Eighteenth century cooking required time, patience, and physical labor. Because houses lacked indoor plumbing, electricity, and refrigeration, women spent a great deal of time each day preparing food.
|An eighteenth century kitchen|
Colonial kitchens were located either inside a house or in a detached building away from the house. The advantage of having a kitchen in a detached building was that heat from the cooking fireplace did not make the house warmer during hot summer months. Conversely, during cold weather, heat from a kitchen located inside a house helped provide warmth to the residence.
Living near a brick-making source often determined whether cooking fireplaces were constructed of brick or stone. Both types of fireplaces had to be large enough to accommodate kettles and pans. Cooking fires were fueled by wood that had been cut and dried for easy burning.
|A cooking fireplace made from stone in a rural log cabin|
Kettles containing food that needed to be kept warm were either hung over a mound of hot ash and coals called "banked ashes" or set atop a small pile of hot embers as in the photo below.
|Left pot hangs above banked ash and coals while the right pot sits on piled embers in a brick fireplace|
Some colonial cooking fireplaces contained metal cranes that swiveled. Secured to an oven wall, pots and kettles were hung from it during cooking. Cranes served two purposes: convenience and safety. The crane helped the cook move heavy iron kettles and pots filled with hot food toward and away from her during cooking without her having to reach across flames.
|A cooking crane|
Colonial women who weren't fortunate enough to live in a town with a bakery had to make their own bread and baked goods. Bread dough was often mixed in a large wooden bowl, then kneaded and formed into a smooth ball.
|Fresh dough resting in wood bowl|
Yeast dough needs to rise in a warm, draft-free place before it can be baked. A dough tray - a wood box with a secure but removable lid - was used for this purpose. Raw dough was placed inside the deep box, giving it room to expand during the rising, then covered with the lid. With the lid in place, a warm, draft-free interior allowed the dough to rise.
|The large wood box on legs is a dough tray|
Bread, pies, cookies, and cakes were baked inside an oven that was usually located next to the cooking fireplace. The oven was preheated by building a fire inside it. Once the wood burned into ash and embers, it was removed and the oven thoroughly cleaned. Baked goods requiring the hottest temperature, such as pies, were baked first. Cookies, ofttimes referred to as "biscuits," required a brief baking time at a low temperature and were baked last.
|The top opening is the oven. Firewood is stored underneath.|
Liquids, such as vinegar and cider, and dry food were stored in stoneware jugs and crocks made by a potter. Because colonial kitchens didn't have built-in cabinets, free-standing cupboards and shelves were used for storage.
|Stoneware storage jugs and crocks sit on top of a kitchen cabinet|
Thin pieces of leather placed over the opening of a jar or crock protected the contents from dust, insects, and mice.
|Leather used as lids on jars|
Some fruits and vegetables needed to be dried before being stored for the winter. Colonial cooks often tied string around small individual vegetables, such as the peppers below, and hung them from the ceiling to dry. Once dried, they were stored in crocks.
|Peppers being dried in a colonial kitchen|
A basic necessity for cooking is water. With no indoor plumbing, cooks had to go outdoors for water. People living on an established property usually had an outdoor well located near their kitchen while backcountry settlers retrieved water from springs, creeks, or rivers until a well could be dug. In either case, water was transported in buckets. Because buckets filled with water are heavy, they tended to be small, requiring numerous trips between the kitchen and water source.
|A well with a water bucket stands next to a house in a village.|
All photographs ©2016 Cynthia Howerter
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