Among the ancients fire was regarded as a gift from the gods, to be protected in every way, and all civilization, forms of religion, civil ordinances, and family life have been traced to the care primitive man bestowed upon his fire. Among the early tribes, the chieftain was often the only one to have a fire in his home. The hearthstone thus became the center of the home life, the abode of the household gods, and even at the present time it is impossible for some persons to separate the spirit of the home from the kitchen fire.
In different sections of the country may still be seen all the types of fire and stove that have been developed through centuries, and every housekeeper should be familiar with the principles underlying the care of each. Among these are the camp fire where food is broiled over coals or buried in hot ashes, the charcoal brazier of the fruit vender, essentially the same as the portable stoves found in Pompeii, the open fireplace, the brick oven, the Franklin stove, (an invention of Benjamin Franklin), cookstoves adapted to wood, to hard and soft coal, to kerosene, to gas, and the electrical appliances which as yet are little more than toys for the rich.
A century and more ago chimneys and fireplaces were often troublesome by smoking and Count Rumford and Benjamin Franklin each in different ways brought their inventive faculties to the solution of this serious problem of daily life. When the fireplace was the dependence of the home for warmth and cooking, the charred, half-burned brands of wood were carefully covered with ashes at night to start the fire the next morning. If the wind had blown off the ashes and the coals were gone out, it was easier to borrow more coals from a neighbor than to use the flint to produce a spark. All this was changed when matches were invented.
It was but a step for primitive man from baking in hot ashes or in a covered kettle set on the coals to a simple form of oven. Often one oven served a community. Brick ovens were built at one side of the chimney. Sometimes the heat was turned through a flue to heat these ovens, sometimes a fire was built directly in the oven, and when it was burned down the oven was swept out and the food put in to be cooked by the heated bricks. The later brick ovens, still used in some old houses, often had space underneath for a separate fire.
For the open fire, wood is the most satisfactory fuel but it is not desirable for continuous use in cooking or heating. Wood is sold by measure, which is an inaccurate method at best. The drier the wood the better it burns, and a hard wood which produces coals is most useful.
When wood is heated and the volatile portions expelled, charcoal is produced. This is usually sold by measure. Its weight is about one-fifth that of the wood from which it is made. It is a primitive form of fuel and generally used in warm countries. A succession of small fires which can be quickly lighted and as quickly extinguished are more suitable to such conditions than the one large stove or range.
A Roman Stove or Brazier
An Oven, Showing Direction of the Hot Gases
The small stoves used today by the Latin races and their colonies do not differ materially from those of the early Romans.
The charcoal broiler is used by many hotels because of the flavor it appears to develop in meats.
Peat is an important fuel in some sections of the world. It must be thoroughly drained or dried, and at best contains a large percentage of ash.
Both anthracite and bituminous coal have been in common use for less than a hundred years.
A dense solid, like hard coal, kindles slowly but requires far less care to maintain a fire than wood. Coal is a better fuel for winter than summer: If the lumps of coal are too large they will not kindle readily; if too small, they choke the flame. The large nut and egg grades are best suited to cooking purposes. The draft and size of the fire box determine the size and grade to be used for good results. The free burning "Franklin" coal should be used with poor draft, while with a good draft and large fire box all grades and the larger sizes may be used. A dark brilliant coal will have fewest clinkers. The intense heat resulting from open drafts fuses in large masses the foreign matter which is mixed with the carbon. By burning oyster shells in such cases, new compounds are formed which prevent the clinkers, but the clinkers seldom form with a moderate supply of air.
Soft coal needs very different treatment from hard. Little draft underneath is required, but some draft is necessary over the top to burn the gases given off, and the funnel draft must be open to allow the smoke to escape. If the coal has "coked" over on top it must be broken up when good fire is required. If the fire is to be kept, it is allowed to coke over.
Briquettes are made from coal dust and other substances and are used extensively in places where coal is high priced.
The wood and coal stoves and ranges are today the most common means of cooking foods. Housekeepers often become familiar with one stove and one kind of fuel and are unsuccessful with another because they are unwilling to study the laws of nature, or lack the patience to experiment with a new adaptation of them.
Much besides personal preference must be considered in the proper valuation of fuels; not only the percentage of carbon, moisture, and volatile matter in each, but the necessary waste, the by-products, and the time required for caring for each and keeping the surroundings clean.
The best stoves and ranges are those plain in finish and simple in construction, with parts well fitted together so that they can be taken apart if necessary and easily cleaned.