Part 1 of Cooking in the Great Transition
It’s time travel. I walked the path into Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) and journeyed back into one of history’s great transitions. In the first half of the 1600s, human habitation along North America’s Atlantic seacoast altered drastically from the villages of native Woodland people to the settlements of European pioneers. HSMC, the site of the fourth permanent settlement in British North America and Lord Baltimore’s 17th Century capital, opens a window into that moment when one dominion ended and another began.
HSMC blends carefully researched living history and fascinating archaeology with a beautiful tidewater landscape that remains much the same as when the Dove sailed into the Potomac River bringing the first English colonists. Maryland’s first capital and a birthplace of religious toleration, St. Mary’s City was founded in 1634, but disappeared in 1695 after the colony’s government moved to Annapolis. Early in the 20th century, historical research and archaeological excavations began to uncover the 17th Century settlement. Because the ground had remained relatively undisturbed, HSMC has become one of the finest colonial archaeology sites in the nation and received recognition as a National Historic Landmark in 1969.
To follow that transition from one civilization to the next, I became a member of the Godiah Spray family on their tobacco plantation to spend a day in 1661. The Spray household invites 21st Century visitors into their way of living, their kitchen garden, food, medicine, household staples, and ornamentation.
My day began by getting togged in appropriate garb: high stockings, knee britches, a loose shirt that fell well below my waist, and a shapeless green cap. Altogether, the outfit was uncomfortable and ill-fitting, much as it would have been three-and-a-half centuries ago. Accompanied by Susan Wilkinson, HSMC’s director of marketing and communication, I joined Mistress Rebecca Spray—Roberta Smith—at the plantation.
- 2 cups of stew beef
- 4 large turnips, cubed
- 2 large onions, cubed
- Basil to taste
- Rosemary to taste
- Salt to taste
- 3 cups of beef broth
- 2 cups of water
- 1 Iron pot
Brown stew beef in pot add some oil to your pan so the meat does not stick. Add broth, water, turnips, onions, and herbs to suit your taste. Boil until all vegetables become tender. Simmer for 1/2 hour. Serve.
For more information about HSMC, visit www.stmaryscity.org,or call 240-895-4960.
Reed Hellmanis a freelance writer living in Alberton, Maryland. For more of his signature culinary escapades, read his articles in Adventures in Dining at the Communities of the Washington Times, and in Recreation News, in print or online. Visit his Recipe for Adventure Website at www.reedhellmanwordsmith.com. You can find more recipes in The Recipe Box on his Website.