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Keeping warm and cooking in the Victorian Home
Posted on Nov 01, 2002 - 02:44 AM by Polina Coffey

In 1876, The School Board For London commissioned W B Tegetmeier to produce " a scholars' handbook on the general principles on which the processes of Cookery and the sanitary management of a home depend". It was to be " a book fit for use in schools, where the pupils should be instructed in the first principles" of home management. It was found that by using it in the schools "The girls, in three months, can be taught plain cooking, washing, and cleaning, enough to prepare them for service, or to make them useful to their mothers at home." The book presents in great detail the minutiae of life in the Victorian home. In the absence of electricity, double-glazing and central heating, cooking food and keeping the Victorian house warm in winter were quite hazardous, not to say primitive, chores. Here is the advice given to the young ladies in school.



The fuel used for cooking our food and warming our dwellings is usually coal or coke; in some parts wood or peat is employed, and occasionally coal gas. The heat produced during the burning of fuel is given out when the carbon of the fuel unites with the oxygen of the air, and carbonic acid gas is produced, as it is by the breathing of men and animals. This poisonous gas usually passes up the chimney with some unburned carbon which forms the smoke. When charcoal is burnt, the carbonic acid is produced without smoke, and therefore it is often used in stoves without chimneys, and the carbonic acid escaping into rooms is frequently the cause of fatal accidents. All stoves without flues or chimneys to carry off the carbonic acid are dangerous, and many persons have been poisoned by their having been used.

The heat produced by the burning of any kind of fuel makes the air in and around the fire much lighter, and it rises rapidly over the fire, usually passing up the chimney. More than nine-tenths (9/10) of the heat of a common grate passes up the chimney in this manner, and is wasted. If the grate is constructed of thick solid metal, this conducts away a large quantity of the heat so that it is impossible to keep in a very small fire in an iron range, whereas a mere handful of fuel can be kept alight in a grate lined with fire brick or fire-clay which does not cool the burning fuel in the same manner metal does. Part of the heat produced is thrown out by the fire, and passes into the room. In ordinary grates the amount of heat passing off in this manner is very much lessened by the thick bars which are frequently placed in the front of the grate.

Ordinary fire-grates are most extravagant modes of using fuel, and are not employed by the people of any other nation. Not only is a good deal of the heat carried away up the chimney, and by the conducting power of the iron, but the shape of the grate and the bars also prevents much being thrown out into the room. An ordinary grate may, however, be made more economical. If it be lined with bricks, tiles, or fire- clay, and the open bars underneath be closed, either by fire-clay or a piece of tin plate, the air will have to enter in front where the fire will be brightest, and no heat will be thrown down into the ash pit.

Cooking ranges with an oven on one side are very useful in a small family. If well constructed they will bake bread, meat, and pies or puddings very perfectly. Even when there is a low fire the oven can be used for stewing, and slow cooking can be done on the top much better than over a common fire. A boiler by the side is not so important as an oven. Boilers are liable to get filled with the deposit or rock from the water; and if they are of cast iron, they are apt to crack. As an example of a good cheap open range, that illustrated above may be taken; it has a fire-clay back to prevent the heat passing away where it is not required, a good sized oven with the door to let down in front, and a boiler. Grates of this kind are not made by many manufacturers, and are sold at a low price.

Cooking stoves are much more convenient and economical in use than ranges. They are used by almost all persons in America, and are now very largely employed in this country. A very good pattern is shown in the engraving. It has an open fire which can be used for broiling and toasting. This fire is quite under control, and can be raised or lowered in a few minutes by opening or closing the doors so as to cause a strong current of air to pass through the burning fuel or over it as required. The size shown will bake a joint as large as a leg of mutton, or two tins of bread admirably. The cooking vessels can be put down on the fire or placed on the hot iron top, and shifted so as to receive as much heat as required.

The stove can also be used as a hot plate for preserving or stewing. The open fire is cheerful, and the stove is a good heating stove as well as cooking stove. Any large boiler placed on the top will furnish an unlimited supply of hot water. If placed in front of an open fire-place these stoves require about six feet of iron pipe to be placed up the chimney. Being perfectly movable they can be carried by the owner from one house to another and placed in front of any fire-place. They are sold by Smith and Welstood, Ludgate Circus.

Gas-stoves: Gas when employed as ordinary fuel is exceedingly expensive, being at least five or six times as dear as coal. When the gas is burned inside the oven in which meat is to be baked the vapour arising from the burnt gas renders the meat sodden and unpleasant, and quite different from the meat cooked in an ordinary oven or before the open fire.Gas can however be used as an occasional source of heat with great economy as it is instantly lighted and put out; there is no waste of fuel or loss of time. The best small gas stoves are those that can be placed on a table and burn the gas mixed with air, when it produces a pale blue flame which does not smoke any vessel placed within it. These stoves are particularly useful in heating a kettle of water in the summer time, or when there are no fires in the house.

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Note: Tegetmeier's complete text can be viewed on-line in the Victorian Dictionary

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