From prehistoric times until the advent of the cook stove, family cooking was done around the fire or the hearth. Most meals consisted of something like meat that could be roasted over a spit, or simple porridges and stews that could be cooked all day in a single pot over an open fire. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s stove for heating, which eventually morphed into a means of heating water and then entire meals, the age of the kitchen appliance had begun.
When wood burning kitchen stoves were first introduced, the idea was nearly universally rejected by women. People who had been raised around the family hearth in the main living area — keeping warm, telling stories, reading books — couldn’t imagine raising a family around a stove in the kitchen. The original wood-burning iron stoves were collapsible, allowing pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail to store their stove flat in their covered wagons, and then to set up their kitchens before they even had a house to call home. Armies during the Civil War used small versions to cook in their encampments.
My Great-grandmother Taylor never did switch to an electric stove or oven. Even into the early 1970’s, she was still cooking family holiday meals on her giant wood-burning iron stove that had traveled with the family from their homestead in Anacortes, through several moves to finally end up in Kirkland.
Grandma Taylor’s adult children frequently offered to replace her wood-burning antique with a new, modern appliance, but Grandma Taylor would have none of that new-fangled mumbo-jumbo in her kitchen. I have vivid memories of her standing over the stove in her house dress and apron, shoving wood into the opening of the stove, and sweating profusely. And she loved every minute of it. It was how she took care of her family.
I remember my first stove. It was made of turquoise colored cardboard and plastic. I was four-years-old and one of my other grandmothers had decided it was time I learned to be a “lady,” so she gave me a play kitchen set for Christmas that year. Becoming a young woman in the early 1960’s was evidently equal in my grandmother’s mind to playing with the trappings of modern American kitchens.
I was the envy of all my friends with my new child-sized kitchen.
But what did I personally think of this modern marvel of play equipment? I hated it. I wanted to use the real thing. I wanted to cook on the real stove, make a real cake in the real oven, or broil a real steak under a real broiler.
I remember my grandmother being worried that I wasn’t going to grow into a real “lady” when I didn’t play with the cardboard kitchen. I often wonder now why she never noticed me at her elbow faithfully stirring the batter for the birthday cupcakes, or setting the timer for the casserole in the oven?