Cooking with a Cast Iron Stove
The cast iron coal stove changed everything for the 19th-century cook.
Steps for operating a cast iron coal stove:
Step 1: Dump the ashes—Close the doors supplying draft to the stove and remove the range top. Brush the ashes onto the grate at the bottom of the stove. Replace the range top and dump the grate (wait for the dust to settle before proceeding to Step 2)
Step 2: Stoke the stove—Remove the range top again and put some crumpled up newspaper and kindling onto the grate. Reopen the draft doors and stoke the fire. Replace the range top.
Step 3: Keep the fire going—Monitor the fire and add more coal as needed. (This might need to be done every ten minutes or so.)
The cook had to heat up the whole stovetop/oven compartment apparatus even if she just wanted to make coffee. If she wanted to use the oven, she monitored the temperature by sticking her hand inside. She counted how long it took before her hand got unbearably hot. To cook a roast, she waited for the temperature to reach “20.”
On the plus side, the cast iron stove meant that the cook could get closer to the action with much less chance of getting burned, which also made it easier to monitor the food. Short-handled pans replaced the unwieldy long-handled utensils of the past.
All of the cookware items featured on this page belonged to Mary (Smola) Sliva of Collinsville. She married schoolteacher William in 1904. Both of them were children of Bohemian immigrants.
At age 30 with two toddlers at home, Mary earned a diploma from the American College of Dressmaking. The program qualified her to “practice and teach the art and science of fashionable dressmaking.”
Mary and William raised five children in Collinsville. The Slivas used the meat grinder and sausage stuffer below to make homemade sausage. Mary probably fried it up in her cast iron skillet and served it with waffles hot from her waffle iron.
Breakfast at the Sliva house must have been amazing.