Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

The women of Kossuth Inn keep the fire going during Old Threshers

Sep 06, 2017
Photo by: Grace King Cooks at Kossuth Inn in Log Village take a hot cast-iron pot from the fire to the table to prepare to serve volunteers on Saturday, Sept. 2. The evening meal was Shepherds Pie

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Log Village is a self-sufficient town of its own during the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, providing meals for volunteers in a community that exists for those five days of the year “kind of like a symphony,” said Holly Jones, who has volunteered in Log Village for 26 years.

The kitchen staff at Kossuth Inn arrives at 7 a.m. during the reunion, many not leaving for the day until 7 or 7:30 p.m. Their demonstrations at the cabin aren’t just for show. The food they work so hard to prepare feeds the 60 to 90 volunteers who help run Log Village.

“I’m always here. I’m like a tree,” Nancy Simpson said, who has been volunteering in the kitchen for 12 years. “You go home completely exhausted, and we all work hard for five days, but it’s a reunion.”

As the women of the kitchen periodically checked the pots sitting on the coal fire Saturday evening, Sept. 2, their conversations rolled with laughter, a comfortable familiarity in the way they gabbed with each other before dinner.

Gayle Olson, who has been serving in the kitchen since the late 1980s, said that cooking wasn’t such a big endeavor when there were fewer buildings in Log Village. As the re-enactment has grown, it’s been trickier to plan meals; however, for the kitchen staff, it’s just taught them to become more flexible.

Olson said that it’s important when working together to remember that there’s not a right way to do any one thing. Everyone has their own style and to take things as they come.

“We have ‘oopses’ all the time,” Olson said, adding that mistakes are usually caused by a problem with the open fire they cook on such as regulating the temperature or ashes getting in the food.

The open fire can also be a safety hazard for the women, who are wearing the long skirts and aprons of the 1890s. Olson said that one of the leading causes of death during that time period for women was burns. Women’s long skirts would catch on fire, and it wouldn’t be that they burned to death, but that their burns wouldn’t heal properly and get infected.

“One of the things we do all the time is watch out for each other,” Olson said. “Reminding each other to watch our skirts, stay hydrated and take a break.”

Meals are served to volunteers in a buffet line. Everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes. Food cooked by the Kossuth Inn staff cannot be sold or served to the general public because of lack of food safety regulation with cooking outdoors.

That doesn’t stop Old Threshers-goers from stopping to ask for a taste. While they are turned away, a book of recipes created by the women of Kossuth Inn can be purchased at the Log Village General Store.

As for the volunteers, they look forward to these meals every year. When creating the menu, the kitchen staff consciously create well-rounded meals to keep up the energy of everyone who works so hard in the hot sun and dust all day.

“I don’t think you can beat this kind of cooking,” said Garrett Ley, who was stationed in the blacksmith shop this year.

Even the pickiest eaters among the group don’t turn their nose up at dishes like the Shepherd’s Pie that was being served Saturday night.

“It’s different and awesome. There’s always this touch of originality that surprises me. I’m a picky eater, and nothing here gags me,” Joey Nelson said, who was also stationed in the blacksmith shop this year.

For those trying to become better cooks in their 21st Century kitchens, Olson suggests using fresh produce and fresh herbs. Her years at Kossuth Inn have taught her what a difference it can make. She suggests that if you use fresh herbs, to use more because of the water content, to go slowly, adjust to fit your taste and have fun experimenting with combinations.

Although the women of Kossuth Inn once again bid farewell to one another at the end of Old Threshers, you can bet the majority of them will return next year.

“We’ve sweated together, been through rainstorms together,” Olson said. “It’s that sense of family, growing up here and working together.”

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