Kitchens in colonial homes were the hub of all activities. Kids played and read using the light from the fireplace, women cooked their foods, occupants kept warm on cold winter and autumn nights and residents often slept around the hot embers. In fact, colonial kitchens are like today’s kitchens where people congregate instead of the dining room.
Colonial women cooked over big open fireplaces rather than stoves. Preparing meals took a great deal of effort. People had to carry heavy buckets of water, kettles of food and logs for fire into the kitchen.
Hygiene standards in such kitchens were not very high. The smoke blew into people’s faces, burned their faces and scorched their clothes. Early colonialists did not have matches. People covered ashes during the night so that they can have live coals in the morning.
Bellows used to blow live coals into flames were the preserve of a few well-to-do settlers. Most people had to get down on their knees to blow the coal. If this was not effective, they had to take a long trip to the neighbour to borrow hot embers.
Most of the utensils and gadgets used in colonial homes are still used in today’s kitchen. One of the most important utensils in colonial kitchens was the crane hanging over a fire. This utensil could hold up to 10 gallons of water. Another important utensil in colonial kitchens was the pot that was usually filled with meat and vegetable stew.
Women would hang meat and birds in front of the fireplace and turn them regularly. The first mechanical turner was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1740. Other items in the kitchen included long handled frying pans, bake kettles and griddle pans for hotcakes. There were spoons for eating and knives for cutting meat. Forks were hardly used.
The fireplace in colonial kitchens had a brick oven that opened to the chimney. A heavy iron door kept the fireplace closed. The baker placed dry oven wood inside the oven and built a fire. Usually, the fire burned for 2-4 hours until the bricks were hot. The oven’s temperature was determined by feeling the heat coming from the opening.
Seeing women with no hair on their arms was common in those days because the hairs had been singed off by the heat. Once the oven was hot enough, the baker removed the coals and ashes from the oven and filled it with pies, breads and other baked products. A spatula with a long handle called a peel was used to remove the food once it was ready.
Smokehouses used to smoke and store meat was common in colonial homes. Several families would share larger smokehouses. Smoking was the most popular food preservation technique at that time.
The most popular foods doing the colonial times were fruits and vegetables, depending on the season. However, people also ate beef, chicken and seafood. Most families smoked meat in the cellar and stored food for later use.
Sugar was an expensive commodity and milk was reserved for infants. Tea and cider were preferred by people of all ages. Since milk was not affordable, people drank lots of beer, even for breakfast. People also ate lots of corn.
There is a common misconception that colonial women often died when they clothes caught fire while cooking near large fireplaces. However, many historians say that this is just a myth. Historians explain that colonial women often wore clothes made from natural materials such as wool and linen. These materials do not catch fire easily.
In addition, these materials would smolder and smoke first before catching fire. By that time, the cook would know that a fire is brewing. Of course, it was not safe to have an open fire when children are around. Youngsters were closely watched when they were near the open hearth.
Tanya Robinson is a kitchen designer who works for www.haldane-fisher.com. She loves to blog about any interior design developments that inspire her.