Take a trip back in time and discover what dinner looked like in the early 1800s at one of Conner Prairie’s Hearthside Suppers. Now in their 31st year, Hearthside invites guests to share in a traditional 19th-century feast at the Conner household.
The evening begins with one of Prairietown’s residents leading you to William Conner’s house by lamplight. Built in 1823, this house holds a lot of historical evidence of what life would have been like at that time. Though it’s had some renovations over the years, they have taken great care in preserving and displaying furniture and artifacts of the period.
Invited inside, you’ll meet two more residents of the town who will cook a delicious meal and take care of you throughout the evening. After warming up by the fire and mingling with some of the other dinner guests, you’ll be offered popcorn, pounded cheese with water wafers, and a cup of hot spiced cider.
The Conner Prairie staff remain in character for most of the evening answering any questions you might have and talking about their daily concerns. They won’t know what an iPhone is or decaf coffee, but they’ll gladly tell you why they believe there should or shouldn’t be a railroad built through the middle of town.
To speed dinner along, you’ll be asked into the kitchen to help prepare part of the meal. You’ll then don an apron and wash up in a water basin before being assigned a task. There’s everything from churning the butter to chopping the carrots and you’ll be sure to learn a thing or two in seeing what all goes into preparing a meal of this caliber.
You might be asked to help prepare the made-from-scratch biscuits and in doing so you’ll learn how to cut in the butter, form the biscuit without sealing the edges and properly clean the cutting board with salt. It feels good to get your hands dirty and go back to the basics of cooking over a fire.
Some will take turns helping churn the cream into butter and sing-along to a “churning song” to help pass the time.
Unfortunately, the milk used might come from a bad cow and will make it difficult for the butter to form together. If the cow doesn’t have enough buttermilk fat then it doesn’t matter how much you churn the cream, the butter will fall apart.
After all your hard work in the kitchen, you’ll sit down to a enjoy your dinner by candlelight. Be sure to bring your appetite because there is a lot of food passed around the table and you’ll want to try it all.
They switch each year between a main course of pork and chicken or beef and chicken. Also, if you’d like something to drink besides water, for an additional fee, you can choose between two glasses of red or white wine or two glasses of Sun King beer.
This year’s menu includes the following 19th-century fare:
Onion Soup with Soppets
Rump of Beef with Forcemeat
Roast Chicken with Herbs
Carrots the Dutch Way
Biscuits with Jam and Honey
Using ingredients that would have been used back then and helping prepare the food makes the meal taste extra special.
After you are thoroughly stuffed from supper you’ll be led upstairs for a tour of the Conner house. Typically the upstairs is not open for guests at Conner Prairie, but they make an exception during Hearthside and other special events.
The yellow wallpaper in this room was specially designed for the Conner house and cannot be found anywhere else. Here you’ll learn which bed tick to use depending on the season and where the phrase “sleep tight” came from.
Next you’ll venture into the room they believe was occupied by William’s daughter. Notice the heart engravings on the fireplace? The tour ends down in the main bedroom where you’ll find a piece of furniture that was actually owned by the family and if you were really one of their guests staying overnight, you’d be sleeping on a trundle next to their bed.
Before dessert you’ll take part in a fun game or two and maybe even hear a traditional story told by your dinner host.
Back in the dining room, you’ll be served a sweet rice pudding with fruit sauce to round out the supper. Don’t forget to grab a recipe (what they like to call receipt) book so you can create some of your favorite parts of the meal at home.
This venture back to the 1800s is an experience that families, couples, or groups of friends will definitely enjoy. Make sure to sign-up quickly because Hearthside Suppers are very popular and there is limited availability. For more information visit connerprairie.org or call 317-776-6006 to make a reservation.
What: Hearthside Suppers (Recommended for ages 10 & older)
When: January 10-March 23, 2014
Where: Conner Prairie, 13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers, IN 46038