Many will be grilling over hot coals this Independence Day weekend, and Jan Burgdorfer is no exception, although she will be using a cast-iron pot. She is a historic interpretive guide at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm’s 19th-century kitchen in Olathe.
Married to Roger for 33 years, Burgdorfer says being a Girl Scout leader to their two daughters’ troops helped to cultivate her adventurous attitude toward food preparation. A frontier woman at heart, Burgdorfer has a pioneering attitude toward surviving without modern kitchen cooking accouterments, which makes her appreciate 21st-century home appliances even more.
Special cooking interest: Simple foods, prepared simply.
What does Independence Day mean to you?
It’s a time when we, as Americans, should reflect and honor the lives of U.S. soldiers who fought for our freedom and how far we have come as a country. In the 1860s, the Fourth of July was more important than Christmas. People would come together, as they do today, and celebrate the birth of our nation. Often someone would read the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, which is what we will be reading on July 3rd before the fireworks at the Mahaffie farmstead.
What is the historical significance of the Mahaffie farmstead?
Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm shows what farming, frontier life and stagecoach travel was like in the 1860s, and it is the last remaining stagecoach stop open to the public on the Santa Fe Trail.
The stone farmhouse was built by James and Lucinda Mahaffie in 1865 and is on what was the Westport Route, which carried traffic of the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails leading out of Westport, Missouri. A stagecoach line contracted with the Mahaffies to provide one of the stops needed for coaches, running between Westport and Santa Fe, Westport and Lawrence and Fort Scott and Fort Leavenworth.
As many as 50 to 100 meals a day were served to hungry passengers who stopped at the farmhouse. The chuck wagon was also a staple on the trails for cowboys who were moving cattle. It was said the better the food coming from the chuck wagon, the better the cowboys you could attract.
History comes alive when you’re cooking at the Mahaffie farmstead. How did you get started doing this?
I’ve always enjoyed history and when my daughters were growing up, I was the mom who would be part of the Girl Scout campouts. These events always included making food over a campfire, so this is just a natural progression to me. I enjoy teaching the children who come through the kitchen and have them help set the table. I always ask them if they can find the dishwasher, and I point to them and tell them, “You’re the dishwashers!”
You have a common-sense approach to cooking. Did you grow up that way?
I grew up in St. Louis, but my mother, Maxine Marshall, grew up in Oklahoma. Every summer we would go on a camping vacation, and she would cook our meals over an open flame. I always admired that in her.
At home, I am a very traditional cook, but love how food can directly link us to our history in a very real way. This recipe comes from some research I did on foods prepared on the Oregon Trail. If apples weren’t in season, people would use dried apples and rehydrate them with water.
People need to reconnect with nature, so they can appreciate from where their food comes. I enjoy teaching younger generations about history. And food is a very accessible and memorable way to make an impression with people.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Celebration at Mahaffie
Celebrate Independence Day on Thursday at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm, 1200 Kansas City Road, Olathe. Free admission at 4 p.m. includes cooking demonstrations, watching a 19th century baseball game, reading of the Declaration of Independence at 9:15 p.m. and fireworks. For more information, visit Mahaffie.org (click July 3, Family Fun Nights) or call 913-971-5111. Shuttles will run from Olathe North High School at 600 E. Prairie St.
Apple Dumplings (circa 1865)
Makes 8 to 10 servings
9 cups peeled and thinly sliced fresh apples
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
5 cups water
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup water
In a large mixing bowl, combine apples and lemon juice (or vinegar) and toss to coat. Set aside.
Into a 12-inch, cast-iron Dutch oven, heat water over medium-high heat on stovetop. Meanwhile, whisk sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg together. While stirring water, slowly add sugar and cornstarch mixture and whisk until dissolved. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Stir prepared apples into boiling liquid and allow mixture to return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover Dutch oven with lid and simmer until apples are tender, or about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir mixture occasionally to prevent apples from sticking.
While apples are simmering, prepare dumplings: In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Make a small well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs and water. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet mixture just until a moist dough is formed.
Drop teaspoonfuls of dumpling dough into simmering apple mixture. Cover Dutch oven with lid and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Remove lid after 15 minutes and serve apples with dumplings.
Per serving, based on 8: 436 calories (4 percent from fat), 2 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 104 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 408 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.