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A hot time at the Littleton Museum

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Visitors learn about cooking and the turn of the century’s modern conveniences

By Ramsey Scott

Having modern conveniences in the kitchen doesn't always translate into doing less work. 

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Just ask a woman trying to cook her family a meal in the 1890s.

"Industrialization made it harder for women," said Kathie Owens-Tucker, an interpreter at the 1890s farmhouse in the Littleton Museum. "We were expected to do more with all the new modern conveniences."

Before the transcontinental railroad made modern inventions like the wood-burning stove available to pioneers in Colorado, she said, meals were simple and made in a pot cooking over the hearth. 

Expectations for supper fare skyrocketed once modern appliances could be ordered though mail-order catalogs like Sears, Roebuck and Co. in the 1890s. 

"All the gadgets, the utensils and appliances, were to supposedly make my life easier," Owens-Tucker said. "It created more expectations instead."

Using the 1890s farmhouse's wood-burning stove, she demonstrated on Saturday the multitude of steps it took to prepare a simple rhubarb crisp. 

"You've got to have a lot of muscles to work in a kitchen like this," she said as she carried a heavy mixing bowl across the kitchen. "Some of these bowls are really heavy."

While the stove took an hour to heat up to 350 degrees, Owens-Tucker harvested rhubarb from the garden and showed museum visitors high-tech items such as nutmeg graters.

"It makes you appreciate how hard our ancestors worked to put a meal on the table," Mariah Freitas said. "Just imagine how much it would heat up the kitchen in July and August."

Freitas and her daughter Aliah, 13, attended the demonstration, and both left impressed with the amount of work needed to feed a family more than 100 years ago. 

"Today, you go to the store and expect everything to be right there," Aliah said. "They had to grow everything in their garden. It's more hard, but it pays off because the food tastes better."

While preparing a meal, women also had to make sure the stove stayed at the correct temperature. Owens-Tucker said the stove used two or three pieces of firewood every 15 minutes. Since most stoves didn't have thermometers, there was only one real way to gauge the temperature. 

"Stick your hand in there, and depending on how long you could hold your hand in there, that tells you how hot it is," Owens-Tucker said. "I can hold it till 10 (seconds); that's about 350 degrees. When it's about 450 to 500, it's hard to hold your hand in there for more than three to five seconds."

Owens-Tucker said that since she’s been using the stove for so long, she can gauge the temperature by how hot the kitchen becomes. 

But while the stove takes a lot of work, the end result is worth it. 

"Everybody says it tastes better," Owens-Tucker said. "Across the board, no matter what it is, it tastes better."

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.