Last year, I did a presentation for my RWA chapter on Victorian household management, based on Mrs. Beeton’s famous guide. Being a cook and a history buff, I particularly enjoyed discovering the ins and outs of a Victorian cooking range.
On this side of the pond, ordinary rural folk burned wood for cooking. Only those in cities used coal, where in England it was the norm. A large home needed an industrial-sized stove to provide for the family and servants. These old reliables were cast iron, meant to last forever. Taking up a whole kitchen wall, more than a few were simply bricked over when the Great War swept away the old order and servants became a thing of the past.
These stoves really were marvels of appropriate technology, including everything the cook and her staff needed. Hot water was available from the boiler; there was a plate warming rack, a warming oven, a baking oven, a top surface, and a grate where a joint of meat on a spit could be turned in front of the flames (there was a special machine for that.) Every morning before dawn, the young scullery maid would shave up kindling, start the fire, and add coal so that the range would be hot by the time Cook appeared – and Heaven help the luckless maid if it wasn’t. These monsters had to be scrubbed and ‘blacked’ (treated with stove blacking) regularly, and everything in the kitchen had to be cleaned on schedule to remove the soot left by the coal fire.
And the gadgets. Oh, the gadgets! The rig at bottom right in this picture is the meat-turning device I mentioned above. It contained a spring that could be wound up so that the spit would turn. Imagine cook and maids bustling around the kitchen, dodging this scorching hot thing where it stood in front of the range. In the absence of blenders and food processors, there were mortars and pestles and mechanical grinders, and one needed screens to keep insects and rodents out of food sitting on pantry shelves.
Pots and pans were sized to fit the stove. Large soup cauldrons, fish steamers that would hold a whole halibut, frying pans – all were heavy tin, copper or cast iron. Instead of wearing out, they outlived the people who used them. Ah, the good old days!