In a previous version of my website, I wrote an article about wood-burning stoves. That text has long disappeared from here, but search engines continue to direct seekers to my website in response to the word “stove.” So, here once again, is my tribute to the heart of the home.
The Humble Kitchen Stove
When woman first began cooking inside the cave, she used an open fire and a stick to sizzle the venison. Man liked the results and over the centuries applied his ingenuity to improving the techniques used to render the result of his hunt into palatable victuals.
In medieval castles and hovels the size and decoration of the cooking fire varied, but the science was the same. Build a big fire to produce heat, build a chimney to vent the smoke, hang pots over the fire for cooking. Western civilization continued with this basic concept right up until the eighteenth century when, in 1735 a French architect by the name of Franççois Cuvilliéés, designed a completely enclosed fire with fireholes covered by perforated iron plates. This Castrol stove was much more fuel-efficient and allowed the cook to simmer her soups and stews in relative safety without fear of embers from the fireplace shooting out and burning her. Toward the end of the century the Castrol stove was refined by hanging the pots through the fireholes, allowing for heating on three sides instead of just one.
One of the biggest leaps in the technology of home heating came with the invention of the Franklin stove, named after its inventor, Benjamin Franklin. Intended primarily for home heat the Franklin stove used a labyrinth system of baffles and plates to circulate the air through the stove giving us both radiant and convection heat. The front of the stove was still open, like the conventional fireplace, but the top of the heater was flat and allowed for cooking with flat-bottomed pots and pans. Another step in the evolution of the kitchen. Previous to this, cooking was done in round bottomed cauldrons.
As an aside, did you know that Benjamin Franklin put all of his inventions into the public domain, refusing to file patents or to collect royalties?
Modern refinements on the wood stove have added catalytic converters to reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of combustion. Construction materials include soapstone, ceramics and glass as well as iron and steel and those of us who’ve endured a loss of power on a cold winter’s day are leading the charge to resurrect the humble kitchen stove – even if it lives in a forgotten corner of the basement most of the time.
Sources: Black, Martha Louise My Ninety Years Alaska Northwest Publishing Co. Anchorage, Alaska, 1976
Curtis, Will and Jane, Antique Woodstoves, Artistry in Iron, Star Press, Kenebeck Maine, 1975