Old-school cooking


1880s DIY food and farming at Carriage Hill MetroPark

By Kristen Wicker

Photo: Charlie Wiltrout (left) and Tom Trost recreate an 1880s maple sugaring campphoto: Laura Combs

This is your great-grandma’s cooking class.

Using authentic recipes from the 1880s—with instructions like “stir until ready,” measurements such as “a walnut-sized piece of butter,” ingredients such as “saleratus” (baking powder), and tools that include a wood-fired stove—the food being produced at the Carriage Hill MetroPark isn’t exactly modern fare. But it can help you learn how to live more sustainably in today’s world.

“You can’t get more sustainable than a 1880s farm—everything on the farm had a purpose, and you didn’t waste anything,” says Rick Musselman, historic farm supervisor for Five Rivers MetroParks. The Daniel Arnold Historical Farm, located at 7850 E. Shull Rd., celebrates the Dayton region’s agricultural heritage through a recreation of 19th century farm life, and once was home to the Arnold family.

“The methods we’re teaching and demonstrating at the farm are old skills people are going back to: canning, baking bread, and curing bacon at home,” Musselman says. “People can watch a smoking or fermentation demonstration here and realize how easy it is to do. It’s a do-it-yourself, back-to-basics approach.”

You can learn and observe some of those old-school skills during upcoming programs at the historical farm:


Maple Sugaring on the Farm  Feb. 18, 25, and March 4, noon – 4 p.m.

The end of winter marks the beginning of maple sugaring season. Visit a recreation of a 1880s maple sugaring camp to learn about the tools and processes used to collect sap, and watch as it’s boiled down. On certain days, a steam engine will be used, offering a rare glimpse at the technology of the time, as few of these engines are still operational. There will also be guided tours. Demos are free, but guided tours require registration.

Pancake Breakfast  Feb. 18, 10 -11:30 a.m.

Attend a $5 pancake breakfast benefiting the Friends of Carriage Hill.

Heritage Bread Making   Feb. 25, and March 25, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Learn about mixing, shaping, and baking breads during a hands-on lesson in the farmhouse. Registration required.

Cookery for Couples   March 11, 5- 7:30 p.m. 

Couples will help prepare an evening meal during a historical cooking lesson, enjoying the food and entertainment by candlelight in the farmhouse afterward. Registration required.


Coming up first, Feb. 18, while you harvest or douse those pancakes with maple syrup, you’ll also have a chance to learn about what was an important local commodity in the 19th century.

“It was basically a cash crop,” Musselman says. “When farmers weren’t doing field work or selling crops, they could capitalize on the trees on their property.

“Daniel Arnold wrote in his diary about how he would run out of jars for what he called ‘sugar water,’” Musselman says. “He would get in a buggy and travel to Osborne, which is now under Huffman Lake. We did the math on it, and based on his numbers in his diary, we figured out he was tapping in the range of 100 to 200 trees. They’d use a sled to collect gallons of sap, so you can imagine how many buckets and barrels they had to fill and constantly haul, working out of a camp set up in the middle of maple trees.”

Carriage Hill MetroPark also hosts other food-related programs throughout the year. For example, “Thinking About Canning?” on May 6 at the park’s visitor center provides the basics of preserving fruits and vegetables using modern methods. To mark National Biscuit Day on May 21, volunteers will prepare this 19th century staple following different recipes at stations throughout the farm, using a wood stove, hearth, oven, and camp fire.

Another way to learn these skills is by volunteering: Carriage Hill volunteers are paired with a mentor, who teaches them with hands-on training. For more information, please visit MetroParks.org/Volunteer.

And yet another way to learn is by watching the living history demonstrations that take place periodically at the historical farm.

“We start the fire in the morning, get things out of the smokehouse and start cooking dinner early in the day,” Musselman says. “We always cook period dishes that are made with documented recipes, like Hoppin’ John, black-eyed peas and rice, and plowman’s lunches that include a lot of pickled items, period beans in a crock, and pork pie.”

Hours and days for the food demonstrations vary according to the season, week day, and volunteer availability, but take place most weekends.  The farm’s hours are now through March, Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; April through October, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. While samples aren’t offered, visitors can get copies of the recipes to try at home.

Whether a program or demonstration, most of the foodstuffs used are local—either from the Carriage Hill historical farm or other nearby farms.

“We cook a lot of pork because people in the 1880s had a lot of bacon,” Musselman says. “For baking programs, we make our own potato yeast or lard that’s rendered from our hogs. We use bacon and onions from our smokehouse and garden. Our canning club kicks off in June, and we use whatever is in season. We use locally grown vegetables if we don’t have them in our garden.”

Musselman says he’s noticed increased interest in food-related programs as people look for ways to live more sustainably and be healthier. For example, he’s noticed people want to learn how to butcher their own naturally raised hogs to have choices for healthier meat.

“Conservation was a way of life at the time,” Musselman says. “As people look for ways to become more green, these ways are coming back. We’re also preserving the Arnold family traditions and cultural heritage in the Midwest. Many of the things people made in the 1880s were fairly unique to the region.”

Five Rivers MetroPark’s Daniel Arnold Historical Farm is located at 7850 Schull Rd. in Dayton. For more information or to register, please call 937.225.7275 (PARK) or visit MetroParks.org. Food-related programs also are offered at Possum Creek MetroPark, where the focus is on modern methods about topics such as raising small animals and making preserves.

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