Cooking in Colonial Maryland: If it was filling, it was good

By Susan Craton
The Enterprise
Thursday, November 25, 2010

Step into the kitchen at the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation at Historic St. Mary's City, and the year instantly becomes 1661.

As Mistress Rebecca Spray, Godiah Spray's wife, prepared the midday meal Nov. 12 by an open hearth for her family members and workers connected with the farm, one of the indentured servants, John Prentice, and a hired hand, William Felstead, debated the quality of their food in the Maryland colony compared with the meals they had in England.

Mistress Spray, Felstead and Prentice, based on actual Maryland colonists, are portrayed by county residents Roberta Smith, site supervisor at Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation; Peter Friesen, assistant site supervisor; and John Harvey.

In character, the three will share information about the foods Maryland colonists ate, and how those meals were prepared, at Historic St. Mary's City's Hearth and Home in Early Maryland event Friday and Saturday.

The Godiah Spray Plantation is one of four living history sites at Historic St. Mary's City, a state-run museum that commemorates the founding of Maryland. The museum also includes a waterfront, where the Maryland Dove, a recreation of a 17th-century trading vessel, is docked; a Woodland Indian hamlet; and a town center. Museum exhibitions are open from mid-March through November.

The Hearth and Home event is designed to offer visitors a glimpse of the work colonists were required to do just to eat, said Susan Wilkinson, director of marketing and communications for Historic St. Mary's City.

"For this event, the focus is food and visitors will leave with a recipe booklet for Colonial dishes adapted for the modern kitchen," she wrote in an e-mail. "After seeing open hearth cooking, watching the chickens run in the garden, and grinding corn, I think many will find a new appreciation for their microwaves, refrigerators, sinks and grocery stores."

At the museum, workers such as Smith and Friesen portray Colonial residents and field questions from 40,000 to 50,000 visitors annually, Wilkinson said. Visitors to the kitchen at the Godiah Spray Plantation most commonly want to know how and what colonists ate.

Workers at the museum take recipes from the time period and try to replicate them with what id available at the plantation.

"It's sort of experimental archaeology," Smith said, adding that some of the experiments failed.

"Stuffed turnip - ugh, it was terrible," Friesen said.

They have found that the colonists were heavy-handed with herbs and spices. But sugar was used sparingly, because it was rarer and expensive.

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