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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Anne Arundel 100

17th-century Corn Cakes and Crisps

How better to learn history than to actually live it. Faith Hastings, 12, of Lexington Park, has spent a good part of the past year as Mary Spray, daughter of Godiah and Rebecca Spray, on a re-created 17th-century working tobacco plantation that is part of Historic St. Mary's City.

Two to three days a week, she would don cap and long skirt and tend to the crops (picking tobacco worms off by hand), feed the animals, (this day she was helping tend a sick rooster), cook over a hearth, make minty medicinal "infusions," and answer tourists' questions as a member of the Terra Mariae Society Youth Interpreter Program. She learned more intricacies of math, chemistry, and other subjects by living them.

terraeThe program is open to homeschooled children between the ages of nine and 17 who demonstrate commitment, enthusiasm, a love of history, and the willingness to share these with the public. A very limited number of youth are chosen for the program each year. You can find out more about it and how to apply by going to its web site (

"The children on school tours identify with me better than just having adults," says Faith, left in photo. Adds Roberta Smith, plantation site supervisor, "You become that child of the Sprays; it is what the children see and hear." Most would not even notice the braces Faith has on her teeth.

Carmi Thompson, 14, of Lexington Park, is training as the newest youth interpreter. As Ann Knott Spray, she has learned to test the soil for optimum nutrients for farming and to take care of the animals, which include chickens, pigs, cats, and some cows, which on this day were mooing boisterously because it was feeding time. She is also learning how to embroider a pocket for her costume, which were used as women's purses.

"It's a lot better than studying in a classroom," she says.

But would they like to live in this time? "Probably," mulls Faith. "It is so different today, you have cell phones and iPods. Life then was simpler; they did not have all this clutter." Carmi is not as sure. "I really like working outside, it is peaceful here. But I enjoy having an iPod."

Each interpreter finishes their Youth Interpreters Learn by Doing year with a final project. As part of her final project, Faith has researched and tried out several recipes used in 17th-century kitchens. (See recipes below). The corn cakes and cranberry apple crisp were huge successes, but the pudding with turnip root was greeted with wrinkled noses. "It was sweet-sour-tart," she explains.

Smith and Peter Friesen, assistant site supervisor, work with the parents of the interpreters to see what they have been learning at home in order to dovetail lessons on the plantation. Children also are always accompanied by an adult. Even during the interview, Friesen saw opportunities to teach. "What would the infusions heal?" he prodded Faith. "I think sore throats and stomach aches," she replied correctly. "But they taste terrible."

Faith Hastings' Recipes (Adapted from 17th century kitchen hearths to modern-day equivalents)

Corn Cakes

½ cup corn flour per cake

rosemary to taste

salt to taste


Put corn flour in bowl. Add enough water to make dough. Mix in salt and rosemary (please be sure that you take it off the stalk and only add little bits!). Take a bit and roll it in a ball. Then flatten it. Put cake in the skillet with some oil. Flip over when one side is brown. When you take it off, put butter on it.

Cranberry Apple Crisp (From Cooking with Shakespeare by Mark Morton and Andrew Cappolino, Greenwood Press)

3 cups apple slices, medium-sized

2 cups whole cranberries (In 17th-century Maryland they would use raspberries or peaches)

2 tablespoons honey

1/3 cup butter

1 cup rolled oats

½ cup whole wheat flour (In 17th-century Maryland they would probably use corn flour)

½ cup brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla

Toss together apple slices, cranberries, and honey. Then make topping in a separate container: Mix until crumbly the butter, rolled oats, flour, and sugar. Stir in ½ tsp vanilla. Put the apple-cranberry mixture in a pan. Spread on topping. Bake at 350° F for about 50 minutes or until the fruit is tender. If the cooking mixture gets too dry, pour in a little hot water.