Two weekends ago, Mrs. Nye and I attended a cooking class in Wyoming County (a.k.a. the sticks) fairgrounds, in a house built in, like, 1806. You see where I’m going with this. It was primitive.
The Eli Griffith House, located in Pike, N.Y., was the first in the area to have a ‘beehive’ oven. The small brick oven, located just above and to the right of actual hearth, had a domed top and allowed breads and other items to be ‘baked’ inside. There are accounts of people (women, I’m sure) walking upwards of SEVEN MILES to use this oven. Good gracious, I’m thankful for mine right about now.
Mrs. Nye grew up in Wyoming County, attending the fair, and years ago even attended this class herself. When she found out about this year’s event, she asked me if I’d like to come along. The purpose of the class, held just a couple weeks before their county fair, is to train and recruit volunteers to do the cooking demonstrations–in period dress–during the fair.
There were a dozen of us cramped in a tiny kitchen in front of a fire. Multiple fires. The first weekend of August. I don’t know how they did it back then, without just dying of heat stroke. And it wasn’t even one of our hottest days.
The event ran from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Upon arriving, we were given a bit of a welcome and intro and then the fires were lit. (A couple of us wondered why said fires weren’t ALREADY GOING upon our arrival, since it would take THREE HOURS for them to get the beehive oven warm enough, but who’s counting??)
The first things that were prepped were the ‘chicken on a string,’ (a.k.a. a poor man’s rotisserie) and the chicken noodle soup, cooked in a kettle over the fire.
Homemade noodles were even prepared:
Also, three different kinds of breads were made, two with yeast and one without. They needed to rise before being baked in the beehive oven.
Once all the dishes were prepped and/or cooking, we even churned fresh butter! (This was pretty exciting. I KNEW you could church butter, but I’d never actually seen it done.)
First, you use the churn for maybe 20-30 minutes, depending on how vigorously one churns…
Then, you pour off the liquid (buttermilk) and what remains is the butter.
However, you have to ‘wash’ the butter to rid it of additional buttermilk. You do this by pouring a little water into the bowl of butter and using a scraper-type tool to work the butter until the water is no longer white.
Our finished product:
Around this time, we loaded our risen dough into the oven. Many of the loaves were placed on large cabbage leaves, both to protect them from the ashy floor of the oven and to help contain moisture. The oven is closed using a wooden door and maintains about a 300-degree temperature.
Miraculously, everything seemed to be done at about the same time.
First, the soup:
Then, the ‘bubble and squeak:’
Toward the end of the cooking process, we mixed up batter for corn fritters (more corn than pancake), and cooked them over a griddle near the fire:
Lastly, the beehive oven was emptied, the bread all browned and crusty!
The Sally Lunn (sweet yeast bread baked in a cast-iron Bundt pan):
Multiple loaves of wheat and herb breads:
And that blueberry pie (perhaps the best I’ve ever had–except anything Mrs. Nye makes!):