You don't know what a hard day of cooking is until you've churned butter.

I've put in my fair share of hours in the kitchen -- I've hosted dinner parties for eight and prepared several Thanksgiving dinners. It's exhausting. It's time-consuming and stressful.

But I promise: It's nothing compared to churning butter. That stuff's for the birds.

Churning butter is just one of the many tasks asked of you at a hearth cooking class at Conner Prairie.

The class, presented by the Nickel Plate Arts organization, is a fun, interactive way for participants to experience what it was like to cook a full chicken dinner without electricity or running water.

Yes, I said fun. Despite the hard work and my serious concern about the risk of contracting salmonella, it was a day of teamwork and laughter -- and the reward of a delicious meal when it was over.

The class, taught by Conner Prairie instructor Sarah Withrow, challenged our group to prepare a meal of roasted chicken, fried cucumbers, molasses bread, string beans, corn pudding and apple pie, all without modern conveniences.

"This food is healthier in many ways than what we eat today; it doesn't have all the additives," she said when I asked about the health of cooking with things like butter and cream.

The main course -- as unbelievable as it sounds -- was chicken cooked hanging next to the fire, on a string. Having been soaked in water overnight, the linen string resisted the fire and created a spit by simply twisting and untwisting.

And we had no need for an oven -- we piled hot coals on Dutch ovens for baking.

Every five to 10 minutes, whoever was free would turn the chicken, causing the string to wind up and then release, creating our own little roaster.

Withrow, who created the menu based on 'receipts' -- known today as recipes -- from cookbooks from the 1700s on, has worked at Conner Prairie for 29 years. She said kids today are fascinated by anything created by hand.

"When kids come by, asking questions about what I'm cooking, I explain it to them and say, 'Like your mother does at home.' They say, 'My mom doesn't cook' -- they've never seen anything like this," she said.

After five hours of cooking, we sat down to enjoy our feast.

With my arms sore (darn butter), my hair reeking of smoke and my stomach growling, I piled my plate high, enjoying every bite of a hard day's work.