Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mom the Engineer -1910

Picture from a a book for houswives on how to properly fire a range, 1912.

If memory serves, and it probably doesn't, the only time I ever saw an old fashioned wood stove, in my childhood, was when on vacation.

Summer cottages in the 196o's were often still equipped with wood burning ranges (and outdoor privies).

I think we went to Magog once, (which is coincidental) and we had a woodstove which my brother found fascinating, more than I did. He played with the burners for hours.

My mother (who grew up rich in the city) probably found it a pain and my father probably stoked it.

Yesterday, watching the BBC Program the 1900 House on YouTube, I was struck with how the person who ran the range, (in this case the mom, like at Tighsolas) was an engineer.... she really had to know her stuff: it was critical to the happiness of the home.

Then I track down this book ont the topic on where it says this: "Modern stoves are machines used to convert any of the fuels mentioned into heat. The stove being a machine must be operated by an engineer, whether it be a man or a woman, housekeeper, cook, maid or servant."

The book is written for American women and claims that coal is the best fuel as wood is running out.

Wood was running out in 1912 in the ET (that was settled in large part because of the lumber industry). The Nicholson letters reveal they fret over firewood all the time.

And keeping the house hot was an issue: Not so much the stove as Margaret was an expert engineer.

I conducted a search through the letters, for the 'word' fire yesterday and it confirmed what I already knew, that they always talked about 'lighting fires" FIRES, in the plural.

Even during the great heatwave of July 1911, Margaret tells Norman that Edith and Flora are getting up to light the fires, giving her a break.

What FIRES. Is is this a figure of speech?

They had no fireplaces, it seems. There was a furnaces in the cellar (and the pictures of the place shows a large chimney going up the middle of the house and a smaller one on the side of the kitchen for the stove.

Yesterday, in my quest for veracity in my novel, I also found a book on Plumbing 1910 style and realize that they probably had a range boiler, a tank heated by the range, and hot water came from there...There probably was a tank in the attic, too.

So they did not heat water on the stove, except for tea. They used hot water from the taps.

And the letters mention nothing about heating hot water... so that's fine too.

Anyway, in the 1900 House, the 1999 children hate the food, but the Mom does not know how to cook on a range and she has a small one.

The narrator says people in those days ate cheap cuts of meat and bland veggies. But this is where country people like the Nicholsons had an advantage. They still had the skills of their mothers, who knew how to cook well.

It was only the next generation, Marion's generation, where the skills were lost, and the next, well, it was the beginning of the plastic food movement. My husband, Margaret's great grandson, barely ate a fresh veggie in his childhood, despite being comfortably middle class. He says they even ate canned potatoes.