Turning back time...

For the past 20 years, we’ve enjoyed visiting Old Sturbridge Village, a “living history” museum, no matter the season. Skillfully assembled from dismantled, hauled and resurrected historical buildings, found in every corner of New England, it is difficult to imagine that collectively, they never functioned as a real, working 1830’s community.

An afternoon spent strolling around the town green, enjoying the always-changing living-history demonstrations – planting or harvesting gardens, women dying wool, spinning yarn into exquisite fabrics, men working together to sheer sheep or building a new home – I’d often leave OSV feeling restless, longing to stay by the fire flames dancing in the deep stone hearths, rather than returning to the modern world.

The living history demonstrations, which tug the most at my heartstrings, involve food – butter-making, hearth-roasted meats, wild-yeast bread “sponges”, or cheese making. Each 1830’s costumed-interpreter’s passion and love for their craft leaves no doubt, that while they exchange their 1830’s garb for 21st Century garments when returning to their “real” lives, they take their timeless cooking techniques with them to their world.

Having been raised on Velveeta cheese, canned vegetables, and boxed deserts, I developed an aversion to the narrow range of processed-food “flavor” – salt and sugar – preferring to make my own meals from “scratch”. Even though I had very few processed foods to cull from my cabinets when we followed the Nourishing Traditions way of eating, I’ve still managed to make substantial changes over the past half-dozen years, buying and eating only locally-raised organic foods, including meat that has been raised using traditional methods. The way we eat has much more in common with an Old Sturbridge Village 1830’s way of life, than it does with our modern culture. The last time I shopped in a 2008 grocery store was last April, purchasing several packages of organic strawberries. Walking the aisles of a modern grocery store is like walking through a graveyard of nutritionally dead food.

Other changes I’ve made include how we cook and preserve our foods. In place of a stone-hearth for cooking, I use a wood pellet grill for roasting and smoking our meats. Traditional long-rise sourdough bread has replaced single-cell (think grocery-store bakery) bread. Until I decide which hand-crank butter churn to buy (wooden or metal paddles?), I rely on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, its lowest speed, to make fresh grass-fed organic butter. Stringing vegetables over my fireplace, isn’t practical, given the height of our family-room ceilings, so I employ several 9-tray Excalibur dehydrators during harvest season which retains the nutrition, far better than canning. Vegetables that aren’t dehydrated are “pickled”, using a centuries-old salt-brine technique, known as “fermenting”, resulting in dense-nutrition foods.

During one recent visit to Old Sturbridge Village, we became intrigued watching an interpreter lovingly wax, then wrap a cheese wheel, before placing it in a cheese press. She slipped out-of-character for a bit, answering some of our questions by describing the microbial processes of cheese-making. The scientific processes and terms she used were incongruous with her bonnet, apron, rough-sawn kitchen table and the character she played – that of an 1830’s woman who would have accepted, on simple faith, that Providence knew best what His creation needed.

I walked away determined, that by this time next year, I’ll have my own wheel of waxed, wrapped and aging cheese – another accomplishment on the path to reclaiming and reforming our life.