Tuesday, September 30, 2008

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.

No kitchen was complete without a cupboard or Hoosier. Here kitchen utensils were stored. Many had a flour bin (see above right in cabinet), a built-in sifter, a granite or tin top for rolling pie crusts and biscuit dough, and drawers for storage. Note the meat grinder attached to the left and the butter churn on the floor to the right with a wash board behind. Hopefully the homemaker had a sink with a hand pump with room to the side to stack clean dishes to dry. A shelf below would hold pails and a dish pan.

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'd love to have one but my kitchen is too small.

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. 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.

Texanna, the heroine in my upcoming Cactus Rose novel, My Heart Will Find Yours, has to learn to cook in a Victorian kitchen. It would have been easier if she could cook in a twenty-first century one, but she's a take-out kinda gal. Below you'll find the blurb and a short excerpt. You can watch the book trailer at http://www.lindalaroque.com/


Fated lovers suffer the agony of loss only to be reunited to fulfill a greater plan.

TEXANNA KEITH doesn’t believe an antique locket is the key to time travel, but plays along, and to her horror, is zapped back to 1880 Waco, Texas. Her mission is to prevent Royce Dyson’s death in a shootout. Wounded, she loses what she longs for most — a life with Royce.

Marshall ROYCE DYSON’S wife disappeared in 1876. Now she’s reappeared, claiming she’s a time traveler from 2007. As he seeks the truth, he’s determined to keep Texanna with him, but it’s not destined to be.


Royce, buttoning his shirt, walked into the kitchen and grabbed the coffee pot. “Come here. I want to show you how to make coffee.”

“I know how to make coffee. With a Mr. Coffee.” She almost laughed at the look on his face.

“Well, I’m your Mr. Coffee so come here and pay attention.”

“I want to know where—”

“Come here and watch.” He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to the sink.

“Okay, okay.” She’d watch, but then he’d better have some answers.

“Fill the pot with water up to here.” He showed her a line formed from mineral deposits. “Then add a huge scoop of coffee and some egg shells.” He reached into a bowl in the cabinet of the Hoosier and gathered a small handful. “Every time you use an egg, wash the shell and put it in that bowl.” He crushed them, and then dropped them into the pot. He stoked the fire, added wood, and closed the door. “Now, when the coffee starts boiling, let it boil a couple of minutes, and then move it from the flat iron. That way the coffee won’t taste burned.”

Texanna nodded. She could do that. “Okay, I think I can do that.” Stepping back from the stove, she crossed her arms under her breasts and asked, “Now, where’s my underwear?”

The face that had been smiling sobered. “What are you talking about? Do you mean those unmentionables you left hanging on the porch for anyone to come along and see?”

“Those would be the ones.”

“I burned them. They’re indecent.”

She wanted to screech like a banshee but kept her voice down. “You’re lying. Where are they? They’re all I’ve got to put on.”

“You have a drawer full of bloomers and chemises upstairs in the wardrobe.”

“I want my underwear, not those tacky things in the drawer upstairs.”

“They’re not decent. You’re not going to wear them again.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not going to wear those ugly things upstairs. I’ll go bare-assed first!”

“Now see here, woman. That’s no way for a lady to talk.”

“Who said I was a lady?”

Royce’s face turned red. He was ready to blow. To avoid his anger, she turned and ran upstairs to get dressed.

Enjoy those modern conveniences!

~Romance with a twist in time~
A Law of Her Own available now at The Wild Rose Press


CJ Parker said...

When I was a kid my mother used to ship me off to stay a couple of weeks with an old aunt and a large farm in Oklahoma. I went there until the age of 16, when I left home to be on my own. My aunt never had electricity, an in house toilet, or even running water other than a bright red hand pump. All the things you mention in your post I've used. Now, I love my modern conveniences, but I actually enjoyed those times when I spent with my aunt. I learned to milk cows without being kicked, feed chickens and gather eggs without being pecked--though a rooster decided he didn't like me and decided to flog me. We had chicken and dumplings for dinner that night. I split wood for the stove. And learned to make biscuits to cook in the oven of that stove. The only thing I refused to do was do my laundry on a washboard. I always brought enough to last me, and did a big load when I returned home. Thanks for the memories.
Charlotte Parker

unwriter said...

We used to have an old stove like this when I grew up. The only running water we had was in the kitchen sink. I still remember bringing in buckets of water. The bathroom was down a little wooden, when you could find them, path.

I would love to review this book!!

Anne Carrole said...

Love this kind of stuff. My grandmother had a wood burning stove and an old fashioned kitchen right out of the turn of the (20th) century--and she was a great cook. I loved playing in that ktchen.

Cindy K. Green said...

Great facts and pics, Linda. I love Victorian kitchen utensils and gadgets. They were so creative. Wonderful book cover and the story sounds fascinating. :)


Celia Yeary said...

Wonderful article, Linda! Superb! And ahhh, the memories. As CJ said, I, too, had grandparents who lived in the country, had the wood stove in the photo, the icebox in the photo, the cabinet with the flour bin--I think the one in your photo may be newer--no running water, and a well and wash house--to wash yourself and bathe. She also had a "pie safe"--looked like a hutch with shelves on the bottom, closed in by doors with tin inserts that had holes punched in for air circulation. She kept five or six pies and cakes at a time in there--even cream pies with merinque. I had a blind uncle who lived at home (I and my little sister tagged after him becasue he played with us)and he would squat in front of the pie safe, cut off a chunk of pie or cake, carry it in his hand to the tree outside, sit down and eat it from his hand. We wanted to do that, but Mother always made us get a plate and fork. Celia

Lauri said...

Wonderful post!

I have a 1901 woodburning cook stove in my dining room that my husband bought for me years ago. I love it! Though I don't use it except for decor! BUT it was the inspriation for my book A Wife for Big John, in which the heroine falls in love with John's stove before she falls in love with him!

Your book sounds great!


Susan Macatee said...

Great info, Linda, and what a fun excerpt!
This is why I love time travels. They're just so much fun!

Judith Leger said...

Wow, just think, my Mom and her Mom all used these items. That is so neat! Thanks for info and the links, Linda! They're great.

Love the blurb and excerpt for My Heart Will Find Yours. The story is really good! I still remember it.



Paty Jager said...

When I was young, my paternal grandparents lived with us and we had a wood cook stove in the kitchen that she cooked on. And we had an outhouse in the back yard for when you couldn't wait for someone to get off the inside toilet!

Great blog, Linda!

Tori_Anne said...

Oh, this is great, Linda, as a fellow Wild Rose, Victorian Era author from the opposite coast (my novellas are set in old New York), I love perspectives like yours. While the era is so often romanticized, we often forget how difficult it could be! Thanks for sharing!

Elaine Cantrell said...

My grandmother cooked on a wood stove her entire life. My aunt gave her an electric stove, but she never used it. You should have tasted her fried chicken. She also had a Hoosier cabinet.

Elaine Cantrell

L.A. Mitchell said...

Hey Linda,
We time travel girls should stick together more :) I just finished mine in which my heroine has a few scenes in a nineteenth century kitchen. Loved the post--so much information!

Linda LaRoque said...

Thanks guys for your interesting and informative posts.

Don't you wish we had some of those things that got thrown out and replaced with new stuff? Well, I guess I'd need a bigger house. I do have my husband's grandmother's old wash stand and several old photographs with the oval glass and frames.

Now, I'll pass on the outhouse.

Thanks for stopping by.

Chiron said...

I loved reading historical methods for cooling and cooking food. It's so fascinating to consider the differences between our modern times and what our ancestors had to deal with. So many things we take for granted, not the least of which is the simple refrigerator.

Thanks for a very interesting post!!

And once again, your blurb is enticing!!

--Chiron O'Keefe