Serving up lunch and a lecture

Series: At Elkridge Furnace Inn, diners are treated to a meal with a side of local history.

March 29, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At one time, Dan Wecker thought he wanted to be a history teacher. Instead, he became chef and owner of the Elkridge Furnace Inn, one of Howard County's top dining destinations.

But history still fascinates Wecker. His lovingly restored inn, which dates to 1744, is a showcase for that passion. And so is his cooking.

Wecker has created a lecture and lunch series that allows him to share his interest in local history, which he illustrates through food.

The lectures attract between 20 and 45 people, many of them regulars. "It's a fairly faithful following," Wecker said. "They enjoy learning about the history of the food."

Yesterday's lecture on the Ellicott family was given by Joetta Cramm, who writes and speaks frequently on the topic.

This particular topic was near and dear to Wecker's heart because the inn was at one point owned by some of the Ellicotts. Wecker also owns a copy of a Washington survey by Maj. Andrew Ellicott.

Many people know that the three Ellicott brothers - Joseph, Andrew and John - got what is now Ellicott City started in 1772 when they moved from Bucks County, Pa., and set up flour mills along the Patapsco River.

But Cramm delved far deeper into the family history, doing an impressive job of keeping all the generations straight, even though the names John, Joseph and Andrew appeared again and again.

The three Ellicott City founders had two other brothers - Nathaniel and Thomas. Nathaniel had no kids, but the four other brothers combined had 31 children and 110 grandchildren, she said.

Family names

Of course, she didn't discuss every descendant.

Cramm focused on some of the main ones, including Andrew Ellicott, a son of Joseph, who was a surveyor for the U.S. government and helped lay out Washington, she said.

But Cramm noted that the father of the five brothers was also named Andrew. And his father was named Andrew as well.

As Cramm spoke, she showed slides and passed around photographs. She often earned chuckles from her audience of about 20, who were sitting in comfortable wood chairs in a cozy room with hunter-green walls, wood floors and a large fireplace.

After the talk, Wecker stood at the front of the room with a sepia-tinted document preserved in a glass frame. It was signed by some of the Ellicotts, he said, but "I don't know which, because out of 100 grandkids, 50 were named John or Andrew."

He added: "They were very mechanical, they were very handy, but they weren't very imaginative with names, were they?"

Wecker then discussed the meal, to appreciative murmurs from the hungry guests.

Lunch, explained

The spring salad was made with dandelions, beet greens and pea tendrils, all items that might have been picked and served this time of year in Colonial days. It was dressed in a warm bacon vinaigrette because pigs were killed in the fall, then smoked, and the preserved meat was eaten all winter and into the spring, Wecker said.

A main course of Pennsylvania Dutch chicken pot pie, with thick homemade noodles instead of a dough crust, paid homage to the Ellicotts' roots in Bucks County, and had particular resonance for Wecker, who grew up in Lancaster County.

Dessert was a cranberry and raisin tart, because dried fruits would have been the only kinds of fruits available this time of year, Wecker explained.

Iced tea and biscuits made with corn meal rounded out the meal.

Inspiration

Part of the fun for Wecker is taking cues from the time period and creating something new. His Pennsylvania Dutch chicken pot pie, for example, had considerably more saffron than a typical home-style meal would contain.

A previous lecture, on life at the Point Lookout prison during the Civil War, inspired such dishes as a root-vegetable soup, fish stew with oyster fritters and a cake of dried fruit and honey.

Naturally, the food was considerably nicer than what would have been served in prison.

For Karen and Chuck Cooley, who live in an 1897 Elkridge home, the lectures let them explore their interest in history while enjoying an afternoon away from their three young children.

"We come to every one," Karen Cooley said. "It's a nice outing."

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