Wood Cook Stoves: 19th Century Tips and Tricks for the Modern Homestead


Joel JohnsonOvens of stone, brick, and clay are nearly as old as agriculture itself. Archaeological evidence of oven use in modern day Syria dates from the Neolithic Period—roughly 9,000 years ago. While little is known about what those ovens looked like, or how they were used, 5,000 years later the picture starts to clear up.

Chopping Vegetables

4,000 year-old wooden statuettes from Ancient Egypt clearly depict baking activities. One of the most notable images is a relief found in the 5th Dynasty tomb of Ti at Saqqara. Bake oven designs used by ancient Egyptians, Jews, and Romans often bear a surprising resemblance to modern recreations—a reminder that food is history, and vice versa.

portrait stove 

The wood cook stove as we know it requires a fast-forwarding of another four millennia. The earliest metal wood-burning stoves can be dated to the 16th-century in Europe where the cook stove’s modern evolution began. Benjamin Franklin’s improvement on the open-hearth fire (a three-sided box of iron aptly known as the Franklin Stove) in the 1740’s is credited with producing higher room temperatures while using only one-quarter of the wood required by an open fireplace.

Of course, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that iron stoves became more widely available and affordable. Even when they did, the transition took some time. In 1823 Robert Bailey Thomas, founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, noted that although wood stoves represented a major saving of fuel and labor, “many people are so prejudiced against them that they will scarcely look at one.” Innovation and practicality eventually won out over tradition and the wood cook stove became a staple in 19th (and many 20th) century kitchens.

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Joel, there are many nostalgic memories of my grand mother slaving over the cook stove. Hers was the classic cook stove of the late 1800s or early 1900s with a water storage on the side and four cast iron disks that could be removed if the fire needed stoked. The oven temperature was controlled by how big the crack was when leaving the door open. Grandma cooked, canned garden produce, and baked every thing on that stove. It is indeed an ICON memory from my past. Wonderful smells were always wafting out of the kitchen. It was definitely an art and a skill to use such a stove. Women from that era seldom got to leave the kitchen. Modern day stoves and appliances have cut the strings of kitchen attachment for the women of today. It's become a wonderful new world that I doubt many women would be willing to give up. Have a great wood cook stove day. Nebraska Dave

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