Food and Foodways

Warren’s understanding of traditional foods and foodways was informed and shaped in various ways, including his careful investigation of folk architecture, namely log buildings; his own and his students’ experiences during the many summers of the southern Indiana field school; and the preparation and serving of special foods by his wife, Barbara, a native Hoosier. Guests in the  Roberts home rarely went without a piece of that southern Indiana specialty, persimmon pudding. In the fall, Warren was known to collect the fruit of the paw-paw tree, which Barbara baked into bread. In his later life, his own dietary restrictions merged with his curiosity about traditional foods. His fondness for corn bread baked in a cast iron skillet, for example, led to experiments with what people in non-corn growing areas like England might have eaten. His conclusion? Oat bread.

"In examining log houses in southern Indiana I have found that the vast majority have only a simple fireplace of the familiar type for both cooking and heating. I have never seen a fireplace with a bake oven built to one side in a log house, and separate summer kitchens with their own fireplaces are very rare and, when found, occur only with large, elaborate houses. Hence, I am left with the conclusion that most Indiana housewives in earlier times did almost all of their cooking at an open fireplace. . . . When one considers the type of cooking it is possible to carry out with the simple utensils available at an earlier day, it is clear that stewed and fried foods must have been common, whereas baked foods must have been uncommon. The only means of baking must have been to use a so-called 'Dutch oven,' a heavy utensil with a lid with a rim around it. This utensil could be placed in the coals with coals heaped on the lid. Fried pork and fried chicken must have been the main meat eaten, and the popularity of stewed beans, hominy, and other vegetables is well attested."

“The Folk Museum,” in Viewpoints, 242.