MANSFIELD, Ohio — It’s been said in countless kitchens that “too many cooks spoil the stew.” But each fall, in the kitchen of Pugh Cabin on Richland County’s Malabar Farm, the more cooks, the merrier the experience.
The first two weekends of November, parents, grandparents and grandchildren gather at the historical state park and home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield. From there, they venture into a backwoods cabin built in the early 1940s, to cook a Thanksgiving meal.
Dressed in Colonial clothing, complete with Colonial shoes and caps, the goal of the gathering is to cook a Thanksgiving meal like the Pilgrims would have experienced in Plymouth Colony, in present-day Massachusetts.
The morning of Nov. 8, Glennis Goeschl of Mount Vernon stirred a cast-iron pot of potato soup over an open fire, while her two grandchildren, Jordan and Ian, peeled potatoes and carried firewood inside the cabin, to feed the blazing fireplace.
It was her third year to take part in what is known as the Hearthside Cooking Workshop, and each year she brings more of her family.
The Goeschls wore period clothing, dating back to either the Colonial era or the Civil War era. Glennis makes the outfits herself and even finds historical shoes that go with them.
Ian Goeschl, a fourth-grader from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, had a good time cooking the “old,” old-fashioned way, but was concerned his excitement might catch up with him by day’s end.
“It’s guaranteed I’ll be cut or burned by the end of the day,” he said, jokingly, while gathering some wood for the fireplace.
Sybil Burskey, administrative assistant at Malabar, said the project is limited to 25 people per day, held Saturday and Sunday of both weekends. Although the event is now over for this year, people can begin to register for the following year’s sessions as early as January, she said.
Burskey has been involved with the program for about 18 years and has seen it grow into a family tradition.
“I think they (kids) get a better understanding of what the
s had to go through to prepare a meal,” she said. “This is an all-day thing, and they see how long it takes to cook things. Kids today go into McDonald’s and they don’t realize that somebody had to grow those (foods).”
For the park workers, the day begins at 8 a.m., when they prepare the cookware and food. For the public, the day starts at 10 a.m., when they decide who will do what. Participants are broken into groups, each responsible for a specific part of the menu or upkeep of the multiple fire pits in use.
The menu is extensive, with several foods grown on Malabar Farm — turkey, ham, sausage, some of the vegetables, eggs and maple syrup.
“We try to stick with things they could have had access to in the period,” Burskey said.
And with so much to access at Malabar, it makes a perfect fit, she explained.
“The reason we do it is because we’re a farm and we have a naturalist staff and we have this old cabin,” she said.
The cabin has its own claim to fame: It was the setting of some opening scenes to the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption.
Everything is cooked from scratch and as the day progresses, the group finally has prepared enough food to enjoy a light lunch — potato-sausage soup, some cornbread, cheese and crackers.
According to historical documents, many of the first Pilgrims to America arrived during the winter, and most died due to the elements. Documents show that men traditionally spent days hunting for meat, and that the preparation was an all-day challenge.
Casey Kerr, a volunteer at the workshop since 1988, said cooking was actually a leading cause of death among
women, because so many wore baggy clothing that caught on fire during the process.
But Kerr insisted she would not have been among them. She wore pants to the workshop, a tucked-in shirt and a pair of workshoes.
“I call myself the renegade woman,” she said jokingly. And she thinks there would have been other women from the era who also were renegades, choosing to wear their husband’s pants and shoes, to prevent catastrophe.
Participants finally ate the full meal at 4 p.m., after a whole day of preparation.
“They learn a lot about careful planning and planning on time for dinner,” said Louis Andres, regional manager for Ohio State Parks.
Ultimately, Burskey said it’s a good lesson for adults and older children, who develop “a greater appreciation for their mothers,” and all that goes into a big meal.
For more information about Malabar Farm or to register for the hearthside workshop in 2010, visit www.malabarfarm.org. An online events calendar shows each month’s activities, including the annual candlelight Christmas tours, Dec. 10-12.