Richard Mandelkorn Photography
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wall. Other pieces are placed inside the beehive oven, which is sealed with a snug-fitting
metal door that a blacksmith custom made.
Preparation also matters (and takes
time). Her students chop, grind, sauté,
melt, boil, stir, and mix everything by hand.
To give flavor to the cornmeal biscuits, for
example, the class cooks bacon in a three-legged cast-iron pot called a spider, creating small “cracklings” to add to the batter.
Fresh cranberries are cooked in a small kettle over flames, with chopped apples and
oranges added for flavor. Butternut squash
is chopped into 1-inch cubes and boiled in
a kettle hanging on the crane. A 4-pound
pork roast is carefully arranged on the spit
of a metal reflector oven, which cooks the
meat in about two hours, the same time it
would take in a modern oven. The beehive
oven, which takes hours to heat and to cool,
is used for baking breads (when the oven is
at its hottest), buns, cakes, and pies (as the
oven starts to cool), and puddings and custards (as the temperature drops further).
One big difference between cooking
in a Colonial-style keeping room versus
in a modern kitchen is the light. Whereas
today’s kitchens involve carefully considered lighting plans to create task and
ambient illumination, Madison’s keeping
room relies solely on natural light coming
through the 12-over- 12 windows, a candelabra above the harvest table, and several
candle stands positioned around the room.
“The waning light of winter can be a real
challenge,” says Madison.
But hearth cooking doesn’t have to
go full Colonial. “Anything we cook in
the hearth versus the beehive oven can be
cooked in any regular fireplace,” says Madison. Even without a crane, a taste of oldstyle hearth cooking, such as gingerbread
made in a Dutch oven, is possible. Despite
her passion for all things Colonial, Madison
is no purist. When not teaching, she cooks
her own meals in the conventional kitchen
next to the keeping room. It’s just that
every room of the house speaks Colonial
— from the antique spindle beds in guest
rooms to the 1760 chest in the front room
to the generations-old family game board in
the library. Says Madison: “I’ve just always
had a soft spot for Colonial history.”
Hearth Cooking at Woody Hill, Westerly, RI;