Mama’s New Stove
By Bonnie Fordham Hollingsworth
Pictured Left: Mamas wood stove was not quite as fancy as this one, but did have the warming oven and reservoir. This stove sold for $23.75 in 1903.
Anticipation and excitement hung heavy in the Fordham household! Daddy was bringing home the new stove he had finally bought for Mama! This was to make all of our lives easier. No more chopping wood for the stove all year round, and Mama would not have to tolerate the extreme heat in the kitchen during the hot summer days. This was our first step up to having a more modern kitchen. Our new stove was fueled by kerosene.
I thought it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, with all that green enamel trim on it. It had a fuel tank that Daddy would take off the end of the stove and take outside to refill. Lines ran from the tank to the burners, both for the pots, and under the oven. The burners had heavy wicks in them, to soak up the kerosene, and of course it had to be lit every time with a match. When you were through cooking and turned the fuel off, the flame would just get smaller and smaller until all the kerosene was burned out of the wick. I believe the wicks were made from an interwoven mixture of cotton and asbestos fibers-- the cotton to absorb and hold the kerosene, and the asbestos to keep it from burning right up.
This little green monster was VERY temperamental. If the wicks were not kept properly and precisely trimmed, it smoked terribly. At it's best, it smoked the pots up with every use. At it's worst, it smoked the pots, kitchen walls, and our mother! You couldn't just turn it off and the source would be gone. It continued to burn and smoke until all the fuel was burned out of the wick.
I do not believe that either of my parents knew how to properly trim those stubborn wicks, and Daddy had no patience with things he did not understand. The only time I remember that stove working ALMOST smoke-free for a few days was when Uncle Bart came in and cleaned the burners and trimmed the wicks for Mama. My poor mother got VERY discouraged with this new kitchen appliance.
In spite of her best efforts, the biscuits didn’t seem to brown evenly, and the food on the burners had a habit of sticking and scorching. My mother was known as one of the areas very best cooks, and this was REALLY putting a damper on her pride.
After a few weeks of this, my oldest brother said he thought the food TASTED like kerosene. That was when my mother said it had to go! Fortunately, she had the foresight to have the old wood stove stored in the barn. Daddy tried in vain to assure her that she would get used to it. It was not to be. For the next couple of days, mama would build her a fire in the yard to cook with, and even went into the barn and put a fire back in her old stove to make a pan of biscuits. After she almost burned the barn down, Daddy decided the prudent thing to do would be to return her precious wood stove back to its rightful place in the kitchen.
Then came the long, tedious days of cleaning EVERYTHING in the house. All the curtains had to be washed, along with all the linens. All of our clothes had to be washed. On the first sunny day we had, the MATTRESSES and PILLOWS had to go out to be sunned and freshened. Mama SWORE the whole house smelled of kerosene! My sister and I had to wipe down all the wooden furniture with a vinegar and water mixture. It was about two months before it was all done, and Mama was once again a happy cook and homemaker.
When I left home to get married many years later, my mother had a double-oven Flair range sitting in the kitchen, and the old wood stove out on the back porch. The old stove was properly piped and installed on the corner of the porch, and quite often, Mama would still go out and cook a meal on it. You know, there’s a lot to be said for a fresh, hot biscuit, straight out of the oven of an old wood stove!
I still think it was pretty, though; all that shiny green porcelain sitting in that otherwise drab little kitchen!