Culture Resource Collection for use in the classroom, I bought some gear for doing so- Dutch ovens, trivets, tripod. I even bought a firebowl and patio tiles so I wouldn’t damage whatever location I ended up using.
I had heard that there was a nearby county park related to our Parham Road Campus, so I went looking. I found that the park is not only attached to the campus, but that you can only get to it through our campus. It has a baseball field, football field, and basketball courts, but the important thing for me was one lone metal-box-on-a-stick grill. That meant that fire was permitted there! I had dreaded the thought of hoops and hoops and hoops I would likely have to go through to have fire on campus, but this is a county park that allowed fire!
I checked the signs, I read the rules, I looked up the website. I could do this!
I contacted Sophia and asked her if she wanted to be my partner-in-crime. She agreed and we began to plan what we would try to cook! I decided that using some cheap refrigerator biscuits could be a way to gauge the heat of our fire/coals. Sophia was excited about doing corn pudding, so I had her look up a recipe. We did an apple pie too- all store bought ingredients because we were practicing the fire part more than the recipe part!
I had bought the firebowl and patio tiles, but because of various circumstances, they would be difficult to get to and transport. So I bought a great big ceramic pot for my coals and some smaller tiles instead. I also bought the natural hardwood charcoal Danny told me about as a shortcut.
We picked a day and got all the equipment together- I wanted to be careful enough that there would be no question of safety. I brought a fire extinguisher too! We started the fire in the ceramic pot and thought the coals were ready. We put the first batch of biscuits in the small cake pan and popped it into the Dutch oven on top of the trivet. And we waited…not so patiently. We thought they had been in long enough but when we checked them, they were starting to dry, but not really cook or brown. We realized our coals were not nearly hot enough and we had been impatient.
We waited and chatted and waited some more. It was hot out. We heard a noise and looked around to see Sophia’s cell phone fly off of the picnic table we were using! What the heck? It turns out that the heat had caused the top of the refrigerator biscuit tube and it sent the phone flying!
So then we tried a second batch of biscuits. These went much better! In about the same amount of time you would have them in your oven at home, they came out puffed up and browned! Yum! While those were cooking, we put together the corn pudding. It made so much we had to put it in two of the cake pans. I had only brought pot holders from home and getting down in the oven to pull out the biscuits was touch and go. I only burned myself once, but it was enough to teach me that I needed something more- like a mitt and not just a pot holder!
I used a modern lid lifter rather than the 19th century one we had used in class. I like it a great deal better because it feels so much more stable than the period one. With the modern one, I feel confident that I’m not going to drop it or have it tilt and dump ashes into the food. That was part of what I needed to learn to feel ready to show this to students on my own.