The Thompson-Ames Historical Society writes a
weekly column for the Gilford Steamer.
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1-20-05 "Keeping the Home Fires Burning "
In bygone times, preparing for the harsh, cold months of a Gilford winter took much foresight and hard work, especially since wood was relied upon for both cooking and heating.
The first step in the cycle involved the wood lot itself. There the health of trees destined to become lumber for use in sawmills would be of prime importance. Other trees and scrub growth would be cleared out periodically and become firewood. Four-foot lengths of such firewood was potential fuel for the farmhouse.
The winter, when work did not center on farming, was the ideal time to turn attention to address the wood lot. Also, frost in the ground made it easier to do skidding, using teams of oxen or horses.
Ideally the cords of wood would be aged long enough so as to dry out before being used as firewood.
To prepare the cord wood for use in the farmhouse, hours of hand work would need to be done. First the wood would be chopped into stove-length pieces. Next it would be split and then stacked, ready for transfer to the woodbox as needed.
Keeping a woodstove lit all day and all night required a steady supply of wood available in the nearby woodbox as well as careful attention to the stove itself and especially to the use of dampers that regulated the amount of airflow and, in turn, the way that the fire burned.
At night the stove filled with wood would need to be "banked" by closing the dampers to keep the fires burning low throughout the night. In the morning, the fire would need to be "stoked" by shaking the grate to drop ashes out of the firebox and down into the pit. The dampers would then be opened and more wood added to the stove to get a fire hot enough to do cooking and to warm up the room.
Ashes cleaned out of the stove would be stored in a metal scuttle and be ready for spreading on icy pathways.
A kettle on the stove would keep ready a supply of hot water for cooking, beverages, washing dishes, laundry, or bathing. A faucet at a sink or bathtub might supply cold water but hot water came from the kettle on the stove.
On the back edge of the stove top would often be found a small container of "starter" - a small amount of dough containing buttermilk or other leavening agent to use in creating batter for pancakes, etc.
The lid and rings forming a "burner" of the stove could be removed and a pot of appropriate size partially lowered down in to be closer to the fire itself. Such a pot could be used to boil potatoes.
A popcorn popper held above the stove top and slowly shaken to keep the kernels in motion would yield a welcome treat any time of day or night.
The aroma of bread, meat, or baked beans cooking in the oven would please any person entering the farmhouse but would be especially satisfying to those who had had a hand in preparing the wood essential to keeping the home fires burning and the food a-cookin'.