THE VICTORIAN KITCHEN IN THE AMERICAN OLD WEST

By Guest Author Linda LaRoque

When writing MY HEART WILL FIND YOURS, I learned a lot about nineteenth-century kitchens.

Very few homes had an ice box, the kind where a block of ice was delivered to sit in an insulated reservoir in the top of the wooden structure. They were invented for home use in the 1840s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the U.S. had ice plants that produced artificial ice. In the model seen here, the block would go in the unopened door to the left. As the ice melted the cold water flowed down the sides and kept the contents inside cool. Note the pan on the floor. Of course, in hot weather, the ice didn’t last more than a couple of days. Owners had a sign with 25 lbs, 50 lbs, 75 lbs, and 100 lbs on each side. You’d prop the side up with the amount you needed out front so when the iceman came by he’d know what size block to bring in for you. This picture can be found in an online article titled Early Days of Refrigeration at www.lclark.edu/

I found an advertisement for a model almost identical to this one. No date was given but the price was $16.98.

My mother-in-law said that even in the early thirties they kept their perishables in a spring house, a small shed built over a spring. Food was covered with dish towels or cheese cloth to keep out flies and other pests, and the flowing water kept the room cool. Some homes had a larder which was a room on the coolest side of the house or in the cellar. None of these solutions would make modern homemakers happy, but folks back then didn’t know any difference and the system worked for them.


No kitchen was complete without a cupboard or Hoosier. Here kitchen utensils were stored. Many had a flour bin (see above right in cabinet), a built-in sifter, a granite or tin top for rolling pie crusts and biscuit dough, and drawers for storage. Note the meat grinder attached to the left and the butter churn on the floor to the right with a wash board behind. Hopefully the homemaker had a sink with a hand pump with room to the side to stack clean dishes to dry. A shelf below would hold pails and a dish pan.

This picture was taken at the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas, and dates somewhere around the 1920s or 1930s. The design in these cupboards didn’t change much over time so earlier models looked much like this one. Today cupboards or Hoosiers have become popular decorative additions to modern kitchens, as have old ice boxes. I’d love to have one but my kitchen is too small.
Last, but not least, in importance to the homemaker was the wood cook stove. Before the cast iron kitchen stove was invented, women cooked over hearths with ovens built into the wall, if they were well-off, or outside in a fire pit. Both methods were hard on the back due to bending over to stir food in pots suspended from iron hooks. Cast iron pot bellied stoves, used mainly for heat, could be used for some cooking, but lucky was the woman who had a genuine kitchen cook stove like the one pictured here.

This is a restored model pictured at http://www.bryantstove.com/ Many models such as this one had a copper lined reservoir on the side to keep water warm for beverages, dishwater, or bathing. In my reading I noticed some even had a kick plate to open the oven door when hands were full. Some of these models were designed to use either wood or coal oil. Restored wood stoves are popular and being added to homes of individuals who like antiques and love to cook. They aren’t for the person who wants to pop something in the oven and go about their business as the product must be watched carefully to make sure oven temperature is maintained. Also, they’re quite expensive, between two and three thousand dollars.

Managing a house hold during this era wasn’t for the weak. Just lifting those iron cooking vessels took a strength many modern women don’t possess. But, I guess carrying buckets of milk from the barn, doing the wash in the yard using a scrub board, and their other daily chores built muscles.

My time travel heroines face multiple challenges when learning to live and take care of a home in the nineteenth century. Though it’s never easy, their love for their hero gives them the perseverance to adjust to a past way of life. A LAW OF HER OWN, A MARSHALL OF HER OWN and A LOVE OF HIS OWN released from The Wild Rose Press are all set in the nineteenth century town of Prairie, Texas. In this last story, the individual to travel back in time is the hero and though he doesn’t have to adjust to cooking in a Victorian kitchen, he does have to adjust to many other aspects of life in the past.
Thanks for reading,
Linda
Linda LaRoque
Writing Romance with a Twist in Time
A Marshal of Her Own, Feb. 2012 Book of the Month at Long and Short Reviews
www.lindalaroque.com
http://www.lindalaroqueauthor.blogspot.com
http://www.authorsbymoonlight.com
http://thewritersvineyard.com/


A LOVE OF HIS OWN BLURB…
Bull Dawson, New York lawyer, mourns the loss of his daughter, who disappeared from a cabin in Fredericksburg, Texas four years ago. A history book found in his office safe leads him to believe she traveled back in time to 1888 Prairie, Texas. He’s determined that if she can time travel, he can too. Life will be different, probably hard, but practicing law can’t be so difficult back in the Old West.
Widow Dipsey Thackson scratches out a living for herself and her young son on their farm. Shunned by the locals, she keeps to herself. When a man appears in her wheat field one day, life changes for the better. Then her brother-in-law arrives, claiming the farm is his and threatening Dipsey and her son. She fears for both their means of survival and their safety.
Her dilemma will take more than a knowledge of the law, but Bull vows to do his best to protect her and her boy.
Here’s the excerpt for A LOVE OF HIS OWN:
“Whoa, boys.” Dipsey pulled the wagon to a stop and set the break. She hopped down, her leather boots hitting the road with a thud. Sam, the lead mule had been favoring his right front leg the past few minutes. She’d better take a look before he went lame.
“Let me see, Sam.” She lifted the mule’s big hoof and held it between her knees. “Ah, a rock. No wonder. Hurts, doesn’t it?” With a small twig, she flipped the stone out. “Now, that’ll feel better.” She let his foot drop and patted his neck. Joe snorted and butted her shoulder, so she turned and gave him a pat too. The brothers were jealous, afraid one would get more attention than the other. They were the same when it came to feeding time. She had to separate them lest they try to horn in on the other’s grub.
Dipsey walked back to the wagon and placed a foot onto the spoke of the front wheel to climb into the wagon. A snorting sound from behind her made her pause. Grabbing her rifle from under the seat, she whirled and peered into the field of winter wheat gently waving in the cool morning air. Sunlight glanced off the stalks giving the field a slight iridescence, but no movement caught her attention.
The noise stopped, then resumed with a loud bleating resonance. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Thomas was asleep in the wheat field, but she’d buried her husband two years past. Who trespassed on her land?
Rifle cocked, she stepped in the direction of the snoring. Thomas always said she could sneak up on Satan himself. She hoped her skill served her well today.
Lying on her precious wheat, breaking the stalks flat and making it useless, was a big, burly man. Wrapped in someone’s finely stitched quilt, he had a brown felt hat over his eyes. One arm lay across his chest, the other cradled a new-fangled model Winchester, so new the shine hadn’t yet worn off.
She snatched the rifle from his arm. The dang fool didn’t open his eyes. Dipsey thumped him on the shoulder with the butt of his weapon. He farted and rolled to his side exposing a muscled butt and legs encased in denims. She stumbled back a few steps. Disgusting man!

Linda LaRoque was born and reared in Texas and she and her husband call Central Texas home. She credits her sixth grade teachr for hooking her on the written word.
From then on, books were her best friends, and like many young people in school, she had one open when she should have been working on an assignment. Ironic, then, that she became a public school teacher. In summer months, she read.

In 1990, after reading a number of romances, she said to her husband, “I can write a book. It doesn’t look that difficult.” After several stressful months of struggle, she admitted. “It’s much harder than I anticipated.” Fortunately for readers, she persevered, and after joining numerous writing organizations, critique groups, and attending many writing conferences, finally finished her first book.

WHEN THE OCTOTILLO BLOOM was released in February 2007. Since then, she has been prolific. Check her website for the complete list of her books.

Thanks to Linda for sharing the fruit of her research today.

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4 thoughts on “THE VICTORIAN KITCHEN IN THE AMERICAN OLD WEST”

  1. Linda, aren’t you glad we live with more easily operated appliances? No wonder most women either had a servant or were servants. Doing all that alone was too hard.

  2. They certainly stayed busy, didn’t they Caroline. I think they considered their leisure time sitting and mending clothes or quilting.

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