Cooking like it’s 1889

Originally Published May 7, 2009 – The very first article I ever wrote for

During the blizzards a few weeks ago, we were some of the “lucky” who lost our power. But for us, that was no problem, because one of the great features about our house is an 1880s cookstove in the back room. Remembering how to use it as anything other than a huge woodstove was another thing. It’s a wonderful reminder of what our ancestors had to do for a meal. So I stoked the stove and set to cutting up potatoes and onions to bake in the iron dutch oven- a type of pot with legs and a lid, wonderful for cooking outdoors with, because you bury in the coals of your fire to cook. I had not realized just how much wood it takes to get a cookstove hot enough to actually bake something, and once it was, the room was so warm, people and dogs had retreated to other, unheated parts of the house. Imagine what that heat must have been like in the summer! I now understand a little better why bread making happened once a week, and why hot meals were had at dawn and noon, with a cool supper in the evenings. Here I had always thought it was that the farm folk needed more energy in the earlier parts of the day to keep them fueled up to work. Now I know it was because it was better to cook in the early part of the day, before the real heat of the day actually kicked in.

The trick of cooking on a woodstove is to keep your fire going. It’s much different than cooking over an open fire, because you rely on coals for cooking with an open fire. Not so the woodstove. If you’re down to coals, the rest of the stove is getting too cool and that could lead to a badly cooked meal.

Needless to say, our power eventually came back on, and the family had a good meal, cooked the way our great great grandparents cooked. This fall, I plan to put real baking to the test on this stove. Anyone want cookies?


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