Stoves and cooking-ranges have so generally taken the place of brick ovens, that the following directions, which were appropriate when this book was first published, will seldom be of use now. Yet, as they may sometimes be needed, they are suffered to remain. It is impossible to give minute directions as to the management of the various kinds of baking apparatus now in use. A few experiments will enable a person of good judgment to succeed with any of them.
A few suggestions in regard to the construction of an oven may be useful. For a family of medium size, an oven holding ten or twelve plates is large enough. There should be two or three bushels of ashes, with dead coals in them, poured over the top, after the first tier of bricks which forms the arch is laid. Then the usual brickwork should be laid over them. The advantage is this, - when the oven is heated, these ashes and coals are heated also, and, being so thick, retain the heat a long time. Five successive bakings have been done in such an oven with one heating; the bread first - then the puddings - afterward pastry - then cake and gingerbread - and lastly custards, which, if made with boiled milk and put into the oven hot, and allowed to stand a considerable time, will bake sufficiently with a very slight heat.
The first time an oven is heated, a large fire should be kept burning in it six or eight hours. Unless this is done it will never bake well.
The size and structure of ovens is so different, that no precise rules for heating them can be given. A lady should attend to this herself, until she perfectly understands what is necessary, and can give minute directions to those she employs. It is easy to find out how many sticks of a given size are necessary for baking articles that require a strong heat; and so for those which are baked with less. To bake brown bread, beans, apples, and other things, all at one time, the oven should be heated with hard wood, and if rather large, so as to be two hours in burning out, it is better. To bake thin cake, and some kinds of puddings, pine wood, split small, answers very well.
After the wood is half burnt, stir the fire equally to all parts of the oven. This is necessary to an equal diffusion of the heat. Do it several times before the oven is cleared. If the oven is to be very full, put in a brick, so that you can have it hot, to set upon it any pan or plate for which there may not be room on the bottom.* Be careful that no doors or windows are open near the oven. Let the coals remain until they are no longer red. They should not look dead, but like hot embers. When you take them out, leave in the back part a few to be put near the pans that require most heat, such as beans, Indian pudding, or jars of fruit. Before putting in the things to be baked, throw in a little flour. If it browns instantly, the oven is too hot, and should stand open three or four minutes. If it browns without burning in the course of half a minute, it will be safe to set in the articles immediately. It is often best not to put in those things which require a moderate heat, till those which need a strong heat have been baking ten or fifteen minutes.
A coal scuttle of peat, with less wood, is economical, and gives an equal and very prolonged heat. Many persons use it with pine wood, for their ordinary baking. It takes a longer time to burn out than wood.
It is well to kindle the fire as far back as possible, because all parts of the wood are much sooner on fire than if it is kindled near the mouth of the oven; and if peat is used, it should not be thrown in until the wood is well kindled.