fb-pixel Skip to main content

House of Seven Gables dishes up colonial classics in live webcast

Kaylee Redard, host of a House of Seven Gables webcast, prepares onions with the help of Madelynne Quinton, 6, granddaughter of the museum's special events manager, Deb Costa.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

By January 2021, the public’s access to The House of the Seven Gables in Salem had been severely restricted — if not outright prevented — for nearly a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking for a new way to engage with would-be museum-goers virtually, Assistant Visitor Services Manager Kaylee Redard proposed hosting live cooking demonstrations over Zoom with a historical twist.

“I told my boss, ‘I think we should prepare colonial food in a modern kitchen and make it a community conversation.’ She looked at me and asked, ‘Who, exactly, are you expecting to make this food?’” recalled Redard, laughing at the memory. “I assured her, ‘Me. I’m going to make this food.’”

Advertisement



Given the green light to proceed, Redard began — as one does — by googling “colonial cookbooks” until she found one available for purchase. Although she said her first session of “Colonial Classics: A Food Demonstration with The House of the Seven Gables” was “a little bit rough because I hadn’t done a virtual class before,” Redard has developed a loyal following.

“Now I’ve found my stride,” said the Medford resident, who honed her cooking knowledge by watching “every episode” of “The Great British Bake Off.” “It’s what I wanted it to be, which is a way to connect and have a conversation.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m., Redard will demonstrate how to make the Molasses Cake Specialty of James Oglethorpe. The recipe is from “The Early American Cookbook: Authentic Favorites for the Modern Kitchen” by Kristie Lynn and Robert W. Pelton, which is available at the museum store for $21.95.

Special events manager Deb Costa acts as Redard’s sous chef during sessions, which are filmed in the kitchen of The House of the Seven Gables. Also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, the seaside home was built on Derby Street in 1668.

Advertisement



“I really enjoy doing ‘Colonial Classics’ with Kaylee,” Costa said. “The modern twist and information about some common and uncommon foods and recipes help bring everyone to the table and makes our history come alive.”

Redard thinks molasses cake was popular during colonial winters because it’s warm and flavorful. One ingredient she will not honor, however, is the half cup of sour milk that will be substituted with buttermilk.

“The idea of sour milk makes me uncomfortable. I want everyone to eat safely and enjoy it,” said Redard. “I also might go heavy on the cinnamon and ginger, which I think will be really flavorful with the molasses. And I’m always one for adding more butter.”

On the other hand, Redard said no amount of added cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, or milk could improve the taste of samp – a stick-to-your-ribs mush of cornmeal and water eaten for breakfast, which she meant to deliciously transform into journey (pronounced “johnny”) cakes in her inaugural Zoom last January.

“Please don’t eat samp,” she pleaded. “It’s awful.”

Yet the most challenging recipe to date, according to Redard, was a modernized version of Bake Chicken in Winter which she tackled the following month. The instructions from the 1594 British cookbook, “A Good Huswifes Handmaide,” features the first line, “Cut off their feet, and trusse them, and put them in the pies.”

“I will not be cutting off any chicken’s feet during this demonstration. I just want to make that very clear for everyone,” Redard told her viewers. “We’re using chicken thighs. Boneless. Got them at Stop & Shop.”

Advertisement



Zoom demonstrations average 35 attendees, and Redard’s tea party discussing museum artifacts with Collections Manager Susan Baker over fine cracknels, pear marmelet, and a special blend from Jolie Tea Company in Salem has surpassed 1,400 views since it was recorded on June 16.

Redard worked her way through breakfasts, dinners, and desserts before the current exploration of “things you might reach for when comfort is called for,” such as soups, cakes, and ice cream.

In future sessions, Redard said she will continue to invite speculation on what led hardy New Englanders to seek comfort food in the 17th and 18th centuries and how food preparation, ingredients, and choices have evolved since the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion was built and occupied 350 years ago.

“I don’t mind if people go off on a tangent, if that’s what they want to talk about, because it’s their program,” she said. “I’m just making the food.”

Colonial Classics demonstrations featuring comfort foods are scheduled to take place on Wednesdays, from 6 to 7 p.m., on Dec. 1, Jan. 5, Feb. 2, and March 2. Free registration is required at 7gables.org.

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.