Breakfast, Coal Oil and Corn Cobs

| 4/29/2009 10:31:55 AM

Shortly after reading Leslie McManus’ column in the March 2009 issue of Farm Collector regarding life in a simpler time, I got to thinking about how it was when I was growing up.

In my opinion, we lived in the best of times. As she describes, times may have been simpler, but they certainly were not easier.

We lived on a 60-acre farm that had no electricity until 1945, when the REA finally put a power line near the house. Until that time, we pumped water by hand for the house and for the livestock. We had a hand-dug cistern at the back of the house where rainwater collected for Mom to do the laundry and such. Inside, we used coal oil lamps. We heated the house with hand-cut firewood, but we used lump coal to bank the fire at night and to fire the kitchen stove. My goodness, our children and our grandchildren have never even seen lump coal. But back to breakfast.

Corn cobs in a bucket   
Jan-Erik Finnberg,
Before electric and gas stoves, corn cobs (along with newspaper and coal) were used as fire fodder in cook stoves.

Before Mom could prepare breakfast, she had to get out of bed and go to the kitchen to get a fire going in the old farm cook stove. It was not unlike cook stoves most farm families had. It was kind of pretty in its own way, green enamel with white borders and trimmed with chrome. At one end was the firebox with two lids. Next came the oven, which also had a couple of lids. At the far end was a water reservoir, which held enough water to do dishes. A large “warming oven” was at the back of the stove to keep pies and such warm at mealtime.

To start the fire, Mom first underlaid a wadded-up newspaper at the bottom, then she added a few corn cobs to the nest, then added the smallest pieces of coal she could find in the bucket. Next, she poured on a little coal oil (where did that name come from I wonder?), then struck a long wooden match and hoped she had put on enough coal oil to start the fire under the cobs. Then she would head back to the bedroom to get dressed, get Dad up, then the rest of us.


Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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