News from the Tennessee Valley Food

Pat McMillion with a tray of Shrewsbury Cakes prepared hearth-style at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Pat McMillion with a tray of Shrewsbury Cakes prepared hearth-style at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville.

Greatest cooking
on hearth

Huntsville living history museum uses old fashioned techniques to create ‘receipts’

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

Margaret Mazikowski flips Johnny cakes over the hot wood-burning stove at the 1887 Balch House, and offers samples topped with freshly churned butter. She mixes batter for her tasty pancake-type offerings with more corn meal than flour

Hannah Hicks gives a pot of bacon and beans a stir from time to time between other kitchen chores.

Hannah Hicks stirs a pot of vegetables atop a wood-burning stove at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville. Pans of baked winter squash in the foreground.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Hannah Hicks stirs a pot of vegetables atop a wood-burning stove at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville. Pans of baked winter squash in the foreground.
Living history volunteer Molly Lynn, 15, demonstrates Appalachian rug twining between checking on her cinnamon ginger cookies. That's not as simple as peeking in the glass window of an oven, because hers are baking in a Dutch oven with hot coals under and on top in the fireplace of the 1888 Smith-Williams House.

In the 1845 Chandler House nearby, volunteer Pat McMillion prepares four pork loins wrapped in bacon and seasoned with fresh rosemary in a "tin kitchen" at the open hearth. George and Martha Washington cooked with one of these reflective tin creations, which is sort of a forerunner to the toaster oven and George Foreman grill. She demonstrated the old-fashioned toaster, too: a long-handled device in which to hold slices of bread over the coals and then turn to toast the other side.

Known as the best old-fashioned cook at Burritt on the Mountain, a Huntsville living history museum, McMillion uses some recipes handed down from her grandmother, like Granny's Buttermilk Cake. Others come from old-fashioned "receipt" books, such as “The Kentucky Housewife” originally published in 1839, “The Back Country Housewife” and “The Open-Hearth Cookbook.”

She makes it look easy when she turns out a ragu of potatoes and onions seasoned with Burritt-grown oregano and thyme, cooked in a kettle hanging over the fire in the hearth. She also cooked a 5-pound beef roast at the hearth, as well as making Shrewsbury Cakes, a cookie-type dessert she calls “light and refreshing, with not a lot of sugar.”

McMillion also made the blackberry dressing to use over salad. It’s simple, she said; you just boil blackberries and add vinegar, sugar and olive oil.

After a recent warm day of cooking in the historic houses, Burritt history interpreters sat for a dinner featuring the various dishes they contributed. In addition to those mentioned above, they had winter squash baked with sugar, nutmeg, butter and cinnamon; carrots cooked with fresh herbs; blueberry pie; apple crumb cake with berry sauce; pumpkin bread pudding with raisins, nuts , chocolate chips and a special sauce for topping; chicken cooked on an open spit; and sassafras tea.

McMillion adapted the following pork tenderloin recipe for hearth cooking.

Herbal Tenderloin

2 pork tenderloins
Fresh rosemary

Wash, trim and dry two pork tenderloins (usually come two to a package). Pound each piece flat (I use the side of a saucer). Lay down about eight lengths of cooking twine. I wet mine first and it stays in place much better. Lay down a bed of bacon the same direction as the twine, overlapping each piece. Lay one tenderloin on top of the bacon (perpendicular to the slices and twine).

Grate over the meat one whole nutmeg. Sprinkle on salt to taste. Lay on the meat several branches of fresh rosemary. Put the second pounded piece of tenderloin on top. Starting at one end, fold over the bacon, overlapping on top, and continue until the entire tenderloin pair is covered with bacon. Pull up each piece of twine and tie on top. Run one extra piece of twine under the tenderloin (the long way) and around to tie on top. Tie each of the perpendicular pieces of string to the center piece if twine on top. Trim all strings, leaving enough to be able to find the string when the meat is done.

For hearth cooking: Place the wrapped and tied tenderloins on the spit running through a tin kitchen. Set before the fire. Turn as needed until juices are no longer red. Remove from the spit and let rest before removing string and rosemary before slicing for serving. With a brisk fire, the meat is usually done in about 11/2 hours.

For the modern kitchen: Roast the tenderloin at 350 to 375 degrees (depending on the oven), turning once to brown the bacon on the bottom, until the inside temperature is 170-180 degrees. (This can also be cooked on a grill.) Cool. Cut and remove string. Slice in the middle and remove the rosemary. Put back together and make slices.

Variations: Make your favorite bread stuffing and place that in the middle of the two tenderloins. It looks pretty with the stuffing in the center. Save the pan drippings to make a gravy to pour over the dish or serve on the side. Place a half cup of thinly sliced garlic and a thinly sliced onion between the two loins.

Bread Pudding

This recipe was adapted by McMillion from cookbooks of Martha Washington and Hannah Glasse.

Cube a large bowl of stale, but not moldy, bread. (Hot dog and hamburger buns do well.) Pour on a bit of milk or cream and toss it up. Let it stand to soak up the milk.

Rinse some currants or raisins well in clean water. Leave them to soak and plump up. Chop up some nuts. Whip two eggs and some melted butter with two whole nutmegs, grated, and some grated cinnamon. Whip in a pinch of salt. Add some extract of a vanilla bean (or real vanilla), if you have it.

Pour this over the bread. Lightly add in the nuts and the drained currants. Mix lightly and pour into your dish. Bake until the eggs are set. Serve hot if you can. It is good plain or with a sauce.

Pudding Sauce: Mix 1 cup of good peach brandy or berry juice with one cup of raw sugar, one cup of butter, and spices to your taste. It is good with fresh ground nutmeg. Put this before the fire early on so it may slowly simmer and reduce. Spoon the sauce over a pudding.

Blackberry Vinaigrette

Use two packages frozen blackberries (or raspberries or blueberries) and put them in 1/4 cup water on the stove. Let them come to a boil. Use a fine colander to get the seeds out.

Add, to taste, about 1/2 cup each of vinegar and sugar and perhaps 3/4 to 1 cup of olive oil. Blend well with berries and serve over salads.

Homemade Vanilla

4 to 6 vanilla beans
1 pint vodka

Place 4 to 6 vanilla beans into 1 pint of vodka. You do not have to slice the beans. Put the bottle in a cool, dark place for approximately six months. When the vodka has turned dark brown, the vanilla is ready to use. Store in a cool dark place, preferably in a colored bottle to limit exposure to light.

Forced Eggs

This old-fashioned “receipt” is from “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” by Hannah Glasse.

Boil the eggs hard and peel the shells off; wrap them in force-meat (see note) and fry them a fine brown. Then cut them lengthways with the yolks, put fine brown gravy into the dish, thickened a little; do not pour it over the eggs.

Note: A convenient 20th-century forcemeat is bulk sausage, according to “The Backcountry Housewife” by Kay Moss and Kathryn Hoffman. McMillion advises cooking the “sausage balls” long and slowly in order to fully cook the sausage. Gently turn as sides brown.

For gravy: To the pan drippings, add butter and flour to make a roux. Add cream and water to make a rich gravy. For more flavor, add mushroom, ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce), pepper and salt to taste.

Become one with the hearth

Burritt on the Mountain history interpreters demonstrate open hearth, wood stove and Dutch oven cooking on the first Saturday of some months in the historic houses on the museum property.

On the Net: For dates of these "Step Back in Time" events, watch the calendar at www.burrittonthe

Take classes: Pat McMillion will lead two from scratch, hands-on evening cooking classes April 12 and April 17 from 4:45 to 9 p.m. Sign up early because space is limited and the classes are popular, she said.

Participants will learn a bit of history while helping cook at the open hearth and then sample the results for dinner. These classes are for adults and cost $100, including the food and a cookbook. Register by calling 512-0142.

Call: 536-2882 for more Burritt information.

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