When pioneers came to Texas one of the things women had to leave behind were their cast iron cook stoves. These were very heavy and a burden to the team of horses, mules or oxen, so were seldom carried to the pioneers new land. The women cooked outdoors directly over an open fire, standing in the smoke and bending over to flip the pancakes, or trying to keep the fire going during rainy weather, often using wet wood. A cast iron cook stove was high technology compared to the open campfire.

According to Answers: The Cook Stove, design technology for kitchen stoves had been progressing in Europe and in America for centuries from an open fire, to brick fireplaces where pots were placed inside. During the renaissance iron workers developed a type of cast iron stove and in the 1700’s Benjamin Franklin worked on designing a cook stove that had a convenient waist high horizontal cast iron cook top for household use. Cast iron is heated until liquid and then poured into the molds for the many pieces of the stove. In the 1800’s Jordan Mott manufactured the first American cook stove and its smoke was vented thru the fireplace. The fireboxes on these little stoves were small and wood had to be cut short and small to fit inside. Many hours had to be spent cutting “cook stove wood”. My Uncle Joe would be leaving to plow or some other farm work and my Aunt Callie would say, “Joe I don’t have any wood for the stove,” and his reply would often be, “Oh, @#$%.

I remember Ophelia Seward, a neighbor lady living on South Mountain, who would cook teacakes in the oven on her little stove, and they were delicious. She had a reputation for filling her stove with all the wood it would hold and using it at maximum heating capacity. Some would tease her that she could use a whole woodpile cooking one meal. However, she was a good cook, so her sons just chopped more wood. Even though cast iron stove technology was considered a tremendous development they were individually eccentric and each cook had to learn the quirks of her stove and how to best use it. There were no thermostats and cooks used their hands to tell if the fire was the correct temperature. Adjusting the flues inside the stove or stovepipe would increase or decrease the heat, but how much to adjust the flues was a learning process for each cook and varied on every stove. The hottest place on the stove was directly over one of the holes right over the firebox, where a lid had been removed, and the coolest was on the far side away from the firebox.

During the winter it was used as the main heat for the kitchen and perhaps for the whole house. In summer, these small but heavy stoves could easily be taken apart and the many pieces moved to a summer kitchen, so the house could be kept cooler. Fireplaces were still used for heating, but women enjoyed the convenience of a tall cooking surface that eliminated the backbreaking bending. In 1880 an Excelsior Cook Stove cost $27 and today a similar used model would cost around $400.

Coryell Museum has a nice cast iron cook stove upstairs, with 4 cooking pot openings with lids, and an oven that is fairly basic. More elaborate versions came with an attached hot water heater, warming ovens and other special features.

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