“Living History” in the Kitchen

Post by community member:

When we think about our kitchens, many people dream of having a stainless steel kitchen with all the latest and greatest time saving gadgets. Many of us who read Suzanne’s site on a regular basis do like to save time, but we also have a great appreciation for the simpler way of life. We love reading about wood burning stoves, old fashioned kitchen gadgets, and living close to the land.


You can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Pamela and her husband, Frank, of Shadetree Primitives. They engage in what’s called a “primitive” lifestyle, relishing and using on a regular basis kitchen gadgets from yesteryear. Their lifestyle revolves around what they call Living History, and more particularly, they concentrate on the era around the Civil War period.

Shadetree Primitives in the Kitchen Album

To see Pamela’s cookhouse is to definitely be whisked back in time. Her wood cook-stove is the centerpiece, with plenty of antique kitchen utensils and cast iron cookware hanging from hooks on her plain wooden plank walls. A hurricane lamp sits in the middle of her plain wood table, with straight back antique chairs ready to make a guest comfortable for some old fashioned visiting. Crocks, a butter churn, and all sorts of antique delights complete the look.

Shadetree Primitives in the Kitchen Album

Guests are often treated to Pamela’s Sweet Potato Pie – a very old “receipt” (what we call recipes). Notice the misspellings from the original.

Sweet Potato Pie:

From: Abby Fisher. What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking. Women’s Co-operative Printing Office:San Francisco, 1881.

Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullender while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yelks and whites separate and add one gill of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one-half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

(Note: Pamela uses enough milk to make a slightly moist center before baking – about 1/2 cup. Additionally, she also uses their favorite, Butternut Squash, as a substitute. Any kind of squash would be suited to this “receipt,” though).

Shadetree Primitives in the Kitchen Album

After my interview, Pamela shared with me that she had suffered a double brain aneurysm in 1997 that has left her with severe short-term memory loss. She finds her cookhouse to be therapeutic as it frees her mind and brings her a joy most people may not understand.

Her comment brought to mind a line I distinctly remember from Star Trek: Insurrection. Daniel Hugh Kelly’s character said something to the effect of when you allow a machine to do the work of a human, you take something away from the human. I haven’t seen that movie in several years, but that line has always stayed with me–I think it’s because there’s some truth to it. When I’m hand washing and air drying my clothes, I feel a certain sense of well being and simplicity. It’s a feeling of connection to my clothing. When you use machines, you’re more removed from your food, clothes, and what have you. In a sense, it takes away just a little bit of what it’s like to be human and to be doing–to have joy and connection in the simplicity of doing.

Shadetree Primitives in the Kitchen Album

You can read more of Pamela and Frank’s life on Shadetree Primitives and Civil Folks.

My full interview with Pamela is on my blog.


Tracy blogs at The Prairie Patch.


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