Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Return Release!

It’s been a very busy few weeks! The Return is receiving an incredible reception. The books have been shipping out since the middle of April. We’re steadily acquiring new bookstores, and individual orders from readers have also been flooding in. I’m excited!

Bob Hostetler, J. M. Hochstetler

Eli and Vesta Hochstetler hosted Bob and me for the nationwide release at their Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio, on Saturday, April 1. We had a terrific time, signed copies of both Northkill and The Return, and had a chance to visit with a lot of new acquaintances as well as folks we knew. The greatest blessing for me is to see how God is glorifying Himself through this story of our ancestors’ faith and His faithfulness to them in their time of greatest trial.

The Return is available online in both print and ebook formats at the following retailers, as well as at a number of local bookstores.



Barnes & Noble

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Colonial American Kitchens

Curfew, Fire Fork, Blowing Tube
Today we’re getting back to the series on early American homes I started last month. Naturally housewives in the 18th century needed an array of equipment for their work just as we do, and today we’re going to take a look at the tools the colonial cook had at her disposal to make her work easier.

Back then all cooking was done over the fire, and because it was inconvenient and time consuming to kindle a fire from scratch, a good cook never let hers go out. At the end of the day she would rake the hot coals into a pile and either bank them beneath a covering of ashes or cover them with a brass or copper device called a curfew, which would be pushed to the hearth’s back wall for the night. In the morning the embers were raked out and the fire built up. The illustration shows 2 English curfews, a fire fork, and a blowing tube—a long iron pipe that’s used as a bellows. Other indispensable fireplace tools included shovels and tongs.

Colonial Hearth
It was more common in colonial times to build several small fires in the fireplace for cooking rather than a single large fire, much in the same way we use adjustable settings on our ranges for boiling or simmering foods today. For cooking at lower temperatures small piles of live embers were raked onto the hearth at the front of the fireplace. These were used for broiling on a gridiron, frying in a pan, and baking in a kettle. For cooking at higher temperatures, the cook hung larger pots on a crane mounted inside the chimney. These might be simple iron bars running the length of the fireplace. More desirable, if you could afford it, was a crane that could be swung out from the fire so the cook could check on the contents of the pots without getting scalded by the heat. She could suspend several pots at different points with pot hooks, trammels, or chains and control cooking temperatures by raising or lowering the pots or moving the crane outward.

Art of Cookery Made Plain
and Easy
The basic equipment all kitchens had to have included one or more cast iron pots, a baking kettle, and a simple spit for roasting meat. More prosperous households had a wider variety of items for creating more elaborate dishes. Iron pots of different sizes, a long iron fork to remove items from boiling water, an iron hook with a handle to lift pots from the crane, a large and small gridiron with grooved bars and a trench to catch the grease, a bake kettle, two skillets of different sizes, a skimmer, skewers, a toasting iron, large and small tea kettles, a spider (flat skillet) for frying, a griddle, a waffle iron, tin and iron bake and bread pans, two ladles of different sizes, and two brass kettles of different sizes for soap boiling were among items recommended in A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School by Miss Catharine Beecher, published in 1842, a list that would certainly have applied to the 1700s as well. Cookbooks like the one shown at left were also helpful.

Around 1725 pots, pans, and skillets began to be manufactured in the colonies. A pot is a vessel that has rounded sides and a cover, while a kettle has sloping sides and no cover of its own. Very large kettles, called cauldrons, were made of copper, brass, or iron and were so valuable that they were passed down in wills. Another form of skillet called a spider has a flat bottom and straight shallow sides, a short handle, and 3 short legs. Short-handled frying pans didn’t come into use until stoves were invented. Eighteenth-century iron “fry pans” had a 3 foot long handle with hole at the tip for hanging when not in use. Trivets of assorted sizes were another necessity to hold kettles and footless pots and also serve as plate warmers.

Mount Vernon Hearth
Gridirons were used for grilling fish or meat. They looked like3-legged iron grills with a handle. A drip pan was placed beneath to catch the drippings. Griddles were made of iron and used to bake oat and buckwheat cakes. They were also used as toasters and were often made in delicate patterns. Wafer and waffle irons date from the 14th century and were used for church services long before they began to be used in the home. Then of course there were also many kinds of skimmers, spatulas, meat forks, and other tools made of wood, tin, or iron.

This sketch of the kitchen hearth at Mt. Vernon shows spit dogs, with a wooden spit rack on the wall above. Fowl and large pieces of meat were skewered on the spit, then placed on a pair of hooks turned by hand cranks while they roasted close to the fire. A more ingenious design connected the spit by a chain to an iron fan set in the flue. The draft passing up the chimney turned the fan, which pulled the chain and turned the spit.

Bake Kettle
Many of us are familiar with the iron baking kettle commonly called a dutch oven. The kettle is set into hot coals and ashes, and more coals are piled on its flat lid to bake the contents evenly. However, check out this post on the Historic Cookery blog by Carolina Capehart, a culinary historian, hearth cook, and former Conner Prairie interpreter. She offers definitive evidence that a true dutch oven is, in fact, a tin reflector oven, also called a roasting kitchen or hastener, while the cast iron pot described above is correctly called a bake kettle.

Dutch Oven
Reflector ovens could be from 1 foot to 4 feet long and were made of tinplate, which reflected the fire’s heat, reducing cooking time and saving fuel. This photo shows a front and rear view. The meat was impaled on a spit that ran through the oven and was turned with a hand crank at one end. There was a door in the back so the cook could check the meat and baste it while it roasted. Meat juices were collected in the curved bottom, and there was a spout at one end to pour them off when the meat was done. Reflector ovens were used for baking biscuits as well, and there were even specialized roasters for birds and apples.

Fenno House at Sturbridge Village
Fireplaces also often had ovens built into the back wall or on one side of the fireplace opening. Constructed in a beehive shape with a domed roof and a separate flue, these sometimes had a small opening underneath that served as a warming oven. When the bricks were hot enough for baking, the ashes were raked out, oak or cabbage leaves might be laid on the oven’s floor in absence of the baking pans we use today, and the loaves were slid inside using a peel. Some designs featured an ash oven where the fire was built, with the heat rising through a vent into the bake oven above. This type cooled off more rapidly since the bricks didn’t get as hot. At first ovens had wooden doors, which, as you can imagine, tended to get seriously charred even if they were lined with tin as some were. By the 1800s hinged cast iron doors were becoming commonplace—understandably so!

Spice Cabinet (1720-1740)
Pewter and other metals, like silver, were too expensive for most colonists to afford, so variety of carved wooden ware, including knife boxes and spoon racks, helped the cook keep her kitchen organized. Almost all colonial kitchens had a salt box, generally kept near the fireplace, where the cooking was done and where the salt would be kept dry. The earliest knife boxes look like salt boxes, only deeper. Spice boxes usually had several drawers. Candles boxes had sliding wooden lids and either sat on a table or hung on the wall to keep the tallow candles from being eaten by vermin. According to Kitchen Antiques by Mary Norwalk, “Pieces of cutlery were precious possessions and in order to keep them clean and dry they were stored near the fire. Spoons, knives, and carving forks were placed in racks attached to the wall with a small drawer underneath the rack, and this was used for spices and seasoning, or precious pieces of small equipment.” Most wooden items were made by the homeowner, and beautifully constructed wall boxes were proudly displayed as decorative items.

It’s amazing to consider all the gadgets that existed back in the 1700s to make the housewife’s life easier. Even so, they definitely had a lot of back-breaking work to fill each day. Which aspects of the colonial housewife’s life do you think you’d find the most enjoyable, and which the most unpleasant? 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Book Proof and New Endorsement

On Saturday I got the book proof of The Return to check over for final corrections. It looks gorgeous, and I’m so excited to finally get this book out to readers! It’s getting close!

The national release will be at Gospel Book Store in Berlin, OH, on Saturday, April 1. Bob and I will be there from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to sign copies of both Northkill and The Return. If you’re in the area we hope you’ll stop by. We’d love to meet you! 

We also received another endorsement for The Return, this one from Rene Gutteridge, author of Misery Loves Company: “Set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War, The Return weaves a harrowing and desperate tale of Jakob Hochstetler, a father whose life has been undone by brutality and war. Authors J. M. Hochstetler and Bob Hostetler vividly depict the sights, sounds, emotions and heart-rending struggle of a family trying to cope with their difficult new circumstances. Every page sets the reader right into the moment, capturing the details of a life that is hard for modern day Americans to even comprehend. This is a must-read.”

Early Pennsylvania German Homes

During the 1700s large numbers of Germans migrated to the British colonies. Many settled in Pennsylvania, among them my Hochstetler ancestors, who came to this country in 1738. Naturally the first necessity for any settler was shelter, so today we’re going to take a look at the typical homes of these German immigrants.

Bertolet-Schneider Log Cabin 
Most of the earliest Pennsylvania German homes were constructed of straight-hewn logs with finely dovetailed joints, but German settlers were also noted for their sturdily built stone houses. Many homes, whether log or stone, were constructed in a distinctively medieval form that featured steep roofs sometimes covered with red clay tiles, thick walls, and small, irregularly spaced windows. A central fireplace was most common, in contrast to the British style of construction that featured a fireplace on each end of the building.

Swiss-style House
Traditional floor plans had 1 to 3 rooms with a corner stairway that led up to a loft or second floor. The 3 room layout included a large kitchen or K├╝che on one side of the central chimney and two smaller rooms, the Stube (parlor) and Kammer (bedroom) on the other side, both entered from the kitchen. The two room layout had only a kitchen (also called a hall) and a parlor, which were on opposite sides of the central chimney. The second story contained additional bedrooms and separate space for storage. An attic provided additional storage and space for food preservation.

Five-plate Stove
The outside entrance into the house was traditionally through the kitchen. Generally a long narrow room on the northwest side of the house, this space included the great, open fireplace, used for cooking and heating, a large worktable, and the dining table with benches or chairs. The main room was the parlor, heated by a closed five-plate stove, also called a close stove or jamb stove, that was a cast-iron, porcelain, or earthenware box, either plain or ornately decorated. The back side of this kind of stove was open and mortared into the brick or stones of the chimney. The rear of the kitchen fireplace, then, had an opening called the stove hole or offenloch, through which either wood for burning or hot air could be fed into the stove.
Henry Antes House, 1736

Some early stone houses were built over a spring to provide running water and a cool area for food storage in the basement. Others were built into a bank or hillside, partially underground for cold storage as well as for lower cost and efficiency, a style attributed to medieval Swiss tradition. Many banked houses were later expanded to become 2 or 3 stories with the ground floor then used only as a kitchen or for storage. 

Fort Zeller
On the Pennsylvania frontier many houses were fortified by adding extra thick walls and small windows as defense against Indian attack. Fort Zeller, built in 1745 near Newmanstown, Lebanon County, was actually a house built in this manner rather than a true fort. Zeller’s Fort is one of the few and rare remaining examples of Germanic Architecture in the Western Hemisphere and is also Pennsylvania’s oldest existing fort. Pioneers who came to the Tulpehocken from the Schoharie valley built it in 1723 and rebuilt it in 1745. It was used as a place of refuge during Indian Wars.

I sometimes complain about all the household work I have to do even though I have at hand a multitude of labor-saving devices and technology to make my life easier. When I think about our pioneer ancestors, who had work to do almost every waking hour, most of it hand labor, I’m humbled and grateful. Next month I’m going to take a more detailed look at the housewife’s daily cores and the implements she had to accomplish her work. Believe me, all of us have things very easy today in comparison!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Endorsements for The Return!

Bob Hostetler and J. M. HochstetlerWe’ve already received a number of terrific endorsements for The Return, which releases April 1. You can now preorder the print edition from Here’s what authors and history experts are saying about this conclusion of the Northkill Amish Series!

“An absorbing sequel to Northkill, The Return concludes the story of the authors’ Amish ancestors, Jakob, Joseph, and Christian Hochstetler, as each contends with Indian captivity and wrestles with issues of identity, family, and spiritual truth. Skillfully researched detail—both the 18th century Amish world and that of Native America—heart-wrenching emotional journeys, and profoundly rendered themes of grace and God’s sovereignty combine to create a tale I couldn’t read fast enough, yet didn’t want to end.” —Lori Benton, Christy-award-winning author of Burning Sky, A Flight of Arrows, and other historical novels

The Return is frontier fiction at its finest, made all the more remarkable given it is the authors’ own family history. Compelling and heartbreaking yet always full of hope, with enduring spiritual truths woven by master wordsmiths, this story is not only difficult to put down, it has a timeless quality that leaves you pondering for days. Beautiful!” —Laura Frantz, bestselling author of A Moonbow Night

The Return continues the agonizing story of capture, exile, enslavement, harrowing escape and reunion of a family torn asunder by war. It captures in terrible and poignant detail the emotional and spiritual tug of war between conflicting loves, loyalties, and beliefs born of the human will to survive. Even more beautifully, The Return reminds us that betwixt and between life’s deepest struggles, there is a divine integrity to reality that transcends our many cultures, creeds, failures and victories. I didn’t want this story to end, it is that good. And, for me, a descendent of the family whose story is told here, it hasn’t!” —James Hostetler Brenneman, President, Goshen College

“Filled with the life-changing events of a family legacy, the authors show us a story filled with emotion, adventure, and determination. Beautifully crafted and authentic, The Return takes us on a historical journey that allows us to not only know this family, but feel their plight. A read well worth your time.” —Cindy Sproles, award winning author of Mercy’s Rain

“I was delighted to read The Return, a wonderful and enthralling story that continues the saga of Northkill about a family that could be yours or mine. Distant cousins J. M. Hochstetler and Bob Hostetler bring to life the tale of their common ancestor, Jakob Hochstetler, and how he and his sons braved Indian captivity and later returned to their own people to forge new lives in their Christian communities. I admire and appreciate that no blame is cast or bitterness is held against their Native American captors. The importance of such stories cannot be underestimated. We all need to know the past so we can make a better future.” —Louise M. Gouge, author of A Family for the Rancher

“The authors move readers into a bygone era and make it come to life, with survival struggles that challenge the Amish faith and way of life along with the grittiness of pioneer stamina and determination. Here is history with human drama.” —Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, author of Pseudonym

“In this engaging sequel to Northkill, readers will be drawn into Christian and Joseph’s heart-rending dilemma: Should they remain with their Lenape family and friends or return to their birth family and their Christian faith? The authors’ use of historic and authentic-to-the-period details make Christian and Joseph’s relationship with their adoptive 18th century Lenape families come to life!” —Beth Hostetler Mark, Librarian Emeritus, Messiah College

“Working from known chronology and geography and extensive research on the life of Indians at that time, the authors have constructed a gripping, plausible narrative of the return of our ancestors from Indian captivity. The high drama will keep you eagerly reading and the ending will warm your heart. Descendants, whether biological or in faith, will gain a new appreciation of our heritage.” —Daniel Hochstetler, teacher, historian, and editor emeritus of the JHFA Newsletter