In colonial New Hampshire, the kitchen fireplace was the first and largest of all the hearths in the early home.
This immense fire consumed large quantities of wood, selected and arranged in a particular order as fore-stick, back-stick, and kindling material. The food of the early settlers was usually boiled, roasted or fried. Resting on fire-dogs or andirons, the fuel burned, while pots and kettles, suspended on the crane by pot-hooks and trammels (hooks at different heights), contained several culinary preparations. Fish and meat, and other food items were often broiled or grilled on a gridiron. Baking was accomplished through the reflecting surfaces of the tin baker, or by a cruder method of burying the food in the ashes. Later a brick oven was used in food preparation.
Sometimes a fireback (a large cast iron plate) was placed at the back of the fireplace, to keep the heat from destroying the stone and mortar at the back, and helping to radiate heat into the room.
Cooking utensils in early American kitchens were scarce. Even the wealthiest households had only a few–usually had a large kettle, one or more small ones, a skillet or two, a frying pan, a gridiron, irons pots, a dripping pan, and possibly a warming pan. Tables and chairs, eating implements, plates, cups, bowls, and other items were extremely rare in colonial America. Napkins and table cloths were even rarer.
The introduction of stoves gradually brought about a revolution in women’s domestic affairs. The first iron cook stove was cast in 1765, and the first stoves were of very thick iron castings, and much heavier than later stoves. Throughout the 1800s hearth cooking slowly disappeared.
In the earliest days of New Hampshire’s settlement, the fire of the domestic hearth was renewed by the use of flint, a steel, and a supply of tinder (or by borrowing some coals from a neighbor if you had one). The introduction of the Lucifer match, [see example] [see Dec 15th article] put an end to the less convenient practice of kindling.
The average diet was made up of boiled, steamed and stewed meat and fish, vegetables such as peas and squash, cornmeal cakes and pudding, and berries. Later they added pumpkins, melons, fruit trees and other vegetables to their gardens (including the potato, first planted in Londonderry NH). New Englanders often preferred to eat the four B’s — bacon, beans, butter and bread. Everything was fried with lard–pig fat.
One of the earliest “true American” recipes was that of “succotash.” Taught by the Native Peoples to the colonists by the early 1660s, it was a mix of boiled beans and cooked dried corn, roots, squash and fowl. The colonists added salt pork, and potatoes (when they were introduced).
1. Life and Times in Hopkinton, N.H. By Charles Chase Lord
2. Misc other sources