Hi! I’m Lucy, the Historic Dinner Program Coordinator at Living History Farms. I wanted to share a few behind the scenes tidbits about our winter historic dinners.
One of the unintentionally best-kept secrets here at Living History Farms is our Historic Dinners Program. While many of our guests return year after year, people new to our programs are often surprised to hear that Living History Farms serves a historically-based meal in three of our historic homes throughout the winter months. These programs have been successfully running for 30 years at the 1900 Farm, close to 20 years at the Tangen Home, and the newest dinner program at the Flynn Mansion is just beginning its third year.
Each dinner program offers guests an opportunity to experience a meal in the historic sites, almost as if they lived there. Dinner is a set menu, chosen ahead of time. The recipes are adapted from historic cookbooks and heritage family recipes. Many of the historic interpreters find these intimate dinners to be their favorite programs, providing a chance to interact with guests in a relaxed and personal atmosphere.
The historical interpreters at Living History Farms share many interesting historic side notes when you attend one of these dinners. Topics for discussion at the dinners vary from historic foods, manners, and chores, to farming and historic events. For example, did you know that the average farm wife would walk more than 50 miles a year to bring water into her house from a water source? Or that a million people were living in Iowa by 1875?
But there are many interesting aspects about historic dinners that aren’t mentioned as often. Here are a few highlights about our dinner programs:
Homemade yeast rolls are probably our most iconic recipe on every table at the 1900 Farm and Tangen house. These rolls are the starting point to all the dinner menus and none of us could imagine a dinner program without them. You need to look no further than the numbers to tell you that these rolls are an essential part on the menu. Between the 1900 Farm and Tangen house, we serve 1232 rolls per month! That’s 6160 rolls per dinner season. We estimate that we’ve made over 150,000 rolls since the dinners programs started!
Next are the work horses of the historic dinners. Well, not the real work horses of our farm (even though they too play an integral part of our 1900 Farm historic dinners.) What I refer to are the wood-burning stoves that we use day in and day out for these programs. Our stoves at the 1900 Farm house and the Tangen House were cast in the 1870s and 1880s! No one can argue that these stoves aren’t excellently engineered machines that can run all day, year after year with few operating issues and that they provide tasty food every day. You cannot say that for many modern kitchen appliances!
The Tangen House and 1900 Farm wash all of their dinner dishes by hand. The program houses do not have added modern dishwashers. In one winter season, 1900 Farm dinner staff will wash almost 3,000 forks!
The draft horses and mules at the 1900 Farm are something akin to celebrities for this historic program. Living History Farms has had many different horse teams make the half mile walk back and forth from the guest greeting area to the 1900 Farm since the beginning of the 1900 Farm Historic Dinner program. If we added it all up over 30 years, the horses have walked 1800 miles which is roughly the distance from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angles, California.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the wonderful food. The recipes we use for these historic dinners are based on recipes we have found from cookbooks from the time period. What is notable about this is we have over 150 recipes in our database that we can mix and match to create menus for new delicious dinners each year. We don’t stop there though; we are constantly developing new historic recipes to be added to this lineup. Many of the food demonstrations you see during the summer in our historic kitchens are recipes being perfected for use in winter programs.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit us for a historic dinner this winter, there are still opportunities. Guests make their reservations online at www.LHF.org/HistoricDinners. Each house seats up to 12 guests at each dinner. Smaller groups are combined to create a full table. More information can be found here.