Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Elizabeth Farm, John MacArthur and Kids in the Kitchen

Beautiful homes, food and history are three things I absolutely yearn after.  So when I discovered all three rolled into one at Elizabeth Farm, the historic home of John MacArthur and his wife Elizabeth in Rosehill, I was keen to see what was going down.

I was googling John MacArthur, as you do when your kid has an assignment on a famous "Australian" and I struck gold.

During the school holidays and on some Saturdays, Elizabeth Farm runs a program called Kids in the Kitchen and it is fabulous.  The biggest Beach House Brat was dragging his heals as we left home, but towards the end of the two hour event, he turned to me and said.  "Mum I really want to do more of this stuff, I love it."
Happily he can, because Elizabeth Farm is part of  the Sydney Living Museum program, which manages 12 properties in this city and we are up for trying the events at all of them into the future. 

This event involved making damper, butter and lemonade, the old fashioned way and so very much more.  I was quick to point out to the Beach House Brats, their morning tea took two hours to make, so they could get some concept of how labour intensive food production was 200 years ago and the fact that food does not grow in the supermarket.

First we started in the kitchen and it is a little bit exciting to think you are cooking in the actual kitchen where the MacArthur family meals were produced 200 odd years ago. Look at the ceiling, it looks like it has not been touched since it's inception. It is very black as a result of two centuries of accumulated smoke and soot from the wood fueled stove.  The walls have been white washed, but it appears the ceiling has not.

Parents are offered a guided tour of the homestead at this stage, as the kitchen is a bit of a squeeze for them, but you can stay if your kids insist you do.  I said I was going to write a blog about our experience, so I got to stay.  It is a requirement that a parent stay on the premises during the event.

The kids are asked to don bakers aprons and gender specific head gear and wash their hands the old fashioned way.  It was then off into the kitchen for a bit of historical masterchef.

The kids are split into groups and with some instructions from the wonderful Jacquai, our fabulous guide dressed in period costume, the kids were away.  

At first I thought there were too many kids per bowl, but everyone gets a turn and it is definitely a good lesson in sharing.

The dough is split equally into good size portions by the kids and then after some vigourous kneading, it is off into a hot oven to be eaten after a little more hands on cooking and fun interactive learning around the property.

Next it is off to the dairy, which is sensibly located on the southern side of the kitchen buildings to keep things as cool as possible.

The kids are given a quick run down on how butter was once made and then it is their turn.

Pouring cream is decanted into little jars and then there are instructions to shake like there is no tomorrow.

After several minutes, there appeared to be no more liquid in the jar, but actually the lions share of the cream had morphed into butter, with a little bit of  buttermilk on the side, which needs to be drained away.

After making the butter, we proceded into the gardens of Elizabeth Farm on a scavenger hunt.

The children are asked to find plants in the kitchen garden and surrounds and instructed to pick them for collection in a basket of food. 

 It kind of reminded me of French country gardens today, where there is a myriad of food available in the garden.  Everything from nasturtiums to olives and bush lemons.

The olive tree in the top right of this shot was brought to Australia in a bucket by John MacArthur himself and produces olives for pressing into oil.  The Hoop Pine to the left of the shot is also an original tree. These were planted, as they grow taller than the native Eucalyptus and were therefore used as a navigational tool to find the property back then.  This is why you will find Hoop Pines often planted in the gardens of many historic homes. 

Sadly, many of the original tress are currently coming to the end of their lives.

To give you an idea of the size of the original MacArthur land holdings at Rosehill, they are depicted in this shot.  Bounded by the Parramatta River to the north and highlighted by the strong coloured section of the photo.  Note all the industrial buildings adjoining the Parramatta river today. And of course Rosehill Race Course is in the middle of the shot.
The current boundary to Elizabeth Farm reserve, is the green area at "1", centre left of the shot.

Fascinating what 200 years of industrialisation can do to a rural area, isn't it?

The Parramatta River was found to be brackish in this area by the early settlers, but there was a little freshwater creek at the bottom of the hill near the homestead and that of course, is why the house was located where it is.  The shot below is that creek today.  Sadly it is but a concrete drain these days, which must flow quite heartily in heavy rainfall, if the fence is anything to go by.

As part of the event, there was a quick tour of the homestead, which is such a hands on affair.  Gone are the days where a red cord prevents you from crossing the threshold of a room.  At Elizabeth Farm,  you can sit in the chairs, walk on the rugs and run you fingers along the keys of the piano, if you care to.  

In the cellar I learned something about food preservation. Having just thrown out a bucket load of moldy oranges from my mother's tree, I was thrilled to learn that they can be kept for up to a year if you cut them from the tree with some stork intact and tie them up like so.  You cannot let them linger in the bucket after picking for long, as the skin becomes compromised, like the black one second from the left.

The final activity of the day was making some fresh lemonade.

It's a simple affair, just lemon juice, water and sugar syrup, which is equal parts sugar and water.

Suddenly the damper the kids had made earlier, appeared in a cooled state.

The kids butter it and are then invited to picnic on rugs as a group and play with some old fashioned toys of the day.

The kids said it was really yummy.  I had a nibble and agree.

Afterwards I hung around whilst they did some laundry.  I can hardly keep up with a washing machine.  It must of been difficult for our forebears.  Especially those without a myriad of servants and convicts like the MacArthurs. 

My kids absolutely loved the whole experience.  It was so wonderful to see them trying something new and enjoying themselves, with not a computer screen in sight. As a result we will be trying out another event at a different historic home very soon, as I cannot recommend this enough as a great day out.  Go to Sydney Living Musems to see if there is anything which takes your fancy.

Disclaimer:  I paid for the children's tickets which were $20 each. This includes one accompanying adult per child.

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  1. I love the look of this. What a terrific school holiday activity. If I'd known I would have come with you! That was certainly a large parcel of land! I love how the home is still standing - those convicts built things to last unlike a lot of today's builders who are free men with qualifications! I love how hands-on this day is for children. They must have learned so much xx

    1. Interestingly Charlie, your relative John Blaxland was a neighbour to John MacArthur. JB's land was to the southwest boundary of Elizabeth Farm.

  2. This looks fantastic! I would have loved to have done this myself. Shame I live in Brisbane but what great day for the kids.

  3. What a fantastic experience! So jealous - I would love to see Elizabeth Farm (one day!), or be a kid doing that activity (no chance LOL). Thank you so much for telling us all about it, and showing us the piccies. It reminded me of a reality show I watched a few years back on ABC, where a bunch of modern day people lived and worked on an Aussie Farm just like 200 years ago. I can't remember the name of it for the life of me though. :-(

    Visiting from #TeamIBOT - just call me Xena, Warrior Princess!

  4. What a great experience for the kids, looks like they absolutely loved it too.

  5. That was very interesting indeed!AriadnefromGreece!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Oh dear Emily apologies. I was just coming over to say Hi and accidentally clicked on "Remove Content" on my dashboard. So sorry

  7. Looks like great fun! I'll have to look into these for some school holiday fun as my kids get a little bit older. Lovely photos.

  8. What an amazing experience! I remember doing something similar to this as a kid in primary school at an old homestead which is closeby...I should check it out and see if they still run something similar. I'm like you, very much into history, lovely old houses and food....I need to get back into my research of our old house and the surrounding area..fascinating!

  9. I love these kind of places too Carolyn. Great that they get the kids to get hands on. I just accompanied my youngest to an historical village just before school broke up for the last holidays and it was just great. (Just haven't got around to editing the photos and posting the blog post.)

    Anne xx

  10. What a great concept, and I had no idea they did this, or any other Living Museums. Terrific idea for the holidays. Thanks for the tip and lovely photos.

  11. I must admit I can't wait til my children are older and I can take them to a place like this and show them what it was like in the 'olden days' - great photos.

  12. What a beautiful way to spend a day!!! The photos of the kids are so cute and they are really having
    fun making their bun and playing with the older vintage toys.

    I think it's great that kids are shown what it was like before all the technology came into the world.
    I really enjoyed seeing your kids having such fun!!!


  13. What a great activity for kids to do - especially if they are studying it for school. Great photos to Carolyn x

  14. I'd love to do something like that with my kids! What a great experience for them. And your daughter looks so gorgeous in that little bonnet. :)

  15. Your adorable 'brats' always steal the show (post). This a a wonderful experience for young children.

  16. Looks like a fabulous experience!

  17. Looks like a lot of fun! Such a good school holiday idea :)
    Cas x

  18. What a great day! I saw some of these listed (Croquet at Vaucluse house!) but just didn't get my act together. Definitely next year!

  19. What a fabulous day out Carolyn. My girls would have loved it!

  20. What a wonderful outing. It's so good for kids to see how the world used to be and appreciate those aspects of modern life that make it a bit easier. I think I will try making butter with my kids.

  21. That sounds just incredible, I think we all need to be reminded of how our forebears lived, to give a bit of perspective on our own lives. It looks like a beautiful way of live but no doubt a hard work too. Thanks for sharing your stunning photos. xx

  22. These are some of the most gorgeous photos that I have seen in a long time. I hope one day I can visit that olive tree and strum that piano if I find myself in that part of Australia again. What a fantastic experience for kids to have. That'll definitely be something they never forget!

  23. Hugely enjoyed this post Carolyn, this would be great for the twins and I, we'd all really enjoy it. Thanks so much for sharing.


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