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The Kitchen at Sandpit Gate (detail). Watercolor on paper by Paul Sandby 1754. Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 914331

The best times are always those when we are the least self-conscious– not that we can necessarily choose those times. Often they simply happen to us, but if we are lucky enough, we will notice, or someone else will record those moments for us. Last weekend, without even meaning to, we came as close as I may ever hope to get to recreating Sandby images of the Sandpit Gate kitchen.

Mistress F commanded the kitchen: I served as her reasonably able scullion, and, with assistance from Drunk Tailor and the company of the B’s, we managed to produce enough food for several dozen people.


(I baked the pound cake at home, but the egg and onion pies were made on site. I lack historically correct baking apparatus aside from one pie plate.) Cooking in the cabin at Hancock House reminded me of good times long ago— and not so long ago–and how much I enjoyed throwing refuse out a window, and using a soapstone sink. The weekend also brought to mind “show, don’t tell” as it applies to interpretation, and made me think again about how to create more immersive educational experiences for visitors, without becoming ritualistic.

There’s not much time to think those esoteric, grad-school-seminar thoughts when you’re in the midst of cooking, and that can actually be a relief. Instead, better to think of the light, and the landscape, and the time remaining until a pie is cooked through.

The landscape and the light: redemptive, all that space, the blue sky and the grasses. I thought of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I haven’t read in decades, for in some ways, the coast of New Jersey resembles the coast of Connecticut. It’s one of the first historical novels I remember reading– it is probably one reason I have ended up doing the work I do, and spending as much time as I did in New England. (You can read it here.) It’s not brilliant literature, and it was nearly two decades old when I read it, but it was certainly memorable.

Photos courtesy of HM 17th Regiment, Al Pochek, and Cape May Wren Photography.