Cheryl St.John: What Would Laura Ingalls Think of Your Kitchen?


There are an awful lot of modern conveniences I wouldn”t want to do without. Showers come to mind. Coffee pots. Washing machines. I can”t even fathom a day in the kitchen without electricity.


kitchen range


Most of us have heard of the Ben Franklin stove, but it wasn”t really what we think of as a stove at all. In 1744 Ben Franklin invented an open cast iron heater, like an insert, that projected out from the fireplace and radiated to all parts of the room. It was used for heating purposes.


pot bellied stove 1875
So the stoves we read about clear through the 1850s and 1860s were heaters. The pot bellied stove was a common heater for over fifty years. It was much bigger than we”d imagine, and most often used in depots, general stores, livery stables and shops.


A stove to cook on wasn”t invented until 1870, when the fireplace heater was improved upon for cooking and baking. It was still a fireplace insert, often ornate.


By 1885 the common kitchen range had a flat top and round burners, but still no reservoir.




In the late 1890s and early 1900s hard-coal heaters were common, and the flames inside could be seen through an isinglass window. Once gas was piped into city homes in the 1890s, people had gas cook stoves and space heaters.



The steel-plated kitchen ranges with reservoirs, warming closets and nickel plated trim were the norm around the turn of the century. A fancy one cost about twenty dollars or less.

kitchen range 1885


I can tell you I”m very thankful for my kitchen range and microwave. What would Laura Ingalls make of it?

+ posts

15 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: What Would Laura Ingalls Think of Your Kitchen?”

  1. I always love the look of the old kitchen ranges and iron stoves, but using them to cook…No thank you. :o) Just keeping the temperature steady to bake a cake, or cook on the range, I would have burned down the house or at least many a charcoal cake would have been served. :o)


  2. Many years ago we bought an old summer house in Ohio (long story). Since we were living in it year round we bought an antique stove/heater similar to the ones in your photos. It was beautiful. The antique store where we found it had some gorgeous ones. Very ornate.
    It kept us toasty. But I had an electric stove to cook on, thank goodness.
    Thanks for a great blog, Cheryl.

  3. I have lived without electricity, ladies. I was young and didn’t know any better! However, the ‘pot belly’ stove is a wonder. A cast iron one takes forever to heat up, but when it does it keeps everything toasty for a long time. I used one in 1988. The winter, that year, was 20 below 0, for a month before it started warming up. That stove kept us very warm, especially with a garage full of wood!
    I have used an old fashioned cook stove to cook on in the 1950-60’s. My first Thanksgiving dinner wss cooked in a wood stove. That is the one where I cooked a 30# turkey and as I took it out of the oven, I dropped the pan and the turkey went skidding across the kitchen floor!!!! Mess heaven.
    If that is your only stove, you get used to how to judge the heat. I got so I could open the oven door and put my hand into the opening and judge if it was a certain temp. Then I got a tiny temp gauge that hung on the rack. I was pretty darn close in my guessing. Close enough that I baked some really fine pies and cakes.
    I totally wouldn’t mind going back to that, if I have a humongous stack of firewood.

  4. I used to live in Vermont, and so many people heated their homes with those old stoves — they are extremely good at keeping things warm — one must have much wood, however. To this day, I still love the smell of it.

    One caution about microwaves — did you know — and you can do this yourself — take some water that you heated in the microwave (let it cool) — and use that water to water seeds — and then use the same conditions — only use filtered water or even tap water…

    You’ll be amazed. Seeds watered with microwaved water will not grow. The water is dead — won’t promote life to sprout and grow.

    I got rid of my microwave a long time ago — although my husband kept it for parts. 🙂

  5. Cate, can you imagine washing diapers by hand? Or sheets your kids threw up on? ewww.

    LOL Kirsten.

    Great story, Elizabeth. Do you have a pic?

    Mary J, you are woman, hear you roar! 🙂 It’s amazing to us to think women were adept at using those old stoves, but of course they had to be–and did get a lot of practice. The turkey story is hilarious, but I’ll bet you weren’t laughing at the time.

    Am trying to imagine what one uses microwave parts for, Karen. I’m picturing a robot in your garage. 🙂

  6. I think Laura would be thrilled but she would be more thrilled by canned biscuits since she wrote she hated the feel of flour and dough.

    My grandma was the same way. She made the most beautiful pies and piecrust but thought canned biscuits were the best invention known to humanity!

    Love the stoves here though.

    Peace, Julie

  7. I’m certainly counting my blessings that I don’t have to cook on one of these wood stoves. I wouldn’t have made a very good pioneer woman. In fact, I would’ve flunked Pioneer School. But I guess if you didn’t know any different they would’ve been fine. At least they were a step up from cooking over a campfire.

    Loved your pictures. Very nice. And thanks for reminding me how grateful I am for what I have.

  8. My sister in law has a stove similar to the first pic at the cottage.. She just loves it for some things. It heats the kitchen in the cool weather and she can use to keep food warm if she needs to.
    But as to cook on it, I think that would take real skill.. which I dont’ have..

  9. LOL Julie. We make homemade biscuits around here, though my mother always used the refrigerated ones. It’s something the kids like to do. I have vintage cutters with wood handles we use.

    Charlene and Linda, I took the a couple of the pics at Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska. Everything imaginable is housed in the village museums. Centuries of inventions. The catalog-like book they used to sell is called A History of Man’s Progress and has everything from oil lamps and women’s notions to furniture and cars. They even have a gypsy wagon.

  10. Cheryl,

    I love this post….I love my modern day kitchen. I would love to see what Laura Ingalls would think of our kitchens…Thanks for the post….

    Walk in harmony,

  11. Wonderful post and great pics! What a lot of work they had to go through for heating and cooking. My parents have the stove on the left in the second photo which has done an amazing job at heating their home in Maine.

  12. We have had a wood stove (Vermont Castings Defiant) in two of our homes. It does a descent job of heating the area and is convenient to cook on if you so choose.
    Actually Laura Ingalls would be rather comfortable at out house. The furniture is period (1860’s to Victorian) as are many of our dishes and other items. I am glad we don’t have to use the icebox to preserve food, I like my refrigerator and freezer. When the power goes out, we do just fine with the wood stove and oil lamps,(except of course for what is in the freezer). I just looked at the last picture and there is a pump organ very much like ours.

    Thanks for an interesting history of the wood stove here in America.

Comments are closed.