Old Sturbridge Village is the largest living history museum in the Northeast. Situated on over 200 scenic acres it depicts an authentic rural New England town of the 1830s. Guests are invited learn about and explore the more than 40 original buildings on the property, including homes, meetinghouses, a district school, a country store, a bank, a working farm, three water-powered mills, and trade shops.Visitors will get to see heritage breed animals up close and interact with authentically costumed staff. I've long believed that the best way to learn is to step away from the textbooks and to experience things first-hand.
Last Monday I had the pleasure of joining some of the editors of Yankee Magazine and The Daily Basics at Old Sturbridge Village for an authentic Colonial Dinner. The evening was not at all what I had anticipated - it above and beyond exceeded my expectations.
For all the times I have visited Sturbridge Village both in my youth and as an adult with my own children, I must say there was something purely magical about visiting after hours, sans crowds, as you can truly picture life in colonial times. The landscape was breathtaking, especially at the hour just before sunset - with the sun not quite low on the horizon and still bright, with dark rainclouds that loomed, threatening - but only threatening. The newly emerald colored trees and grasses, the ochres of the sunlit shadows with pops of white and lavender just recently bloomed.
Here in New England, we are very accustomed to this architectural era, least from the outside, but wander inside the buildings and you are truly transported back in time - a living history.
We walked around the grounds, mouths and eyes agape, as we soaked in the natural beauty clicking away with our cameras. We spied, barns, and churches, banks, and animals, rectories and homes.
As we wandered through the town, following our noses, we headed over to a colonial home where the rich aromas from the kitchen and sweet smells of the lilacs just outside were truly intoxicating. As we made our way inside we were greeted by Victoria, Jean and Ryan, our 3 lovely host historic interpreters who gave us an in-depth lesson on Colonial life. It happened to be a hot and humid day as temperatures flirted near the 90 degree mark. The kitchen was hot, the dining room only slightly cooler when the occasional gentle breeze managed to find its way through an open window. The trees outside, now mature, would not have been during Colonial times. There would not have been much respite from the heat. During the morning the windows would be kept closed and shades drawn to keep the house dark and cool, then later in the afternoon windows would open.
We were greeted with a choice of two wonderful cooling beverages, Raspberry Shrub and A Cool Summer Tankard. Made with borage leaves that have a taste much like cucumber, and port this beverage was very refreshing. The Raspberry Shrub was made from a mixture of crushed raspberries, vinegar, sugar and water. I imaged this to be the Fruit Punch of the Colonial tots! Both were excellent.
We then sampled Potted Cheese, reminiscent of today's Port Wine Cheese. It too was quite good. Recipes for everything will follow in the next post. OSV is a true working farm. They produce their own milk, meat and and vegetation. The milk from their goats is used to make their own Cheshire cheese, a hard cheese that has a nutty flavor and texture reminiscent to that of Parmesan cheese. After we sampled our cocktails and crackers we made our way into the kitchen.
Our hosts worked away in the kitchen, tending to the lamb that was roasting away on a spit in the fireplace. I asked them if the meat was seasoned and was told that only salt and pepper was used. The lamb's juices were dripping onto the Jerusalem artichokes below. The kitchen was hot and the day's heat added to the overall temperatures. The ladies explained to us that their dresses, in layers, and their aprons actually helped to keep them cool and shelter them from the heat of the fire. Like oven mitts protect our hands from the heat of modern day ovens, the layers of clothes had the same effect. While the lamb, parsnips and salad were being prepped we had our hand at the desserts. We took turns making a chocolate beverage by shaving chocolate made from cacao beans that would be enjoyed after dinner with a trifle that we had a hand in preparing as well. (My job was to add a gill (Colonial measurement) of Brandy to the trifle. I may have added just a wee bit more! We whipped cream with twigs - a process that takes quite a bit longer than it does with a KitchenAid!
When the desserts were made many of us stepped outside into the cooling evening air while our Colonial hosts finished up in the kitchen and then started the table setting. We ventured back in to help. As we placed the blue and white plates on to the tablecloths, we were told that the "the birds belong in the sky, not down below." As we set the table today, forks went on the left and knives to the right.
We sat down, said grace and started to eat. I admit to being surprised at just how delicious everything was - the lamb, sweet and succulent was the best, perhaps, I have ever had. (We were told that milk fed beef and lamb is much sweeter than grass fed.) Our history lesson continued while we were seated as we learned that in Colonial times it was proper to eat with one's knife, sharp side facing out. Both the knife and fork were used for cutting, but the knife was used as the vehicle to deliver food into the mouth. Women wore their serviettes (napkins were diapers used on the young) tucked into their necklines, secured with pins, not on the lap as we do today. At the end of a meal the men gave toasts, while the women gave sentiments.
As we dined we learned more about Colonial life and customs - that much of what was practiced then is still practiced today. We have come so far, yet the root of all that we do is so steeped in tradition, that much is the same.
Although in Colonial times meals were eaten in dining room - so the mess and the heat of the kitchen could be closed off - we ate in the kitchen because it was large enough to accommodate us all. After dinner we sojourned into the dining room for our after dinner treats - the homemade warm chocolate beverages and the trifle. Dessert was not commonplace at most meals, but was served when company was present. I left at the end of the night knowing that I had participated in something that was truly special and one of a kind, an experience that I will forever treasure.
I would like to express a huge and heartfelt thank you to Yankee Magazine for inviting me along and including me in this incredible experience, to Darin Johnson and Michael Arnum with Old Sturbridge Village for opening up their historic home to us - Your knowledge and enthusiasm for this wonderful museum is truly infectious and to Jean, Ryan and Victoria, our incredible hosts and historians. For more information on attending Dinner in a Country Village and Old Sturbridge Village activities please visit their website.
I would also like to express my gratitude and thanks for the kindness and hospitality that was provided to us at the Old Sturbridge Inn & Reeder Family Lodges. The lodges are quiet, spacious, clean and inviting. Complimentary wifi is available to all guests, as is a complimentary continental breakfast. Perfect for couples and families the lodges are centrally located to a great many attractions.
In full disclosure my experience and my stay was provided to be by Old Sturbridge Village. The thoughts expressed here are solely my own.