Frederick A. Draper
The expression "tireless cooking" is not strictly applicable to the process to be here described, but is sufficiently near it to make it applicable as a short title. For many years the " hay box" has been in regular use, and has proved of great utility for certain kinds of cooking. While not of particular value in many lines claimed by its over enthusiastic advocates, it is, nevertheless, worthy of careful consideration in every household, and this is especially true on hot summer days when a morning fire can be used to produce a hot meal to be served up in the evening.
The principle involved in the operation is that of retained heat. The food to be cooked is put in a suitable utensil upon the stove where it is thoroughly heated. It should remain upon the stove long enough to bring the contents to the boiling point, and continue at that temperature for an interval varying with the kind of food being cooked. The heated utensil and food are then placed in an insulated box constructed to prevent the loss of heat, where they remain for a number of hours. The contained heat in the food serves to thoroughly cook it in such a way as to retain the best flavors of the food, and it will be found that tough meat can be made much more palatable by this-process than by any other method of cooking.
The experienced housekeeper will readily understand the limitations of this method of cooking. Stews, boiled meats, vegetables and cereals are the kinds of food particularly successful. Baked beans and roast meats must be browned in a hot oven before being placed in the cooker; otherwise they will lack the color desired in dishes of that kind. As there is no evaporation of the liquid contents from the vessel, it is necessary to have the portions of food exactly as desired when served upon the table. It is necessary, therefore, to have color and flavoring ingredients exactly proportioned at the beginning of operations.
The first attempt with an experimental apparatus made by the writer was that of a 10-pound ham which was boiled for 30 minutes in a ten quart enamelled ware kettle; placed in the cooker at 10.30 A. M. and removed at 6 P. M. The ham was found to be thoroughly cooked, tender and having a most delicious flavor. Corned beef, beef stews, and vegetables were afterwards tried with marked success. One peculiarity about cooking vegetables in this way is that they do not break up as when boiled upon the stove.
The essential feature of the cooker is perfect insulation of utensil and contents, and the better the heat is retained the more satisfactorily will the food be cooked. For a small family a cooker having two or three compartments for holding kettles of different sizes will be quite sufficient. The shape known as a stock kettle is preferable as, having straight sides it can more easily be thoroughly packed.
In making a cooker it is first necessary to select the kettles to be used therein, and for a two compartment cooker, one kettle holding ten or twelve quarts and one holding four quarts, will be found to serve most purposes.
A two compartment cooker holding kettles of this size will require an outside box 36 in. long, 20 in. wide and 20 in. deep, inside measurements. Such a case can be easily made up from two shoe packing boxes, selecting the boards with matched joints. This is divided into two compartments by a division board 16 in. high placed 20 in. from one end. An inside top is then fitted to cover the division board and extending the full length of the box, leaving a space about 3 in-between the top of the inside cover and the top of the box. This is shown in the accompanying illustration.
Holes are then cut in the center of each division of a size to admit the cooking utensils with about one-half inch space between the utensil and the edge of the hole. Discs of wood are cut out the same size as the holes cut in the inside cover. Sheet tin or the sides of some large cheese boxes are cut and bent to cylindrical form to fit inside of the holes, and the wooden discs are used for the bottoms of these cylinders.
After nailing the cylinder firmly in place the box is turned bottom side up, and the space between the cylinders and sides of the box is firmly packed with chopped cork, sawdust, or old newspapers. The bottom of the box is then nailed on. If chopped cork or sawdust is used it will be desirable to first paper the inside surface of the box and cylinder to prevent the fine particles of cork or dust from sifting through any fine cracks which may have been left.
Strips of wood two inches wide are then nailed around the top side of the inner cover. These strips should have the inner edges cut to a bevel of about 45 degrees. Two covers are then made to fit inside these strips with the edges to correspond with the bevel on the strips. The cover should be carefully fitted to make the joints as tight as possible. A top cover is then made for the box, the two covers being much on the same plan as that of an ice chest and serving the same purpose.
In using the cooker it is desirable to first heat the cylindrical chambers; it can best be done by filling the utensil to be placed therein with boiling hot water and allowing it to remain there as long as convenient. The heat absorbed from the water by the cooker reduces the amount of heat which will be taken up from the food which is later placed therein. The space between the top and inner cover may also be filled with a quilted cover, or any convenient piece of cloth or rug, which will further prevent the evaporation of heat at the top. The space between the kettle and the sides of the cylindrical chamber may also be filled to advantage with old papers, or what is better, a quilted wrapper may be made which will exactly fill the space.
In using the cooker it is necessary to keep in mind that the process of cooking is slower than when using a stove, but over-cooking is not detrimental, in fact, over-cooking is almost an impossibility. It may also be stated that the advantages of a cooker are much greater than at first thought may seem possible. Readers of the magazine who are desirous of helping the feminine portion of the family to save work are earnestly advised to make a cooker as here described, as by means of one kitchen work in the summer can be made much easier and more comfortable. Food can also be reheated in the morning to serve warm at night.