August temperatures rose high enough without suffering the added heat of the baking ovens. To spare the household unnecessary discomfort, the summer kitchen had been built—a one-room structure located to the rear and separate from the main house. Outside its cottage door, Lorena’s flower, herb and vegetable garden grew.
-Excerpt from Prize of My Heart
The large open fireplaces of Early American households generated an intense amount of heat that could warm an entire home. This was a serious responsibility in chilly weather but during the summer months the daylong fires required for hearth cookery could leave a dwelling oppressive. Many dishes took hours or all day to cook—baked beans, steamed brown bread, boiled suet and meat pie, as a few examples. Cooking odors lingered in the still, humid air, making the indoors not only unbearably warm but offensive.
For relief, it was common for colonials to build a separate building called a “Summer Kitchen.” It would be located no more than a few hundred feet from the main house, close enough so that prepared foods could be carried to the dining room in a timely fashion. Having a separate kitchen also reduced the risk of fire devastating an entire dwelling.
The summer kitchen would contain a large fireplace that would occupy almost an entire wall. A bake oven was built into the side of fireplace, complete with its own flue outside the oven door. The kitchen would include a pantry for storage and be furnished with a large work table and perhaps a smaller “breadboard table” for kneading dough.
Those without the means to build a separate kitchen, often used clay, outdoor bake ovens during the warmest months. Many Northern homes were built upon rubblestone cellars which also served as a summer kitchens in season.
Lisa Norato is the multi-published author of Prize of My Heart, an inspirational, seafaring historical from Bethany House, set during the Federal era. A life-long New Englander, Lisa lives in a historic village with homes and churches dating as far back as the eighteenth century.