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

Logger Coffee

What’s in Mrs. Hales’ Receipts for the Million 1857?Green coffee beans3American soldier

Substitute for Cream in Tea or Coffee. — Beat the white of an egg to a froth, put to it a very small lump of butter, and mix well. Then turn the coffee to it gradually, so that it may not curdle. If perfectly done, it will be an excellent substitute for cream. For tea, omit the butter, using only the egg. This might be of great use at sea, as eggs can be preserve fresh in various ways.

I’m preparing for my annual trip to San Juan Island to demonstrate 19th century folkways at English Camp. This year I hope to roast my coffee beans on the fire and then make logger coffee.  It is something 19th century folk did all the time.  The soldiers stationed at American Camp and in camps throughout the Civil War did it in their pans.

Mrs. Hale’s, unfortunately was no help as she assumes that everyone knows HOW to do it. Coffee, after all, is for the literary and sedentary (See earlier post) My copy of  The American Frugal Housewife is AWOL off my research bookshelf.  So I went down to our local farmer’s market and spoke to an Ethiopian immigrant who has a popular food stand there. I was told by a local coffee roaster that she does it every day at home.  It’s tradition.

“Just put some green coffee beans in a  pan on top of the stove on medium heat and it will roast.”

“How will I know it’s done?”

“The color will look right.  You will be able to tell.”

I suppose that it will smell good too. I’ll practice this week.  Next step: Should I use a rifle butt like the soldiers did or a coffee grinder? Hmm.

Here’s the receipt for logger coffee. Notice a green alder “chip” off a freshly felled tree.  It works.  It settles the grounds and I believe, takes the acidity out of coffee.

Logger coffee (Old Pacific NW receipt)

1. Fill pot halfway with water.

2. Add an alder “chip” preferably green.

3. Bring it to a boil.

4. Throw in about 2/3 cup of coffee.

5. Bring to a full boil and let boil for 1 Minute.

6. Remove from heat.

7. Check to see if grounds have settled.


Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million

I’ve decided to add something to this blog.  Every year for the past thirteen years, I have gone to English Camp on San Juan Island and have demonstrated mid- 19th century folkways.  There’s a lot of butter making and biscuit cutting going on — as well as spinning and candle dipping.

Mrs Hale's receipts cover

Leading my understanding of what a housewife put up with is my great-grandmother’s receipt book, MRS.HALE’s RECEIPT’S FOR THE MILLION.  This delightful book is both charming and informative, filled with 4545 “receipts” that range from cleaning leather and churns, caring for the invalid and making coffee. Published in Philadelphia in 1857, my great grandmother surely found use for it as she made her way from Western Pennsylvania to Kansas to craft a life with her surgeon/lawyer husband.

I think we should all get a daily dose or least every time I post. So here’s what’s in MRS. HALE’s RECEIPTS for today:

COFFEE: The infusion of or decoction of the roasted seeds of the coffee-berry, when not too strong, is a wholesome, exhilarating, and strengthening beverage; and when mixed with a large proportion of milk, is a proper article of diet for literary and sedentary people. It is especially suited to persons advanced in age.

I think I’ll go get some.