The heart of the home is the kitchen or at least it was in by-gone days. The familiar aroma of foods like bacon, eggs, and coffee would waft through the house like a good morning call to wake up and greet the day, with the reassuring message that Mother was busy and everything was right in the world. Other heavenly scents like baking bread permeated the house to welcome family home at other times of the day, and certainly it was a hub of activity with pots, pans, and dishes clattering along with the chatter of family as they congregated while Mother was in the midst of all this activity so vital to the household.
A trip to the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum, part of the Seaway Trail and National Register of Historic Places, is a place where visitors can step back in time and experience this nostalgia. The first floor of the home is much like it was over a century ago and the kitchen is where the tour begins as guests enter. This week's column continues with its "virtual tour" and a look at old-time cooking.
One focal point immediately noticed is the Andes wood burning stove. Full of utensils, it is clearly ready for use with many tasty meals prepared with them in the past. Research shows that this particular stove was most likely made by the Philips and Clark Stove Company based in Geneva, New York; founded as far back as 1885. A 1904 catalog highlighted many of their stoves which claimed, "The Andes is the most popular line of stoves. No other is so handsome and attractive. No other is so well made. No other gives such perfect satisfaction."
Many old time wood-burning stoves had warming compartments as seen at the Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum.
Not nearly as easy as turning a knob like today, it nonetheless did the job required and as a side benefit, transformed the room into a cozy place during the cold winter. Of course, it had its firebox where logs were placed. Various grates, flues, and dampers regulated the temperature. Many had oven temperature indicators to help with this process. Some also had reservoirs, which was a type of small water tank so that there was a ready supply of hot water. This was clever; but at the same time a great convenience for the woman of the house in carrying out her many chores.
Some contemporary units of today have oven warmers or drawers, but it is also interesting to see when on tour that this is nothing new. This particular Andes stove from so many years ago also has a warming compartment at the top. For anyone to master working this stove today, of course he or she would also have to deal with some of the less glamorous tasks such as brining in the wood and cleaning out the ashes, although more than likely this was delegated to one of the children of the house.
Many of the utensils on the stovetop are of interest with some very unfamiliar to younger guests including the old-fashioned toaster. Many have seen the cast iron cookware, but associate it more with camping. It was commonly used many years ago. Heavy, yes, but has many benefits. The cast iron is a great heat conductor with heat retention, which also provides an even distribution of the heat. They are diverse in that they can easily be moved from the stovetop to the oven and last many lifetimes as evidenced by the fact that very old ones are still around today.
"Please don't throw away that old cast iron frying pan that was your mother's or grandmother's. Clean it! As long as it has no cracks or nicks, you can clean, season, and use it," says 'The Irreplaceable Cast Iron Pans' at whatscookinginamerica.net. This is a site that describes the "culinary wonder" of cast iron skillets and even though one will cook almost anything, people will want more than one because the cookware makes food taste so great. If used correctly, food does not stick because it has a true non-stick surface when "seasoned." In fact, it is said they get better with age. The seasoning, or conditioning explained at this site involves rubbing the skillet with food grade oil and placing it in the oven for a period of time which fills in all the nooks and cavities to create a smooth surface.
One other necessary tool on the stove is what one visitor affectionately called the "husband tamer." It is not the pan, but the old-fashioned iron. Before electricity, this heavy and hot implement was the only way to smooth or press out the wrinkles in the family's clothing. Of course, the heat would only last so long, making it necessary to have more than one heating at once. Sometimes called flatirons, it would have to be hot enough to do the job, but not so hot to scorch the fabric. They also had to be regularly cleaned, sanded and treated to prevent spotting and rusting. It is no wonder that such time would have to be devoted to this chore. The advent of electricity with electric irons must have been one of the most appreciated appliances for the first generation to see the change and appreciate the difference.
Come to the lighthouse for a taste of Americana. See and feel what it was like to live in another time, but don't trip over the doorstop on a warm day, which is another use for Grandmother's old iron. Make it a good week and go to www.dunkirklightouse.com for more information.
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