Traditions of the Season: Rachel Revere’s Kitchen
By: Emily Holmes
Welcome to Rachel Revere’s “modern” kitchen! The kitchen space in this 1680 home was originally down in the basement level. When Paul Revere bought this property in 1770 his wife Sarah and their daughters likely cooked down there in the basement kitchen on a 1680 style cooking fireplace.
Like most homeowners do today, the Reveres made changes to their home while they owned it. The Reveres owned the home for 30 years, though Sarah sadly passed away in 1773, just a few years after moving into the house. Paul married Rachel Walker later that year. Given the known timeline on changes, Rachel likely used the basement kitchen until around 1790 when we think the second chimney and its two fireplaces were added to the back part of the house. Such a change would have been a serious appliance upgrade!
One of the advantages of this 1790 fireplace is the bake oven is at the front rather than in the back like it is in the basement fireplace, making any use a far safer experience. The hearth area is a bit smaller but that is because the angled walls and shallower opening make the heating much more efficient and effective than in the big, boxy, old-fashioned fireplace downstairs. This room made a good location for a kitchen because it was close to the backyard amenities: the well, cow shed, chickens, the kitchen garden, and firewood storage.
If you have a chance to take a look at our most recent Express post, you can find a sampling of some great recipes that might have been made in this kitchen. This is the space where we can imagine Rachel Revere preparing some of those same treats, maybe the seedcakes or shortbreads, or even the cider cake in the oven or mulling cider in a pot over the coals on the hearth. It is safe to assume that many holiday meals were prepared in this space!
Rachel would have drawn on her many years of experience baking in a brick oven to know just how long to leave those seed cakes in and how hot to make the bricks before baking. She would have passed that knowledge on here in this kitchen to generations of girls and younger women, including her stepdaughters, her daughters who were still young in the 1790s, and even their granddaughters, many who were about the same age as her children.
Holidays would bring family members back to this house at this time of year especially. Thanksgivings could happen at any time but most often occurred in late November and early December. A typical Thanksgiving meal in this era might include a turkey or a goose, two roasted chickens, and at least two more cooked in pies, sometimes joints of beef or pork or mutton but most often those animals would be processed after the Thanksgiving festivities when everyone had more time. Rachel might have used a rotisserie oven or “tin kitchen” to roast those birds in front of the fire. Turkeys were sold in markets in urban towns like Boston during the weeks before the holiday so Rachel could have walked right out her front door to the market in North Square to procure their bird for the big day. In that sense, the holidays for the Reveres would have been very different than those celebrated in rural areas, but certainly no less time consuming!
Vegetables and breads were also served with the meat course and certainly many preserves and varieties of pickles would grace the table. But pies in particular were the other essential ingredient to a traditional thanksgiving dinner. The week before the meal housewives like Rachel would be filling their cupboards and any available cool space, like unheated bedrooms, with as many as 10 pumpkin AND 10 apple pies per/dinner. They also made mince, squash, plum, and cranberry pies and tarts. Marlborough Pies were a very common featured dessert in New England – that’s an apple pie with a lemon custard filling. Marlborough pies were the kind of dish that people felt really made their holiday whole. You could have Marlborough pies at other times of year but you had to have it at Thanksgiving and everyone felt their grandmother had the best recipe!
As you may have heard on the “Revere Holidays” episode of Revere House Radio, Christmas would not have been as big a deal in the Revere’s house, so likely Rachel and her girls would have been doing their normal chores in this space while Paul went to work as usual on Christmas day. It is also worth noting that while we do not know how much they observed birthdays in this household, both Paul and Rachel were born in late December (on the 21st and the 27th) so they certainly had reasons to celebrate at this time of year, including New Year’s which was often a time to invite guests or go visiting. Probably Rachel prepared many of those cakes (which are more like what we call cookies today) on cool winter days in this kitchen to serve to guests coming for tea parties or to play cards late into the night.
We do not own many utilitarian pieces used by the Reveres but one exception is this little bronze posnet passed down in their family. This is one of the small pots on our hearth with three legs and a handle likely used to carefully produce candies and delicate sauces over a slow heat made by a pile of hot coals.
Perhaps Rachel stirred up the kind of festive beverages like syllabubs in this very pot before a December card party or a New Years Day gathering. Mulled wine and currant jellies could also be prepared in this kind of pot. Mulled cider is one of my favorite winter drinks and you can try your hand at making your own with one of our recipes listed here – if you do, be sure to let us know how it turns out!
Emily Holmes is Director of Education at the Paul Revere House