Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gathering around the hearth

“The typical bourgeois townhouse of the fourteenth century combined living and work…The main floor of the house, or at least the part that faced the street, was a shop or – if the owner was an artisan – a work area. The living quarters were not, as we would expect, a series of rooms; instead, they consisted of a single large chamber – the hall… People cooked, ate, entertained, and slept in this space… Medieval homes were sparsely furnished. What furniture there was was uncomplicated. Chests served as both storage and seats… Benches, stools and demountable trestle tables were common. The beds were also collapsible…”

Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski

This fireplace is in the Kennexstone Farmhouse (circa 1610), Llangennith, Gower, Swansea, UK

Fireplaces used to be the central spot in houses. Everything revolved around them – cooking and heating. The fireplace was never very efficient for heating dwellings. Nowadays fireplaces are regarded as mere accessories in a house. They are not necessities.

Photo by Francisco Belard used under wikimedia commons permission

The blackened stones and bricks are part of the charm of old fireplaces.

Burning actual wood in a fireplace is banned in many communities. People have fake fireplaces with “gas logs” or “electric logs” that look quite real. I suppose families still gather around the hearth and watch the flames, but I don’t think you could toast a marshmallow on a stick over them.

Cooking has moved to the kitchen stove or range. We used to have a wonderful old cooking stove when we lived in Santa Rosa. I drew a picture of it for a book cover.
The cast iron top and burners were easy to scrape clean. The oven didn’t have a window.

Now that I’ve taken up cooking, I was horrified to notice that the window on my range was really grungy. I could not look through it and see how things were doing inside the oven. Blackened spots on the window are not part of the charm of a new oven. We bought the stove when we remodeled the kitchen in 1993. I have never paid any attention to it. I don’t think anyone has cleaned the oven since it was installed. (It wasn’t my job.)

Yesterday, I got to work. It took many hours, but I can see through the window now.

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Blogger Piecefulafternoon said...

INteresting history lesson. I used to think of the fireplace in old times as romantic, but after having a small one and having to clean it out - and the dust and ashes is made - I no longer do. I like the looks of one - but it is nice to heat with a modern furnace. :-)

Good job on getting the oven clean - never a fun job, but rewarding. Now what are you going to bake?

5:35 PM  
Blogger QuiltingFitzy said...

We have lived here 3.5 years and never used our fireplace. We plan to buy an alcohol burner for it this year, to ward off the few days when warranted.

Sounds silly, but every Monday, is "clean the stove day". I don't do the cooking, but I sure do like it splarkly!

5:04 AM  
Blogger Vicky~ stichr ~ said...

Did you wrap it in plastic so it will stay clean? I no longer scoff at the idea of plastic on the sofa...

11:18 AM  

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