With Thanksgiving just around the corner, and all the feasting that entails, I wonder, what do you do to feed your creative muse? Perhaps you draw or quilt or knit. I’ve done all of the above, but for the last several years, I’ve also fed my muse by traveling back in time. My interest in time travel was propelled by a middle grade novel I was working on several years ago. Set in late eighteenth century Pennsylvania, my protagonist lived on the frontier of her day. Eager to experience daily life in her era, as much as is possible in the early twenty-first century, I trained as a docent at our local living history museum. Now I volunteer there in several ways, but my favorite duty is cooking over the open hearth.
On regularly scheduled Sundays through out the school year, a small team of cooks take turns cooking late 18th/early 19th century style using authentic cookware and recipes. I’ve prepared fish stew, roast rabbit, scalloped potatoes and even tried baking traditional chess pie in the dutch oven. Nothing transports me back in time better than feeling the icy chill of winter seep in through those old windows while simultaneously sensing the searing heat of the fire; or smelling savory chicken roasting in the reflector oven and hearing the gurgle of lentil soup simmering in a big kettle.
Strangely, cooking early American style also transports me to the present. The smells, extreme temperatures, smoke, and raw wonder of cooking everything from scratch heighten my sense of living now to the fullest. Indeed, that sense is magnified with each peeling of a potato or teary chopping of an onion, with each pungent simmer of lentil stew or savory sizzling of chicken fat cooking by the fire.
So, even though I set my novel project aside years ago, I still look forward to the Sundays when I cook at the museum. I find that each all-from-scratch experience enriches my writing by super-charging my senses with a freshness and intensity that I hope permeates my writing in vivid, multi-sensory ways.
Happy Thanksgiving, all, and don’t forget to feed your creative muse this week!