Food talks when history comes alive with Living History Farms

(Disclaimer – I was provided two complimentary dinners by Living History Farms in exchange for blogging about my experience. All opinions are my own and are objective.)

To most, especially to a young professional such as myself, $50 a person for a meal is more than they’d be willing to spend. But at Living History Farms when you spend $50 for one of their Historic Dinners, you’re supporting a local non-profit, indulging in the historic atmosphere, enjoying a 3-course meal, and participating in Victorian-era entertainment.

Living History Farms, which has been open since the summer of 1970, offers two different historic dining options. Guests can experience history and enjoy a home cooked family-style meal and entertainment at the 1875 Tangen Home, or at a farm table on the 1900 Farm. Dinners are offered for $50 a person from November through March and last about 2 ½ hours.

This past Sunday I attended the 1875 Tangen Home for a Historic Dinner. Since I had not been to Living History Farms since I was in 4th grade, I had no idea what to expect from the night but I was more than excited for the experience.

As I waited in the Visitors Center for the rest of the guests to arrive (groups typically range from 8-12 people), I quickly began to notice a commonality. I found myself surrounded by some of the most talented bloggers from around Des Moines (Kristen Porter, Pete Jones, Jenna Goodwin, Jill Hackman, and Luke Matthews) and we were going to experience the night together.

After all 12 of the people in our group had arrived, introductions were made and we began our journey. We strolled down the boardwalk towards the Tangen House and 50 yards later we entered into the lantern-lit house and took our seats in the low-lit parlor by the glowing fireplace. Hot cider was served while our guide told the tale of the Tangen family, including how they lived and what a typical dinner party would have been like for them. Interesting fact: back in 1875 the Tangen House would have cost approximately $2,000.

After learning about the history behind the house and family, we headed into the dining room for the beginning of our meal. Back in 1875, a middle class family, such as the Tangen’s, would have guests over to impress and to entertain.

First up was the tomato soup with homemade croutons. The soup had a full vegetable flavor and the homemade croutons added an extra crunch to one of my favorite middle school dishes. Next, we were served a Fruit Ice, lemon flavored, to “cleanse our palette” before our main course. The Fruit Ice tasted a lot like an Italian Ice from Fazoli’s, but the bitter taste did exactly as expected.

The main course was filled with numerous heavy, hearty dishes: roasted pork with apples and onions (could have used a little more moisture or a dipping sauce), potatoes a la Maitre d’Hotel, califlowers with parmesan cheese, green peas a la francaise, carrots in the German way, bread and butter pickles, and dinner rolls with strawberry jam, apple butter and hand-churned butter. Although this was what I ate, there are other menu options available for the Historic Dinners.

If you’re looking for a healthy meal, this wouldn’t be for you, but if you’re looking for a full-flavored old fashioned meal, you’ve come to the right place. The butter seemed to be dripping from the sliced potatoes and the dinner rolls melted in my mouth. The food was delicious and it reminded me of a typical home-style Iowa meal, other than the fact that there were 3 different vegetables and no corn!

Before dessert we headed back into the parlor to play a few games from the era. It was customary to entertain your guests and to encourage small talk between unfamiliar guests. Quite frankly, the games offered a refreshing distraction from our modern day lives, all while giving our stomachs some time to settle. We were then taken on a tour of the home where we learned a lot more about the history of the home and many household objects were explained.

And finally, it was time for dessert and “fancy cake” was on the menu. The cake was a very dense dessert cake with a chocolate and brown sugar topping. We were also given the option to add a warm raspberry fruit sauce and/or whipped sweet cream and, of course, I added both my my dessert. It was the perfect amount of chocolate and fruit to bring the meal and the night to a close.

Not only was the meal delicious, the experience and the memories created were one-of-a-kind and unlike any other dining experience I’ve had in Des Moines.

Still unsure about making the commitment? Here’s a recipe from the night. Try it at home and see firsthand how delicious recipes from around the 1870’s can be!

Carrots the German Way
10 medium Carrots
1 tsp. Nutmeg
1 tsp. minced Onions
2 TBLS. Flour
1/2 cup Butter
1 TBLS. Parsley
1 TBLS. Chicken Bouillon
1 cup Water

Peel and cut carrots in medium slices or bite-sized pieces.  Melt butter in saucepan and add nutmeg, parsley, onion, salt and flour.  Stir well.  Add carrots and stir to coat them with mixture.  Add water and chicken bouillon.  Simmer until carrots are tender.
-Adapted from Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861.


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