Pioneer Potluck: About Olden Days on Farm Cookstoves

  • By Ann 'Grannie Annie' Berg
  • Tuesday, November 15, 2016 7:15pm
  • LifeFood

I had many comments of the old cook stove that sat in the corner of the old farm house kitchen. In the case of southern living, a kitchen separate from the house. My friend Pat Corbello who lives in Louisiana, related that her Aunt Lois lived in a old family house a couple hundred feet from them.

The old home was build like many Cajun homes, with the kitchen separate from the house. ( I would assume to keep the main house from becoming so hot in the warm climate.)

There was a porch that connected the main house to the kitchen. She cooked on a kerosene stove and had a little potbellied wood stove she kept a kettle of water on, in the winter. Thanks Pat!

In northern Colorado on a 80 acre cherry-apple orchard, my Grandma Cogswell, cooked with a kerosene stove as well. It was a small stove with 4 burners and an oven that sat off to one side. She baked cookies, pies and bread for Thankgiving dinner and all the fixings on that stove.

Upon going down the stairs and entering Grandma’s house, the slight odor of kerosene, pies, turkey, dressing and boiling potatoes took up the space in their two bedroom basement house at Thanksgiving. All the windows steamed over and the cement walls dripped with moisture.

I still, to this day, marvel at the mountain of food she piled on the table for all the relatives at Thanksgiving. There were from 20 to 25 relatives in her house gathering around a big, big round table that was in the living room part of the house. Two large linen, perfectly ironed, table clothes on the table and linen napkins at every place setting. The table was set with Grandmas finest china, silverware and glass wear. The kids of which there were many, sat at the kitchen table.

Butter plates were set every three place settings as were salt and pepper shakers. Grandmas’ home canned pickles and her spiced peaches, (which I especially liked), were in beautiful old serving plates.

She baked dinner rolls, I would assume a day or two ahead of time along with the pies. Her tiny area to assemble baking items was about a 2 foot wide by 3 foot long enamel “side cupboard” that had flour in a bin that you pulled and it tipped out. The sugar was in a big gallon jar and the spices and other cooking items were in the cupboard shelve above. Very compact, very crowded.

A week before Thanksgiving, Grandpa and Grandma went out to the hen house, where they housed 3 to 4 hundred chickens for eggs to sell and later to butcher the hens in the fall. They kept turkeys also and sold them to neighbors in the area. Grandma would pick out the biggest turkey. Grandpa would catch it with the “chicken hook” – a ridged wire with a hook on the end. Grandpa held the turkey down while one of my uncles chopped the turkeys head off. The turkey was hung upside down to bleed out, while a big cauldron of water heated over a small wood fire, so the turkey could be dunked in the hot water in order to get all the feathers off. It was hung back up to be plucked. It took a lot of plucking feathers to get the turkey the way Grandma wanted it. She saved the feathers and stuffed pillows with them.

Grandpa would sharpen his knife and “clean” (gut) the turkey. He would find the gizzard, the heart and the liver, putting them in a bowl of water to soak. Grandma cooked and chopped them and put them in the dressing (stuffing) made of her day old home made bread, along with chopped celery, onions and salt, pepper and lots of sage.

The turkey hung back up by the feet from the rafters of the coal shed to cool out and “age.”

In the wee of Thanksgiving hours of the morning it was put in a electric roaster oven to be cooked to perfection. It was the best tasting turkey in the world.

It was a long time before I figured out that all cookies pies, and bread had a “Grandma taste.” The slight taste of kerosene!

THIS story comes from my shirt tail cousin in Kansas, Jim Nelson.

“When we lived in Westfall, Kansas, mother had a “range” in the south of the two room downstairs. When I was 12 we moved to the “Trapp Place” to a bigger house. Originally it was a two room native stone. They built on three rooms and added a screened in porch. They also built a kitchen. My dear mother was so thrilled to have her kitchen apart from the dining room.

My sister Doris had a kerosene coking stove and her husband bought a 55 gallon drum of kerosene and set it on top of an abandoned wood burning stove in the shed. The stove was refilled as needed.

My Mothers’ cook stove was about worn out, so Doris husband,Thomas, suggested that we take the nice wood stove stored in the shed. Good idea. It was moved and placed in Mothers kitchen. She was so very pleased it was not rusty! The 55 gallon drum of kerosene had leaked and kept the old stove looking good.

After the stove pipe was installed, they brought in kindling wood, lit the fire…and flames shot out from all side! The kerosene barrel that Thomas had placed on it had leaked, soaking that old range.

Running for the water pump in the yard and we began hauling buckets of water, pumped out of the well as fast as we could, then running into the house and dousing the stove. The kerosene eventually burnt off the stove and all was well. “ (PS can you imagine the mess Poor Jims Mother had to clean up?)

“Later I wired houses for Rural Electric. A lady bought an electric range and she had the nicest Perfection Kero-range with an oven on top. I bought that and gave it to my mother. No more “starting the old cook stove” every morning..She just could strike a match for instant flame.

Mother never had a refridgerator. Again one of the homes I wired had a Servel Kero Refrigerator and they replaced it with an electric one. I bought that and my Mother and sister Lola had a refrigerator to use! The tank had to be filled with kerosene every day, but they did not mind that chore!”

Thank you Jim for your reminiscing!


The series is written by a 47 year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her Mother, a self taught wonderful cook.

She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day.

Grannie Annie can be reached at



The “Grannie Annie” Cook Book Series includes: “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ on the Woodstove”; “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ at the Homestead”; “Grannie Annie’s Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters”; and “Grannie Annie’s Eat Dessert First.” They are available at M & M Market in Nikiski.

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