With the holidays approaching and everyone getting ready to enjoy more than a few big feasts, it is easy to forget what went into food preparation when our region’s first settlers arrived on Long Island. Through a new and exciting program, the historic Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches is working to change that.
Through a generous $30,000 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the Ketcham Inn has been able to completely restore the hearth in their 1693 summer kitchen. It is now fully functional and is the only one of its kind on Long Island, where full cooking programs are taking place.
The hearth cooking program, which began in September of 2017, is the brainchild of Ketcham Inn president and founder, Bertram Seides, and historic cook, Diane Schwindt. For the past twenty-eight years, Bert has been painstakingly restoring the Ketcham Inn, through donations, volunteers, fundraisers, book barns, grants, and good old roll-up-your sleeves, manual labor. For Bert, it truly is a labor of love, and the progress that has been made not only on the hearth, but the entire inn is astounding.
The Ketcham Inn Foundation, Inc. was established in 1989 and interprets over 324 years of history on Long Island’s South Shore. The land on which the house sits was a settlement site dating back to 1692 when a blacksmith named Samuel Terrill came to Moriches to live. He sold the land to Sarah Conkling of Southold in 1714. Sarah and her family raised cattle for trade there until she died in 1753. The land was then given to her son Thomas, who quickly sold it to his nephew Benjamin Havens, who ran a tavern and inn during the American Revolutionary War. By 1772, a stage coach route was established which greatly increased business at the inn. Havens sold it to William Terry in 1791, and it became known as Terry’s Hotel. That same year Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed there while visiting General William Floyd.
For 61 years the Terry family ran the hotel, tavern and farm, until it was sold to Andrew Ketcham of Huntington in 1854. The property remained in the Ketcham family for the next 60 years. Today, the Ketcham Inn is a well-established living history museum and cultural center for the education of American heritage.
What is unique about Ketcham, is that it represents three time periods—the 1600s, 1700s and the 1800s. The inn contains the large restored hearth in the 1693 summer kitchen, a restored 1790 winter kitchen, and a cast iron stove which dates to the mid-to-late 1800s.
“One of the best parts of this facility,” said Bert Seides, “is that we have the ability to show all parts of historic cooking where other facilities cannot.” Summer kitchens were generally out and away from the core of the building, while the winter kitchen is in the heart of the building. The tavern fireplace was used for serving the public.
The restoration of the hearth in the summer kitchen took several weeks and was completed by mid-summer. Bert explained that they wanted the final product to reflect as close to the period and time as possible. Early etchings and paintings were studied, and there were several interviews with people who lived at the inn, who experienced the hearth before it was lost in the 1940s, when a much smaller fireplace was built.
“Through a lot of research we have been led to believe that this is the correct proportions, and this is truly how the fireplace looked,” Bert stated.
The cooking program developed when Bert and Diane were talking with Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, about the concept. Kathryn was very much in favor of seeing a cooking program develop in a historic museum because she didn’t know of any that were going on here on Long Island. Once the Ketcham Inn Foundation became the recipient of the grant, Bert and Diane proceeded to develop cooking programs for the general public.
“Historic cooking is not instant by any means,” said Diane, who studied historic cooking for ten years with food historian Alice Ross. “It takes hours of prep work and then the actual cooking. People don’t realize how much work it takes. Women were really in control of this whole environment. You had to know it. You had to make sure you had wood, because if you didn’t have wood, then you didn’t have fire. You had to make sure the water was ready, and those were just the basics. Then came the cooking.”
Diane went on to explain how there is a rhythm to historic cooking. “When it came time to cooking, you had to prep and see what you had. If you think about a simple thing like flour. It had to grow someplace and it had to be milled. Butter had to be churned, feathers had to be plucked from chickens. It was very labor intensive. We live in a modern world, so the rhythm is not there. You have to think of all those little steps that we take for granted, like turning the stove on. With historic cooking you’re invested in it. And then the next day you start the whole process over.”
There are many things that Diane has cooked in the hearth. To bake bread, it takes anywhere from three to four hours to get your oven heated, then the bread is made and it takes about an hour to bake. The hearth can accommodate up to thirteen loaves of bread. Back in the day, women would make multiple loaves so they could trade the bread for eggs or other items they needed. Other types of food cooked on the hearth by Diane has included a hearty stew, hot apple curry soup, succotash, sausage pudding, squash soup, chicken and vegetable stock and a boiled currant pudding. Products used are seasonal and there is little to no waste.
“Everything was saved,” said Diane. “Even the ashes from the hearth were saved. That’s how they made soap. Ashes were put in barrels of water, which turned into lye water which is used for soap making. Your fats were saved, everything was saved and reused. So there was this constant cycle. It is something I really drive home here.”
For afternoon and evening programs at Ketcham Inn, Diane has to start as early as 6:00 a.m. to start the process. The first thing she has to do is get buckets of water that will be used for boiling, cleaning and washing vegetables. Then she has to get the wood and build a fire. It can take several hours to get a pot of water to boil, and then there is all the food prep work.
“There is nothing light, graceful or elegant about this type of cooking. It was hard, hard work,” said Diane. “When I do historic cooking, people are just totally amazed by the process. If you don’t educate people about the history, then it’s gone.”
Cooking programs, which can accommodate a max of seventeen people, are tailored to the group and how involved they want to get. The programs begin with an extensive tour of the house, with an explanation of each of the kitchens and hearths. House tours are $15 per person. If you would like to partake in a tavern luncheon, and have Diane do the cooking, prices range from $35 to $45 depending on the menu chosen, plus the $15 house tour fee. Full participation, where you are working with Diane for several hours to build the fire, prep, cook, and eat the food, prices range from $35 to $65, again depending on the menu chosen, plus the $15 house tour fee. Special children’s programs where they learn to make jams and jellies are also offered at a modified price. All cooking programs are fashioned to the group, and what they want to get out of the program.
Recently, Ketcham Inn did a Culper Spy group program where they did an outdoor walking tour with lanterns, and then came back to the tavern, as if they were travelers. Grog, made from rum and citrus, was served along with a family-style meal. For the Peconic Land Trust organization, a high-end meal was cooked and included three different roasts served family-style on beautiful platters. For other luncheons, tables are set, and everyone brings their plate into the summer kitchen where food is served. There have also been programs for high school students where they are taught to cut up an intact chicken, a young chef program, a women’s program, programs for other historical societies, private parties, and they would even like to develop a program for Long Island chefs. The sky is the limit when it comes to possibilities. All of the money goes towards supplies and fundraising to help maintain the building. According to Bert Seides, it all boils down to making sure the building sustains itself.
“The response from people attending the tour, cooking and luncheon has been amazing,” said Bert. “They are totally blown away.”
The Ketcham Inn hearth cooking programs and tours are by reservation only. For more information and to schedule a tour, contact the Ketcham Inn Foundation at 631.878.1855, and visit their website at http://www.ketchaminn.org/home