I had lunch today with the Bushong family on their farm in New Market, Va. We dined in the kitchen outbuilding eating johnnycakes and potato stew, served by the warming fire of the hearth.

In 1859, the Bushongs were well-to-do farmers living in a comfortable home with a fine barn, a separate “kitchen dependency”, smokehouse, brick bake oven, and several other outbuildings.  Today, a corps of 60 volunteers brings the Bushongs back to life. Using period correct equipment, recipes, and techniques, the volunteers cook, serve, and present a meal typical of pre Civil War Shenandoah Valley, all the while explaining their work to visiting tourists.  

“We tell the story of how people lived back then,” said Janet Moyers, while wrapping holiday gifts in the parlor of the Bushong house.  “It would be a shame if we lost this piece of our history.”

Original to the Site

The Bushong farm is located on the 300-acre New Market battlefield, along with the Virginia Museum of the Civil War (https://www.vmi.edu/museums-and-archives/virginia-museum-of-the-civil-war).  Original to the site, the Bushong house and other buildings are a part of the Virginia Military Institute (www.VMI.edu). Along with culinary demonstrations, visitors get to observe historical interpreters as they work on quilting, hand sewing, and knitting projects, and help maintain the buildings.  

The costumed interpreters use that wealth of skills and crafts to add the human dimension to the buildings.  Tom and Lesley Mack, retired school teachers, use their interest in period music to present traditional songs to visitors.  Initially Civil War reenactors, the Macks’ music led them to become members of the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers (https://sites.google.com/site/svcwed/), an all-volunteer group that teaches and enjoys early American dance.

A century and a half after the original Bushongs, their farm has become a working interpretive center.  Visitors can explore nine structures that were key to farm life in the Shenandoah Valley, and watch another “family” prepare the same meal on the same kind of hearth and serve it in the same room, probably with the same gracious hospitality.

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Bushong Sausages and Sauerkraut

(Original recipe taken from The Ladies' New Book Of Cookery by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1852)

Sausages

Lard

Sauerkraut

1/4 cup butter

1 large onion

1/4 cup brown sugar

To fry sausages.  put lard into a clean frying-pan, and as soon as it is melted, put in the sausages, fry them gradually over a moderate fire, shaking the pan and turning them frequently. When done, put them before the fire on a sieve, to drain off the fat, and serve hot

Finely chop the onion. Melt butter in a large skillet. Saute onion until golden brown. Add sauerkraut and brown sugar. Simmer until heated through. Add sausages to the skillet and simmer for 15 minutes.

 

For more information:

Virginia Museum of the Civil War, New Market Battlefield, Historic Bushong Farm, 540-740-3101, www.vmi.edu/newmarket

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