Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Learning to cook like my ancestors did--What I did over the summer


This summer my kids and I volunteered up at This Is The Place State Park.  We had a wonderful time and learned so many things about the past.  We volunteered several years ago when the kids were little and I was always so impressed by what you can learn by reliving the past.  My ancestors were pioneers and it really makes their lives become real in so many details.  It is a great way to teach my kids some gratitude too.  I wrote Plan to Visit a Living History Museum recently for Family Tree Magazine.  There are just so many things you can learn from a Living History Museum. 

I've been getting to know this stove. It is a cast iron stove that we've been demonstrating cooking with.  We have made rolls, and cookies and pies.  It has been good food and lots of learning.  But mostly it has been alot of appreciation for what the women before us went through to feed their families.  Besides the kitchen garden, besides cleaning and gutting the animals, besides making everything from scratch, using a stove like this is a big deal, a really big, time consuming, complicated deal. And that's after all the work of collecting and chopping the wood. 

The fire box on this stove was on the upper left and the oven was on the right.  You could feed wood into the side and into the front of the fire box.  Making the fire is really tricky, you have to be sure you are allowing enough air through so that the fire gets hot enough.  And different kinds of wood create different temperatures in the stove.  I suppose if I lived with it all the time, I would learn all of that but it was really tricky to get it to the right temperature this summer.  Once the oven is hot enough the burners on the left are your high heat, the burners in the middle are medium and the burners on the right are lower.  When you bake something in the oven, you have to turn it 1/2 way through so that it cooks evenly on both sides.  Dealing with this oven was like having another child.  It took several hours to heat it up to the right temperature, quite a long time to cook and then once the oven was cool, you needed to clean out all the ashes to make it ready for the next day.  It took two shifts of women all day just to produce a couple of items.  I can't imagine having to make three meals a day on it.  You wouldn't have time for anything else. 

One of the things I really learned to appreciate is that our ovens are insulated and cool to the touch on the outside.  Not so with this one.  It would have been quite a job to keep little kids away so that they don't burn themselves.  And then of course, it heats the house up really hot--which is great in the winter I'm sure, but really hard to handle in the summer.  It was soooo hot.  I don't know how the pioneers ever had cooked food in the summer but I do know why my ancestor's journals talk about the summer kitchen. 
It is a huge project to cook in this oven.   And then you have to do the dishes. I really missed the running water.  We had to bring in water from the back, make sure it was heated.  And then we had to wash and rinse every dish by hand.  It worked, but it took all day.  I'm sure it took every bit of energy every day to make the food for their families.  I have a whole new appreciation for women of the 19th century.  We all come from a strong lot. 


Charles said...

I asked my dad about the hot wood stove in the summer and he said they also had a kerosene stove they used in the summer, it heated quick, without a lot of heat generated in the kitchen, and shut down quick when done cooking, similar to what we have today.

Alex Daw said...

This is so amazing. I have a little model one of these stoves - an exact replica that you could use in a doll's house. It's got doors that open and shut and the hotplates are removable (read that as "can be lost"!). I love it to bits but will look at it with more respect now. How wonderful to have such a fantastic place near to where you live. Good for you for becoming so engaged in "living" as your ancestors did.