|Curfew, fire fork, and blowing tube|
Back then all cooking was done over the fire, and because it was inconvenient and time consuming to kindle a fire from scratch, a good cook never let hers go out. At the end of the day she would rake the hot coals into a pile and either bank them beneath a covering of ashes or cover them with a brass or copper device called a curfew, which would be pushed to the hearth’s back wall for the night. In the morning the embers were raked out and the fire built up. The illustration at right shows 2 English curfews, a fire fork, and a blowing tube—a long iron pipe that’s used as a bellows. Other indispensable fireplace tools included shovels and tongs.
the fireplace for cooking rather than a single large fire, much in the same way we use adjustable settings on our ranges for boiling or simmering foods today. For cooking at lower temperatures small piles of live embers were raked onto the hearth at the front of the fireplace. These were used for broiling on a gridiron, frying in a pan, and baking in a kettle. For cooking at higher temperatures, the cook hung larger pots on a crane mounted inside the chimney. These might be simple iron bars running the length of the fireplace. More desirable, if you could afford it, was a crane that could be swung out from the fire so the cook could check on the contents of the pots without getting scalded by the heat. She could suspend several pots at different points with pot hooks, trammels, or chains and control cooking temperatures by raising or lowering the pots or moving the crane outward.
Around 1725 pots, pans, and skillets began to be manufactured in the colonies. A pot is a vessel that has rounded sides and a cover, while a kettle has sloping sides and no cover of its own. Very large kettles, called cauldrons, were made of copper, brass, or iron and were so valuable that they were passed down in wills. Another form of skillet called a spider, shown on the left, has a flat bottom and straight shallow sides, a short handle, and 3 short legs. Short-handled frying pans didn’t come into use until stoves were invented. Eighteenth-century iron “fry pans” had a 3 foot long handle with hole at the tip for hanging when not in use. Trivets of assorted sizes were another necessity to hold kettles and footless pots and also serve as plate warmers.
Gridirons were used for grilling fish or meat. They looked like 3-legged iron grills with a handle. A drip pan was placed beneath to catch the drippings. Griddles were made of iron and used to bake oat and buckwheat cakes. They were also used as toasters and were often made in delicate patterns. Wafer and waffle irons date from the 14th century and were used for church services long before they began to be used in the home. Then of course there were also many kinds of skimmers, spatulas, meat forks, and other tools made of wood, tin, or iron.
The sketch of the kitchen hearth at Mt. Vernon at right shows spit dogs, with a wooden spit rack on the wall above. Fowl and large pieces of meat were skewered on the spit, then placed on a pair of hooks turned by hand cranks while they roasted close to the fire. A more ingenious design connected the spit by a chain to an iron fan set in the flue. The draft passing up the chimney turned the fan, which pulled the chain and turned the spit.
|Tin dutch or reflector oven|
|Fenno House at Sturbridge Village|
|Spice cabinet (1720-1740|
It’s amazing to consider all the gadgets that existed back in the 1700s to make the housewife’s life easier. Even so, they definitely had a lot of back-breaking work to fill each day. What aspects of the colonial housewife’s life do you think you’d find the most enjoyable, and which ones the most unpleasant?
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases April 1, 2017. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, won the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year Award.