Back in the day, homes were not huge like they are now. Most frontier houses were two rooms and the loft. One room made up the sleeping quarters, the other room was for meals, gatherings, cooking and the likes. Normally the wall between the sleeping area and the “rest of the house” was made up of a large fireplace. This served as the homes heating and cooking areas.
Dutch Oven cooking is something I love to do because I am lazy, one pot, whole meal, few dishes. Back in the old days dutch oven cooking was how it all got done. When they needed heat, a large roaring fire was started, when cooking however it was done by mounding up coal and placing the dutch oven on top of the coal mound. Cooks would tend to their dutch ovens all day. It was quite common to have many dutch ovens going at the same time.
Most families would carefully preserve the coals by gathering them together at night and used the slow burning coals to light the next mornings fire. Later to avoid unnecessary heat in the summer, beehive shaped ovens were built into the wall containing the fireplace. This allowed several extra hours of heat to prepare the meal without having to deal with several extra hours of having a raging fire going. Because baking items took many hours and the hot summer only made baking all the more miserable, these beehive stoves soon found themselves working overtime only a few days of the week. Women would try to do as much baking in a single day that they could. This helped limit the heat in hot summer months as well.
Baking is an art form, but more so when a cook would have to learn how much of the fuel they had on hand was required for the various pies, cakes and breads. I can’t even begin to imagine the knowledge they had. When orchard wood was trimmed, the pieces not use in the smoke house were used as fire fuel. Do any of you know how many pieces, of various diameters from the pecan tree and cheery trees it takes to produce a temperature correct to bake an angel food cake? I mean they had to know so much it boggles my mind. I can only imagine the daunting task of a young woman learning to cook for her family might have been. If you made a lopsided cake, you frosted and served it with grace and it was accepted. Though today (I know my brothers often teased me) when you make and frost a lopsided cake, no one wants to eat it and will continue to tease you about it thirty years later.
The cook stove with ovens as we know them today didn’t come into the picture till around the mid 1800s. If you are looking to be self-sustained, you would serve yourself well if you can get the “kitchen” out of the main body of the house so you don’t cook your living area with the heat. There is an additional bonus however, if you build the cooking house apart from it, you can also build your shower facilities on the other side and use that heat to heat the water for the shower and tub……kind of romantic when you think of it. “Honey, bake me a cake for dessert, I want to take a hot shower!”….. FIne, go kill me up an animal for supper and I will!!!!!! haha.
Part of every frontier kitchen was the ever going tea kettle. They were never filled all the way because water expands when heated, which could not only make a mess around where the kettle was hung, but could also harm the cook tending to it. Also a little known face that we don’t think much of today is that water boils faster on a rough surface than a smooth one. Water likes to adhere itself to a smooth surface with greater force. In order to boil, it must overcome this attraction before it will boil. Back in the old days, small clean gravel was quite often placed in the kettle to help facilitate the boiling as most kettles were quite smooth. I can see myself forgetting this fact and ending up with the gravel in the foods I used the water to prepare. Hmm, I wonder if they had a filter of some kind to avoid that or were just always smart and paid attention to the gravel when they poured the boiling water from the kettle?