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Comfort Baking for the Pioneer Farmer

Well, LHF Kids, it is still pretty cold outside! The cold weather often makes people want to stay inside and bake yummy treats! Do you think the first settlers to Iowa in the 1850s did this too? Remember, in 1850 people did not have electric or gas ovens. Stoves were made of heavy iron and burned wood or coal, like this one at our 1900 era farm house.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the pioneers traveled to Iowa in the 1850s, they did not have much room in their wagons. They had to be really careful about what they chose to bring with them. A wood burning cook stove was too big and too heavy to fit in their wagons. So how did the pioneers bake their bread and cakes?


A bake kettle! A bake kettle is a deep cast iron pan with three legs and a rimmed, close-fitting lid. Around 1850, it was usually referred to as a bake kettle or bake oven. Today, people refer to it as a Dutch oven. So how does a bake kettle work?

First you need to build a fire and get good coals. Coals are the part of the fire that glows orange.


Next, you prepare your food. Make sure to grease your bake kettle! Place your food inside the bake kettle, and then place the lid on top. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter that, take a scoop of coals and place it on your hearth.

A hearth is a stone floor that sits in front of your fireplace. Then you set your bake kettle on top of the coals.  Because it has legs, it won’t sit directly on the coals, so it won’t burn. Next, take another scoop of coals and put them on top of the lid. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The lid has a rim on it so the coals won’t spill. Lastly, take a scoop of ashes and put them on top.
coals on bake kettle (2)
This makes sure the heat from the coals doesn’t escape and cooks your food. Now you wait! To check to see if your food is done, you take a special hook to lift the lid of your bake kettle, if it needs more time, the lid goes back on. If your food is done, flip it out on a plate and enjoy!

cupcakes (2)

If you would like to try a pioneer recipe at home in your oven, try this one! It was originally published in a very old cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia. You don’t have to own a bake oven. You can make this one in your modern kitchen using cupcake pans and your electric or gas oven. We have “modernized” the recipe to make it easier for you to read. It’s called “cup” cake because all the measurements are in cups. Remember whenever you work in the kitchen, you need the help and permission of an adult!

Cup Cake

1 cup of butter at room temperature                     2 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour                                        4 eggs

Mix butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, mix well. Gradually, add flour until all ingredients are mixed well. Spoon batter into greased cup cake pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cup cakes comes out clean.

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