Science and Technology in Colonial America

Cooking in America, 1590-1840

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

fuel, Governor Eaton's nineteen great fireplaces and Parson Davenport's thirteen, could be well filled; but by 1744 Franklin could write of these big chimneys as the "fireplace of our fathers;" for the forests had all disappeared in the vicinity of the towns, and the chimneys had shrunk in size. Sadly did the early settlers need warmer houses, for, as all antiquarian students have noted, in olden days the cold was more piercing, began to nip and pinch earlier in November, and lingered further into spring; winter rushed upon the settlers with heavier blasts and fiercer storms than we now have to endure. And, above all, they felt with sadder force "the dreary monotony of a New England winter, which leaves so large a blank, so melancholy a death-spot, in lives so brief that they ought to be all summer-time." Even John Adams in his day so dreaded the tedious bitter New England winter that he longed to hibernate like a dormouse from autumn to spring.

As the forests disappeared, sea-coal was brought over in small quantities, and stoves appeared for town use. By 1695 and 1700 we find Cotton Mather and Judge Sewall speaking of stoves and stove-rooms, and of chambers warmed by stoves. Ere that one John Clark had patented an invention for "saving and warming rooms," but we know nothing definite of its shape.

Dutch stoves and china stoves, were the first to be advertised in New England papers; then "Philadelphia Fire Stoves" — what we now term Franklin grates. Wood was burned in these grates. We find clergymen, until after Revolutionary times, having sixty or eighty cords of hardwood given to them annually by the parish.

Around the great glowing fireplace in an old New England kitchen centred all of homeliness and comfort that could be found in a New England home. The very aspect of the domestic hearth was picturesque, and must have had a beneficent influence. In earlier days the great lug-pole, or, as it was called in England, the back-bar, stretched from ledge to ledge, or lug to lug, high up the yawning chimney, and held a motley collection of pot-hooks and trammels, of gib-crokes, twicrokes, and hakes, which in turn suspended at various heights over the fire, pots, and kettles and other cooking utensils. In the hearth-corners were displayed skillets and trivets, peels and slices, and on either side were chimney-seats and settles. Above—on the clavel-piece-were festooned strings of dried apples, pumpkins, and peppers.

The lug-pole, though made of green wood, some-times became brittle or charred by too long use over the fire and careless neglect of replacement, and broke under its weighty burden of food and metal; hence accidents became so frequent, to the detriment of precious cooking utensils, and even to the destruction of human safety and life, that a Yankee invention of an iron crane brought convenience and simplicity, and added a new grace to the kitchen hearth.

The andirons added to the fireplace their homely charm. Fire-dogs appear in the earliest inventories under many names of various spelling, and were of many metals—copper, steel, iron, and brass. Sometimes a fireplace had three sets of andirons of different sizes, to hold logs at different heights. Cob irons had hooks to hold a spit and dripping-pan. Sometimes the "andirons" also had brackets. Creepers were low irons placed between the great fire-dogs. They are mentioned in many early wills and lists of possessions among items of fireplace furnishings, as, for instance, the list of Captain Tyng's furniture, made in Boston in 1653. The andirons were sometimes very elaborate, with claw feet, or cast in the figure of a negro, a soldier, or a dog.

In the Deerfield Memorial Hall there lives in perfection of detail one of these old fireplaces—a delight to the soul of the antiquary. Every homely utensil and piece of furniture, every domestic convenience and inconvenience, every home-made makeshift, every cumbrous and clumsy contrivance of the old-time kitchen here may be found, and they show to, us, as in a living photograph, the home life of those olden days.

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This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005