A few weeks ago, I time traveled to 1836.
Oh, all right. Actually, I visited Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana, for the Hearthside Suppers program, which is the next best thing to rocketing back in time. Conner Prairie is an interactive history park that depicts life in 1836 Central Indiana.
On the night of the dinner, my parents and I met eight fellow diners at the Welcome Center. While speaking to us as if it were 1836, actors in period costumes greeted our group and then led us by lantern light to the William Conner house.
We entered the authentic kitchen and dining room where we munched on popcorn, pounded cheese, water wafers, and Ossabaw sausage. After the appetizers and warm cider, it was time to help finish dinner.
Washing my hands with lye soap in a basin made me thankful for running water. Then, my hostess Suzanna taught me to churn butter while I sang, “Churn butter, churn. Churn butter, churn.” Once the butter set up to the correct consistency, I removed the lump from the buttermilk and washed the butter until the waters ran clear.
Meanwhile, my dad prepared Brussels sprouts and lemon sauce. My mom made graham bread, which they baked in the fire.
Later, we set our places in the candlelit dining room, and I discovered that I must use an eating knife to consume my dinner. The knife’s flat surface is large enough to hold a bite of food and has a curved edge that you aim at your mouth. The opposite side is sharper.
Lest you think eating with a fork is an option, one look at the two-pronged device will stop you from putting it anywhere near your mouth. It’s best to keep the fork in your left hand, clutch the eating knife in your right, and learn to eat 1836 style.
That night’s menu was chicken and dumplings, roasted pork, Brussels sprouts with a lemon sauce, corn pudding, stewed apples, pickled carrots, and graham bread. Dessert was burnt cream and Shrewsbury cakes (cookies). All the recipes came from period cookbooks.
We worked off our dinner by laughing when our hosts took us into the parlor to play games. Should any of you ever attend one of these suppers, I won’t spoil the games by sharing details. However, at one point I lost, and as a result, I had to stand in the middle of the group, cluck like a chicken, flap my arms like wings, and spin in circles.
My host claimed my performance was the most passionate chicken imitation he’d ever seen.
I highly recommend the Hearthside Suppers. If you want to participate, buy your tickets for the 2018 season early because they sell out quickly. I purchased my tickets in November for a weeknight in January and had trouble finding an open date. Each year the organizers change the menu, and the program runs from January to March.
For more information, visit www.connerprairie.org.