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Cooking With Fire

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Cooking is the application of heat to food. Food is cooked by exposure to heat by placing it directly over the fire, in the oven, in a pan over the flame, cooking in water, steam, or fat ; or by heating very hot, then confining the heat, as in the fire- less cooker. These processes have different names. Name and describe the ones you know.

Heat is produced in four ways : by the sun's rays, by friction, by electricity, and by burning or combustion.

In cooking we are concerned chiefly with heat produced by burning or combustion. Combustion is another word for the process of burning. In order to have fire, three things are necessary: first, something to burn, which is called fuel; second, heat enough to start the burning; and third, air to keep it burning. We have seen that air is necessary to life. The process going on in the body by which new tissue is built and wastes burned is really a process of combustion. Air is composed of two gases, oxygen and nitrogen ; oxygen is the element that is necessary for combustion.

When burning goes on in the body or when fuel burns, waste products are formed and thrown out. These are moisture, gases, and some solids. Carbon dioxide is one of the gases. Stoves are provided with flues for the escape of these substances.

Important Points in Managing Stoves. Two things are needed for success in managing stoves : first, the right quantity of air; second, the proper provision for carrying off the wastes formed. In wood and coal stoves the air is secured by means of dampers.

The Dampers. The chimney dampers are provided for the escape of air, vapors, and smoke, and should never be entirely closed, as disagreeable gases will then stay in the room. The oven damper turns the current of heat around the oven, instead of letting it enter the pipe directly. If you wish a quick, light fire, open the oven damper. The foot damper at the bottom lets air in to furnish oxygen for burning the fuel. When it is closed the fire burns slowly, with little heat. The check damper at the top of the stove sends a draft of cold air over the firebox, and checks the heat. Open it to cool the oven.

Laying a Wood Fire. Remove all the ashes from the firebox and from the top, just under the lids. Open the dampers. Put enough slightly twisted paper in the bottom to nearly cover the grate. Lay over this some kindling, putting it crosswise so that air may circulate. Over this place small pieces of wood, -then a few larger pieces. Put on the stove lids and light the fire by applying a match to the paper through the front grate. When the wood has begun to burn well put in more, and when this burns close the oven damper. Never use kerosene to start a fire. Many persons are burned to death in this way. Use only safety matches in your home. Many lives and much property are lost by the careless handling of matches. Keep matches out of the reach of little children. Most matches are poisonous.

Regulating the Wood Stove. A good stove free from cracks and with a thick walled oven is needed if economy of fuel is desired. The flue must draw well. Place the stove out of drafts. Keep the ash pan clean. Remove the soot from below the oven, from the back, and from the pipe. Keep the space under the lids free from ashes. Select dry, well-seasoned wood, as much of the heat from green wood is lost in drying it.

With any stove one must exercise judgment in regulating the temperature. If the oven is too hot put a pan of cold water in it, take the lids off, and open the pipe and oven dampers. If the heat at the bottom of the oven is too great, put in a sheet of asbestos, or support the pan on a rack. If a slow fire is needed, partly close the damper in the flue and the one below the firebox.

The Coal Stove. Lay the fire as directed, using enough crumpled paper to cover the grate well. When laying the wood be sure to have plenty at the ends as well as in the middle so that the coal will be kindled. Then put a little coal over the wood and light the fire. When the coal is burning well, add more coal, putting in a small quantity at a time. Too much coal at once will smother the fire and make it go out, or burn so slowly that little heat will be given off. When coal burns quickly with plenty of air it uses a large quantity of oxygen and so gives intense heat, while if it smolders slowly in a parched mass, little oxygen is used and much fuel is wasted.

Never fill the firebox so full that the coal is higher than the lining. For a steady fire, rake out ashes or give the grate a turn, if it is a revolving one, fill the firebox not more than two-thirds full, and open the lower front and the flue dampers so that a good draft is formed. When the lower coals are red and glowing and the top layer black, close the dampers. As soon as the top layers begin to get red, add more coal. To heat the oven, close all but the oven and chimney dampers. Study your dampers carefully and turn them as needed.

Much fuel is saved by keeping a continuous fire because the stove does not become cold and thus require rekindling. At night shake down the ashes, put on some fresh coal, and when the blue flame disappears close all the dampers. In the morning shake down the ashes, open the dampers to let the air in, and put on a little coal. If the fire is very low lay on a little kindling and light wood before you shake the ashes down, and when the coal is burning add more.

The Gas Stove. Examine your stove carefully and note the purpose of the different burners. Keep all cocks tightly closed when not in use. If there is any leakage turn off the gas at the main pipe when the stove is not in use. If the room seems filled with gas, air it well before lighting a match in it.

To Light the Gas. Turn the cock and let the gas run for two or three seconds, then light a match and apply it to the center of the burner, holding it slightly above the burner. If the proper amount of air is supplied, the flame will be blue if insufficient air is admitted, the flame will be yellow; while if too much gas is admitted, the flame will be yellow and smoky. To light the oven, first open the oven door, then light the pilot, and turn on the burners. When they are burning clear and blue, turn off the pilot. If the gas burns yellow with a roaring noise, turn it off and relight after a few moments.

To Save Gas. Get the food ready to put over the fire before lighting the gas. As soon as the food is boiling lower the gas. Do not keep the teakettle boiling all the time. Turn off the heat when the water boils, and reheat it when necessary.

Use the simmering burner turned low for slow cooking.

Turn off the back burner of the oven when the oven is hot unless a high temperature is needed. Matches are always cheaper than gas.

The Blue Flame Oil Stove. In these stoves the oil is converted into gas which burns with a hot blue flame. At first the oil burns as it does in an ordinary lamp. It is not so hot or clean then as it is a few minutes later, when the gas is formed.

Be sure that the stove is level, that there is no draft over it, and that wicks and burners are kept clean. Rub the edge of wicks twice a week with a bit of paper or cloth. Fill the reservoir frequently, using oil of good quality. Clean the reservoir and pipe occasionally to remove sediment. When you wish to raise or lower the wick while the stove is burning, do it slowly, so as to avoid a sudden rush of oil that will cause the flame to flare. Keep the oil in a cool place away from the stove. Never fill the stove near a lighted lamp. Keep a box of sand or a fire extinguisher near the stove, for while it is not dangerous of handled carefully, one should take no risks.

The Care of Stoves. Keep the burners clean and the air holes open. If anything spills on the stove, clean it at once. If the stove is kept clean and rubbed occasionally with a piece of flannel dipped in vaseline or an unsalted cooking fat, it will not require polishing. If polish is desired, apply when the stove is only slightly warm, for if it is too hot it cannot be made bright. Polish the part farthest away from the body first so as to avoid soiling the clothing.

Zinc discolors easily, so if water is spilled on it wipe it off immediately. Polish the zinc with silver polish or kerosene oil.


A fireless cooker of a good make is a great saver of fuel and labor. The cooker must be well made, with closely fitting lids, and provided with tubes for the escape of steam. A stand fitted with rollers should be provided for the cooker. It should have a shelf on which the radiators may rest.

The Care of the Cooker. Wipe moisture out of the cooker as soon as food is removed from it. If anything is spilled on a radiator wipe it off immediately. Clean the cooker carefully with fresh, warm, soapy water, never using dish water or the ordinary dishcloth. Dry well and keep it open when not in use as very disagreeable odors arise if the cooker is kept closed or becomes dirty. It should be sunned occasionally. If the radiators become dirty, heat them very hot, keeping each side over the flame long enough to burn off any food on the surface.

If the radiators are kept in a damp or cold place, much fuel is needed to heat them and they are apt to crack. A shelf by the range or by a sunny window is a good place for them.

Heating the Radiators. The temperature of the radiators has much to do with success in fireless cooking; metal radiators heat more quickly but lose their heat sooner than those made of soapstone. The former retain their heat sufficiently to allow baking for one hour and a half, while the soapstone disks may be made hot enough for baking for three hours. Heat leaves the cooker rapidly when the steam escape is left open ; therefore, the heat will not be held as long when cooking roasts, baked potatoes, or other foods that require drying, as when cooking cereals or soups. A small amount of food in the cooker cools more quickly than a large amount. It also dries more quickly, so that there is danger of overcooking.

The time required for heating the radiators cannot be definitely fixed as the fuel used is variable, but the average time needed to heat them over gas for baking cakes, or for cooking stews or cereals is fifteen minutes; for roasting meats, cooking rice, or baking potatoes and food of this class, twenty minutes. The heat of the radiator should be tested each time. If a little flour sprinkled on the radiator turns to a golden brown, the radiator is hot enough for biscuits or cakes; if it turns to a very rich brown, it is hot enough for roasts or pies. If the flour does not brown, the radiator is not hot enough. Heavy white paper may be used for this test instead of flour.

In using the cooker, follow the general recipes of this text and cook as directed under the different chapters on cooking. Where long cooking is needed, as for hams, reheat the radiators after about three hours but do not heat as hot as at first since the food itself is now very hot.

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