In Spring 2012, the Armoury building and kitchen will officially open to the public. The site will once again be bustling with blacksmithing and other industrial activities related to supporting the war effort during the Revolution, but another, perhaps less expected, interpretive area for the site will be foodways. However, sustaining the workforce, which at its height consisted of around 40 men, was obviously critical to the functioning of the site and thus important to telling the story of life at the Armoury. This project also provides the exciting opportunity to explore a completely different type of cooking than has been done previously in the Historic Area.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways team presently operates the two most well-equipped kitchens in Williamsburg’s Historic Area at the Governor’s Palace and the Peyton Randolph house. The James Anderson kitchen offers the opportunity to demonstrate cooking at the opposite end of the social spectrum. Currently, we are in the process of determining the kinds of foods were being cooked at the site. Period cookbooks, usually an excellent resource for determining what foods were served in the 18th century, are less helpful in this case, since they were written for wealthier households and do not include many basic or cheap recipes. Anderson also had up to 40 workers to feed each day, so the scale of cooking was also quite different than for a typical domestic site.
To better understand what foods were being prepared in the Anderson kitchen we are taking a two-pronged approach. The first area of study is analyzing food remains recovered during the ongoing archaeological excavation of the site. With the help of new techniques and a dedicated zooarchaeological staff, we are able to examine the break down of all the faunal (animal) bones found. This contributes to our understanding of the types and variety of meats being served, and in some cases, how they were prepared. By the time we start full scale interpretation on the site we will have a better archaeological sketch of the food prepared in this kitchen than in any other kitchen in town.
The second research focus is on documentary records that reference the foods and the types of equipment used for preparation. Master Blacksmith, Ken Schwarz, and Master Carpenter, Garland Wood, have helped us with in this area with their knowledge of the Anderson records. We have also worked with curators Eric Goldstein and Amanda Rosner in Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of Collections to determine what kind of equipment would have been in this type of kitchen because we do not have any period references to what Anderson had.
Preliminary analysis of the documents and archaeological evidence suggests that the main staples being served were bread and beef. This makes sense since these were standard rations for military and state paid workers. The exciting part will be what new and surprising things we may uncover as the research continues! Please stay tuned to the blog and visit the site as we get up and running to see what else we have learned.
Contributed by Frank Clark, Supervisor, Historic Foodways