I had the opportunity to spend a “‘Women’s of the Fort” weekend at Fort 4 in Charlestown, NH, this month. This weekend, the women would demonstrate what it was like to be a women living there. The Fort at Number 4 was the northernmost British settlement along the Connecticut River until after the French and Indian War. Construction began in 1740 and by 1743, there were 10 families settled in a square of interconnected uses, enclosed in a stockade with a guard tower.
Many of us arrived on Friday. Wendy, who was residing in Parker House, gave a wine and cheeses get-together. Everyone contributed, and there was so much more than that, foods of all kinds, I brought some of my Greek and venison sausage to share. We began to run out of chairs as more and more ladies arrived.
At the end of the evening we went off to our sleeping quarters in Willard House. I got the rope bed and the girls both brought a cot. The next day we moved it all together in the back of the room so we were not in the way of visitors.
For the Foodways presentation, I was accompanied by Patty and Rhondda in the Sartwell house. This was a large room with a great fireplace and bake oven. We would be showing how food was preserved during the winter months.
After a nice breakfast by the fire, we did the final setting up of the demonstrations.
For mine, I brought things that children would have done to helped out their mothers. It’s always nice to have something they can have that’s hands-on at a museum.
As visitor entered the room they saw our displays. My side of the demonstrations started with many herbs that were bundled and hanging from a small ladder. On a bench were pole beans dried and ready to shuck, corn to take off the cob and grind in the mortar and pestle, a pumpkin along with pumpkin leather and dried pumpkin pieces that looked like teeth. Last came the eggs, both free range and quail. These were to be covered in lard and put in sifted ash to last for the winter in the root cellar.
Also behind that were the apple press and the barrel with hops on top. This gave me a chance to talk to the parents about the fact that women did make the cider and small beer for the home, after all beer and bread making went hand-in-hand.
On the other side of the room, Patty was demonstrating how roots vegetables were put away in hay or wood shavings in boxes and barrels. She had wonderful colored carrots and many other early variety vegetables. We even had a cabbage, with the roots on it, hanging from the ceiling. Next to that was a table with dried fruit and vegetables in glass jars along with some crocks, one with a bladder on top so they could see that some things were dried or pickled.
Rhondda did a wonderful demonstration of the importance of vinegar-making and what uses it had. She turned some into Switchel, or Haymakers punch, the Gatorade of the times. She was also making rye bread.
We were using the 1, 2, 3, turn method, and I mentioned that there must have been a song for this. Everyone piped up with their knowledge of songs and out came the fiddle. I wonder if in the past they had as much fun as we all did working together to make a felted blanket.
Then it was back to work in our own houses. I decided to do a meat and rice stuffed pumpkin for our pot luck.
We all took turns keeping the chicken spinning and I poked my pumpkin to make sure the inside was getting soft. I also brought pumpkin spiced Springerle cookies that I had made at home, and frozen manchets. As a side note, I forgot to take pictures of the cookies and their unique raised forms. However, they were a big hit, and the next day many of the ladies were looking for more.
Now the manchets were an experiment. I had read somewhere in a medieval website, long ago , that someone made manchets and, before the last rise, they froze them to take to an event. So I made them at home froze them and gave it a try. And it worked.
I used this receipt – The making of Fine Manchet –
The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin. London 1594, 1597
I did the first rise at home, then formed the dough into rolls. The timing was a bit off with the second rising. Even though I had the buns in the cooler with lots of ice they started to rise. By morning they were puffy and I had to peel them apart. The fire was not going to be ready until later in the day. So I put them on a tin sheet, greased them well and covered them. By late afternoon they had a crust on them. If I had the right size wood for our bake oven I would have baked them myself in the morning; however, we did not, so I had to wait until the large outdoor oven was ready.
Everyone’s bread and some apple pies being cooked by master baker Angela in the fort’s large outdoor bake oven. Surprisingly the manchets came out very well. I’d do this again if needed, however, I’d make arrangements to have then cook sooner.
There is a group there that are called the MOLLYS. These ladies have guns and know how to use them. It was not unlikely to find a woman in a household back then, a woman who knew how to protect her family and/or shoot game to sustain them. Twice a day they put on a wonderful demonstration of their skills.
So the Fort closed for the day, and this was the time to get all our food ready for the evening. Rhondda had an Indian pudding in the kettle baking, Patty put baked apples in hers and my pumpkin and the stew inside were done. We took the chicken off the fire but it still needed a bit of cooking, so Patty cut it up and we cooked it over the fire to make sure it was done perfectly.
At 6:00 sharp everyone began to arrive at Hastings House laden with the bounty of the day’s food preparation. It was all lined up in a row with the dessert at the end. As people mingled waiting for the last dishes to be placed, cheeses, crackers and wine were served.
Everyone brought a chair, their eating equipment and wine glass. When we were all seated at the tables, the dinner began.
Enjoy the beautiful fall weather and colorful leaves,
“We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity life would be very boring.”— Catherine Pulsifer
Photos were taken by many of the ladies at the Fort.