Cooking in Colonial Days

Footnotes to Long Island History


MAY 4,1950


Thomas R. Bayles

       We can sympathize with the early settlers who did their baking in the Dutch oven, putting hot coals under the iron pot and heaping them on the lid. All the baking was done in these primitive ovens, which were used before the big brick ovens were built beside the fireplace. The brick ovens were considered luxury and a great convenience when they came into use, heated as they were with a hot wood fire and large enough to hold forty pies at a baking. This was regarded as truly luxurious living in those days.

       Around the great glowing fireplace in an old Long Island kitchen centered all the homeliness and comfort that could be found in a Long Island home of that period. The very aspect of the domestic hearth was picturesque. In the early days, the great lugpole stretched from ledge to ledge high up in the yawning chimney and had a motley collection of pot hooks and trammels of gibcrokes and hakes, which in turn suspended at various heights the firepots, kettles and other cooking utensils.

       In the hearth corners were displayed skillets and trivets, long handled frying pans waffle and wafer irons, and racks for toasting bread before the open fire. On either side of the fireplace were chimney seats or settles. Above on the clavel piece were festooned strings of dried apples, pumpkins and peppers.

       The lugpole, though made of green wood, sometimes became brittle or charred after too long use over the fire, and broke under its heavy load of food and metal. Accidents became so frequent with damage to the precious cooking utensils that a Yankee invention of an iron crane brought convenience and simplicity, and added new grace to the kitchen hearth. The andirons added to the fireplace their homely charm and fire dogs appear in the earliest inventories under many names of various spelling, one of the oldest styles was steel, topped with brass heads.

       Sometimes the kitchen fireplace had three sets of irons of different sizes to hold various sized logs. Cob irons had hooks to hold a spit and dripping pan. Sometimes the hand irons also had brackets. Creepers were low irons placed between the great firedogs. In some of the old houses the cooking utensils stand as they did 200 years ago. The crane, pothooks and trammels still hang in the big chimney place, and the immense brick oven has by it the long handled iron scoop for removing pies from the oven.

       Pooringers were much used for the table and cooking, and those made of pewter were highly prized. One family in 1660 had seven and another housewife had nine. They were bequeathed in nearly all the early colonial wills. Pewter seemed to be the favorite metal although silver was also used. Fish -tailed handles are found on those on those of Dutch make and are very rare. Little  earthen porringers of red pottery and tortoise shell are also found, but are not plentiful.

       In the early days of the colonies, boards laid on trestles were used for dining tables, later, long tables and extension tables came into use. As a table was in the early days a board so a table cloth was called a board cloth. The colonists had plenty of napkins as they appear in early inventories, and they were sometimes trimmed with lace, Handkerchiefs were called pocket napkins.

       The table furnishings of the early colonists were simple in the extreme and consisted of cups, chafing dishes, chargers, trenchers, salt cellars, knives and spoons. The standing salt celler was often the most handsome furnishing of the table. This was a relic of an English custom by which one's social standing was rated on his position above or below the the salt. In 1720, standing salts were out of date, and trencher salt cellers were the fashion. Four dozen were considered necessary for a housewife of layish hospitality.

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