Bakehouse debuts at Philipsburg Manor site


Friday, 8/23/2013 5:02pm

Just a few steps west of the wharf at Philipsburg Manor, you'll find what's believed to be the footprint of the site's "very good Bake-House for Bisquit" (New York Post Boy, 24 Sept. 1752). The remaining stones suggest a sizable structure in which some members of the 18th-century enslaved community would have mass-produced, above all else, hardtack - a dense, long-lasting, at-least-twice-baked biscuit - for ocean voyages, with wheat flour from the neighboring mill and water from the nearby well.

For lack of documentation about the dimensions and style of the house and oven(s), Philipsburg Manor existed until recently without a permanent reproduction bakehouse. While this did not weaken the museum's focus on 18th-century commercial farming and milling and the enslaved Africans who labored long to that end, it made this fundamental task less imaginable or understandable than others that are presented with a strong visual component.

That has now changed. On the rise above that old footprint, there is a small cob oven - a working example of ovens common to the era, built of sand and clay from the Pocantico River. The inner (thermal) layer retains the heat of a fire left to warm the oven for two to three hours. A thicker outer layer contains chopped rye straw for insulation. Once hot, and with coals removed, floor swabbed and door in place, the oven can be used for hours of baking, much the way the commercial ovens operated along this river three centuries ago.

Want to see it for yourself? Philipsburg Manor’s new bakehouse oven will be on view during CORNucopia over Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

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