March 3, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Everyone Likes My Kitchen Best

"Sarah Feeley" at the Front Door...

An Irish hearth is often thought as the center of the home, where light and warmth brought about nourishment and comfort. The kitchen was (and is) the gathering place for family and guests, in whatever form it took over the years. Those who arrived in the years of the Great Hunger, and settled in homes like our 918 Lemmon Street must have marveled at the place. No more cooking over a fire on the floor, with smoke (some of it, any way) dissipating through the thatched roof. No more rooting through the pile of potatoes kept in some rustic method of storage, hoping to find enough that had not yet rotted while they waited for the next harvest to come in. A new system was in place, much to their relief.

To Market, To Market.....

Baltimore's system of public markets was a welcome sight to Irish homemakers as they created modest homes along the alley streets of the time. West Baltimore's Hollins Market was created in the 1830's, and became inadequate almost immediately as the laboring class filled thousands of row houses within walking distance. Shopping was a daily task, as homes had no refrigeration, and public markets were supplied daily by truck farms on the cities' perimeter. Not enough room for all that retailing in the modest market buildings...tables and canopies were set up on the curbs for blocks heading eastward, at numbered granite curbs along the way. They went along for blocks, with the Church as their terminus on market days.

Step Stoves (photo below) were a families' prize and showpiece, and could be purchased by modest families like the Feeleys in the 1870’s and 1880’s. We display their first appliance at the Museum...come enjoy it during your next visit.

  • Either wood or coal could have been used, and was available from cart men or nearby coal yards.
  • Fuel was added from above, via the circular burner areas... once the top was removed with a lever that came with the stove.
  • Fire would heat the burners directly, and heat would also rise to the stove’s oven area for baking.
  • Ashes were removed from the lower level, and gathered in an ash can. These were put at the curb, and emptied by a horse and cart man who came around periodically.
  • A stove was, after all, the first “appliance” in a home, and was a step up from the modest days of an open fire under a swinging pot.
  • Stoves were a major safety improvement. The flames were in an enclosed structure, and both the house and the cook were safer....many women had caught their skirts on fire when using earlier methods of cooking.
  • Modest families could finally bake at home; the Irish expression that their dinner was “on the boil” could be augmented by a roast chicken, or a baked bread or dessert.
  • Many families took a roast to the local bakery in earlier days, and paid a fee to have it baked in their oven. Some small baking and roasting could now be done at home.
  • A frying pan could now be put to handy use, without squatting on the floor while attempting a batch of bacon and eggs for the man of the house before he went off to work.
  • Stoves could be decorative, and their style might display a measure of affluence within a subset of the greater culture.

Rumor has it that many families are spending time and energy at the modern hearths of our era....have you tried to buy flour and yeast lately? We hope you are taking advantage of these stay-at-home days by enjoying some family cooking projects, and meals around the table. That being said, we miss our friends...imagine visiting our Museum in the coming months, and grabbing a little lunch at your favorite place....wouldn't that be lovely? See you soon.

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