Monday, August 14, 2017

Life in the Old West—Cooking in the Victorian Kitchen



When writing My Heart Will Find Yours I learned a lot about nineteenth-century kitchens.

Very few homes had an ice box, the kind where a block of ice was delivered to sit in an insulated reservoir in the top of the wooden structure. They were invented for home use in the 1840s, but it wasn't until the 1870s that the U.S. had ice plants that produced artificial ice. In the model seen here, the block would go in the unopened door to the left. As the ice melted the cold water flowed down the sides and kept the contents inside cool. Note the pan on the floor. Of course, in hot weather, the ice didn't last more than a couple of days. Owners had a sign with 25 lbs, 50 lbs, 75 lbs, and 100 lbs on each side. You'd prop the side up with the amount you needed out front so when the iceman came by he'd know what size block to bring in for you. This picture can be found in an online article titled Early Days of Refrigeration at
www.lclark.edu/

I found an advertisement for a model almost identical to this one. No date was given but the price was $16.98.

My mother-in-law said that even in the early thirties they kept their perishables in a spring house, a small shed built over a spring. Food was covered with dish towels or cheese cloth to keep out flies and other pests, and the flowing water kept the room cool. Some homes had a larder which was a room on the coolest side of the house or in the cellar. None of these solutions would make modern homemakers happy, but folks back then didn't know any difference and the system worked for them.



This picture was taken at the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas, and dates somewhere around the 1920s or 1930s. The design in these cupboards didn't change much over time so earlier models looked much like this one. Today cupboards or Hoosiers have become popular decorative additions to modern kitchens, as have old ice boxes. I have one though it's not a genuine Hoosier but a generic type of which there were a lot. It's a nice decorative piece.



Last, but not least, in importance to the homemaker was the wood cook stove. Before the cast iron kitchen stove was invented, women cooked over hearths with ovens built into the wall, if they were well-off, or outside in a fire pit. Both methods were hard on the back due to bending over to stir food in pots suspended from iron hooks. Cast iron pot bellied stoves, used mainly for heat, could be used for some 
cooking, but lucky was the woman who had a genuine kitchen cook stove like the one pictured here.  

This is a restored model pictured at http://www.bryantstove.com/ Many models such as this one had a copper lined reservoir on the side to keep water warm for beverages, dishwater, or bathing. The smart homemaker never let it go dry. In my reading I noticed some even had a kick plate to open the oven door when hands were full. Some of these models were designed to use either wood or coal oil. Restored wood stoves are popular and being added to homes of individuals who like antiques and love to cook. They aren't for the person who wants to pop something in the oven and go about their business as the product must be watched carefully to make sure oven temperature is maintained. Also, they're quite expensive, 
between two and three thousand dollars.

Managing a house hold during this era wasn't for the weak. Just lifting those iron cooking vessels took a strength many modern women don't possess. But, I guess carrying buckets of milk from the barn, doing the wash in the yard using a scrub board, and their other daily chores built muscles. And don't you just love the old bath tub?


My time travel heroines face multiple challenges when learning to live and take care of a home in the nineteenth century. Though it’s never easy, their love for their hero gives them the perseverance to adjust to a past way of life.
A Law of Her Own, A Marshall of Her Own, and A Love of His Own released today from The Wild Rose Press are all set in the nineteenth century town of Prairie, Texas. In this last story, the individual to travel back in time is the hero and though he doesn’t have to adjust to cooking in a Victorian kitchen, he does have to adjust to many other aspects of life in the past.

Thanks for reading,
Linda
Linda LaRoque
Writing Romance with a Twist in Time
A Marshal of Her Own, Feb. 2012 Book of the Month at Long and Short Reviews
www.lindalaroque.com
http://www.lindalaroqueauthor.blogspot.com



16 comments:

  1. When I was a little kid in the forties, we had an ice box. The one thing I remember about is was there was constantly water on the floor and the butter always had to be set on the ice block. Also at that time, the world was just being introduced to margarine. I don't remember exactly how it worked, but it had to be made up and little colored pills were put into it to make it yellow. God, I'm old. Also, when my DH and I lived in the Northwest, he had a mountain cabin that had a cast iron wood cookstove. An old-timer taught me how to cook an apple pie in that stove. That was quite a challenge. A wood cookstove burns extremely hot and controlling the heat takes a lot of practice. The old woman who taught me showed me how to pick out the right size wood to put in the firebox, depending on how hot I wanted the oven to be. I can't tell you how many pans of biscuits I turned into charcoal in that oven. But it was interesting. I never did really get the hang of it.

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    1. I can imagine the water, Anna. I remember the introduction of margarine and it having to be mixed to add the color. I can't remember the shame if came in though. LOL, I can't imagine baking anything decent on a wood stove. I guess practice made perfect, but I bet the house was hot. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. I remember the ice man when I was very little. I own an icebox but I use it to stash candles and wrapping paper etc. I did own a Hoosier and it really needed some work. I had no place to put it, no place to work on it, and my DH decided I HAD to get rid of it. My antiques often drove him crazy. Eventually I parted with the Hoosier. :-(

    Heating on a wood cook stove might be nice but not cooking on one. Can you imagine having that hot thing in the house in the heat of summer? UGH!

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    1. Bet the icebox is great for keeping such items. Some the the hoosiers around really do need a lot of work. It's a shame we haven't saved some of these earlier items. My cousin has one that even has the Hoosier label with measurement charts on the inside. I'm with you on the wood stove. They're great for heat but not for cooking.

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  3. Great info, Linda. It's a keeper for future reference.

    I remember my mom called our refrigerator and ice box as long as I lived at home. She was born in 1908 and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. I'm sure she grew up with a real ice box in her home.

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    1. I think I still stay ice box only because it's what I grew up hearing.

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  4. I loved this article, Linda. My maternal grandmother lived in an old Victorian farmhouse in Pennsylvania. It was not modernized except for electricity mostly just used for lighting, She had a green enamel coal burning stove (same thing as wood, but coal is plentiful in PA.) There were fancy iron vents in the upstairs rooms to allow heat from the stove to rise and heat those rooms. I think she did have a refrigerator or maybe just an ice box, but I don't remember. She canned fruit and vegetables all summer long using that stove. She also cooked up some fantastic meals on that old stove.
    People worked hard in those days just keeping things going. Now everything is so easy and convenient with washers and dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, and so on. Growing up we never had a dishwasher or a dryer. It's mighty inconvenient hanging clothes on the line and when it rains, we had to run out there and get the clothes in. But clothes that have dried in the sunshine and open air smell fresh.
    Great blog, Linda. And, by the way, I love time travel novels. All the best to you.

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    1. Oh I love those antique green appliances. My grandmother had a coal burning stove, but her house was single story so there were no vents. What a fancy conveniece she had. I grew up with a washer and refrigerator, but we hung the clothes outside. I didn't have a dryer until I married. I'd love to send you a complimentary time travel for an honest review if you're interested.

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    2. Linda, I would love to read and review one of your time travel stories. Now happens to be a good time for me to devote to some reading. My email address is starcriter at yahoo dot com I have a Kindle so a mobi Kindle or PDF would be good. And thank you for asking me.

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    3. I'll be sending you my series that was published into an anthology here in a few minutes. I hope you enjoy it!

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  5. I'd love to have a Hoosier cabinet, but they're quite expensive now. You know when Jello was introduced it was a luxury because the homemaker had to have a refrigerator to set the gelatin. She would serve it to impress.

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    1. I hadn't thought about that, Caroline. I'm not a jello fan myself but I suspect I would have been back in the day.

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  6. Oh, I love this topic. The photos are fantastic. Early women who had such a kitchen was "in high cotton!" My Granny had one of those wood cook stoves and a Hoosier cabinet. And in my house in the 40s, we had an "ice box" which was great until the ice began to melt.
    Lovely memories--just glad we don't need to cook like this anymore!

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  7. I agree with Celia. I remember my parents had an ice box. She could shove wood into the stove to keep the kitchen warm. We sure are lucky and the best thing that makes me lucky in my kitchen is the microwave. When it stops, I feel the pain. Great post, Linda.

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    1. Thank you, Paisley. And we wouldn't dare leave any other kind of kitchen stove running overnight to keep a house warm. The microwave was a great invention!

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  8. Oh how fun for you, Celia, though I would hate to have had to cook on the stove in the summer. My MIL had a gas stove and she hated to use it in summer. My Granny had an oil stove. I'll never forget when she got an electric one. I don't think she liked cooking on it much.

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