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Monday, July 22, 2019


My mom used to cook with an old coal burning cook stove, except she used corn cobs as they were always available and free.

The style of this one is similar to the one in our farm kitchen but not this ornate, and it was white except for the cooking surface.

The fire box was on the left side and we had a bushel basket of cobs next to it. The cobs were kept in a shed behind the house and it was often my job to fill the basket and bring it in. It wasn't my favorite job as mice loved to live in the pile and somehow would sneak into the basket without me seeing it. Eventually it would show up in the house and the hunt was on, along with mouse traps. I never learned how to start a fire.

On the right end was a reservoir for water so that there was warm water as long as the stove was hot.

This picture shows a reservoir lid open.
It didn't hold a lot of water but at least enough to wash up with warm water without having to wait to heat some in a pan. Since we did not have indoor plumbing, there was no water heater. All we had was a cistern hand pump at the end of the big sink. Thankfully there was a drain so there was no pail to empty.

Mom never taught me how to bake in the cook stove, but she made the best bread and cakes, even angel food cakes. I don't know how she knew how to regulate the temperature for baking, but I am sure her mom taught her as well as many years of practice.

Mom would fire up the stove early in the morning during the winter as that was the only heat there was in the kitchen. We did not have a ducted furnace or thermostat. There were kerosene heaters in both dining room and living room. Heat from the chimney is all the heat that reached each bedroom upstairs. Brrrr!

But, that heat was not welcome in the hot and humid summers so most cooking and baking was done early in the morning. Air conditioning was unheard of in those days. Some old houses had a small building apart from the house that was called the summer kitchen which helped keep the main house a little cooler. 

Once the stove was hot, she made breakfast and started any baking needed for the day. By the time I was old enough to remember, we also got a propane gas stove on the other side of the kitchen and that is what I used. I loved to bake so was always making sweet things as I was born with a huge sweet tooth. I rarely cooked anything for a meal. I guess Mom always wanted to do it herself so never made a point to teach me. The only thing I remember having to do was peel potatoes and to this day I don't like to do that unless absolutely necessary.

I remember the time when Mom flew to California with her sister from Illinois to see their mother for the last time as she was in a nursing home. So Dad and I were left to do all the cooking. I tried making bacon and eggs. Well, the eggs were crispy and the bacon limp. Dad tried his hand at pancakes and he called them blow - out patches (for tires) because they were pretty rubbery. But we managed to live until she came home. Dad did not like to eat out so we ate at home for every meal. I cannot remember what else we ate, but it was possibly home canned beef on potatoes. That meat was so tender and delicious. It was very handy for a quick meal, especially if unplanned company showed up at mealtime. I miss that.

Some people had a separate building to do laundry called the wash house. Water had to be heated for washing and that was done in the wash house as well. 

We had an enclosed back porch that was just outside the kitchen
and that is where the old Maytag wringer washer was used. The water was heated in an old copper boiler (wish I still had it) on the cook stove, then carried to the  porch. Most people had wringer washers back then and I heard many stories of people getting their hand and arm caught in the wringer before they were able to disengage the rollers. That was painful! I was always very careful when I used the wringer so never got caught. After I was married I also had the Maytag wringer washer for many years. A lot of diapers were washed in it.

There were no clothes dryers in those days either. Clotheslines were strung from pole to pole in the yard and the wash was hung on them with wooden clothespins like these:

         I prefer the spring type as they are easier to use.                      
 We always had to pray it didn't rain until the wash was dry. A windy day was appreciated as the clothes were much softer after flapping in the wind. Sometimes the wind was a bit too strong and a sheet could come loose and sail away.  If it started to sprinkle there was a mad dash to get it all off the line. If it wasn't completely dry, Mom strung several lines of rope clothesline from one end of the dining room to the other, tied to large nails in the wood door trim. It was a maze getting from the kitchen to the living room, walking between the wet clothes.

The wash was even hung outside in the winter where it freeze-dried as much as possible, and fingers were frozen, as well, trying to hang the wet clothes. Again, the clothes were hung in the dining room to thaw and finish drying. At least it created a lot of humidity in the house.

These are some of "the good old days" that I don't care to see again! Laundry was very intensive labor back in the day.


  1. I remember all those things as a child in my grandmothers house. We are so spoiled now.

  2. When I lived in western NC (mountains) , several of my home health patients still had and used wood cook stoves. I loved them in the winter time. The houses were so warm and smelled so good. Most had a regular stove for warm weather cooking. I was very intrigued by the wood stoves.

    1. When I was looking for pictures of old cook stoves I found that there are several styles of new cook stoves for sale. I am sure people who live in hard to reach areas would depend on a wood burning stove, but I had never thought about new stoves being available.


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