Guests glide in a wooden porch swing, gazing at a rolling vista of apple trees in one direction, a field of tart cherries in another, while balancing plates of steaming chicken fricassee. Pound cake topped with fresh-whipped cream and current sauce is up next.
You could say people eat up the experience of Hillside Homestead, a new bed and breakfast and historic dining locale in a century-old farmhouse near Suttons Bay. And that’s just as owner Susan Odom dreamt it.
A food historian who once worked at Dearborn’s Greenfield Village, Odom loved recreating life in a specific era of history but grew tired of eating in front of museum guests.
“We created an amazing experience for people,” she said, “but I wanted them to be able to stay, eat, help stir the pot, decide if the applesauce needs more cinnamon.”
Odom gave her concept a test run by selling home-baked treats like the apple cake baked from a 1909 Suttons Bay Congregational Church cookbook recipe at local farm markets, dressing in period garb as she handed them out. But tasty as the treats were, the experience was watered down when farm stand neighbors swiped credit cards through wireless ports or even dropped produce off from trucks, not buggies.
Today the period-correct recipes are sampled in a farmhouse inn homesteaded by Bohemian farmer Joe Reicha between 1900 and 1910. A picture of Joe and his grazing pigs hang on the dining room wall — the exact spotted varieties Odom wants grazing near her Brahma, Wyandotte and Black Langshan chickens.
Guests who book an overnight stay or group meal are invited to slip on a vintage wrap from the sharing closet (or stay in modern garb), snack on the homemade biscuits and cookies from the pie safe and visit to an oil lamp’s cozy glow. Music emanates from a parlor pipe organ, and entertainment’s not TV, but lawn games like croquet or the communal gathering of some just-hatched eggs.
Meals are the true focus, though. Visitors are encouraged to help prepare the egg toast or fresh whitefish, made as instructed in the “Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book” of 1909, or stir the batter for the Graham nut bread popularized at Omena’s Oaks Inn in 1916. The topping on it all is Odom’s rich insights into food and cultural trends of the time, shared with a giddy excitement rarely accompanying topics like the advent of Jell-O.
Between 1900 and 1910, cuisine was transitioning rapidly from old to new, she explains. Waldorf salad made a menu appearance next to cuisine like corn cakes, popular in the 1700s, and Hoosier cabinets were sold to “save women steps.” Recipes were evolving, too, occasionally calling for the more scientific “eight ounces” instead of the more typical one teacup. Mass-produced foods like shredded wheat and yes, gelatin, were so hot that in one oral history Odom read, a homemaker of the day gushed about the new Jell-o salad she was making but mourned that she couldn’t afford the “Dream Whip” that was supposed to go on top.
“She lamented that she just whipped her own cream from her cow and put that on,” Odom said.
“I think of it as a big circle. In any given era, you’re just in a different place.” ≈
For more information about historic dinners at Hillside Homestead, inn rates and twice-monthly classes featuring seasonal workshops (including strawberry jam instruction in June and pie baking in July), visit hillsidehomestead.com. Freelance writer Kim Schneider resides in Suttons Bay.