Monday, November 3, 2014

When a Steam Kitchen is not a kitchen using steam

Well, actually it used steam and was in the kitchen but steam kitchens were apparatus (after 1790) which heated water and then used the resulting steam to cook food.

The first image shows one type of steam kitchen.  An open or closed grate held a wood, coal or charcoal fire which heated water in the boiler part of the range. The resulting steam was carried by pipes (the upper line in the first image) to specially designed receptacles. The lower pipe refilled the boiler from a water tank.  A spigot or tap on the boiler gave access to the hot water for other purposes.

The second type of steam kitchen had recessed containers - similar to steam servers at buffets in modern restaurants. Two examples were made by Slater of Birmingham, UK and Gleason of Philadelphia, US in the 1810s. In the above image, John Slater’s “steam and water reservoir” - A - was a foot deep, into which square pots were lowered.  B - Oven/roaster.  C - Fireplace to heat the water above it.

Some well-known people and various establishments had steam kitchens: the Prince Regent at Brighton, James Watt, Jr., Vice President Aaron Burr, Georgetown College, hospitals, inns, prisons and steam ships.

Although never achieving the popularity of the more conventional ranges and cook stoves using heated air, steam kitchens were certainly one of the more innovative devices built to replace hearth cooking.

The article I wrote on early steam kitchens (1790-1830s) has just been published in Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC 101) p15-33.  The long running food history journal is published in Great Britain.

©2014 Patricia Bixler Reber
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