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Archive for the ‘historic cooking equipment’ Category

About two weeks ago, I headed up north to participate in the Wilton
[CT] Historical Society’s
annual “Colonial Days” program for the area’s
fourth graders. It was an amazing four-day event, and the different
groups of young’uns were daily kept mighty busy with lots to see
and do. Everyone partook of a wide variety of activities at numerous
stations that were situated throughout the Society’s complex, ranging
from flax and wool processing to hauling buckets of water with a yoke
to creating a pincushion to watching a blacksmith at work to assisting
with a small-scale barn raising and more.

And then there was me, happily ensconced in the kitchen of the Society’s
Sloan-Raymond-Fitch House. Together, the students and I talked about
cooking over an open fire in the 18th century. We covered everything,

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including the process, the equipment and utensils, and the food. And
since they all just happened to arrive when the main meal of the day
(aka dinner) would’ve been prepared and cooked, we also chatted
about how they might’ve assisted and the chores they likely would
have done. Each child then had the opportunity to try three: grinding
peppercorns; cutting up sweet potatoes; and churning butter. When
their chores were completed, each student was then able to enjoy
some freshly-churned butter on a piece bread and to sample a cup
of the resulting buttermilk. The whole room was a beehive of activity,
what with our lively discussions and the sounds of ambitious little
helpers doing their chores. Alas, our time together was far too short,
and soon they were all on their way to the next station. Another group
of eager young folks arrived, and we began once again.

Overall, I think everyone had a marvelous time. I know I certainly did.
HUZZAH!

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Before we move on to the baking of those wonderfully
delectable ‘n delightful hard biscuits that were a part
of every Rev War soldier’s rations, I’d like to announce
that I was recently on the radio!

“Oh, oh, oh, on the radio!”*

Yes, this past Thursday, November 21, I was invited
by Linda Pelaccio to be interviewed during her show,
“Taste of the Past,” which airs on the Heritage Radio
Network
. Naturally, the topic of our half-hour chat was
my all-time most-favorite activity, namely, open hearth
cooking. HUZZAH! It was great fun. And I had a blast!
It all went by so quickly, though. I could’ve talked
for hours and hours and hours and…!

Here’s the link to the show.

Enjoy!

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______________________________

* My apologies to Regina Spektor! See the lyrics to her entire song HERE.

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…was all that was necessary, and all that was likely
used, by Revolutionary War soldiers to create a simple
bread, particularly on those days when they received
a pound of flour as part of their individual rations. This
basic dough would’ve then been cooked by spreading
it on the flat side of a piece of firewood, on a rock or
a plank, or even just setting it amongst a fire’s ashes.
Whatever was available, whatever worked. No matter
how it was baked, it would’ve constituted a day’s
serving of bread.

Of course, in true soldier’s fashion, flour and water
were also all I needed, and used, this past summer

colonial_bread on a plank_DN_onderdonk

for my “Cook Like a Soldier” programs. And the same
combination was also employed earlier this month
when I participated in the first-ever Military Timeline
Event at Long Island’s Old Bethpage Village (OBV),
along with fellow members of the Huntington Militia.
Again, using a soldier’s potential flour ration, mixed
with a little water, I worked up dough for another
round of what I’ve fondly dubbed “soldier’s bread.”

I also cooked a pot of rations at OBV, which consisted
of beef, peas, and rice, with a few pieces of hard biscuit
thrown in for good measure. They make for some fairly
decent dumplings!

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Of course, hard biscuits could also be distributed as part
of a Rev War soldier’s daily ration. I’ve baked quite a few
batches in recent months. More on that is up next.

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NEXT: Those delightful ‘n delectable hard biscuits!

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The inaugural run of my “Cook Like a Soldier” program was
a HUGE success! HUZZAH! Held on Saturday, August 24,
at the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House in Queens, NY, it

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was one of many events and activities that made up the annual
commemoration of the Battle of Brooklyn known as Battle Week.
The program was well-received by all who participated. Together,
we chatted about the typical fare that soldiers received during
the Revolutionary War, including the specific foods, how the type
and quantities changed over time, the cooking equipment used,
distribution issues, and so on. Everyone was able to taste two
different soldiers’ meals, one of beef and peas, and another of
salt cod, carrots, and rice. Each “brew” also had a bit of hard
biscuit thrown in to create dumplings.

Overall, I had a fantastic time chatting with the visitors and
sharing my knowledge of the daily fare that was likely eaten
by colonial soldiers as they fought against the British in our
struggle for independence.

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COOK LIKE A SOLDIER at the Onderdonk House

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Several weeks before the program, I made a couple-three
batches of hard biscuits. Some were to be used in cooking,
and others were to be bundled together for demonstration
purposes. Since a soldier’s daily rations included one pound
of flour, bread, OR hard biscuits, I weighed out a pound’s
worth (or, in this shape and size, 17 individual biscuits):

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I made examples of different ration items by placing them
in cloth bags, including (L-R) the possible weekly allotment
of one pint of Indian meal, the weekly three pints of peas
(or beans or other vegetables), a daily ration of one pound
of flour, and a few hard biscuits (in wooden bowl), along
with another daily option of one pound of hard biscuits
(behind the bowl; a third option, bread-wise, being
a pound of actual bread, which I also had on display):

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Cast iron kettles were initially distributed to soldiers, but they
proved to be highly impractical. So a switch was made to tin
and then to sheet metal. Inside the reproduction pot below
is our mixture of a daily ration option of one pound of salt
cod, the weekly vegetable (in this case carrots), a portion of
the weekly option of half a pint of rice, and a few dumplings,
which were made by throwing in pieces of hard biscuit:

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The repro soldier’s kettle (L) hangs alongside a typical brass
household kettle (R). In the latter is the daily ration of one
pound of beef with half a pint of the weekly ration of peas:

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Rations for soldiers fighting during the Revolutionary War
typically included:

1 pound of beef or fish or ¾ pound of pork per day
1 pound of bread, hard biscuit, or flour per day
3 pints of peas, beans, or other root vegetables per week
½ pint rice or 1 pint Indian (corn) meal per week
________________

The specific contents of these “regular” rations changed
periodically throughout the War. However, at the very least,
an effort was made to make sure the troops always received
meat, flour (in one form or another), and root vegetables
of some sort.

_________________________

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To continue with our open hearth vs cast iron cook stove
thread, here are the second set of the 12 reasons I think
the hearth is the best option. Not to mention, it’s my
personal preference, as well. HUZZAH!

The other reasons I think a hearth is better are:

7.) See the reflector oven below? Well, if you traded your
open hearth for one of them fancy cast iron cook stoves,
you can kiss it goodbye. In fact, you can say farewell

to the roasting of any and all meats entirely. Sure,
you can put it in the stove’s oven, but that merely
BAKES it. Dries it out. Yes, eventually various stove
models were developed to accommodate similar tin
ovens, but who wants to wait ’til then to enjoy a bit
o’ juicy ‘n delicious roast beef?! Or a pair of roasted
squab? (Not to mention, will you be able to afford
yet another new stove?! And then learn its quirks?!)

8.) The issue of, oddly enough, safety. With an open
hearth, you SEE the fire. It’s right there. It’s huge. It’s
blazing. You SEE the piles of hot coals and/or the pots
set on them, and thus you know where NOT to walk.
Acquire a cook stove, and although it’s contained in
that little box, you can’t SEE the fire. You can’t always
tell if it’s on or not (hmmm, sounds like those modern
ceramic tops!). Sure, it looks harmless, but lay something
on top or lean against it absentmindedly and…yowza!

9.) Pesky installation issues: You couldn’t just visit your
local mercantile, buy a cook stove, bring it home, put it
in your kitchen, and start it up. No. Your new cast iron
monster requires a chimney, just as your fireplace did.
But you can’t just set it in the fireplace and be done
with it. No, again! You’d also have to buy and install
miles and miles and MILES of stove pipe, which’d have
to go from the stove over to and up your pre-existing
fireplace chimney; OR over and into the wall above it,
then up that same chimney; OR into that wall, up and
out an additional flue that you’ve hollowed out of, well,
um, somewhere! Nevertheless, hope you’re good with
carpentry and masonry. And engineering. And…. Oh,
by the way, when a cook stove was installed, more
than likely, your fireplace was rendered inoperable.
Sorry ’bout that!

10.) I’ve heard MANY times that a “benefit” of having
a stove is that the menfolk of a household no longer
needed to hang around as much. You see, supposedly,
less chopped ‘n split firewood is required for a stove
as for a fireplace. HA! Let’s just put an end to that
myth right now! Not only were the men (and anyone
handy with an ax) needed, they were needed MORE.
The reason is simple: pretty much any size log could
be burned in a fireplace (even those massive holiday
“Yule Logs”), but that is NOT the case with a cast iron

cook stove. In fact, the wood has to be chopped up
and split into smaller pieces, so it’ll fit into a stove’s
enclosed, limited-space firebox. Of course, the size
of individual pieces depended somewhat on your
stove’s specific dimensions, just as it did with the
size of your hearth, but overall, no matter how big
or small it was, any and all firewood had to be cut
to fit.

A perfect example of using firewood that was not
the best size could be seen awhile back on the PBS
documentary wherein the staff of Cooks Illustrated
re-created an entire meal using adapted receipts
from Fanny Farmer’s cookbook.* I had to chuckle
repeatedly as the cooks struggled with the fire
in the cook stove. They kept trying to stuff full-
sized-but-split logs into its firebox! Your pieces
were too big, people! Of course, using such big
chunks of wood seriously affected the cooks’
ability to regulate the flames and therefore, the
cooking temperatures. Ahh, if only they’d used
smaller, more appropriately-sized pieces! I doubt,
however, that anyone involved with the production
had bothered to hone his or her wood chopping
and splitting skills. Oh well….

11.) In conjunction with this provision that the wood
used in a cast iron cook stove must be smaller than
that for a fireplace: it also means the wood’s gonna
burn faster, and so it has to be replaced more often.
You’re constantly having to feed the fire. Which takes
time away from any cooking. If you wait too long to
add more wood, or just haven’t gotten to it, and then,
oh dear, your fire goes out…! Ahh well, maybe your
family and guests weren’t all that hungry, anyway?!

Let’s pause here briefly, and take a look at what
the author of The Housekeeper’s Book (1837) says
about these very issues:

…I am sure it is not possible [sic]
to have cooking in perfection,
without a proper degree of heat,
and, as far as my observation
has gone, meat cannot be well
roasted unless it be before
a good fire.

She then continues:

A cook has many trials of her
temper, but none so difficult
to bear as the annoyance
of a bad fire; for with a bad
fire she is never able to cook
her dinner well, however much
she may fret herself in the endeavour;

12.) The home fire: as many commentators of the 1800s
lamented, say, “So long” to family values when you
trade your open hearth for a cook stove. Yep, there’ll
be no more gathering of family and friends ’round
the hearth. No more sittin’ before a blazing fire,
with folks telling stories, pluckin’ tunes on a fiddle,
daughters practicing their sewing, and sons their
newly-acquired whittling skills. Yep, just whisper,
“It’s been nice knowing you” to that welcoming
ambiance of a roaring fire, with its flickering flames
dancing on the floor and walls. Yes, indeedie, it’s
all about to disappear (and did). Unfortunately,
snuggling up to a hot coal-black metal box just
wasn’t the same as gatherin’ round the hearth.
Alas, it was the end of the world as the common
woman (and man) of the 19th century had known it.

Finally, here’s another passage I found that comments
on a later “past vs the future” debate. It’s from Coon
Tree
, by E.B. White (1956!). Compare his comments
on the “progress” of his time with that in the piece
I shared above. Clearly, the more things change,
the more they remain the same:

We have two stoves in our kitchen
here in Maine—a big black iron stove
that burns wood and a small white
electric stove that draws its strength
from the Bangor Hydro-Electric Company.
We use both. One represents the past,
the other represents the future. If we
had to give up one in favor of the other
and cook on just one stove, there isn’t
the slightest question in anybody’s mind
in my household which is the one we’d
keep. It would be the big black Home
Crawford 8-20, made by Walker & Pratt,
with its woodbox that has to be filled
with wood, its water tank that has to
be replenished with water, its ashpan
that has to be emptied of ashes, its
flue pipe that has to be renewed when
it gets rusty, its grates that need freeing
when they get clogged, and all its other
foibles and deficiencies. We would choose
this stove because of the quality of its
heat, the scope of its talents, the warmth
of its nature (the place where you dry
the sneakers, the place where the small
dog crawls underneath to take the chill
off, the companionable sound it gives
forth on cool nights in fall and on zero
mornings in winter). The electric stove
is useful in its own way, and makes a
good complementary unit, but it is as
cold and aseptic as a doctor’s examining
table, and I can’t imagine our kitchen
if it were the core of our activity.

There you have it. If I lived back in say, 1836, I’d definitely
prefer an open hearth over a cast iron cook stove. But what
about you? Which would YOU choose? And why?

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*Fannie Farmer revised and published The Boston Cooking
School Cookbook
in 1896.

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Although I appreciate modern conveniences in the kitchen,
I thoroughly enjoy cooking over an open hearth and using
the equipment, tools, and receipts (recipes) of centuries
ago. I’ve also cooked on a cast iron stove and have dealt
with its perks ‘n quirks. In fact, I wrote here awhile back
that my initial experience with historic cooking was done
atop an iron box of fire when I worked at Conner Prairie
more than two decades ago.

Now I mention this because I recently came upon a rather
intriguing passage regarding the “hearth vs stove” debate
in The Housekeeper’s Book, by a Lady (1837):

The fire-place of a kitchen is a matter
of great importance. I have not, it is
certain, been so circumstanced as to
witness the operations of many [sic]
of the newly invented steam kitchens
and cooking apparatuses which the
last twenty years have produced,
but those which I have seen, have
failed to give me satisfaction. To say
the truth, the inventors of cast-iron
kitchens seem to me to have had
every other object in view, but
that of promoting good cooking.

The above paragraph got me thinking. If I had lived at any
time in the 1800s after the cast iron cook stove had been
invented, even after they’d become fairly common, and if
by some chance I was given the choice between cooking
at a fireplace with its spacious hearth OR on one of those
self-contained new-fangled stoves, which would I have
chosen? HA! That’s such an EASY one! My answer most
definitely, unequivocally, would’ve been…the open hearth.
HUZZAH!

Yep, this is my preferred method of cooking:

Now, below is an illustration* of a cast iron cook stove that’s
kinda, sorta, almost-but-not-quite similar to the one I used
when working in the Campbell House at Conner Prairie. As
I recall, CP’s was a bit more rounded on the sides and edges,
but like this one, the firebox was in the front, and there were
four burners with an oven (but just one) at the back. A ledge,
much like the one here, stuck out in the front, as well, and
even the legs were similar, if not the same.
(I understand, however, that a completely different model
is currently in that kitchen.):

Sure, once I learned how to cook on the Campbell’s stove,
problems were few and far between. In fact, it was actually
fun to use. And I must say, I cooked a slew of marvelously
delicious dishes on it! Of course, the best part was that
I didn’t have to bend down so far in order to use it. Still,
other than that, what is there to recommend it? And thus,
based on my knowledge of, as well as my past experience
in using, both, I believe there’s a multitude of reasons for
preferring an open hearth. In fact, I can think of at least 12!
I’ll share the first six now; the second set will follow.

Let’s get started! The reasons for my preference include:

1.) People have been cooking over an open fire, literally,
for centuries. The fire came first, cooking over it second,
followed closely by the development of appropriate tools
and equipment to do so. Change the way cooking is done,
by trading an open fire for an enclosed one, and a whole
new set of equipment and tools is required. Those adorable
pots and pans with the three little legs and the ones with
the rounded bottoms can no longer be used. Yep, legless
and flat become the operative words.

2.) You can hang pots from either a lug pole or a crane
over an open fire. With a cast iron cook stove, you can’t.
In fact, there’s no hanging of any kind of any thing.

3.) Hot coals from a fire are pulled out onto the hearth,
thus creating a series of small areas of heat on which
to cook. The number of these “burners” is limited solely
by the amount of space in and surrounding a fireplace.
With a cook stove, however, you’re confined to the four
(or so) designated spots on the stove’s top. That’s it.

4.) In conjunction with the above, any number of dishes
can be baked in little ovens (aka bake kettles or Dutch
ovens) that’re set on those numerous “burners.” With
a cook stove, you’re again restricted, to just one oven.

5.) At the same time, that stove oven (above) is quite
small. You can really only bake one item at a time. Now,
if you also had a brick bake oven, then you’d be fine.
Thing is, many people didn’t have one.
(Yes, larger stoves may’ve had more than one oven,
several even, but I’m referring to the typical, every
day common-man buyer, i.e. someone with limited
funds, who couldn’t afford the larger models.)

6.) If you’ve been cooking over an open all your life,
and your mother, grandmother, aunts, etc. before you
did the same, and that is where you learned to cook,
including how to determine the proper heat, the types
of flames and their uses, the amount of time needed
for specific dishes, and so forth ‘n so on, then you’re
in for a Big Surprise, if and when a cast iron stove
shows up in your home. Why? ‘Cuz you’re gonna
have to re-learn it all. Start to finish, top to bottom.
So hopefully, you’ve got the time, the motivation,
and the stamina. And your family has the patience!
(Not to mention the stomach for all those “tried,
but didn’t work and/or got burned” dishes!)

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UP NEXT: Six more reasons for preferring an open hearth
over a cast iron cook stove.

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* Drawing from Linda Campbell Franklin’s 300 Years of Kitchen
Collectibles, 5th Edition
(2003).

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For your enjoyment and edification: another 17th Century
painting that depicts a reflector oven. HUZZAH! This was
posted just today on Facebook by friend and fellow CP
alum (aka former Conner Prairie interpreter and thus,
an occasional 1836 “husband”…ahh, good times!),
the illustrious Terry Sargent.

The painting is attributed to Gillis Van Tibong (1625-1678).
I wanted to know more about the guy, so I googled his
name, but, alas, found nothing. I will keep looking, tho.
________

ARTIST UPDATE: I found two versions of the artist’s name,*
Gillis van Tilborch and van Tilborgh. Sometimes, both were
used in the same article. Not sure what’s up with that. He
was a prolific Flemish painter. Born in Brussels, he lived
most of his life there, although he did venture to England
to work on a commissioned family portrait. As to this work,
interestingly, its title is “A Barn Interior.” For more details,
check out this page from not-always-correct-Wikipedia or
here for additional paintings.

*Yep, I got it wrong above! dagnabit. Sorry ’bout that.
____________________

HUZZAH!

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NOTE: To see the painting shown previously that depicted
a 17th Century reflector oven (“Number 1″), click here.

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