Cooking in Salem


The Historic Town of Salem is a living history site that covers a large period of time, telling the story of Moravians establishing a town, and that town’s growth through the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the easiest ways for the modern visitor to gain an understanding of the past is through historic cooking preservation. We all know at least something of preparing food, even if it is as simple as where we go to get it. Here at Salem, by showing how the first Moravians here did the same things, our visitors can gain a better understanding of the past.

For our costumed interpreters, learning how to cook, bake, and preserve food in our buildings requires quite a bit of research and practice. We look at many different cookbooks and other primary sources to begin to understand what types of food were used, the common ways to prepare and flavor them, and how to cook on an open hearth. Moravians encouraged keeping diaries and journals, and some people would often include meals enjoyed, or daily household activities such as preserving. From these sources, we begin to see what was eaten in Salem and the other Moravian towns here.

Seasonal cooking is very important, since they couldn’t get fresh lettuce in January, or potatoes in May during the 18th or 19th centuries. The types of produce are also important; we use as many heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits as possible, often from our gardens here in Salem . We also preserve produce, especially fruits, for use in our cooking. Baking was generally done in family homes once a week, or families could buy their bread . Baking would be done in a beehive oven generally located away from the house in the swept yard, and that bread would last the family for the week. Drying of fruits and vegetables could also be done in the oven.

You will often see cooking being done at our Tavern Museum kitchen, where you can also visit the cellar, which would hold many of the foodstuffs used in the kitchen. Baking is done periodically at the Vierling House, and Christmas baking is done at the John Vogler House. We also preserve seasonally at both the Tavern Museum and the Vierling House.

For more information on 18th and 19th century cooking, check out the books listed below, available at our museum stores or on our retail website.

The Backcountry Housewife, by Kay Moss and Kathryn Hoffman.
This is one of the best books of general, easy to read information on 18th and 19th century cooking. It includes a variety of recipes from various sources, as well as some modern conversions of those recipes. It also has a wealth of basic cooking techniques from those centuries. A great beginners book.

The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse (1747 &1796).
This is for those who want to see an 18th century cookbook in its entirety. This book is what most English cookbooks of the 18th and early 19th century were based on. It is a great source that we use in our Tavern Museum, which catered to English travelers.

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, Karen Hess.
This cookbook has more on 17th and early 18th century recipes, and is harder for the modern reader to understand, but the transcriber included a lot of tidbits of cooking lore, making it an interesting read.

The Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph (1762-1828) & American Cookery, Amelia Simmons(1796).
These cookbooks are two of the earliest cookbooks printed in America, and begin to include some American recipes, such as some including corn meal, which do not appear in English cookbooks.

Seventy-Five Receipts, Eliza Leslie (1835).

This is a cookbook mainly on baking, and is the one Louisa Vogler Senseman copied out of for her personal receipt book. We use some of these recipes for our Christmas baking at the John Vogler House.