The kitchen hearth was the center of colonial family life, providing a comfort and warmth not found in the rest of the house. Over the kitchen table loomed the hearth’s great stone chimney, festooned with hooks and trammels supporting black pots and kettles, and garlanded with strings of peppers, pumpkin and dried apples.
The hearth fire, which in winter burned all day and night, was fed by tremendous logs that the family transported by sled. Sometimes these early hearths had seats built into them; the children of the house vied with one another for these rare spots of warmth from which they could gaze up and watch the stars of the night sky sparkling at the opening of the great chimney-throat.
In New York, the hearths were modeled on the Dutch design. One observant traveler described the New York hearth as being “very droll-like” in that “they have no jambs nor lintell as we have, but a flat grate, and there projects over it a lum in the form of the cat-and-clay lum, and commonly a muslin or ruffled pawn around it.” In other regions, hearths were more austere–just a plain brick or stone fireplace over which hung a kettle or two.
The meals prepared in the colonial hearth were simple and could be left simmering or baking for hours at a time. The colonial housewife prepared stews of beans, salt pork and vegetables in round iron kettles. Bread was baked in a separate chamber, usually off to the side of the fireplace. Once the bricks were deemed hot enough, in went the bread or pudding to bake until finished.
Below is a recipe for Indian pudding, a favorite from the droll colonial hearth. Serve with cream or sweetened milk.
3 cups milk
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
In saucepan mix milk and molasses; stir in cornmeal, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Cook and stir till thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in butter. Turn into a 1-quart casserole. Bake, uncovered, at 300 degrees about 45 minutes to one hour.