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Feast of historical proportions
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Cooking a holiday meal - with the variety of dishes and decorations involved - can challenge any chef, but imagine having to bake a ham with only the freshest ingredients not knowing at what temperature to set the oven or how long to cook it.

Students in Erik Love's eighth grade Georgia history class at Indian Creek Middle School prepared dishes by using recipes dating from 1787 to 1841.

Out of a class discussion about how people in the early 19th century carried out their daily lives, students wanted to know what they would have eaten at a holiday meal.

"So, I said, 'If I look it up, then ya'll have to make it,'" Love said.

Love researched recipes in antique cookbooks such as the 1839 edition of "The Kentucky Housewife," the 1805 edition of "The Art of Cookery Made Easy" and the 1796 edition of "American Cookery."

Students made meat dishes such as broiled beef-steak, boiled cod's head, toad-in-the-hole (a meat pie made with sheep's kidney), chicken-fried steak, chicken wings, smoked ham and roast wild duck.

 "I think there were three ducks blasted out of the sky over Covington this weekend," Love joked.

Side items included creamed potatoes and peas, wilted lettuce, pickled beets and eggs, deviled eggs, cornbread and biscuits.

 Desserts on the menu were peach pot-pie, apple fritters, gingerbread, pound cake with cherry sauce, stack cake and Thomas Jefferson's recipe for ice cream.

 The old-fashioned recipes confused some of the students, whose generation is used to canned vegetables, microwaves and pre-packaged meat.

 The molasses gingerbread recipe says, "knead well 'till stiff, the more the better, the lighter the whiter it will be; bake brisk fifteen minutes; don't scorch; before it is put in, wash it with whites and sugar beat together.

"He was actually about to put the cake in the wash with the towels," Love said.

Love saved the gingerbread by telling the student to rub egg whites on the dough.

Several recipes also called for "soda," which puzzled the students.

"They we're asking what kind - orange or does it matter," Love said. "I said, 'No, use baking soda.'"

Dusty Glasgow decided to try his hand at making a pound cake with cherry sauce from scratch. The recipe called for six eggs and fresh cherries, and no suggestion for how long to cook it.

"It came out OK," Glasgow said, "but it would be better if it was hot."

Brooke Taylor roasted a duck, although hers was not alive when she found it.

"My mom and I called all these different places, and we finally found one at the Depot and we had to dig it out of the bottom of the freezer," Taylor said.

The recipe called for several minced spices such as mace - which is not the chemical attack repellant, but rather the thin shell covering of nutmeg.

Her recipe directed her to roast the duck suspended over a fire at a tripod or hearth, but didn't say for how long. Taylor chose to try it in the oven rather than over an open fire.

"We just put it on average," Taylor said, "what most chickens and turkeys are cooked at."

Seven hours later, Taylor and her mother concluded the duck was done.

Love said he was genuinely impressed with the delicious food items his students prepared.

"This is loads better than the school cafeteria," Love chuckled.

He said he hopes the historical feast will become a class tradition, such as a geographical cookie map of Georgia has become.

"We love to learn with food," Love said. "I sometimes can't get them to do 15 minutes of homework, but seven hours of roasting a duck is OK."