This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
The kitchen range is the power plant of the home, and as such should be the first article of household equipment purchased and should be kept in as good condition as the piano or the silver. No range, whether for coal, kerosene, gas, or electricity, will take care of itself, and the housewife should be as familiar with its moods, good points and possible bad points as a pianist is familiar with the black and white keys of the piano.
An adequate coal range must cook steadily, bake evenly, and broil unsmellingly - and do it without consuming its weight in coal every day! It should be economical of fuel, bake evenly all over the oven, simple and easy to operate, durable and very plain, so that it may be cleaned easily. To be truly economical a range should demand the use of but two hods of coal a day and as the weather grows warm of even less, provided, of course, that the housewife understands its operation.
The fire-box should be in proportion to the size of the range, so that an unnecessary amount of coal will not be consumed, as is the case when it is too large, and so that the heat may be delivered where it belongs, which cannot be done if it is too small. The sides should be perpendicular so that ashes will not lodge against the fire-brick. The grate bars should be durable, but should not be so heavy that the supply of air which reaches the fire through them is insufficient. On the other hand, if they are too light, they will warp quickly. The side draft should open below the grate bars into the chamber between the ash pan and grate, so that the air will be made warm before it strikes the burning coals; therefore causing them to burn out instead of dying out, thus affecting a considerable economy in fuel.
The surface of the range should be plain and smooth, and there should be comparatively little nickel trimming. A polished steel top, which may be washed instead of blackened, can be obtained with any range for about three dollars extra. This insures a clean cooking surface; means fewer black-bottomed cooking utensils to wash, and as it takes about fifteen minutes to polish the top of the range, it will effect considerable saving of time during the year. Too much cannot be said about the necessity of keeping the range bright and shining, for it is truly the heart of the kitchen.
In case a home is not permanent, a leg range will prove to be the best purchase, as it is more easily moved than one of the cabinet type; whichever is chosen, a good-sized zinc square should be placed underneath it to catch possible drippings of fat, and so on.
In purchasing a range, always ascertain first whether or not the stove is insulated, so that the heat will be reflected against the surfaces where it is desired; in other words, retained in the range rather than unduly thrown 'off into the kitchen. Be sure that the oven is large enough and, if possible, select a range that has a drop door rather than one of the hinge type. Be sure that there is an adequate supply of heat flowing around the oven, as otherwise it will not "bake well." The dampers must fit tight in order adequately to control the fire. Cheaply constructed ranges will frequently have loose-fitting dampers to prevent pinching or binding at the rough edges. The stove should be constructed so that broiling can be conducted directly over the live coals rather than over a lid on the top of the stove, so that the smoke may be carried up the chimney.
The problem of the ashes and their removal is one of the greatest with which the housewife has to contend in kitchen cleanliness. If the range is being installed permanently in a home, it will be an untold convenience to have an ash chute put into the range, whereby the ashes are conducted directly to the basement. This is, perhaps, expensive, but will pay in the end, over and over again. In emptying the ashes from the ordinary range, it will be found that they will not fly if they are thoroughly dampened, and, if the ash pan is emptied faithfully every day, very little muss will result.
To Build a Fire and Operate the Coal Range. Close all the dampers, except the oven dampers; remove the covers from the top of the stove and brush the soot and ashes into the fire-box. Turn over the grate in order to dump the ashes into the ash pan. Scrape off anything which has been spilled on the bottom of the oven. Put a very thin layer of coal on the bottom of the fire-box, leaving plenty of air spaces between the pieces. On this put a layer of crumpled newspaper or shavings, filling the fire-box about one-third full. On this lay, crosswise, pieces of kindling, being sure that they reach the corners. Take care that the fuel is arranged loosely in order to allow free passage of the air. Light the fire by applying a lighted match between the bars of the grate to the paper or shavings. When the wood is burning well, add two shovelfuls of coal, not too large, and, when that has burned, add more coal. By this method the coal ignites both below and above the wood, and a thicker fire-bed is obtained in a shorter time than by the usual method. If the stove is to be blackened, it should be done as soon as the fire is lighted.
When the fire is well started, close the oven dampers and half close the lower damper, and, when it is burning well, the lower damper may be entirely closed and the chimney damper half closed.
For an even hot fire, be sure that all the ashes are shaken out, and keep the fire-box three-fourths full of coal. The lower front and chimney dampers should be opened, but the oven and check dampers should be closed. When the coal is beginning to ignite, the dampers should be closed. Such a fire is of the type that is used for ironing, and is good for two or three hours without the addition of more coal. If the irons are put on to heat while the fire is getting into this condition, considerable time may be saved.
To direct the heat to the oven, the oven and chimney dampers should be opened and the others closed, but to get good results from the oven, no matter how expensive the range may be, it must be cleaned frequently on top and underneath. If there is a vacuum cleaner in the house, it can be used for this purpose, as well as for the stove-pipe.
As different stoves have different dampers, it is impossible to give special directions for the management of a fire that can be used with any range. However, a general rule is to open all the dampers when building a fire and to close the oven damper when the coal is burning well.
To check the fire somewhat, open the slide in the check damper; and to cool it quickly, open the check damper itself, keeping the other dampers closed.
In very cold weather and to save time, it is a good plan to keep the fire over night, although this necessitates the use of a little more fuel than is needed when the fire is built fresh every morning. To do this, the fire-box should be filled with coal; the check damper should be opened, and the other dampers closed. In the morning, the fire should be shaken down thoroughly and fresh coal added a little at a time.
Like everything else, the stove will do better work if the fire is rested occasionally. For instance, if baking is to be done at supper time, close all the dampers after having built up a good fire after dinner, and leave them closed until about half an hour before time to put the food into the oven.