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Cooking classes shape the intention for lots of culinary travel trips worldwide, but could you also care about time-travel cooking? The head-back-in-time kind of foodways. Cultural Heritage TravelingMom checked out iron skillet cooking in a circa 1845 farmhouse at Georgia’s living history museum.
Iron Skillet Cooking Class
Strength training composes part of iron skillet cooking in my house. Grandmother’s pans are heavy. Maybe new skillets are miraculously lighter, but my kitchen-loving, lard-loving husband and I have only the old heavy black ones with history.
We cook by instinct, and sometimes with recipes, but mostly conjuring what the dearly departed must have prepared in those pans.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to sign up for an iron skillet cooking class at Georgia’s living history museum devoted to the turn of a century: 1870-1910.
The 95 acres of farms, fields and restored buildings brim with folk arts—the skills and trades of families in the piney woods of the deep South in an era of change.
Stir History Into Iron Skillet Cooking
Seemed like the right place to stir history into my cooking.
The name’s long but the storytelling is concise and personal. Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village is the first mouthful connected to this cooking class.
Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia is the second; that’s the parent institution overseeing travel and tourism as well as rural studies with America’s only four-year degree curriculum in such a robust, diverse academic endeavor.
The museum’s visible from Interstate 75 — 200 miles south of Atlanta and 60 miles north of the Florida line. Disney traffic whizzes by and beach-goers rarely blink, but travelers intent on immersing in another era make a day of it.
Classes for grownups are new and expanding. Interested in using pine needles to weave baskets?
Costume-clad schoolchildren, local or academic field trippers, engage daily on the historic site to participate in lifestyles of their great-grandparents.
If Momma’s Dead, Then What?
Recipes definitely mattered in my three-hour cooking class which included eating the results. So did folklore.
“My momma, she’s dead already,” shared long-skirted, aproned Barbara Cody. “But her skillet gonna go on. Iron skillets go down through the generations.”
So do traditions of what’s cooked in ‘em. Chicken Purlieu and cornbread filled my class agenda at the open hearth. Museum Historian Stephan P. Zacharias says that’s a festival food.
“Serve chicken with rice and cornbread, celery, onions, a little butter included, when special gatherings take place,” Zacharias said.
Might be a birthday, but just as likely was cooked for Emancipation Day, Decoration Day and Christmas.
Does Time Change Food Names?
Argue about the spelling too if you like, Zacharias says, because that changed with the generational passing of the recipe.
Purlow. Pileau. Pilau. Perlow. Perloo. Pelaw. Might add in a modern usage: Pilaf.
Funny twist on spelling lessons is the fact the restored building next to the farmhouse is the 1895 schoolhouse, complete with chalkboards and the schoolmarm.
Heating lard in a metal cup on the open fireplace was step number one. The 35 students, many who traveled for the class as a weekend getaway, acted timid near the flames. But the three instructors in their vintage long skirts never faltered.
Who has lard and bacon grease handy at home today? Iron skillets crave both, for the cooking and, afterwards, to rub the pan inside and out.
Standing Still Not The Way To Cook
Change your mind if you think prepping a cast iron skillet with lard is a routine labor. Barbara Cody has a different style.
“Dance when you do it!” she urges, as comfortable with booty swaying as chicken boiling. Hip-swiveling enhanced all her lessons, including the consistent admonition: “You cook with love.”
Students helped as much or as little as they liked. Ingredients were pre-measured so the steps were simple. Feeding the fire took a little more effort. So did heading to the well for water.
The unbolted corn meal for baking the skillet bread had already been ground in the village grist mill, operating since 1879. I recommend visiting beforehand to see that process and then cook with the results.
Available for sale, the 32-ounce bag of corn meal featured two recipes on the back: Southern Cornbread on top and Yankee Cornbread below. Caught my eye since I’m a Yank living in the south.
Cook Like A Southerner
The southern recipe uses buttermilk and a cast iron skillet. The Yankee version calls for regular milk and says cook it in a baking pan. What do you make of that? Political statement of sorts?
Historian Zacharias has a multitude of lifestyle, trades and folk art classes in the planning stages. Sharing hands-on opportunities like blacksmithing intrigues him too.
With a living history career background at Williamsburg in Virginia and Denali National Park in Alaska, he knows successful travel and education programs to shape for this uniquely regional southern story.
“Small harvests described this region in the early years of the museum’s time frame. Sustainable farming was the style. Then shifts began and change unfolded. We tell the stories of 50 years of shifting society, using each building to illustrate the impact on families and the rise of new trades,” Zacharias said.
Tell Stories To Share Food Cultures
With 35 restored regional buildings, lots of stories are available for the telling.
With a formal title of Historic Area Supervisor, Zacharias emphasizes education, interpretation, and outreach. Like my other costumed cast iron skillet teachers Kathy Williams and Gail Dekle, Zacharias dresses in the fashion of one of those decades.
The story determines the outfit. This is, after all, living history. These people change clothes to match the history.
Stoneware and red-checked oilcloth table covers set the mood as much as the spare furnishings and wooden walls, floors, and ceilings of the farmhouse. So do gathered tales of food heritage and culture. The Southern Foodways Alliance is this region’s focal point for valuing that history.
The museum has its own museum where Delftware that wealthier families would have used is on display. I found many ways to connect the fun of the cooking – and eating – with experiences throughout the historic site.
Find an art gallery next to the museum within-the-museum, with professionally curated exhibits featuring rural themes and artists.
Considering how you might use an iron skillet, Luxe TravelingMoms have some insight about campfire cooking.
Go To The Museum Tuesday – Saturday
The Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village is open:
- Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Admission $7 reduced rates for seniors and children
- Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. with Vulcan steam engine rides around the site.
- Admission $10 with reduced rates for seniors and children.
Recipe for Iron Skillet Cooking
Now let’s put that newly acquired skill to the test with a recipe for iron skillet cooking.
- 2 ½ cups chicken broth
- 4 tablespoons chopped celery
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
- salt and pepper to taste
Cast iron pot with tight fitting lid to hang on the spider over the flames in the fireplace.
Or two-quart saucepan on the stove.
Combine broth, celery, onion, and butter. Bring to a boil.
Add chicken, salt, pepper and simmer 10 minutes or until rice is fluffy and all liquid absorbed.
What are your favorite recipes for iron skillet cooking?