The Big Kitchen at Sutter’s Fort: The Cooks & Their Utensils, 1840s

dutch ovenA Swiss adventurer named John August Sutter arrived in the Northern California wilderness in mid-August 1839, shortly thereafter commencing construction of a trading post and year-round residence for himself out of thick adobe slabs.  This outpost, called a “fort” because it was surrounded (fortified) by walls, took several years to construct. The interior rooms, probably finished in 1842/43, contained a large kitchen to feed the dozens of fur trappers, tradesmen, and others who lived there or frequently visited. Over the years 1839 – 1849, the cooks Sutter hired included William Daylor, who later partnered with his friend Jared Sheldon in the Mexican land grant Rancho Omochumnes on the Cosumnes River; John Henry Brown, George Davis, David Dewey Dutton, and a black man known only as Myers. Sutter’s cooks used lidded, heavy cast-iron pots called Dutch ovens because these pots heated evenly with only a small heat source. So many different foods—from breads to stews—could be cooked in these versatile kettles that they were a prized possession. The heavy lid, when set properly, helped to create a pressure cooker.

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