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Old Bethpage Village Restoration fires up oven for Thanksgiving

Seaford resident Megan Simone, 5, watching Beth Chamberlain

Seaford resident Megan Simone, 5, watching Beth Chamberlain preparing potato pie while Americans celebrated and prepared a Thanksgiving feast in 1863 at Old Bethpage Village Restoration Saturday Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Contemplate a powerless Thanksgiving — the same menu but sans electric ovens, dishwasher, video games and football. The food just might taste better.

“Sometimes, we’ll get a real smoky flavor in the soup,” said Mary Donohue, who on Saturday prepared a Thanksgiving feast the 19th-century way at Old Bethpage Village Restoration.

Wearing a bright red calico dress that would have been modern in 1863, Donohue, of Massapequa Park, demonstrated how to roast a turkey on a spit in a tin reflector oven in front of a wood fire in a 7-foot-wide hearth.

The two-day demonstrations of how Thanksgiving dinners were once prepared, as well as readings of children’s stories and fiddlers fiddling, ends on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for children 5-12 and free for those 4 and under.

Visitors get to watch the chefs at work and taste their creations, but the food is not for sale.

Biscuits and scones baked in a round Dutch oven, which stood on one side of the hearth’s floor, heated by embers sitting on its recessed lid.

An iron pot of soup simmered as it hung over the fire.

“Sometimes, the same recipe at home, it looks different and tastes different,” Donohue said, wrinkling her nose in dissatisfaction.

“I’m hungry,” said Lucas Gago, 7, of Hempstead, eyeing the turkey as Donohue lifted the oven’s front cover to display the bird.

Built into the back of the hearth is a brick-lined beehive baking oven, which takes about three hours to heat up.

“I like the pies,” said Andrew Falco, 30, of Levittown. “I just love the beehive oven; it just gives a flavor to it.”

Beehive ovens are far from unique to this continent and its forefathers, noted Ignazio Tanburello, 61, of East Northport.

“Back home in Sicily, everybody had it,” he said, recalling how beautifully the ovens bake pizza, while sausage links, wrapped in wax paper, cook perfectly under the embers.

Watching another chef roll out the pastry for a scalloped potato pie, Paul Guttenberg, 47, of Commack, joked: “I just go to the freezer section of the supermarket.”

But then he moved closer to the kitchen’s freshly baked rolls and squash soup with onions. “Oh, it smells so good in here,” he said.

Yet no electricity means no video games, Ellyn Guttenberg, 49, informed their son, Jonathan, 12.

“I’d hang myself,” he said before adding, “I’d survive.”

And no dishwasher? “That would be a problem,” said Ellyn Guttenberg.

The thought of giving up football did not faze Franklin Gago, 30, whose son, Lucas, so admired the roasting turkey. “I’d be doing what the farmers did on Thanksgiving Day: enjoying the rewards,” he said.


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