Colonial Kitchens, Pre-Hood Mart

Life during Colonial times, historians and writers of fiction often suggest, was simpler and less filled with problems than it is today. When you consider the demands of trying to cook a meal in a Colonial-era kitchen, though, technological conveniences like Commercial Kitchen Ventilation start to look like a decent tradeoff for some of modern life’s complications. 

When early American settlers set up cooking operations indoors, the earliest fireplaces were nothing more than a place to hold a fire. Sometimes, there was an opening in a wall to vent the fumes. Eventually, a smoke hood began to be added to fireplaces in order to direct smoke upward and away from the living area.

As settlements became more established, fireplaces grew to sizes ranging as high as 10 feet across, since there was more time for chopping and gathering wood. In the earlier days of indoor fireplaces, all cooking was done over or directly in the fire.

Then, when ovens were created, they were built into the rear wall of the fireplace or on one side of the hearth opening. In time, ovens were built as separate units in close proximity to the fireplace. Fires were built in the ovens until the bricks were heated. The embers were removed, food placed into the oven and a wooden door (usually with a tin liner) would cover the opening to retain the heat. Some fireplaces included a small opening under the main bake oven; this was thought to be used as more of a warming oven.

Typically, several small fireplace fires—like individual stove burners – were used to cook several items at once, as one large fire would have been too intense and possibly have cracked the fireplace bricks, necessitating replacement. Spits holding cuts of meat could have been turned by hand. In many cases, there was an iron fan set in the chimney flue which was kept moving by the draft that would travel into the chimney. This contraption – essentially a primitive version of Makeup Air Fans -- automatically turned the spit.

As you can see, even early Colonists knew the importance of maintaining high quality kitchen ventilation!