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Page:Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.djvu/75

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Open Ranges.—The closed stove with its movable grate and many contrivances for the disposal and regulation of heat is an invention of recent years; but the open fire with some primitive arrangement for cooking above, or by the side of it, dates back to a remote age. In the peat districts on the east and west coasts of England, cooking is still carried on under what appear to us almost impossible conditions, i.e. by means of a peat fire, burning on a stone hearth, with a wide chimney above it. In nearly all the houses the back kitchen or scullery is provided with a brick oven, in which bread and joints of meat may be baked; but by reason of the cost of extra fuel, time and trouble entailed, the heating of this oven is a weekly, or at most, a bi-weekly occurrence, and on other days culinary operations are confined to the open kitchen fire. Vegetables and puddings are cooked in saucepans, or pots, as they are described in the local dialect, suspended over the fire; the means of suspension being a rigid bar of iron, fixed in the breast-wall of the chimney, and supplied with strong hooks of varying length, to allow the vessels to be raised or lowered to any height above the fire. All the culinary utensils are provided with half-circular handles, curved over the top like the handle of a kettle, but running from side to side instead of from back to front. They have also a large oval iron vessel, which they term a "hang-over oven," and use for baking pies, puddings and cakes. It has a depressed lid, like a braizing pan, which is filled with hot peat; and in this manner a steady, gentle heat is applied from above and below. A similar vessel, called a "kail-pot," was used by the ancient Egyptians for baking bread and cakes.

Before man's ingenuity had invented the chimney, the vessels were suspended from a tripod of three bars of iron or hard wood. One hook only could be inserted at the point where the rods were joined, and from this depended a large cauldron used for the various purposes of boiling and stewing. Cakes were baked and fish cooked in an open pan, which was probably the prototype of the North-country "griddle" or "girdle."

In pre-historic times, while the early Britons were subsisting mainly on milk, fruit, herbs and other products of the land, the ancient Druids built fires of wood on hearths formed of rough stones; and it has been supposed that the agreeable odour of the roasted flesh of the sacrificed animals first suggested their use as food; but until the year a.d. 61, when the Romans abolished Druidism by force, the inhabitants of Britain would not have dared to commit what would have been considered a terrible sacrilege.

There is no direct evidence of the fact, but it is highly probable that roasting in front of the fire was one of the improved methods of cooking introduced by the Normans in the eleventh century. Roasting spits were in general use in the fourteenth century. They were first turned by hand; but afterwards dogs were specially trained for the work which was executed by the dog keeping in motion a revolving