Food: A step back in time
Have you ever driven past a place a million times and thought, “I should check that out someday?” That’s exactly what I did last Tuesday when I decided to make a visit to the Rhinelander Historical Society headquarters and museum at 9 S. Pelham Street in Rhinelander.
As I walked toward the old house, I marveled at a tumble of wild flowers flanking an inviting porch that was complete with beckoning chairs to sit and while away the day. In an absurd sort of way, I found this peaceful and alluring scenario in sharp contrast to the aroma of burgers and fries coming from the fast food joint across the street, but as I opened the old wooden front door, I entered into a completely different era.
My mouth dropped open in awe as I stepped into this beautifully refurbished home, where the old wooden trim remains intact and items from days gone by grace the rooms. There is a parlor with a fainting couch, clothing of the period hanging on dress forms and even an old piano and radio are in evidence.
I was greeted by Cookie Poskie, who was the curator for that morning. She gave me a little tour and as we slowly walked from room to room, I marveled and wondered about the life of former Rhinelander residents when electricity was non-existent and the conveniences of today were unthinkable.
According to accounts by local historian Joy Vancos, this enchanting home was built in 1894 by Mrs. Edith Hollis Van Slate, a widow, whose aim was to operate a boarding house. By November of that year, she was in business and opened her home to travelers who visited the area and needed a place to stay. The home changed hands a few times in the following years and then was purchased by William and Ella Beers Jamieson. For awhile, Ella ran a millinery shop on Davenport Street, then sold it to take care of the boarding house. According to a census taken in 1910, the Jamiesons had six boarders with a variety of careers including two traveling salesmen, a barkeeper, a cashier for the railroad and a music teacher.
As I gazed at the old wooden dining table that was set with delicately designed china, I could almost hear the voices of days gone by in that room. I would have liked to dine with those boarders for just one meal and listen to their conversation.
Then John Saari, the afternoon curator, walked in and he graciously took me on a tour of the upper rooms where the boarders slept at night. One bedroom was dedicated to Rhinelander history, including a display dedicated to A.D. Daniels, a founding father of Rhinelander. He was a doctor and there are many medical artifacts that he could have used when he was practicing. There are pictures of the old bottling plant, military memorabilia and paintings of former residents who made Rhinelander their home.
Perhaps the room that was most captivating was the kitchen. It was in the back of the house and the window above the old sink looked over a back yard that had a gazebo surrounded by flowers all enclosed in a picket fence. There was an old ice box next to the sink and sideboard cupboards that held antique containers of kitchen staples. Aprons hung on pegs, wooden bowls graced the counters and even ancient muffin pans were black from many batches of use.
But it was the antique cook stove that I was most smitten with.
“I’ve had some pretty tasty meals cooked in a stove like that,” Jim told me.
I was jealous. I’ve never had the privilege of eating food, steaming and hot, from an old-time wood cook stove. It was beautiful too, a light turquoise blue with all the bells and whistles of its day. As I stood marveling at it, I thought of the skill and patience it must have taken to cook a meal on that appliance. There were no digital timers, or dials or self-cleaning options on this little oven. No, someone would have had to chop wood, stack it near the kitchen door, load and light the stove and then carefully gauge, by experience and skill, just the right temperature to bake a loaf of bread, cook a kettle of savory stew or a beef roast. It made me nostalgic for sure, but also very thankful for the appliances we are lucky to have today.
This week I included a recipe I found in an old cookbook for homemade bread. I imagine that little wood stove did a fine job baking this staple back in the day. And I bet all those long-ago boarders thought so, too.
If you would like to visit this museum, it is open on Tuesday and Thursday during the summer from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the winter it is open only on Thursday and always by appointment.
Homemade White Bread
3 cups warm water
3 Tbs. active dry yeast
3 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
½ cup white sugar
8 cups flour
In a large bowl combine water, yeast, salt, oil, sugar and four cups of the flour. Mix thoroughly and then let rise until double. Punch down and then add four more cups of flour, kneading until smooth. Place dough in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double in size. Punch down again and let the dough rest for a few minutes. This will make three loaves, so divide the dough into thirds and place in greased 8.5 by 4.5-inch loaf pans. Let rise until double again and then bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.