The Heart of the Kitchen – 19th-Century Cooking Stoves

Stove Section, from the Sears Roebuck Catalog, 1897The central focus in the 19th-century American kitchen was the large black cast-iron cooking stove. The kitchen stove helped improve the American diet in properly cooking and baking foods from the family farm and local markets.  The big black stove also spread warmth from its heated surfaces on a cold winter morning in January, although not so welcomed on a hot afternoon in July.  It also provided convenient comfort and improved health conditions, in the form of access to hot water – for washing, cleaning, and bathing.

The industrialization and expanded commerce of the 19th century built the 100s of foundries and factories that churned out a variety of goods and products. One of these manufactured products was the cast-iron cooking stove, which was produced in the millions and affordable to nearly everyone. Practically every home in America by the late 19th-century had a stand-alone cooking stove in its kitchen. 

Kitchen cooking stoves came in all shapes and sizes.  They could be excessively ornate or plain in decoration.  Another important feature was they were fairly portable.  Shipped in pieces, the stoves were assembled in the home kitchen, much like IKEA furniture today.  There was also a variety of technologies of stoves that burned one of three then common fuel sources; wood, coal or gas. Each system had its benefits and detriments. Wood was plentiful in rural America, it was inexpensive but labor-intensive.  Coal was easier to use, less labor but produced coal dust.  Gas was the most expensive, but produced odors.  It wasn’t until the Federal “Rural Electrification Act” of 1936 did rural America finally switch over to mostly electric stoves in their homes.  Today all four systems are still in use in our kitchens – but with vast improvements over their 19th-century counterparts.

Cast-iron cooking stoves also created an entirely new system of cooking – which in turn provided healthier meals to families.  Cooking recipes soon appeared in newspapers, magazines and in published cookbooks to help American households cook on the new appliance in the kitchen.  We hope to do another chapter on the cultural popularity of cookbooks and how they helped to change the American diet.

Be sure to visit the Farm Manager’s House at the Billings Farm & Museum to see our wood-burning cast-iron cookstove.  We cook a variety of vintage recipes in the kitchen every Friday when we reopen to the public.

“Bag of Fun” Crafts and Activities-to-Go, Virtual Tours: Meet the Animals & Behind the Scenes at the Farm & Museum

Beginning on Thursday, March 19, Billings Farm & Museum will offer options for local families with kids at home, and for folks farther away who want to explore our farm and museum.

The Billings Farm & Museum’s crafts and activities to-go program starts on Thursday, 3/19! We will set up a “drive-through” outside our Visitor Center where you can pick up a “Bag of Fun!” craft and activity kits to take home. We will distribute the kits from 9-10am and 12-1pm, and then on Tuesdays and Thursdays at those same times going forward.

This week’s kit includes: Make a paper bag Jersey, learn about cows and breeds, and instructions on how to make butter at home.

Download kits and the list of supplies on our Billings Farm at Home page

Over the next few weeks, watch our YouTube and Facebook feeds for sketching and art projects, book readings, farmhouse tours and virtual visits with our farm animals.

Get updates on crafts, activties and videos directly from Billings Farm. Email askus@billingsfarm.org and type “SUBSCRIBE” in the subject. Send us your ideas for future kits and videos, and questions you want answered about our animals, the farm, our exhibits and our collections.

Billings Farm & Museum COVID-19 Statement – March 16, 2020

While Billings Farm & Museum is closed for general visitation, the health and safety of Billings Farm & Museum staff and visitors is of the utmost importance.

FILM SERIES SHOWINGS TO BE RESCHEDULED: The final three films in the Woodstock Vermont Film Series at Billings Farm & Museum – originally scheduled for March 21, April 4, and April 18 – are being rescheduled for dates later this spring. Details will be forthcoming in the near future.

PAINTING ON THE ROCKS TO BE RESCHEDULED: The March 21 Painting on the Rocks event will be rescheduled. Details will be forthcoming in the near future.

BABY FARM ANIMAL CELEBRATION POSTPONED: In following current CDC guidelines to reschedule events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, Billings Farm & Museum will postpone Baby Farm Animal Celebration, originally scheduled for April 10 and 11, as well as opening day on April 13.

CDC RECOMMENDED PRECAUTIONS: We remind our staff and the public to continue to follow CDC guidelines for respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene. All sick employees are required to stay home.

We are monitoring the coronavirus situation closely to determine how it may affect our events, activities, and operations. We will communicate any event cancelations, postponements, or shifts in format with registered attendees and will post notifications on our website and Facebook page.

If you purchased a ticket or registered for an event and cannot attend on the rescheduled date, Billings Farm & Museum is pleased to offer a credit or issue a refund. Please also consider converting your registration or ticket fee to a donation to support Billings Farm & Museum’s mission.

We will continue to monitor the most up-to-date developments and recommendations and will follow public health officials’ guidelines.

The Winter Crop: Harvesting Ice

The Billings Farm ice harvest crew in 1890

By Emily Koetsier, Collections Manager

Welcome to the second installment in our year-long series, Machine of the Month. As January and February are Vermont’s two bitterest and coldest months, we are focused on the technology and tools of ice cutting. 

Winter has settled in and still has weeks before it lets go to warmer weather.  Farmers are idle without fields to tend, or are they?  In Vermont and the northeastern areas of the United States, farmers found a field that could be harvested during the coldest months, at least until refrigerators and freezers came to be.

The Billings Estate in the late 1800s had its own icehouse and access to a fresh water source; The Pogue on Mt. Tom.  The farmers that tended the fields spring to fall, found another field to harvest during January and February.  The ice that The Pogue produced was in their back yard and a downhill trip to the icehouse for storage.  The crew that worked The Pogue harvesting process numbered 20-30 men and used teams of horses from the farm.  The icehouse doubled as a storage space for the harvested ice and had a smaller room that could be used for cool storage for products such as the butter made by the farm.

Before even contemplating a harvest, the ice needed to be thick enough: 2 inches of ice can support a man, 4 inches are necessary to support a horse, and 5 inches to support a horse and equipment (Seavey, 2016).  Ten to fourteen inches of ice was optimal for harvesting; regular ice depth measurements were taken of the ice field by using an auger to drill a hole and inserting a measuring rod with graduated markings. 

Once the harvest got underway, there were a few key pieces of equipment that the men used.  Ice saws were used to hand cut the ice in to strips that were more manageable for later barring into smaller ice cakes.  The desired final ice cake dimension was 22 x 32 inches; a 12-inch thick ice cake weighed about 280 pounds while a 14-inch thick ice cake weighed about 320 pounds.  These hand cuts were previously grooved for easier cutting at widths of 22- or 33-inches, allowing the 4- to 5-foot-long saw to follow a straight path and break off the larger strips of ice.

The teeth of an ice saw were coarse and cut only on the down stroke.  Handles on the saws were perpendicular to the blade’s length, allowing for the sawyer to hold with two hands either side of the blade and keep themselves centered.  The motion the sawyer used was elliptical and an experienced sawyer could cut 1 linear inch of 12-inch-thick ice per stroke using most of the saw blade length (Seavey, 2016).  Working at 15 strokes a minute, a veteran sawyer could cut 75 feet of ice in an hour.

Another piece of equipment used during the harvest was a breaking bar.  Breaking bars had wedge-shaped blades, that when driven into the grooves in the ice strips could split the ice into the desired 22 x 32 inch ice cake.  The wielders of these breaking bars, barmen, would be stationed on a “bar bridge” that spanned the open channel and allowed for them to get the leverage needed.  They would drive their bar into the groove and apply a twisting force.  When the break bar was applied correctly, barmen were able to break the cakes off evenly and cleanly.  A clean break, and subsequently a clean cake, was better for storage.

For more information on icehouses, such as the one at Billings Farm & Museum, come check out our first installation of Windows to the Past, beginning Saturday, February 15th.  This exhibit will be a part of the Vermont Curators Group’s 2020 Vision Project: Seeing the World Through Technology.  In the year 2020, 36 cultural institutions from every corner of Vermont will collaborate on a suite of exhibitions and events on the theme 2020 Vision: Seeing the World Through Technology.  Billings Farm & Museum will be participating through an installment of Windows to the Past and a Machine of the Month blog posting.  Check in regularly for updates and details on what we have to offer!

Works Cited:

Seavey, Aimee. “Cool Tradition: Its Crop Is No Longer Making Its Way to the Caribbean, but for One Maine Town, the Passing of Another New England Winter Is Marked, as It Has Been for Centuries, by the Harvesting of Ice.” Yankee, no. 1, 2016, p. 20. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.439951523&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Seymour, Jean, and Bud Seymour. “Ice Harvesting.” Historic Sodus Point, Sodus Bay Historical Society Newsletter, 3 Feb. 2020, historicsoduspoint.com/commerce/ice-harvesting/.

Billings Farm & Museum’s Family Halloween 2018: In Photos

Late fall can be a lovely time to visit Vermont, as the crowds of leaf-peepers disappear and the bright foliage colors fade to dark reds and orange before disappearing. The weather gets colder, the smell of wood-smoke is everywhere, and here at Billings Farm & Museum we celebrate the coming winter with our fantastic Family Halloween celebration! This is one of our most memorable events, providing a safe and kid-friendly way to celebrate the spookiest time of the year…

Family Halloween 2018 was as great fun as always, with intermittent rain and early snow doing nothing to dampen our spirits! We featured the same great seasonal programs you know and love, including apple cider making, donuts on a string, pumpkin carving, and much more. As usual, the highlight for everyone was the costume parade, led this year by our adorable Alpine goats Maid Marian and Aurora. They’ve only recently arrived to Billings Farm, and are making friends with everyone they meet. The costumes were amazing as well, with everyone getting into the Halloween spirit. Well done!!!

Below you’ll see some of our favorite photos from the event, which we hope you’ll enjoy as much as we did. Here’s a huge thank you to  everyone who attended, we can’t wait to see you all next year. In the meantime, make sure to stop by and visit us for our famous Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. We’re open weekends & Holiday Periods, through Feb. 24, 10-4 here in Woodstock, Vermont.

Antique Tractor Day 2018

Wow, what a great event. Last Sunday here at Billings Farm & Museum we celebrated our annual Antique Tractor Day, featuring over thirty beautifully-restored tractors from the 1920s through to the 70s. Showcasing many iconic names in the history of tractor design, from John Deere and Farmall to Cubcadet and even Porche, this was the perfect experience for petrol-heads of all ages. Our annual Antique Tractor parade drew a huge crowd to watch these amazing machines circle the farm fields, and as a special highlight, the talented folks who restored their tractors were on hand to answer questions and share insights and advice. For younger visitors, there were some great craft projects on offer, as well as an adorable pedal tractor pull and tractor-drawn wagon rides.

Check out these great photos from Antique Tractor Day 2018, and make sure to check our website regularly to see all the other great events coming up here in Woodstock, Vermont…

Cheese & Dairy Celebration 2018

Last weekend was our annual Cheese & Dairy Celebration here at Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont. Thank you to everyone who came out to sample Vermont dairy products, meet our award-winning dairy cows, and watch local students compete in the first Billings Farm Youth Invitational Show. The weather was beautiful and showed Vermont at its best, with clear blue skies and a light breeze.

On Saturday, visitors were treated to a wide range of dairy-themed activities and events, including the chance to meet our farm manager and learn more about what it takes to look after our Jersey cows, help make their own hand-cranked ice cream, and sample amazing cheese and other delicacies from Cabot and Fat Toad Farm, as well as our own Billings Farm cheddar (now available online). As a special treat, newly arrived Nigerian Dwarf and Alpine goats, visiting for the summer from One Chicken at a Time Farm, were on hand to greet people.

Down at the new Show Barn, visitors were able to meet kids from local 4-H groups and watch them prepare their calves and heifers for Sunday’s show. Seeing these amazing young people hard at work washing, clipping, and feeding their calves and heifers was a particular highlight.

On Sunday, there was 1800’s Base Ball out in the farm fields, with visitors and staff alike stepping up to the plate. However, the main event was the Billings Farm Youth Invitational Show, which saw the students competing for both general showmanship and breed-specific awards. The participants did a wonderful job showing, with many entering the ring for the first time and demonstrating a remarkable amount of responsibility, poise, and knowledge about their animals. Congratulations to everyone who took part!

Next up here at B.F.M., we have our 35th Anniversary Celebration taking place on Sunday the 24th, (with FREE ADMISSION to the public and loads of great events planned), and many more events planned throughout the summer… Make sure to follow us on Facebook and check out our daily schedule to stay up to date on what’s going on.

Woodstock Vermont Film Series Announces Summer Schedule -and Curator Jay Craven

The Billings Farm & Museum is pleased to announce plans for its first-ever Woodstock Vermont Summer Film Series and the appointment of award-winning filmmaker Jay Craven as its Film Series curator and director.

The Summer Film Series will start May 18th and 19th with special screenings of legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s acclaimed new documentary, EX LIBRIS – The New York Public Library.

EX LIBRIS does more than go behind the scenes of one of the world’s greatest knowledge institutions. It shows its role as a center of community and an exemplar of morality, accessibility, democracy and calm – even as it welcomes diverse people and ideas. The film won top honors at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival and was named to the official shortlist for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Due to the length of this film, showtime is 6:00 p.m. All other films will screen on Saturday nights at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m.

On Saturday, June 30th, the series will screen Peter and the Farm by second-time director Tony Stone. The film provides an intimately detailed portrait of southern Vermont dairyman and organic farmer Peter Dunning, a rugged individualist, hard-drinking loner and former artist who has burned bridges with his wives and children and whose only company, even on harsh winter nights, are the sheep, cows, and pigs he tends on his farm. Dunning is one of the most complicated, sympathetic documentary subjects to come along in some time. Imbued with an aching tenderness, Stone’s documentary is both haunting and heartbreaking, a mosaic of its singular subject’s transitory memories and reflections—however funny, tragic, or angry they may be. The film won a Special Jury Prize at the Philadelphia Film Festival and was selected as a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

Alexandra Dean’s documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story will screen on Saturday, July 28th. The film tells the story of this iconic Hollywood star who secretly devised groundbreaking WWII technologies that contributed to the later development of cell phones, WIFI, and Bluetooth technology. This riveting film weaves interviews and clips with never-before-heard audiotapes of Hedy speaking on the record about her incredible life. And it follows the actress/inventor’s retreat, during her later years, when she became a recluse, impoverished and almost forgotten. The film was selected as a New York Times “Best Films of the Year – Critic’s Pick” and was named New York Film Critics’ “Best Documentary Feature” for 2017.

On Saturday, August 11th the series will screen Menashe. The film follows a kind but hapless grocery store clerk trying to keep custody of his son Rieven after his wife, Lea, passes away. But they live in a tradition-bound culture that requires a mother to be present in every home, so Rieven is supposed to be adopted by the boy’s strict, married uncle. Menashe’s Rabbi grants him one week to spend with Rieven prior to Lea’s memorial. Their time together creates an emotional moment of father/son bonding and offers Menashe a final chance to prove to his skeptical community that he can be a capable parent. Shot in secret entirely within Brooklyn’s Hasidic community depicted in the film, “Menashe” is a warm, life-affirming look at the universal bonds between father and son that also sheds unusual light on a notoriously private community. Jacob Weinstein’s film won top honors from the National Board of Review and was nominated for the prestigious Gotham Award, the independent film world’s highest honor. It also played as an Official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

On Saturday, September 22nd, the Summer Film Series will conclude with a screening of Doug Nichol’s entertaining documentary, California Typewriter, a loving and sometimes humorous portrait of artists, writers, and collectors who remain steadfastly loyal to the typewriter as a tool and muse. Among the typewriter devotees profiled: actor Tom Hanks, musician John Mayer, historian David McCullough, and playwright Sam Shepard. The picture also movingly documents the struggles of California Typewriter, one of the last repair shops in America dedicated to keeping the aging machines clicking. In the process, the film delivers a thought-provoking meditation on the changing dynamic between humans and machines. California Typewriter was an Official Selection at the prestigious and carefully curated Telluride Film Festival.

Each film is screened in the museum theater with high definition digital projection and Dolby® surround-sound. Complimentary refreshments are included. Tickets prices: $11 adults (16 & up); $6 children (under 16). BF&M members receive discounted prices.  Purchase tickets online or 802-457-2355.

The Billings Farm and Museum is also pleased to announce the appointment of award-winning filmmaker Jay Craven as its Woodstock Film Series director and curator. Craven has programmed the new summer series and is already planning screenings and events into the next year. He brings with him a wealth of experience as a respected filmmaker, teacher, and producer of hundreds of Vermont film and performing arts events.

Craven is the recipient of Vermont’s celebrated Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. He has made nine feature films, five documentaries, and a New England Emmy-winning comedy series, “Windy Acres,” for public television. He teaches screenwriting and directing at Sarah Lawrence College, after having led the Marlboro College film program for twenty years. Craven directs Kingdom County Productions, with Bess O’Brien, and established St. Johnsbury’s Catamount Arts organization in 1975, initially as a travelling film series. His own films have played at festivals and special screenings including Sundance, Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian, Harvard Film Archives, The Cinémathèque Française, The Constitutional Court of Johannesburg, and the Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela.

Programs for Preschoolers begin September 6th.

Programs for Preschoolers will be offered Wednesday mornings in September, from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.  Each program will feature a story, visit to the farm, hands-on activity, and snack.  The cost is $3.00 per person for Billings Farm & Museum members, and $5.00 per person for non-members (includes admission to the Farm & Museum). To register: 802/457-2355 or reservations@billingsfarm.org.

September 6: Mrs. Fickle’s Pickles

Discover how much Mrs. Fickle likes her pickles in this delightful rhyming,  repeating book that takes us through the growing season. We’ll visit the heirloom garden, hand craft a recipe to take home, and, of course, for snack we will enjoy…cucumbers and pickles!

September 13: Reuben and the Quilt

When Reuben’s best friend’s grandfather gets sick, Reuben and his family make a quilt for his benefit auction. We’ll visit the museum’s annual quilt exhibition to admire the beautiful creations on display, then create a quilt pattern, followed by a delicious snack.

September 20: Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Do you know the signs of fall? This colorful book will help us identify them before we walk across the street to the National Park to see if we can find signs of fall here in Woodstock. We’ll make a puppet and enjoy  a fall snack with friends.

September 27:  Too Many Pumpkins

Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins! How many recipes can be made from pumpkins? We’ll find out after we read Too Many Pumpkins! See many types of pumpkins, on display, make a pumpkin stencil to take home, and enjoy a delicious pumpkin bread snack.

Changes at the Billings Farm Horse Barn: An Update from our Farm Staff

As a working farm with a proud agricultural heritage going back to 1871 when Frederick Billings and George Aitken first brought Jersey cows to Woodstock, Billings Farm & Museum is dedicated to improving the way we work the land and care for our livestock. From fine-tuning what we feed our animals to maintaining our position as one of the best Jersey herds in the country, we believe that it’s vital to constantly evaluate our practices to find those that best suit our mission as both a working farm and award-winning history museum.

As with any farm, sometimes the decisions we have to make are not easy. Recently, our farm staff have begun the careful process of reevaluating the needs of our horse barn, and have decided that several changes will be made to better provide and care for our animals.

Lynne and Sue, our team of black Percheron mares, have been a beautiful and popular part of the Farm for much of the past decade. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly apparent that they are no longer thriving here. Hard workers who are happiest when pulling a wagon or sleigh, they are also shy and prefer a quiet and calm environment. Because of this, they will be leaving us and moving to a nearby farm where they will be worked much more without the stresses of a busy barn.

Tom and Jerry, our Belgian geldings, will also be retiring in the next year for medical reasons. Jerry has recently been diagnosed with acute Lyme Disease, and our animal care team has advised us to limit his workload. Because of this, the team will be moving to a private residence in the near future, where they can rest and be cared for in a quieter environment.

Jim, our single grey Percheron, will be staying at the farm and will soon be joined by a younger team who will be responsible for wagon and sleigh rides in the future. Please stay tuned for updates, and feel free to let us know if you have any questions by contacting us at info@billingsfarm.org