Sunday, March 6, 2011

Modern Marvels

One of the labor-saving devices touted during the early years of the last century was a little treasure known as a fireless cooker. This was a device that allowed the housewife to complete the first two or three steps of a dish and then ignore it for several hours. If it sounds like a slow-cooker, it’s because there are several similarities, including a savings in fuel and the chance for a homemaker to fix a proper (i.e. hot) meal without steaming herself right out of the kitchen during the summer months.

The basic concept called for the dish – let’s say a poached chicken – to be assembled, brought to a boil over the conventional stove, and then popped into an insulated box that would allow it to cook slowly for ten or twelve hours. When it was taken from the fireless cooker, only a few last minute touches would still be needed; say, making gravy or cutting up the meat.

A meal of the afore-mentioned poached chicken, mashed potatoes, stewed green beans and creamed onions could all be prepared in the fireless cooker (if you had one that accommodated four containers). Even desserts and some breads could be made ahead of time – anything that didn’t require the crispness of broiling or frying, in fact.

The Fireless Cook Book, available for free download at, has recipes as well as instructions on how to make your own fireless cooker. I personally wouldn’t want to try oatmeal that’s been cooked overnight, but I’m considering some of the other recipes for adaptation to a slow-cooker. This one looks pretty good.

Black Bean Soup

1 pt black beans
2 qts water
1 small onion
2 stalks celery or ¼ t celery salt
2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
¼ t mustard
3 T butter
1 ½ T flour
2 hard-cooked eggs
1 lemon

"Soak the beans over night, drain them and add the two quarts of water. Cook the onion in one-half the butter; add onion and celery to the beans, and when boiling, put them into a cooker for from eight to twelve hours. Rub the soup through a strainer, add the seasonings, bind it, and when it has boiled for five minutes pour it over the sliced eggs and lemon in a soup tureen."


Anonymous said...

The westward pioneers used one called a Haybox. The beans for supper would be brought to a boil in the morning, then placed in the haybox. At noon they would be taken out again and brought to a boil and put back in. At night, dinner was ready. I saw a blog post with a polybead filled one called, IIFC, the Wonderbox. I told my hairdresser about it and she said, yeh, Girl Scouts. Dutch Oven. Bring to boil, bury over coals until dinner.

Martha said...

We have a manufactured fireless cooker in the family, which looks like a wooden chest until you open it up. It has ?iron? disks to heat in the fire and place under the pans so they cook more thoroughly than the simple hay box. I think my grandmother was the last one to actually cook with it though.

Packrat said...

Learn something new every day! Way back when, Grandma's stove had a warming oven which she used on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

the museum I direct has one-it uses soapstone discs for heat. Very cool. Glad to have some recipes. thanks, and hope you feel better very soon!

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