Monday, March 5, 2012

Fireless Cookers

Hay Boxes, or Fireless Cookers, were in wide use by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and probably much earlier), as a means for saving on fuel costs (whether wood, coal, or some form of gas).   They are simple, low-energy slow cookers that, according to some accounts, date back to biblical times.  Food would be heated up in a pot on a conventional stove for a few minutes and then put into an insulated box or compartment to cook for a few hours.  The simplest ones were simply boxes full of hay, cloth or other insulating material and these were commonly home-made devices.  However, many of the stoves built ca. 1900 had fireless cooking compartment built into them, and there were also a wide variety of them available for sale as separate units.  There use was so common, in fact, that special cookbooks were written for this method of cooking, because cooking times had to be adjusted for them.

This is the diagram of a fireless cooker

that was submitted with a patent in 1911.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hot Beds

It being almost Spring, it is time to start planting--or at least think about plantting--the garden.  In the days before electric germination mats, farmers used to get an early start on Spring plantting using hot beds.  There were essentially cold frames that had a layer of fresh manure under them, and another layer of soil on top of that.  The decomposition of the manure generated heat, warmed the soil, and thereby "forced" the seeds into early germination.  In some locations, farmers did not need to cover the hot beds at all, and in other instances they put hoops over them and covered them with canvass at night and during storms.

George Fisher, writing in 1794, described the late-Winter preparations for planting like this:
"Throw up some new dung in a heap to heat, that it may be ready to make hotbeds for early cucumbers and melons…Nurse the cauliflowers kept under glass carefully; shut out the frost but in the middle of the milder days let in a little air…Make a slight hotbed in the open ground for young sallading, and place hoops over it that it may be covered in very hard weather."
From: The American Young Man’s Best Companion (Walpole, NH: 1794)  p. 357.

This is a sketch of a 19th century hotbed, published in:  A. Watson, The American Home Garden (1856).
A 19th century diagram for a hotbed, with the manure below ground-level.

Another 19th century innovation: heating the ground in the hotbed by running flus from a wood-burning stove under it.