Making Memories: Cooking with Children in a 19th Century Kitchen

This week’s blog post comes to us courtesy of Samantha Collins. Samantha is going into her senior year at Taylor University seeking a BA in History.  She was one of two interns to assist during Settler Survival Summer Camp 2019 at Carillon Historical Park.  As an interpretation intern, she was given the tasks of learning early settlement demonstrations such as cooking, gardening, sewing, woodworking and more and then used that knowledge during Camp to teach to the campers.  Samantha was also tasked with creating a lesson plan of her own to teach. Her chosen topic centered around American Indians; how they are not just people of the past and how there are many different tribes and nations that have unique cultures and stories to tell. 

Working with children is always an interesting challenge. Now add in trying to teach children about 19th century cooking, involving knives, hot pans, fires, and bake ovens. Carillon Historical Park’s Settler Survival Camp teaches just that—engaging children ages 8-12 in skills that settlers would have used on a day-to-day basis! Children make or build lots of different things, including totem poles, ink from blueberries, and a trellis for beans. But cooking lunch is always one of their favorite activities. The kids are assigned to make a meal, from scratch, using the tools and food that would have been available to early Dayton settlers. No pizza or tacos, much to the kids’ dismay. They make everything; from hand squeezed lemonade, jams, noodles, pies, and different meats. The food is not only made by them, but they decide on the menu as well; camp counselors simply assist them in the planning and the making process (the children don’t touch the fires). They usually choose lots of sweet stuff and no vegetables but it makes it more exciting and unique to them. Plus, the food is usually all gone by the end of lunch (no leftovers). 

It can be frightening at times. We cram lots of people into two small houses with all the knives and fires going as kids move about. But in the end it is always a good time. Some kids return year after year and love to talk about the food that they made and how it is their favorite thing that we do. They get to experience the pride of making something that reflects history.

Pictured: Nerves of steel and a skillet of cast iron

This was my first year at the Settler Survival Camp.  I came in with little experience with 19th century cooking practices, so the idea of having a small group of kids that I was supposed to help seemed like it was going to be hard. But I survived. I helped make macaroni and cheese with homemade noodles (it was a great hit with the kids), three different kinds of cakes, two different kinds of jams, icing, rolls, and fresh squeezed lemonade. Not only was I able to help teach the kids in this style of cooking but they taught me what it is like to take pride in your work, even if it is not perfect. We had under baked cakes, cake that tasted like eggs, rolls that were pretty hard, and jam that was too runny but they were still excited to try it because it was something that they made with their own hands. Through this experience I have learned to take pride, even in things that might not last for years or even hours. We spend that morning cooking and by the afternoon the food is gone, but it can still be something that makes you proud.  That is one of the amazing things about working with children, they teach you almost as much as you teach them. That is what is so unique about this camp; the tangible doing and making throughout the week does not matter when it comes down to it. What matters is that the campers are making memories.