"History of Detroit and Michigan," Silas Farmer, 1884, page 794 / THF139107
Fresh food markets have always brought communities of all backgrounds together for nutritional and social sustenance. The markets of the 19th century were different than today’s in terms of sanitation, regulations, and petty crimes, but the desire for community that existed then remains true. Today, Detroit’s Eastern Market and dozens of other markets in southeast Michigan provide citizens with food security and support a burgeoning urban agricultural movement and the local economy.
Interior of a farmers’ market, 1875, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Originally published in Earl Shinn, A Century After: Picturesque Glimpses of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania (published in Philadelphia by Lane Allen & Scott and J.W. Lauderbach, 1875), pg. 156, on the title page of the chapter "Marketry.” This illustrates what we can imagine the inside of Central Market looked like on a busy market day. / THF610498
The Vegetable Building (now being reconstructed in Greenfield Village) opened in Detroit's public market, then known as City Hall Market, in 1861. It remained a hub of community cohesion and commercial competition for 30 years until the city closed it, later dismantling it and relocating it to Belle Isle in 1894. In the three decades that the Vegetable Building attracted vendors and customers, Detroit’s population grew from 45,619 to 205,876 (per Detroit Historical Society) and the market tried to keep pace.
Mounting calls for the demolition of Detroit’s rat-infested “eyesore” resulted in the obliteration of the three-story “Central Market” brick building that housed butchers and market administrators between 1880 and 1894. It also prompted removal of the Vegetable Building to Belle Isle, and its replacement with a retail park (Cadillac Square) and a new public market (Eastern Market). This process destroyed the public market in central Detroit, but ultimately preserved the market’s Vegetable Building.
The Henry Ford acquired the Vegetable Building in 2003. After its reconstruction, the Central Market’s Vegetable Building will allow us to tell the stories of the vendors and consumers that frequented the market. These stories will illustrate that Central Market was a place where Detroiters came to purchase food stuffs, where entrepreneurs (many of them immigrants) were able to make a living, and where vibrant community life (including competition and discrimination) played out.
This year, we’ve been working to establish authentic stories as the basis for living history programming at the Vegetable Building, featuring costumed presenters and dramatic performances. Additional research underscores decisions about modern-day vendors invited to sell their honey, bread, pickles, eggs, flowers, and fresh fruits and vegetables to visitors at weekly markets and specialty markets in Greenfield Village.
Group of women, one with a baby carriage, in front of the Central Market Building, Detroit, Michigan, circa 1890. / THF623829
A partnership between The Henry Ford and the University of Michigan Museum Studies Program resulted in a script for a dramatic presentation that will help guests grasp the numerous ways that the market building affected urban life. Four students from the Museum Studies Program—Kathleen Brown (American Culture), Laurel Fricker (Classical Art and Archeology), Antonello Mastronardi (Classics), and myself, Ayana Curran-Howes (Environment & Sustainability)—crafted a script for a noteworthy Central Market character. The market was filled with characters, but one that captured the attention of newspaper reporters, the police, and a fair number of male suitors was Mary Judge. She became the focus of our investigation.
Our research into Mary Judge unveiled a fascinating and difficult, yet vibrant, individual. Newspaper reports documented her wit, sharp tongue, charm, and self-awareness as a woman staking her claim to independence. Newspaper reports from the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press gave us a foundation on which to build a script for an entertaining and educational performance.
Vegetable Shed at Detroit’s City Hall Market, known as Central Market after 1880. It is identified as “Cadillac Square Market (Detroit, Mich.)” in the George Washington Merrill photographs collection, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library (BL003974). The original was one of two photographic images likely taken by James A. Jenney for A. J. Brow, Detroit, Michigan, and published as a stereograph. The original stereograph is in the Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library. We believe the woman circled in orange may be Mary Judge, vending flowers.
The script, featuring Mary Judge, is set during a Saturday night market in the 1880s. We chose a Saturday night market to introduce guests to the hustle and bustle of market life that everyday Detroit residents experienced. Farmers saved their best produce for busy Saturday nights when throngs of factory workers and working-class citizens came to purchase fresh produce and meat, as well as to socialize.
Mary Judge enters as a whirlwind. Her livelihood depended on capturing the public’s attention, and the dramatic presentation conveys that urgency. Mary also conveys the tumultuous yet essential relationship that hucksters like herself had with the farmers who grew the products that hucksters resold. Mary’s success at reselling depended on the relationships she cultivated with other vendors and the larger market community. The eight-minute solo act features Mary’s opinions about the role of the market in Detroit life, before the politics around the closing of the market disrupted Mary’s status quo starting in 1891.
What did Mary resell? The Michigan climate lent itself to a wide array of produce. Consumers could choose between market crops such as strawberries and cherries, often eaten to the point of bellyache (Detroit Free Press, June 25, 1874), or other seasonal crops such as rhubarb, cucumbers, and celery worthy of larceny (Detroit Free Press, August 12, 1879). Mary herself sold many different things, including coffee, flowers, fruit, poultry, and “fried cakes, gingerbread, pig's feet” (November 22, 1875). The Free Press reported her doughnuts “were very fillin’ for the price” (February 28, 1876).
Additional carnival-like attractions included strong-man machines, magic tricks, and exotic pets for sale. The variety of attractions created a bustling crowd that made it “often a feat to swallow a cup of coffee, without having it spilled” (Detroit Free Press, December 19, 1869).
The research plan we devised included numerous stages.
We reviewed other dramatic performances at The Henry Ford, including “The Disagreeable Customer” at J.R. Jones General Store and “How I Got Over” at Susquehanna Plantation. We also reviewed expert advice about living history programming collected in the Living History Anthology (Katz-Hyman et al., 2018). These informed the structure and style of our script.
Then, we asked ourselves “What was the social and economic function of the market? Who was allowed to keep a stall in the market and in what ways were they restricted, supported, and able to survive in this market economy?” Answers to these questions were revealed through secondary sources including Gloria Main, “Women on the Edge: Life at Street Level in the Early Republic” (2012); Jen Manion, “Dangerous Publics,” in Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (2015); and Melanie Archer, “Self-Employment and Occupational Structure in an Industrializing City: Detroit, 1880” (1991).
We also looked at Detroit’s demographic data to understand the composition of the consumers in the market space. Then we conducted primary research, reviewing news reports published in the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News that featured Mary Judge over 30 years. These conveyed the verbiage of the time, the historic perspective on events, the politics of the past, and the atmosphere of the market. The newspaper coverage of the market generated a body of evidence that continues to inform us.
From left to right: Ayana Curran-Howes, The Henry Ford’s Curator of Agriculture and the Environment Debra Reid, and Antonello Mastronardi, looking at the site where the Vegetable Building is being reconstructed in Greenfield Village, March 6, 2021. Photo taken by Laurel Fricker.
The low capital investment required to become a huckster allowed some immigrants to Detroit, including Mary Judge, to carve out a space in the public market. Other immigrants, including English and Irish individuals as well as Germans, Poles, and Italians, gained a toehold on economic independence. German butchers dominated the fresh- and processed-meat markets. They had more capital and political influence and, therefore, access to better stalls. In contrast, the Italians, newcomers during the 1880s, tried their hand at selling fruit.
Long before these European ethnic groups arrived, Black Detroiters faced racism in the marketplace and endured discrimination and violence. Nonetheless, they used the marketplace, as did other entrepreneurs, to sell their labor as chimney sweeps and whitewashers (those who painted cellars and building interiors, even the Vegetable Building interior, to intensify natural light).
The portrayal of Mary Judge will show guests how women used huckstering to gain financial independence. This was one of few alternatives for single women at the time, other than domestic service. Secondary readings and primary evidence indicated that women rarely held public-facing positions comparable to that of Mary Judge, the Central Market huckster. When they did, they were harassed by men and police alike. The consequences compounded for poor unmarried women, identified as “unladylike” in demeanor, and disruptive in action.
Hierarchies based on privilege kept many vendors marginalized. Female and immigrant vendors had to overcome language barriers, and had to navigate racism, sexism, and xenophobia when they tried to obtain permits, rent a stall, and obtain goods to sell. As an example, anti-immigrant sentiment followed Italian fruit vendors wherever they went. Mary Judge perpetrated this herself, verbally engaging with Italians and decrying their business decisions: “Go an’ absolve yerself of your business, sir; an’ not be hawkin’ ye’r truck on the streets this blessid day [Sunday]” (Detroit Free Press, July 25, 1887).
From left to right: Debra Reid, Kathleen Brown, Ayana Curran-Howes, Laurel Fricker, Antonello Mastronardi, and The Henry Ford’s Director of Greenfield Village Jim Johnson, standing outside the fenced off area where the Vegetable Building was being erected, March 6, 2021. Photo taken by Jeanine Head Miller.
All vendors faced other societal pressures. One of the most pernicious threats, petty theft perpetrated by those “sampling” products, undermined market vendors. Mary turned to market administrators to mediate her grievances, as did other vendors. She also reported abuses to the police, who intervened in some situations.
Despite these barriers, hucksters made this their way of life and stayed in the market for decades. Mary Judge, a twice-married devout Catholic, was as durable a huckster as one could be. She kept a stall from 1863 until city officials dismantled the market in 1894.
Starting in Spring 2022, you will be able to visit the Vegetable Building in Greenfield Village to meet the “queen of the market,” Mary Judge, selling coffee and decades of wisdom as a huckster from her stall. This one-woman show (as Mary would have preferred it) illustrates huckstering as an occupation and as a way of life.
Thanks to the following people for research support and guidance during the Winter 2021 term:
Gil Gallagher, curatorial research assistant volunteer, The Henry Ford
Jim Johnson, Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes, The Henry Ford
Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, The Henry Ford
Patricia Montmurri, author/journalist, Detroit Free Press
Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment, The Henry Ford
Central Market in Downtown Detroit, Michigan, circa 1890 / THF96803
The historic Detroit Central Market vegetable shed will re-create a local food environment within Greenfield Village
Few mid-19th-century public market structures survive. Detroit’s vegetable shed or building, which opened in 1861, is one of the oldest of those survivors in the nation.
This ornamental bracket from the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed will be one of the architectural elements visitors will see when the building is reconstructed in Greenfield Village. / THF173219
The shed’s story is certainly harrowing. It escaped fire in 1876 and dismantling in 1894. A relocation to nearby Belle Isle saved it. There, it served many purposes until 2003, when The Henry Ford acquired it. And now, generous donors have made its reconstruction in Greenfield Village possible. (Follow @thehenryford on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or via our e-mails for more on when the shed will officially open in the village.)
Detroit Central Market’s Vegetable Shed, repurposed as a “horse shed,” circa 1900, on Detroit’s Belle Isle. / THF139104
As a reconstructed event space, the shed will serve as an open-air market of ideas, a place where food and common cause will bring people together to discuss meaty subjects, such as land use and regenerative agriculture, social entrepreneurship, urban and alternative agriculture, and food security. It will shelter a vibrant historic market vignette where florists, fishmongers, hucksters (hucksters being another term for market gardeners, people who raised vegetables to sell at market to retail customers), and peddlers all vied for sales. The scripted exchanges will inform us about ways that vendors historically managed ethnic tensions and provided a social safety net to the homeless, impoverished, and downtrodden. This content will be carefully curated and managed by The Henry Ford’s dedicated staff, who will ensure programming on the stuff of life in perpetuity.
Heart of a City
The Henry Ford’s vision for the restored Detroit Central Market vegetable shed as a communal center in Greenfield Village is akin to what Detroit city officials envisioned when they adopted a nearly 1,000-year-old tradition to establish a public market in 1802.
View of Detroit Central Market (here called “Cadillac Square Market”) from the roof of City Hall, circa 1875 / THF146289
The market grew near the city hall and was maintained by the city for decades, calling attention to the symbiotic relationship between urban governments, the market gardeners and farmers in and near the city, and the health and well-being of city dwellers. The market, in fact, was called City Hall Market until the city hall moved across the centrally located downtown gathering space known as Campus Martius. Thereafter, the name Detroit Central Market came to be—denoting the market’s location, but also its centrality to the civic, cultural, and ceremonial heart of the city. Within an easy walk lay city hall, the Michigan Solders’ and Sailors’ Monument, churches, schools, playhouses, and the opera, among other attractions. Within this vibrant environment, vendors went about their daily business helping customers feed themselves, a routine that fed a city.
Theoretically, a thriving city market eased Detroiters’ worries about the source of their next meal. It freed them to build a livelihood around something other than agriculture, while farmers and market gardeners knew they had a steady market for their produce and fresh meat. Today, we would call Detroit’s Central Market a “local food environment,” the place where customers bought foodstuffs directly from butchers, hucksters, florists, fishmongers, and confectioners.
A community grew within and around the market that facilitated entrepreneurship. Vendors, usually sole proprietors and startups, had a fixed number of resources—the vegetables, fruit and flowers they raised, fish they caught, fresh meat they butchered, knickknacks or “Yankee trinkets” they sold, or services such as chimney sweeping that they hawked to customers.
They had to be ingenious to draw attention to their resources and thus increase the likelihood of a sale. This made for vibrant market days.
People & Prejudices
Practicality dictated that the market be in the center of downtown Detroit and in the shadow of city hall. These were heavily trafficked areas, and structures were built as enclosed spaces to protect vendors and customers from the weather. The Detroit Common Council authorized, funded, maintained, and updated structures and built new ones as needed. It authorized a “clerk of the market” to collect rents, monitor compliance, mediate conflicts, and report to elected officials.
All did not go smoothly at Detroit’s Central Market, however. The fish market in the Catholic city of Detroit was, by many accounts, the poorest fish market in the country. Why? As one fish dealer explained, people in Detroit fished. Therefore, they did not have to buy. Yet care went into designating northern stalls in the vegetable building as the purview of fishmongers, available for auction and then for rent by the month, for ten months of the year.
People gather at the vegetable building at Detroit's Central Market, circa 1885 / THF136886
Records indicate that there was no love lost between fishmongers and butchers, likely because butchers held power that fishmongers did not. Butchers were organized. Some even served as elected officials. They held membership in community associations and had strong ties to ethnic and immigrant communities.
The vegetable shed at Detroit Central Market most obviously housed hucksters, many of them women. Of the 32 greengrocers and market hucksters who listed their business address as City Hall Market (CH Market) in the 1864–1865 Detroit City Directory, nearly one-third (ten) were women. In 1874, the percentage of women hucksters increased to nearly 40%. Racial diversity also existed. Several Black hucksters had market addresses over the years, and at least one had a relatively stable business selling garden vegetables at the market from the early 1860s to the mid-1870s. Overall, however, newspaper accounts stereotyped hucksters as country bumpkins unable to handle their market wagons. This indicated a lack of respect on the part of city dwellers who depended on these growers for their food.
Cultural conflict erupted at the market as individuals from numerous ethnic groups, some well-established and others newcomers, had to cohabitate and compete at the public market. Louis Schiappecasse, an Italian immigrant identified as the first outdoor fruit merchant in Detroit, provides a good case in point. He established himself on Jefferson Avenue across from the Biddle House in 1870. When he died in 1916, the headline read: “Millionaire Fruit Merchant Is Dead.” Yet, in the fever pitch of anti-immigrant sentiment in 1890, a newspaper reporter, without naming names, quoted shop owners near Central Market who were frustrated with Italian fruit salesmen too cheap to pay rent for a market stall. Instead, they claimed that fruit salesmen set up pop-up stands that obstructed sidewalks and made it difficult for patrons to enter some stores.
A customer at the Detroit Central Market vegetable building, 1885–1893 / THF623871
Finally, one of the most notable entrepreneurs at Central Market, who appears regularly in minutes of Detroit Common Council meetings, gained attention for her refusal to accept the city’s decision to close the market. Mary Judge was a widow, listed her address as an alleyway at least once, and changed her market specialty almost every year—sometimes selling vegetables, sometimes flowers, sometimes candy, sometimes refreshments. She also received special dispensation from Detroit’s Committee on Markets when she was cited for violating three market standards. She was allowed to sell vegetables out of stall No. 44 because she was “very poor and unfit for any other occupation.” This last affirmed the function of the public market as a social safety net.
Vendors practiced benevolence, too, operating as social entrepreneurs, at least in relation to residents in the Home for the Friendless. The Ladies’ Christian Union organized the Home for the Friendless in May 1860 to aid homeless women, children (including the children of incarcerated individuals), and elderly women. Twice each week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the market season, boys from the home carried a basket to the market. Butchers and hucksters filled the basket with produce and meats, which helped make ends meet at the home.
The Detroit Central Market vendors helped feed hundreds of thousands of mouths in downtown Detroit. When reconstructed in Greenfield Village, the vegetable shed where they once sold their wares will support programming that will enrich millions of minds on topics as wide ranging as agricultural ethics and food justice.
Countless stories await exploration: Stories based on the lives of vendors and their customers; city council members and market staff; and the business owners, entertainers, and entrepreneurs at work around the marketplace can all teach us lessons that we can adapt to help shape a better future.
Outside Greenfield Village’s Eagle Tavern, an early 1830s building originally from Clinton, Michigan, is a sign that reads: “Calvin Wood, Caterer.” Yes, Calvin Wood was a real guy—and the tavernkeeper at Eagle Tavern in 1850. The Eagle Tavern building was just a few years old when Calvin Wood and his young family arrived in nearby Tecumseh Township about 1834. Little could Calvin guess that life’s twists and turns would mean that one day he would be the tavernkeeper there!
Why caterer? In the 19th century, a “caterer” meant someone who not only provided food and drink, but who also catered in any way to the requirements of others. Some tavernkeepers, like Calvin Wood, referred to themselves as “caterers.” As Eagle Tavern’s tavernkeeper a few years hence, Calvin Wood would offer a bed for the night to travelers, a place to get a meal or a drink, a place to socialize and learn the latest news, and a ballroom upstairs to hold dances and other community events.
Moving to Michigan
1857 map of portion of Tecumseh Township, inset from “Map of Lenawee County, Michigan” (Philadelphia: Bechler & Wenig & Co., 1857), highlighted to show Calvin Wood’s farm located southeast of the village of Clinton. Map image from Library of Congress.
In the mid-1830s, Calvin and his wife Jerusha sold their land in Onondaga, New York, and settled on a farm with their children in Lenawee County, Michigan—a few miles south of the village of Clinton and a few miles north of the village of Tecumseh. (Calvin and Jerusha’s children probably numbered four—all but one would die in infancy or childhood.) The Wood family had plenty of company in this journey. From 1830 to 1837, Michigan was the most popular destination for westward-moving settlers caught up in the highly contagious “Michigan Fever.” During this time, the Michigan Territory’s population grew five-fold!
The move to Michigan offered promise, but the years ahead also held misfortune. In the early 1840s Calvin lost Jerusha, and some of their children likely passed away during this time as well. By 1843, Calvin had married for a second time, this time to Clinton resident Harriet Frost Barnum.
Harriet had left New York State with her parents and siblings and settled in Monroe County by 1830. The following year, 19-year-old Harriet married John Wesley Barnum. The Barnums moved to Clinton, where they were operating a “log hotel” along the Chicago Road in the fall of 1835. In October 1836, Wesley Barnum died, leaving Harriet a young widow with two daughters: Irene, age two, and Frances, age four. After their marriage, Calvin and Harriet’s blended household included not only Harriet’s two daughters, but also Calvin’s son. (There may also have been other Wood children in the home as well, though they might have passed away before this time.)
Calvin Wood, Tavernkeeper
In the early and mid-19th century, tavernkeeping was a small and competitive business. It didn’t require much experience or capital, and as a result, most taverns changed hands often. In 1849, farmer Calvin Wood decided to try his hand at tavernkeeping, an occupation he would engage in for five years. Many other tavernkeepers were farmers as well—like other farmer-tavernkeepers, Calvin Wood probably supplied much of the food for tavern customers from his farm. Calvin Wood didn’t run the tavern alone—a tavernkeeper’s family was often deeply involved in business operations as well. And, of course, Calvin’s wife Harriet was the one with previous experience running a tavern! Harriet would have supervised food preparation and the housekeeping. Frances and Irene likely helped their mother and stepfather in the tavern at times. Calvin’s son, Charles, was married and operating his own Tecumseh Township farm by this time.
Residence of F.S. Snow, & D. Keyes, Clinton, Michigan,” detail from Combination Atlas Map of Lenawee County, Michigan, 1874. / THF108376
By the time that Calvin and Harriet Wood were operating the Eagle Tavern, from 1849 to 1854, the first stage of frontier life had passed in southern Michigan. Frame and brick buildings had replaced many of the log structures often constructed by the early settlers twenty-some years before. The countryside had been mostly cleared and was now populated by established farms.
Mail coaches changing horses at a New England tavern, 1855. / THF120729
Detail from Michigan Southern & E. & K. RR notice, April 1850. / THF108378, not from the collections of The Henry Ford
Yet Clinton, whose early growth had been fueled by its advantageous position on the main stagecoach route between Detroit and Chicago, found itself bypassed by railroad lines to the north and south. The Chicago Road ran right in front of the Eagle Tavern, but it was no longer the well-traveled route it had once been. Yet stagecoaches still came through the village, transporting mail and providing transportation links to cities on the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern railroad lines.
Map of Clinton, Michigan, inset from “Map of Lenawee County, Michigan” (Philadelphia: Bechler & Wenig & Co., 1857). Map image from Library of Congress.
Though Clinton remained a small village, it was an important economic and social link—its businesses and stores still served the basic needs of the local community. During the years that Calvin operated the Eagle Tavern, Clinton businesses included a flour mill, a tannery, a plow factory, a wagon maker, wheelwrights, millwrights, coopers who made barrels, cabinetmakers who made furniture, chair manufacturers, and a boot and shoe maker. Clinton had a blacksmith shop and a livery stable. The village also had carpenters, painters, and masons. Tailors and seamstresses made clothing. A milliner crafted ladies’ hats. Merchants offered the locals the opportunity to purchase goods produced in other parts of the country, and even the world: groceries (like salt, sugar, coffee, and tea), cloth, notions, medicines, hardware, tools, crockery, and boots and shoes. A barber provided haircuts and shaves. Three doctors provided medical care. In 1850, like Calvin and Harriet Wood, most of Clinton’s inhabitants had Yankee roots—they had been born in New York or New England. But there were also a number of foreign-born people from Ireland, Scotland, England, or Germany. At least two African American families also made Clinton their home.
Many of Calvin’s customers were probably people who lived in the village. Others lived on farms in the surrounding countryside. Calvin’s customers would have included some travelers—in 1850, people still passed through Clinton on the stagecoach, in their own wagons or buggies, or on horseback.
Advertisements for Eagle Hotel, Clinton, and The Old Clinton Eagle, Tecumseh Herald, 1850. / THF147859, detail
Though Clinton was a small village, Calvin Wood faced competition for customers—the Eagle Tavern was not the only tavern in Clinton. Along on the Chicago Road also stood the Eagle Hotel, operated by 27-year-old Hiram Nimocks and his wife Melinda. It appears that the Eagle Hotel accommodated boarders as well—seven men are listed as living there, including two of the town’s merchants. These men probably rented bedrooms (likely shared with others) and ate at a common table.
In 1854, Calvin Wood decided that it was time for his five-year tavernkeeping “career” to draw to a close. He and Harriet no longer operated the Eagle Tavern, selling itto the next tavernkeeper. Initially, the Woods didn’t go far. In 1860, Calvin is listed in the United States census as living in Clinton as a retired farmer. Yet Calvin and Harriet Wood soon moved to Hastings, Minnesota, where Harriet’s daughters, now married, resided. There Calvin and Harriet would end their lives, Calvin dying in 1863 and Harriet the following year.
The Wood family tombstone in Brookside Cemetery. / THF148371
You can still pay Calvin a “visit” at Brookside Cemetery in Tecumseh, where he shares a tombstone with his first wife, children, his father, and his brother’s family. For Harriet? You’ll have to make a trip to Hastings, Minnesota.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources, and Lisa Korzetz, Registrar, for assistance with this post.
Lithograph, "Strawberries," by Currier & Ives, 1870 / THF624651, detail
By the mid-19th century, true leisure time was a rare commodity among the American population. There were very few “official” holidays on the calendar and a twelve-hour workday, six-day workweek was the norm. For these Americans, bringing and sharing food to an outside gathering, whether it be an excursion to the seaside, to a rustic location, or to enjoy a simple meal after church, was a shared experience, a time to pause and take a breath.
What we call a picnic derives from the 17th-century French word “pique-nique,” a term used to describe a social gathering in which attendees each contribute a portion of food. They ranged from very formal affairs with several courses served by servants to very simple gatherings with the most basic of foods being served.
Mid-June is strawberry time here in Michigan, and strawberry-themed gatherings were a popular entertainment. Period magazines, newspapers, and other sources of the 1850s and 1860s go into great detail about picnic ideas and the logistical requirements for a successful event.
On Saturday, June 12, 2021, step back into the early 1860s to our re-created strawberry party outside the Chapman Home in Greenfield Village from 10 AM to 4 PM. You’ll be able to purchase strawberry hard cider, strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, and strawberry frozen custard at various locations within the Village to soothe your own strawberry cravings, and can watch historic cooking demonstrations highlighting strawberries at Daggett Farmhouse, Ford Home, and Firestone Farm.
The recipes we’ll be demonstrating at each building are included below. Note that these are historic recipes and some of the measurements and techniques may not be familiar to today's home cooks. For more modern recipes dedicated to all things strawberry, check out Strawberry Love, featured in our Shop Summer 21 catalog.
A Pound Cake
Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way till like a fine thick cream; then have ready twelve eggs, with half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, and work into it a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways, well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon. Butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.
--Susannah Carter, The Frugal Colonial Housewife, 1742, pg. 104
To Make Currant Jelly
Strip the currants (strawberries) from the stalks, put them in a stone jar, stop it close, set it in a kettle of boiling water, half way the jar, let it boil half an hour, take it out, and strain the juice through a course hair-sieve; to a pint of juice put a pound of sugar, set it over a fine clear fire in our preserving pan or bell-metal skillet; keep stirring it all the time till the sugar is melted, then skim the scum off as fast as it rises. When your jelly is very clear and fine, pour it into gallipots; when cold, cut white paper just the bigness of the top of the pot and lay on the jelly, dip those papers in brandy; then cover the top close with white paper, and prick it full of holes; set it in a dry place, put some into glasses, and paper them.
--Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1747, pg. 183
2 cups of flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp shortening (1/2 butter)
About 1-1/2 cups sour milk “lobbered”
Sift the flour, salt, and soda together into a bowl and work in the shortening. Make a hole in the center and pour in the milk, stirring the flour into it from the sides with a wooden spoon. The dough should be just about as soft as it can be handled, so the amount of milk is indefinite. Pour it out on to a floured board and then pat it out or roll it gently—handling it just as little as possible—to a cake about three quarters of an inch thick. Put this into a buttered baking tin either square or oblong and bake it on a hot oven (450 degrees) for fifteen minutes. The amount of soda depends somewhat on the sourness of the milk. Do not try to sour pasteurized milk, for it can not be done. It will get "old" but it will not "lobber."
And if you don't know what "lobbered" means, it means thick—the dictionary stylishly calls it "clambered." If you use too much soda, the cake will be yellow and taste like lye. Of course, you may be safer in making a baking-powder dough, in which case you take your regular recipe for biscuits but add another tablespoonful of shortening (using half butter, at least, for the shortening) and bake it the same way.
When your cake is done (and "shortcake" in my kind of recipe doesn't mean "biscuits"), proceed after this fashion: have your strawberries (dead ripe) washed, hulled, mashed, and sweetened, in a bowl... And be sure there are plenty of them. Turn your hot cake out on the platter and split it in two, laying the top half aside while you give your undivided attention to the lower. Spread this most generously with butter just softened enough (never melted) to spread nicely, and be sure to lay it on clear up to the very eaves. Now slosh your berries on, spoonful after spoonful—all it will take. Over this put the top layer, and give it the same treatment, butter and berries, and let them drool off the edges—a rich, red, luscious, slowly oozing cascade of ambrosia. On the top place a few whole berries—if you want to—and get it to the table as quickly as you can. It should be eaten just off the warm, and if anybody wants to deluge it with cream, let him do so. But the memory of a strawberry shortcake like this lies with the cake and not the cream.
--Della Lutes, Home Grown, 1936, p. 128-130
Place strawberries in bottom of jar, add a layer of cinnamon and cloves, then berries, and so on; pour over it a syrup made of two coffee-cups cider vinegar, and three pints sugar, boiled about five minutes; let stand twenty-four hours, pour off syrup, boil, pour over berries, and let stand as before, then boil berries and syrup slowly for twenty-five minutes; put in jars and cover. The above is for six quarts of berries.
--Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Estelle Woods Wilcox, Ed., 1877, p. 268
Fruit Ice Cream
To every pint of fruit-juice, allow a pint of sweet cream. The quantity of sugar will depend upon the acidity of the fruit used. Apples, peaches, pears, pine-apples, quinces, etc., should be pared and grated. Small fruits, such as currants, raspberries, or strawberries, should be mashed and put through a sieve. After sweetening with powdered sugar, and stirring thoroughly, let it stand until the cream is whipped—2 or 3 minutes. Put together and then whip the mixture for 5 minutes. Put into the freezer, stirring it from the bottom and sides 2 or 3 times during the freezing process.
--Mrs. Frances E. Owens, Mrs. Owens’ Cook Book and Useful Household Hints, 1884, p. 301
Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.
“Wilson’s Albany Seedling” from D.M. Dewey’s Series of Plates of Fruits, Flowers and Ornamental Trees, 1871-1888. The Chicago Tribune (July 4, 1862) gave a shout-out to Wilson’s Seedling in “A Chapter on Strawberries: How to Eat Them. Features of the Strawberry Market.” / THF148036
We wait patiently for the first field-ripened strawberry of the season. But horticulturalists have tried to reduce this wait-time for decades by selecting strawberry plants that yielded fruit earlier—and fruit that grew bigger, tasted better, and matured to a brilliant scarlet-red color. They planted seeds from these plants, and after consistent yields across generations, then advertised the improved cultivars for sale. Farm families, market gardeners, and horticulturalists purchased, planted, and harvested these plants, and repeated this, season after season.
The first volume of the Michigan Farmer and Western Agriculturalist in 1843 reported on the latest innovations. Editor Daniel D. T. Moore waxed eloquent about “Strawberries -- Large and Luscious!” He described a Michigan-grown fruit as “the largest and most delicious strawberries we have ever before seen or tasted” (July 1, 1843, pg. 76).
That “Large and Luscious” berry had no name. Moore described it as “a native of this State, cultivated.” Subsequent issues of Michigan Farmer, however, specified numerous varieties and their merits. John Burr in Columbus, Ohio, listed six different seedling strawberries for sale in August 1847, just in time for transplanting. He stressed the large uniform size and sweet flavor of the Ohio Mammoth berry as well as its hardiness. He described a namesake, Burr’s New Pine, as maturing “very early” with a “highly aromatic, sweet and delicious flavor,” concluding that it was “unquestionably the very best strawberry cultivated.” He sold these two seedlings for $2.50 per dozen, while he sold his stalwart, Burr’s Old Seedling, for 50 cents per dozen or $2.00 for 100 (August 23, 1847, pg. 96).
Horticulturalists generated plants suitable to local climates and useful to local market gardeners. The go-to early berry in one place might not transfer well to another growing zone. Sometimes hype did not match performance. James Dougall, a nurseryman living across the Detroit River, south of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, assessed 15 varieties of strawberries for Michigan Farmer subscribers in 1849. He described the Duke of Kent’s Scarlet as “Only valuable as being the earliest strawberry, but not worthy of cultivation in comparison with the large early scarlet which is double the size, and ripens only a few days later” (August 1, 1849).
The public remained eager for the seasonal treat. “And what fruit is more delicious than the strawberry?” wondered Michigan Farmer editor Warren Isham in May 1850. But propagating strawberries required regular replanting, at least every two or three years, to maintain the patch. This sustained a lucrative business for plant breeders and horticulturalists. Colorful illustrations helped them capture the attention of growers, as the illustrations below from horticultural sales books indicate.
Nurseryman’s Specimen Book, 1871-1888, page 56: Miner’s Great Prolific, advertised for 50 cents per dozen. The Illustrated Strawberry Culturist (1887) described the Miner’s Great Prolific as “large to very large. . . deep bright crimson. . . vigorous” and “a popular variety among amateurs as well as those who cultivate Strawberries extensively for market” (page 51). / THF620219
Nurseryman’s Specimen Book, Great Northern Nursery Co., Baraboo, Wisconsin, circa 1900. This specimen book, carried by a salesman, included cloth pages that folded out. Customers could then compare attributes of six berries including: Michel’s Early, Jesse, Warfield No. 2, Splendid, Bederwood, and Parker Earle. / THF620262
As strawberries ripened, growers had to get busy picking and processing the perishable fruit. For farm families, this often meant that all members took their turn picking in their own patches. Families without a strawberry patch, but with a yearning to pick their own, could do so at community gardens or pick-your-own nursery businesses.
Ella and Edward Posorek in a Strawberry Field, circa 1932. / THF251170
Growers raising large quantities for market relied on agricultural laborers hired to pick as fast as berries ripened. Two photographs indicate the scale of production on the Atlantic coast, serving Eastern urban markets, and in California, serving Western fresh markets and processor demand.
Picking Strawberries, Charleston, S.C., 1907. This photograph, part of the Detroit Publishing Company Collection, shows the scale of Southern strawberry fields that helped satisfy customer demand in urban coastal markets. / THF624649
Japanese Men and Women in the Strawberry Fields, California, 1921-1922. (Note that while this photograph features berry cultivation, it was taken to support an article in the Dearborn Independent attacking Japanese farmers' real status in the fruit-growing industry in California. More information on the photo can be found in our Digital Collections at the link that follows.) / THF624653
Educational materials designed for geography instruction often featured fruits and vegetables. This Keystone View Company stereograph, in tandem with an instructional workbook, oriented teachers to lessons that helped students understand sources of their food supply. In the case of strawberries, students could see a person about their age busy in a strawberry field in Florida, picking a crop that the students might eat on their strawberry shortcake!
Picking Strawberries in January in Florida, circa 1928. / THF624669
Fresh berries had to be eaten quickly to enjoy them in all their lusciousness. The Chicago Tribune drew readers’ attention to the “luxury” of strawberry shortcake at the height of berry season in that Northern city (July 14, 1857): “Make a large, thick shortcake, split it twice through, and spread with butter and fresh strawberries and sugar, put the parts together again, and serve hot.”
The Chicago Tribune shared two additional recipes in a “how to eat them” feature a few years later (July 4, 1862). The editor recommended starting with a recipe for a very light soda biscuit, baked in a round tin about the size of a dinner plate. Directions continued with instructions to immediately split the baked cake in two or three parts. “Butter each part slightly—spread a thick layer of berries upon one of the slices, then place the other slice over it. . . . Scatter powdered sugar over the berries as they are placed on the slices, and finish by pouring a goodly portion of thick, rich cream upon the berries before the next slice is laid on.”
One last recipe comes from “About Strawberries,” printed in the Detroit Post & Tribune and republished in the True Republican (Sycamore, Illinois). This described the common strawberry shortcake as “a favorite [but] rich” dish. The editor suggested taking “one quart of flour, three tablespoonfuls of butter, one large cup sour cream or rich loppered milk, one egg, one tablespoonful white sugar, one tablespoonful soda dissolved in hot water, and one saltspoonful salt. Rub the salt, butter and flour together; add the soda to the sour milk; stir in the egg and sugar with the milk; put all together, mixing quite soft. Roll lightly and quickly into two sheets, the one intended for the upper crust fully half an inch thick, the lower less than this. Now lay one sheet of paste smoothly upon the other and bake until done. While warm, separate the sheets just where they were joined and lay upon the lower or thick sheet a thick, deep coating of strawberries; then add a coat of powdered sugar and cover with the upper crust . . . serve at tea, cut into triangles and cover with sweet cream and with sugar sprinkled over it. Always send around the powdered sugar and let the guests help themselves” (June 29, 1878).
Readers knew that they could only eat so much shortcake. Yields always outpaced demand. To meet the need, newspaper editors encouraged readers to turn the fruit into jam or preserves before the berries spoiled. Food processors also approached fruit preservation on an industrial scale. The postcard below from the H.J. Heinz Company provides a behind-the-scenes view of women in their work uniforms stemming strawberries as part of the preserve-making process.
Strawberries remain one of the most highly anticipated seasonal fruits. Few compare in taste sensation. In the past as now, however, market opportunities lead growers to pick berries before they ripen to prevent damage in transit. Today, the end of strawberry season in one location means the end of the taste sensation, but not the end of availability for consumers.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. Thanks to Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, for editorial advice.
Eagle Tavern at Its Original Site, Clinton, Michigan, circa 1890 / THF110473
“I am sure the Americans can fix nothing without a drink…. To use their expression, the way they drink, is ‘quite a caution.’” –Frederick Marryat, A Diary in America (1839)
What Was a 19th-Century Tavern Like?
Today the term tavern, as well as the now largely British term public house, are understood to be synonymous with the American term bar—places licensed to sell alcoholic beverages. In the mid-19th century, the two former terms denoted places identical to inns or hotels, which provided lodging and food as well as drinks. Regardless of what the establishment was called, its center was surely its barroom—and thus, perhaps, the modern equivalence of the terms tavern, public house, and bar.
Even in a large rural inn such as Eagle Tavern, which had a public sitting or reading room, a formal or ladies' parlor, and a dining room, it was in the barroom where guests registered and paid bills, arranged to board a horse, or booked passage on a public coach. But even more than that, the barroom was a sort of men's community center primarily patronized by local "regulars" to talk about crops and weather, argue about politics, smoke or chew tobacco, play cards, quarrel, and learn about distant goings-on from out-of-town visitors and the newspapers they left behind. Public celebrations such as elections, Independence Day, and other holidays; court sessions; and militia musters turned the barroom into the focus of a town-wide communal binge.
The barroom at Eagle Tavern. Photograph by Michelle Andonian. / THF54347
Drinking in 19th-Century America
Drinking, of course, was what bound the barroom's clientele together. Alcohol consumption during the early 19th century reached a per capita peak which has never since been duplicated. In 1838, James Logan, a Scottish visitor to Detroit who echoed most other foreign travelers' accounts of the period, wrote:
“Indeed, drinking is carried to a great height both in Canada and in the State of Michigan. No sooner are they out of bed than they call for their bitters, and all day long they drink at brandy, gin, or whiskey, taking, however, only a wine-glass at a time, which they mix in a tumbler with a little sugar and water. Just enough is taken at once to raise the spirits, and when the excitement subsides, the dose is repeated, so that in this way inebriation is avoided, although a great quantity is taken in the course of the day.”
Bond for Tavern Licence in Red Hook, New York, May 3, 1830 / THF148000
A single modern statistical comparison should serve to underscore Logan’s impressions. It has been estimated that in 1830 the average American male above the age of 15 consumed more than 7½ gallons of distilled spirits per year, while today Americans drink about 2½ gallons of liquor per capita per annum. It is perhaps not surprising that the American temperance movement came into being at this time of unparalleled alcohol consumption. As Capt. Frederick Marryat, the English writer, recorded in A Diary in America, published in 1839:
“They say that the English cannot settle anything properly without dinner. I am sure the Americans can fix nothing without a drink. If you meet, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink. They drink because it is hot; they drink because it is cold. If successful in elections, they drink and rejoice; if not, they drink and swear; they begin to drink early in the morning, they leave off late at night; they commence it early in life, and they continue it, until they soon drop into the grave. To use their expression, the way they drink, is ‘quite a caution.' As for water, what the man said, when asked to belong to the Temperance Society, appears to be the general opinion: ‘It's very good for navigation.’”
Beverage Options in Eagle Tavern
What then do we know of what was served in Eagle Tavern's barroom? Whiskey was the beverage of the period. Throughout the upland South and Midwest, whiskey was distilled from a mash composed of a majority of corn and a smaller percentage of other grains. In Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region, rye was the primary grain. Both were straight, unblended spirits. Modern bourbon whiskey and American or Canadian blended whiskey ("rye") are derived from these two beverages. Locally made whiskey was extremely cheap, about $.20 a gallon or $.06 cents a quart.
Rum, the favorite distilled beverage of the 18th century, had declined in popularity (outside of New England) because tariffs on imported spirits, or on the imported molasses necessary to make domestic rum, priced the drink much higher than whiskey. Imported rum from Jamaica and the Virgin Islands (St. Croix) and domestic rum made in Massachusetts were commonly available. Domestic gin, brandy, and fruit brandies were popular. Notable among these was applejack, an apple brandy frequently made in New Jersey. Sweet brandies and cordials were ladies' drinks. Imported Holland gin (often called Geneva), Cognac, Scotch, and Irish whiskey were available but expensive.
The Print "Dance in a Country Tavern" in The Old Print Shop "Portfolio" Catalog, December 1948 / THF148039
In apple-producing regions, hard cider (simply called "cider") was the most popular fermented beverage. Cider was overwhelmingly popular in late 18th- and early 19th-century New England, and its popularity was carried westward into New York and Michigan by migrating Yankees. Cider was cheap to produce but costly to ship, so a 31-gallon barrel ranged in price from $.50 at a country cider mill to $3.00-$4.00 in an Eastern city.
Beer, which would replace cider in popularity after 1850, was more expensive than cider or whiskey. The ale and beer made at the time were top-fermented products similar to the "bitter" served in English public houses today. Modern American beer is a lager beer (fermented at the bottom of a vat and aged in cold storehouses) introduced by German brewers during the 1840s. Popular during the 1850s in cities such as Milwaukee and Cincinnati with large German populations, lager beer became an American national beverage only after the Civil War. The temperance movement, high wartime taxes on whiskey, and the Union Army's practice of serving lager beer rations all contributed to the elevation of its popularity.
When a stagecoach stopped to change horses, the ladies might well choose a temperance beverage while the men ordered more bracing refreshment. / THF120729
Wine drinking was even less widespread than beer drinking. The only domestic wines available in Michigan were made at wineries near Cincinnati, Ohio, from the Catawba grape native to Eastern North America. The sparkling wines made of this grape were praised by European travelers who compared them to fine French champagne. At comparatively high prices, French red Bordeaux (claret), sauternes and champagne, German Rhine wine (hock), and Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines (sherry, Madeira, and port) were available. Tastes in wines overwhelmingly favored sweet rather than dry types.
Tavern drinking usually entailed "treating." That meant that each man in turn bought a half-pint of whiskey that was passed around the room. Whiskey was normally consumed in a tumbler with or without ice or water and frequently flavored with one of several kinds of bitters. Generally, sweet, mixed drinks known by names such as cock-tails, juleps, smashes, slings, cobblers, sangarees, punches, stone walls, stone fences, etc., were popular in city hotel barrooms and were thought to be more "refined" and thus more suitable for gentlemen (and ladies) than straight whiskey.
The original 1982 version of a re-created drink list at Eagle Tavern, based on 1850s-era menus. / THF123847
The variety of mixed drinks in 1850 was far more limited than those ingeniously compounded by 20th-century bartenders. But a modern visitor to Eagle Tavern could not be expected to acquire an instant taste for straight corn whiskey. So, in designing our menu, we sought to find 19th-century mixed drinks that were similar in taste to modern drinks. In so doing, we found that the original "cock-tail,” a classic American drink first created in the late 18th century (and supposedly named for the custom of serving it in a glass decorated with rooster feathers), tasted very much like our present-day "Old Fashioned." Similarly, modern visitors to Eagle Tavern find that our "Planter's Punch,” a drink made with rum and citrus juices and first concocted during the 18th century in the British West Indies, is quite comparable in taste to a modern "sour."
Of course, there are also some elements in Eagle Tavern barroom that visitors find amusingly unfamiliar. Most notable among these is the presence of a piece of macaroni in place of a straw or a stirrer in their drink. The reason for this is quite simple. In documenting drinks of the mid-19th century, we found that several, including cobblers and juleps, were invariably served with a straw or "sucker,” as it was often called. Paper straws were not known in 1850, and we were at a loss to understand how we could properly serve such drinks in a 19th-century manner. As fortune had it, the following entry was noticed in an 1848 American dictionary: “Sucker, a tube used for sucking sherry-cobblers. They are made of silver, glass, straw, or sticks of macaroni.” It is little discoveries like this that transform our sometimes dry-as-dust research into an intriguing experience for patrons of Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village.
Peter H. Cousins is former Curator of Agriculture at The Henry Ford, and led the research into the drinking habits of mid-19th-century Americans for the Eagle Tavern restoration project. This post was adapted from an article in Volume 12, Number 1 of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village Herald (1983).
Server shows off an array of pastries at Eagle Tavern, 2007. Photograph by Michelle Andonian. / THF54295
April 1, 1982, was a momentous day in Greenfield Village! That was the day that Eagle Tavern opened to the public. It was our first historic dining experience—the result of months of research, recipe selection and testing, and interpretive planning. How did all this come about?
Historical presenters and food service staff pose in front of Eagle Tavern to celebrate the new dining experience, 1982. / THF237355
The Food Committee
It started when we took a chance on a young museum leader named Harold Skramstad, who became our president in 1981. Faced with a severe financial crisis at the time, Skramstad built a case around our “world-class” status and “unique historical resources.” This led to the creation of our first mission statement, which focused upon the process of change in America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation. Following that, Skramstad created several task forces and committees, each charged with developing plans to carry out our mission through a variety of public programs. This included the mysteriously named Food Committee. It turned out that this committee—comprised of curators, food service staff, and interpretation specialists—was charged with exploring ways to bring our food offerings in line with our overall interpretive framework.
Soon, new food experiences began to appear. Through the Food Committee’s collaborative efforts, vendors hawked fruit and penny candy from rolling carts like those that had been seen on urban street corners a century ago. At the Covered Bridge Lunch Stand (now Mrs. Fisher’s), visitors could partake of turn-of-the-century picnic lunches. With the help of diner expert Richard Gutman—who informed us that we possessed the last remaining lunch wagon in existence—the Owl Night Lunch Wagon was overhauled to look more like a late-19th-century lunch wagon, featuring a more historic menu. But Eagle Tavern became our “crown jewel,” as we proposed turning this historic inn into a sit-down full-service restaurant with period food and drink.
What had the building been like before this?
Ella Smith, the final owner, in front of the inn on its original site in Clinton, Michigan, circa 1905. / THF110475
In 1927—searching for a stagecoach tavern for his Village Green—Henry Ford found and purchased this imposing 1830s-era inn. From Clinton, Michigan, it was situated along what once had been the main stagecoach road between Detroit and Chicago. Over the years, the inn had gone through several proprietors and name changes, from Parks Tavern to Eagle Tavern to the Union Hotel to Smith’s Hotel. When Henry Ford had the building reconstructed in Greenfield Village, he gave it the generic name Clinton Inn.
Carriages waiting for passengers at Clinton Inn. / THF120768
From 1929 into the 1950s, the building served as a cafeteria for students attending the Edison Institute schools. Ford enlarged the back of the structure for that purpose. When Greenfield Village officially opened to the public in 1933, Clinton Inn became the starting point for public carriage tours.
1950 calendar for Greenfield Village, featuring Clinton Inn. / THF8882
In the 1950s, the building transitioned from a student lunchroom to a public cafeteria. That was still its use when I first started working at The Henry Ford (then called Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village) in 1977. Also when I started, Clinton Inn’s so-called “colonial kitchen” was used for fireplace cooking classes as part of the institution’s Adult Education Program.
Why Eagle Tavern?
Why did we choose the Eagle Tavern era to interpret? To establish a date for the historic dining experience, we looked to primary sources, as we do when we research all of our historic structures. These sources, which help us uncover the esoteric details of the past, included probate records, property deeds, tax and census records, and local newspapers. Through this research, we found that a farmer named Calvin Wood ran this tavern from 1849 to 1854, with his wife Harriet, Harriet’s daughter Irene, and additional hired help from town or the neighboring countryside. In keeping with the patriotic spirit of the time, Wood named the place Eagle Tavern.
We decided that we liked this early 1850s date. Not only did we have decent documentation on Calvin Wood, but it was also an interesting era for changes in cooking ingredients and cookbooks (both more available than before) as well as public dining practices and customs (toward more choices for individual diners, better table etiquette, more formalized meals and menus, and more specialized table settings).
The 1850s date also dovetailed with our new mission statement—about change over time—in larger ways that were transforming the entire nation at the time. These included social movements like temperance, abolition, and women’s rights; advancements in transportation, from horse-drawn vehicles to speedy railroads; and improved communication networks, as the telegraph swiftly brought the latest news to the public. Significant national events like the California Gold Rush and the Mexican War were also impacting many people’s lives.
A variety of horse-drawn vehicles passing in front of a Middletown, Connecticut, tavern, 1842–47. / THF204148
My primary task in creating the Eagle Tavern dining experience was to find out what and how people ate during this era. I delved deeply into period sources looking for clues to these questions, including travelers’ accounts, etiquette books, merchants’ account books, newspaper ads, and historical reminiscences.
Within these sources, I found several quite eye-opening entries, like that of Isabella Bird, a British traveler who described this meal placed in front of her at a Chicago hotel in 1856: “…eight boiled legs of mutton, nearly raw; six antiquated fowls, whose legs were of the consistency of guitar-strings; baked pork with “onion fixings,” the meat swimming in grease; and for vegetables, yams, corn-cobs, and squash. A cup of stewed tea, sweetened by molasses, was at each plate…The second course consisted exclusively of pumpkin-pies.”
It’s probably good that we didn’t take these accounts completely literally when we developed the Eagle Tavern dining experience!
From these research sources, I learned that tavern fare would have come from a combination of local farms (especially, in this case, Calvin Wood’s own farm), from the fields and woods of the surrounding area, and using ingredients that would have been purchased from local merchants.
A cold plate featuring chicken salad, pictured in the 1988 Eagle Tavern Cookbook. / THF121002
The primary components of a tavern meal would have consisted of meat, vegetables and fruits (in various forms), and breadstuffs. Meat was the predominant component of the tavern meal, served in much greater quantity than today. Often, two or more meats were served at one meal. Pork, the staple food of many midwestern settlers, was the most popular meat, served in a variety of forms—including roasted, salted, baked, and as bacon, smoked ham, sausage, or spareribs. Chickens, easy to raise on farms, lent themselves to many dishes. They also could supply eggs. In fact, Lansing Swan, traveling through Sturgis, Michigan, in 1841, wrote: “We had an excellent dinner, warm cakes, tea, etc. bacon and eggs. I have eaten them until I am ashamed to see a hen and can hardly look a respectable porker in the face.”
Beef contributed to a portion of the tavern meals, as did wild game and fish from local lakes and rivers. Oysters were also popular at the time, packed on ice and transported in barrels from the East coast.
An array of vegetables for Eagle Tavern dishes, pictured in the 1988 Eagle Tavern Cookbook. / THF121001
As for vegetables, root crops lasted throughout the year and they stored easily. Potatoes were especially popular, as described in this southern Michigan meal by Charles Hoffman in 1833: “…hot rolls, tea, large pieces of pork swimming in its gravy, and a plate of potatoes that pulverized when you touched them.” Cabbage, onions, turnips, and carrots were other root crops frequently found in the research. Less hardy vegetables, like tomatoes and cucumbers, were served in season or preserved as catsups, sauces, or pickles. Pumpkins, squash, and corn were usually served in season or preserved for later use.
Fruits were served fresh in season, dried, or made into preserves, sauces, or pickles. Of these, apples were most frequently used as they were incredibly versatile—preserved, cooked, or baked into numerous dishes. Peaches, pears, apricots, grapes, and berries of all sorts were also found in the accounts. Wild strawberries were specifically called out several times by traveler Lansing Swan, in 1841. In Ypsilanti, Swan “got an excellent supper for 25 cents and many large delicious strawberries with rich cream.” Farther west, in Jackson, he happily remarked that he was, “Just in time for tea with strawberries and cream.” In Niles, he and his companion “came in time for another strawberry repast and a rich one it was. We had a new dish, ‘Strawberry Short Cake,’ very fine indeed.” And before leaving Niles the next morning, he partook of one last “strawberry breakfast.” Raisins, dried figs, prunes, currants, and citron were listed in grocery store ads and could be purchased.
A variety of muffins and rolls served at Eagle Tavern, 2007. Photograph by Michelle Andonian. / THF54331
Breadstuffs contributed substantially to tavern meals, mentioned often in travel accounts as a meal accompaniment—but not always with approval! For example, Cyrus Bradley, dining in a tavern between Detroit and Pontiac in 1835, remarked: “The milk was sweet, but the bread was dry and stale and as it began to saturate, the little red bugs rose, kicking most lustily, to the surface, where they were immediately skimmed off and most barbarously committed to the flames.”
Wheat flour and cornmeal were processed at local mills and could be used for baking breads, rolls, biscuits. Charles Hoffman, in 1833, remarked that Michigan had the “best wheat bread in the world.”
Creating the Menus
From all of these accounts, I created a master list of dishes and ingredients. Then I perused every historic cookbook I could find. Fortunately, the number of printed cookbooks was on the rise by the mid-19th century, although measurements, cooking times, and temperatures were not precise—which is why so much recipe testing had to be done. Within the pages of these cookbooks, I searched for recipes that were specifically referenced in historic accounts, those that seemed regional, and those that included ingredients on my researched ingredients list.
The Good Housekeeper, from 1841, was one of several cookbooks perused for possible recipes. / THF120853
I organized my collected recipes by type—for instance, entrees, pastries, soups, vegetables—and then spent innumerable hours with the food service managers at Eagle Tavern debating and selecting the final recipes. The managers brought up constraints that I would never have considered as a curator—including modern cost and availability of ingredients as well as the durability of certain dishes on the steam table that was still being used from the old cafeteria setup. Probably our most animated conversations related to how adventurous we thought modern visitors would be in trying things that were different and unusual—like mock turtle soup and beef tongue! Once determined, the agreed-upon recipes were tested by food service cooks (this predated having chefs on staff) who, after weeks of testing, invited us to a grand two-day food tasting.
Elaborate Bill of Fare for Thanksgiving Day, 1847, at the Adams House in Boston, Massachusetts. / THF147797
At the same time, I searched for examples of historic menus from the era to see what constituted a tavern meal. As it turned out, most tavern meals started with soup and ended with a dessert course of dried fruit and nuts. (The phrase “from soup to nuts” must have originated at this time!) The Eagle Tavern menu, or “Bill of Fare,” was laid out much like the historic menus of the time but included a simpler selection of dishes that were regionally and seasonally appropriate. Today, the Eagle Tavern Bills of Fare still follow these guidelines.
Eagle Tavern’s first Bill of Fare, Spring 1982. / THF123845
The Dining Experience
According to travel narratives of the era, tavern dining was fast and furious. For example, one traveler in Chicago in 1836 wrote: “…every man for himself, and none for his neighbor; hurrying, snatching, gulping, like famished wildcats; victuals disappearing as if by magic.” Partly, this was because there were often more patrons than space at the one “common table” in an inn. To resolve this, diners often took turns eating, as James Logan described in a hotel in Detroit in 1838: “Very little conversation took place, each individual seemed to hurry on as fast as possible, and the moment one finished he rose and went away. There was not change of plates, knives, or forks, every thing being eaten off the same plate, excepting pudding, which was taken in saucers.”
For the Eagle Tavern dining experience, we knew we were not about to recreate James Logan’s experience! But how, we wondered, could we simulate the concept of the “common table” for modern visitors? Fortunately, because of the spacious cafeteria area that Henry Ford had added to the building back in the 1920s, we found that we could furnish the space with not one but several tables that simulated communal dining. It also gave us the option of seating people at separate tables if additional privacy were desired.
The Eagle Tavern table setting was also the result of historical research, found in Catherine Beecher’s 1850 Domestic Receipt Book. / THF147807
Today’s dining experience at Eagle Tavern is much like it was back when we first created this experience almost 40 years ago. To me, Eagle Tavern was—and still is—one of the best historic dining experiences around!
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
For those who brought home our stoneware bread cloche (a versatile baking piece created by our artisans in Greenfield Village, which allows you to mix your dough, proof it, then bake it, all in one dish) during the holiday season last year, you know that the resulting bread is light and airy with a golden crust.
If you’re wondering what our go-to recipe is for this 1800s-inspired baking piece, it’s Sallie Lunn Bread. Made regularly inside the kitchen at Firestone Farmhouse and acting as the inspiration for recipes inside A Taste of History, this recipe is credited to Farmer’s and Housekeeper’s Cyclopaedia, Stephen Lewandowski, Ed., 1888, p. 326.
Sallie Lunn Bread
1quart (4 cups) of flour
1 pint (2 cups) of milk
1 tablespoonful of lard
1 tablespoonful of butter
2 spoonsful of sugar
1 gill of yeast
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. When baking inside of our stoneware bread cloche, bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and the loaf has a hollow sound when tapped.
Lish Dorset is Marketing Manager, Non-Admission Products, at The Henry Ford.
A Taste of History in Greenfield Village offers our visitors seasonal, locally sourced and historically minded recipes. Over the past year, our chefs have been developing some new recipes, directly drawn from the recipes of George Washington Carver and the ingredients that he used. You can learn more about the inspiration behind the new options both in A Taste of History and in Plum Market Kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in our blog post here, or try out some of the recipes for yourself—like this Peanut Roll Cake with Jelly.
When we were reading through hundreds of George Washington’s Carver’s recipes, this one stood out. It’s a wow—a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dessert! Chef Kasem Faraj, our resident Greenfield Village chef, spent hours making this one just perfect. We’ve had many variations of the PB&J in our lifetime, and this one takes the cake—just have fun and roll with it.
Recipe: Peanut Roll Cake with Jelly
Makes 1 Cake; Serves 8
4 each Eggs
7 oz Granulated Sugar
¾ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Baking Soda
4 ½ oz All Purpose Flour, Sifted
3 oz Butter, Melted
1 oz Vanilla Extract
1 ½ oz Granulated Peanuts
2 oz Smooth Peanut Butter
4 oz Raspberry Currant Jam/Jelly
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine eggs, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixture (or use a hand mixer and bowl).
Mix on medium-low speed until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and runny, about 3 minutes.
Increase the speed to medium and whip until the mixture is a play yellow and thick enough to fall from the whisk in ribbons.
Increase the speed again to high and continue whipping until the mixture has roughly doubled in volume and is thick.
Reduce speed to medium-low and add vanilla and melted butter in a steady stream.
Add sifted flour all at once and mix just enough to incorporate the flour.
Pour batter into a half sheet tray or 13” x 9” baking dish that has been lined with parchment paper and nonstick spray.
Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cake is done when the cake is puffed, lightly brown from edge to edge, and slightly firm.
While cake is still warm, place on a linen towel and roll tightly. Allow cake to cool while rolled to shape and keep from cracking when filled and rolled.
Once cake has cooled, unroll cake, and cover the inside of the roll with peanut butter, jelly, and granulated peanuts.
Re-roll the cake and allow to sit with the seam on the bottom.
Glaze cake with a simple icing and top with additional granulated peanuts if desired.
Puddings of the 18th century came in a variety of flavors, both savory and sweet, with many containing vegetables, and were more like the texture and consistency of a modern-day bread pudding. The shape of these puddings varied as well, since some were baked while others were boiled. In order to bake a pudding, a baking dish was needed, most often a simple round redware dish with high sides. The recipe would be prepared in the redware dish and then baked inside of a cast iron bake kettle, with hot coals underneath and on top. Puddings were eaten as part of the midday dinner meal.
From The First American Cookbook by Amelia Simmons in 1796, this recipe for carrot pudding pairs perfectly with our redware baking dish created in Greenfield Village.
Carrot Pudding Recipe “Baked in a deep dish without paste [pie crust]”
A coffee cup (¾ cup) full of boiled carrots, processed until smooth
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Cinnamon and rose water to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients together, adding the eggs one at a time. Pour prepared mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 45 minutes.