HARVARD — Cooking over a hearth is a practice California native Debra Vanderwerf knows well from her days at the Concord Museum where she instructed tourists on the basics of pre-Revolutionary War cuisine. Though she left the museum several years ago to become a full-time mother, she’s retained a love of hearth kitchens.

This winter, she’s teaching a series of hearth cooking classes out of her home. There’s a demand for this type of instruction, she said.

“People really enjoy the hands-on learning and the historic aspects of this cooking,” she said. “Many of them said they always wanted to try this, but they just didn’t want to do it on their own. It’s a lot like camp cooking, but indoors.”

For $40 per person, she provides students with the fixings and expertise to prepare a colonial-style feast, which is eaten at the session’s end.

Vanderwerf described the lessons as more of a way to share her interests in cuisine and history than a business venture.

“It’s definitely not a big moneymaker,” she said. “It’s more that I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy cooking with people.”

Vanderwerf took up colonial cooking while working at the museum from 1999 to 2000, where she greatly expanded her knowledge on colonial life. She’s also a wine educator, a food-service-oriented professional that provides expertise on food and wine pairings for the restaurant industry. She was an instructor in that capacity at Middlesex Community College from 2003 to 2005.

The self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades’ recent venture in home instruction began at her own fireplace.

Her family bought a house on Old Schoolhouse Road that dates back to 1764. Its hearth is outfitted for cooking.

In fact, what was billed as the formal dining room with a hearth was actually the 19th-century kitchen.

Vanderwerf said that wasn’t why her family bought the home, but she put the hearth to work nonetheless. She’s even cooked Thanksgiving dinner with it for the past couple of years.

Comments from her family spring-boarded into the classes, she said.

“They said it was incredible and that more people should do this,” she said. “That’s what gave me the idea of opening my home and doing these classes.”

The basic instruction includes discussion on basic utensils, fire starting and techniques.

A typical menu includes roasted game hens cooked on a spit, red cabbage with lime, rice pudding and hot spiced cider.

Acton resident Terry Copp recently took a class from Vanderwerf and attested to her skill.

“I had little bit of experience with this type of cooking, but she knew all about the period utensils and types of cooking,” she said. “It was an excellent class. I loved it, and I’m going to take another one. I made a rice pudding there, and now I’m going to make one over my own fire.”

The local 4H club is also taking a class this February as something educational and fun for the kids, said Assistant Leader Tammy Alfano.

“We thought it would be great opportunity for the kids to learn about the tools that were used in old fireplaces,” she said.

Vanderwerf has classes scheduled for Feb. 12 and 25. For information call (978) 456-7810 or e-mail

She’s planning to hold classes at least through March. While hearth cooking is a pleasant winter activity, she didn’t commit to holding classes past winter’s end.

“It can get pretty hot in there,” she said.