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Knightstown's Karen Trent Chosen to Administrate Historic Huddleston Farmhouse
December 12, 2007 - The parsnips are done, potatoes, too. The pork roast, cooked to perfection on a roaring fire, has been sliced and served to grateful guests.
As their bellies inflate with the hearty fare of a traditional mid-19th century meal, Karen Trent deflates, breathing a sigh of relief. Hearth suppers at the historic Huddleston Farmhouse near Cambridge City represent a large part of her responsibility as the facility’s new administrator.
Trent, a Knightstown resident and former media center assistant at Knightstown High School, took over the position barely a month ago. And she’s glad she did.
“This is a dream job for me,” the soft-spoken Trent said.
She isn’t the only Knightstown-area person involved in the facility’s popular hearth suppers. KHS student Karsyn Mohler, dressed in mid-19th century garb, serves guests sliced peaches in syrup and cups full of a traditional steaming concoction called wassel, made with apple juice and other flavorful ingredients.
Chris and Lisa Edwards, Carthage residents, play guitar and autoharp, respectively. Lisa’s parents, Claire and Tom Mercer, are seated and enjoying dinner.
Surrounded by wooden bowls, cast iron skillets and tin ladles, Trent and other volunteers fit right into the Civil War-era backdrop. Simple calico dresses, gathered bonnets and heavy shawls seem a bit much for the sweltering 90-degree kitchen. But, Trent insists, this is how it was “back then.”
“It is hot,” said volunteer hearth cook Wanda Sheets of Richmond. “But, with the skirt, I get a little breeze every now and then.”
Sixteen-year-old Karsyn Mohler shrugs in disagreement. “I’m not getting any breeze,” she said, motioning to her heavy canvas pants, typical of a what a food server might have worn in the mid 1800s.
Mohler, president of the Knightstown High School History Club, said she got involved with the Huddleston Farmhouse after tagging along with Sarah Trent on weekend volunteer missions. Enjoying her first experience, she decided to go back and now is a regular helper.
“I’ve learned a lot about the Huddlestons and their home, and I love cooking how they did it,” Mohler said. “It’s a lot of fun. I definitely have a new appreciation for the appliances we have today. Normally, Mrs. Huddleston would’ve spent the whole day making food for her family to eat. So I definitely can appreciate how good we have it now.”
Mohler said her love for history dovetails nicely with her volunteer work at the Huddleston Farmhouse. “It’s a really good experience,” she said. “The people I work with are all really nice and they all have an appreciation for history just like me. I’ve had some really cool conversations. I learn something different almost every week I go.”
Hearthside Suppers are indeed the facility’s most popular attraction with diners making reservations months in advance. The farmhouse hosts about a dozen such suppers each year, the most popular coming in December’s holiday season.
The supper menu adheres to food typical of the mid-1800s. Roast pork was accompanied by roasted potatoes and creamed parsnips. Carrot pudding, handmade yeast rolls, brandied peaches and cranberries and apple brown betty rounded out the offerings. Beverages included coffee, tea and a bucketful of wassail, a traditional apple and cranberry juice mixture served hot in small decorative glasses.
Not only is the food authentic, the cooking method of course is too. Most of the meal is cooked hearthside and diners seem to appreciate seeing the traditional methods which create it. The pork and roasted potatoes were cooked in a reflector oven set very close to the fireplace. Spider pans (cast iron pots with legs) were used to prepare the other dishes. The brandied peaches and cranberries were culled from canned stock.
Meals were served on period stoneware elegantly arranged on candlelit tables. Some diners brought their own wine, poured by volunteers into authentic glass goblets. The dining rooms and pantry, adorned with fresh greens, fresh fruit and other holiday decorations common to the period, added to the Christmas theme.
Trent said her job as Huddleston Farmhouse administrator is one she came to naturally. A longtime quilter, she said she once saw herself becoming a textiles expert of sorts, evaluating and appraising quilts. Handy with thread and needle, she even made some of the period dresses worn by Huddleston volunteers.
Trent and her daughter, Sarah, volunteered at the facility for a few years before learning about the employment opportunity. The volunteerism gave her a solid understanding of the place and its various programs. Trent’s responsibilities include planning, organizing and coordinating those programs, include the hearthside suppers, a Civil War encampment, tours and other miscellaneous events.
“I've always had an appreciation for old buildings, especially old houses - maybe obsession is a better word!” Trent laughs. “I'm a writer and this (job) kind of gives me an opportunity to use my communication skills in a different way. It lets me talk a lot about something I love.
“Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century,” she said. “This way, I get to spend my days in 1841 and my nights in 1882. I don't think it gets much better than that.”
The farmhouse’s history clearly excites Trent. Her blue eyes sparkle when she discusses ideas she has for programs in the future.
“I’d like to have someone dress like John Huddleston and read some of his poetry for visitors.”
* Built in 1841, the Huddleston Farmhouse is made from 125,000 bricks, many manufactured using an on-site kiln.
* John Huddleston moved from Union County to western Wayne County to take advantage of a new road going through - the National Road.
* Travelers along the National Road often stopped and either paid to eat at the Huddleston table, or cooked their own food in one of two small, ground-floor kitchens.
* The 1850 federal census showed the Huddleston farm producing 20 tons of hay annually, as well as 200 pounds of cheese and 100 pounds of butter.
* Designed to be a roadside travelers’ stop as well as a farm, the property’s barns featured extra stalls for weary draft animals.
* Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana purchased the Huddleston Farmhouse in 1966 with funds provided by Eli Lilly, who founded the group.
* John Huddleston and his wife, Susannah (Moyer) raised 11 children in their home.
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