28 Wood Fired Cookstoves To Warm The Soul, And A History

Categories: Cooking

Were there kitchens before there were cookstoves? Technically, yes, because the ancient art of food preparation took place in open hearths well before the birth of the stove in the late 18th century. Any place there was roasting or baking was, in effect, a kitchen, regardless of whether it was a multi-use room like the post-medieval hall, a dedicated wing, or even a totally separate building like a summer kitchen.

Nonetheless, the kitchen as we know it today has been the heart of the modern house for nearly 150 years, and all through this time the heart of the modern kitchen has been the cookstove or range. In old-house kitchens, ranges are central not only to their function but to their historical ambiance as well. In fact, one way to understand kitchens of the past, and gain design ideas for an old-house kitchen today, is to examine the development of this remarkable appliance through its changing fuels, construction, and design.

 Early Stoves Light Up

From a cooking perspective, the ingredients of the modern kitchen came together only about 200 years ago with the first appearance of a true range—that is, a flat-topped heat source combined with an oven. Credit goes to Benjamin Thompson, better known as Count Rumford, who designed the earliest such cooking devices to scientifically control heat as early as the 1790s. Rumford was an engineering pioneer who made the first scientific studies of heat transfer while perfecting methods for boring cannons. Better known today as the inventor of the Thermos Bottle and the fireplace that bears his name, Rumford’s particular genius in the kitchen was to take the cooking fire out of the open hearth and put it in a box.

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A kitchen equipped according to Rumford’s ideas was dominated by a large range built of brick masonry. Though sometimes connected to the chimney mass, such ranges might also be given their own space. The breakthrough idea was a flat top perforated by round ports of different sizes that opened to the fire below, into which the cook would lower Rumford-designed pots and pans, similar to the operation of some institutional ranges of today. Cast iron seems to have appeared in later versions for tops and firebox doors, and the same kitchen might also include another Rumford innovation: an iron drum with a door that was built into the hearth masonry and called the Rumford Roaster.

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