While most of us are busy trying to keep up with holiday shopping and cooking, one Ferndale woman has been going a step farther. Sue Latini spent Sunday teaching others how to make delectables like plum pudding, apple sauce fruitcake, fried peach pies, nut candy and cookies.
So what's so tough? She cooks over a fireplace, in the manner of a person living in 1840.
Latini, founder and president of the Ferndale Garden Club, volunteers at the 1840 House, part of the Baltimore City Life Museums. A resident of Ferndale since 1952, she was looking for something different to do after retiring as a management analyst with the Naval Academy. She wanted to do something that would help others, and that would incorporate her interest in old Baltimore.
One day, she read in the newspaper that the Baltimore City Life Museums -- which includes the 1840 House, designed to reflect the lifestyle of the period -- were looking for volunteers.
Fireplace cooking wasn't hard or different for her. Her cookbooks contain a lot of older recipes.
"I'm an old-fashioned cook, a Southern country cook. I have cooked things like turnip or collard green and corn bread and biscuits all my life," she said.
The 1840 House, built in the late 1700s, was home to a family named the Hutchinsons. The home is designed so that visitors can have a "hands-on" experience with history.
Latini teaches a monthly workshop in period cooking. The workshops are limited to 12 people and costs $18 for non-members of the museum, $15 for members.
"I teach a different type of cooking every month. We cook seasonal foods, using the ingredients they would have used and cooking it the way they would have cooked it," Latini said. "I limit the workshops to 12 because it's a hands-on experience. Everyone who takes the class gets involved. We prepare about six things, with two people per project."
"In February we'll be trying some of George Washington's favorite recipes, based on letters written to or from him," she said. "Other interesting workshops will include the Maryland Beaten Biscuit Day in April, taught by Bert Thornton. He originally came to my workshop to learn about fireplace cooking.
"He and his wife own an 18th-century house with a fireplace in the kitchen," Latini said. "After he attended the workshop, we became friends and now he's coming out to teach this workshop."
She plans on making simnel cakes -- a mixture of flour, butter, brown sugar, eggs, spices, raisins, currants and candied peels, all cooked in a tube pan -- during the May workshop.
"Mothering Day is an English tradition that our Mother's Day is based on," she said. "In the days when children were indentured out or apprenticed out, they were allowed one trip home to see their mothers a year. These cakes were originally brought home by the children for their mothers and later were made for the children by their mothers."
The Friendly Thyme Herb Club will assist with the June workshop, using herbs they tend at the 1840 House garden.
From the beginning, Latini's workshops have filled up fast. They appeal, she said, to "people who are interested in cooking, people who are interested in Baltimore, people who are interested in history, and people who aren't afraid of a little hard work."
Latini was asked recently to serve as coordinator of special culinary events at the 1840 House. The events will be presented once a month, and differ from workshops in that they are included in the admission price to see the house.
The 1840 House, which receives part of its operating budget from Anne Arundel County and is staffed by some county volunteers, is located at 800 East Lombard St. in Baltimore.