Looking Through the Window
The home of the fortress’s engineer presents an intimate look at the pinnacle of Colonial Louisbourg’s civilian life. In his kitchen, he employed a staff of four to manage and prepare the meals. When I joined the Parks Canada historic interpreters working in that kitchen for a day, a window into 1744 swung wide open.
Outfitted by the park’s wardrobe specialist as a domestique, I quickly learned my way around the engineer’s expansive and well equipped open hearth and the amazing clockwork spitjack, used as a rotisserie to automatically turn roasting beef and fowl. Suspended over the fire, a wrought iron crane dangled a slow cooking stock pot and the andirons held warming bowls with bastings and sauces. We did much of the actual cooking on piles of coals raked out of the fire and shoveled under or on top of various pots, ovens, footed tortieres, or trivets. As with other heritage cooking techniques, successfully using the hearth demands careful attention to the fire and a ready supply of dry seasoned firewood.
Though the recipes are relatively simple, so are the tools and facilities. Other than using the spitjack to turn a roast, we did all preparation chores by hand. Cook Loretta Leahy and her assistants Karen Noonan and Barb Landry handled the time critical and seemingly never ending cooking tasks with practiced grace. And their knowledge of life in French Louisbourg did not end at the kitchen door.
All of the fortress’s 150 historic interpreters receive continuing training and formal evaluations twice each season. Additionally, they each portray several characters at different locations around the grounds, giving them wide knowledge Louisbourg’s society. The interpreters work hard to accurately animate a day 250 years ago. All staff members are from Cape Breton and many have been at their jobs for as much as two-dozen years.
I am grateful to Nova Scotia Tourism (800-565-0000, www.novascotia.com), Parks Canada (www.parkscanada.gc.ca), and the staff at Fortress Louisbourg (902-733-2280, email@example.com) for their hospitality, resources, encyclopedic knowledge, and willingness to share it all.
I gratefully acknowledge From the Hearth, by Hope Dunton (University College of Cape Breton Press, 1986), as the source for this month’s recipes. It was my pleasure to help the animators cook most of them.
A good stock can be served as a course in a meal, or it can be reduced as the basis for a sauce. This makes an excellent bouillon or consommé when clarified. Use in recipes that call for beef broth or bouillon. It freezes well, keeping for several months.
4 to 5 pounds meat and beef bones
4 quarts cold water
2 tablespoons salt
4 celery stalks
2 large onions
2 parsnips (optional)
2 leeks, tops only
1 small cabbage (optional)
Place the water, bones, meat (cut into pieces), and salt in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 hours. Add vegetables, peeled and sliced, and simmer for another hour. Cool and strain, season to taste.