A Tool for the Colonial Kitchen: The Tourtière

If you love a good kitchen gadget, you are not alone. Cooks throughout history have always looked for the most efficient, reliable, and useful tools to help them manage food preparation. We think the tourtière fits this description perfectly.

   The 18th century tourtière is a cooking dish, and also the name of a double-crust meat pie. Tourtière dishes are made of heavy copper or brass and used in open-hearth cooking. Legs or a trivet allowed the dish to have hot coals shoveled underneath it to supply a slow and steady heat from the bottom. The flat-shaped lid has a shallow lip to catch hot coals to push heat down from above. As a result, the tourtière functions as a miniature oven.

   As you might imagine, most historic recipes specific to this dish are for meat pies. Those pies usually had top and bottom crusts and were filled with meat, seafood, or sometimes vegetables. Pie or tourte recipes varied from region to region based on the local specialties, and some place still have their own unique style of pie. At Michilimackinac, we know from archaeological and documentary evidence that mutton, pork, passenger pigeon, beef and especially fish were all available for use in pies cooked in a tourtière.

   Historical cooks loved a well-equipped and efficient workspace. Modern cooks still look for the tools that make it easiest to efficiently prepare delicious food. Whether it is a hearth, or a 21st century microwave oven, preparing food wouldn’t be possible without those reliable and favorite kitchen gadgets. We hope you’ll join us at Colonial Michilimackinac in the future to see our tourtière in action for our food programs. Visit our website for more information, and don’t forget to check out Mackinac Associates, which helps make food programs and so much more possible at all of our site.

The Wall Gun

If you’ve visited Colonial Michilimackinac, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the interpreters demonstrating a cannon or musket during our daily programs. There is another 18th century weapon that gets fired occasionally, and it’s an interesting cross between a cannon and a musket. Let’s take a look at our wall gun.  

Wall Gun vs. Musket


A wall gun is essentially just a supersized musket. As the name implies, wall guns were intended to be fired resting on a wall or the railing of a ship, and many original weapons were fitted with a yoke or swivel similar to an oarlock to facilitate easy mounting. Such a rest was necessary given the weight and size of the weapon. Wall pieces were typically .91 caliber, had four and a half foot-long barrel (although some were as long as six feet), measured over six feet long in total, and weighed between 35 and 40 pounds. Constructed in only limited quantities, primarily in the 1740s and again in the 1770s, wall pieces were intended to function as artillery pieces in situations were even the smallest and lightest of cannons were impractical. Although unwieldy, a wall gun could be positioned and fired by just one soldier. Firing a 2¼-ounce ball, they could apparently hit targets 500 to 600 yards away, and were ideal for use during sieges, when they could be moved around to fire on enemy engineers and sappers. During the American Revolution, Captain William Congreve of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, a noted artillery innovator, suggested employing wall guns as a secondary weapon alongside field guns. Under Congreve’s plan, wall guns mounted on two-wheeled carts accompanied artillery detachments and were deployed alongside the cannons. A vertical wooden mantlet, or shield, attached to the cart protected the two soldiers serving the guns. Despite their size, wall guns remained a muzzle-loading flintlock weapon, and as such were loaded and fired in much the same way as a normal sized musket.


Although the British military only produced wall guns in limited numbers, two of them found their way to Michilimackinac in the 1770s. Classified as ordnance along with the garrison’s cannons and mortar, the walls guns were apparently intended to serve in detached positions outside the main palisade wall. In 1768, Captain-lieutenant Frederick Spiesmacher of the 60th Regiment requested permission to build a blockhouse on a sandy hill outside the fort. He wanted a blockhouse large enough for six men and two wall guns. Spiesmacher probably never built the blockhouse, as a decade later Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair ordered a blockhouse built overlook and command hollow ground behind a sand hill which the troops could not reduce,” which would also flank the trader’s houses in the suburbs outside the palisade. When the blockhouse was finished in early 1780, Sinclair noted that it contained positions for three artillery pieces, but the wall guns could also have been used there. The guns were moved to Mackinac Island with the rest of the fort by 1781, but disappear from the Fort Mackinac ordnance returns soon after. Whether they were sent away or merely no longer recorded with the larger artillery pieces is unclear.

Today, our reproduction wall gun is occasionally fired for demonstrations, sometimes taking the place of the cannon or mortar for an artillery firing. An original wall gun is also on display in the underground powder magazine and Firearms on the Frontier exhibit. Be sure to see the original piece next time you visit Colonial Michilimackinac, and you might be lucky enough to see the reproduction fired on the parade ground!

 

What’s Growing the Garden? Cabbage!

Cabbages are attractive vegetables. They come in a variety of shapes, textures, sizes and colors. Many gardeners in the 18th century, including Michilimackinac resident John Askin, considered cabbages to be an essential vegetable in the garden. They keep well, are versatile in the kitchen and generally low maintenance. They can be placed out in the garden earlier than crops like beans, cucumbers and melons and are quite cold hardy. This winter, we even had one cabbage winter over in our King’s Garden. It was quite a surprise, especially since it was covered in snow for a few months with no protection at all.

The downside to these vegetables is that they are incredibly tasty to slugs. The gray beasts like to get inside the cabbage heads and munch away. Just when it seems like all the slugs have been picked from the leaves, there are five more that pop out. In the 18th century, gardeners had many solutions to deal with slugs, but most come down to manual removal. At Michilimackinac, we have found that encouraging toads in the garden has also proven useful.

Right now, our cabbage seedlings for 2020 are started and doing well. The transplants will be planted out in early to mid-May and when they are big enough, they will find their way to our daily food programs at Colonial Michilimackinac. If you have never grown cabbage, take a cue from history and give this beautiful and useful vegetable a chance. Be sure to visit our website for more updates, and check out Mackinac Associates, a friends group which makes many of our programs and exhibits (including the gardens) possible at all of our historic sites.

It Will All Come Out in the Wash

According to some sources, the average American family washes 300 loads of laundry ever year. People are inherently dirty, and sweat, dirt, food, and many other things come into contact with our clothing every day. We clean our clothes to stay healthy and keep them looking good. Modern laundry machines and detergents can efficiently and effectively remove all that smelly nastiness from our clothes. But how did people clean their clothes before detergents and washing machines?

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Greatcoats: Another Cold Winter Garment

With winter descending on the Straits of Mackinac, it can be difficult to image what life was like here in centuries past. When guests visit Colonial Michilimackinac during the summer months, they see historical interpreters dressed for pleasant weather in the 1770s, but people often wonder: what did they do they when it got cold? (more…)