Firing up the stove

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

130. To light a Coal Fire– A considerable saving of time and trouble might often be effected, if housemaids would attend to the following rules in lighting a fire: Clear the grate well from ashes and cinders; then lay at the bottom of it a few lumps of fresh coal, about the size of ducks’ eggs, so as not wholly to obstruct the air passing between the bars on which they are placed.

Mrs. Hale obviously never came to the Pacific Northwest where there was an abundance of trees.  Though coal was highly sought out by companies out of San Francisco, in part for the burgeoning maritime trade and steamboats and ships in that busy port, it was not  for cooking.  Until sources were found on the West Coast, coal had to come all the way around the Horn from the Eastern States.

The discovery of coal on Bellingham Bay in 1852 caused a great deal of excitement, but extracting it was expensive.  The Sehome Mine eventually became the leading  employer on the bay, but again, its coal was not  for heating and cooking in homes. Fort Nisqually kitchen

The cast iron cook stove was invented during the 1830s and became the desire of many a housewife. The Hudson Bay Company’s trading forts began using them early on. Narcissa Whitman out in Oregon country (near present day Walla Walla, WA) got  a little Hudson’s Bay stove in1841.  It had the oven directly over the fire box. Two oblong kettles were on either side.

This later model in the picture is at Fort Nisqually, which was a HBC farming outfit.  Both stoves ran on wood.

On Friday, I’ll be taking off for Friday Harbor and English Camp where I’ll be presenting a talk on 19th cookery and housewifery. I’ll be cooking in Dutch ovens, starting my fire with lucifer matches and some shavings from pitch wood, which comes from old Douglas fir trees.  Laid in with cedar tinder, these shavings can raise a fire quickly like Boy Scout water.  This year, I may get a chance to make coffee on the new 1850s stove the park acquired. It will be a mix of charcoal and wood to keep it going.

But, armed with sour dough, butter churn and my pot lifter I will make the best batch of biscuits ever on that old wood fire. File0015

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One thought on “Firing up the stove

  1. Um … biscuits! Bring some home to me, Janet! May I have the recipe for when we go camping at Mt. Saint Helen’s week after next? Can I really make them in my cast iron dutch oven?

    Love your blog!

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