The object of the following article is to present in simple and convenient form the history of the growth of fireless cooking and its advantages over the ordinary methods, so that those women who have had no experience in the management of fireless cookers may be encouraged to try them, and those adventurous women who experimented with the earlier cookers and met with disappointment may be induced to try again.
Such eminent authorities as Linda Hull Larned, author of a series of cook-books; Margaret J. Mitchell, Instructor of Domestic Science at Drexel, Pa., and formerly Dietitian of Manhattan Institute State Hospital, N. Y.; Mrs. Runyon, manager of the lunchroom in the Boston Chamber of Commerce; and Miss Armstrong, director of the Drexel Institute lunchroom; all advocate the use of fireless cookers, and unite in the assertion that it has invariably been found that a good understanding of their management has resulted in success followed inevitably by enthusiasm.
This twentieth century is the age of progress in many directions, but most of all in Domestic Science. Never before has so much attention been devoted to the home. Journalists are giving columns of space to this topic. Churches are directing their efforts to the betterment of the home. Women's Clubs and charitable organizations have taken up the study of the home. The most important result of all this action and thought is the widespread awakening to the fact that the social and moral standing of the home is directly dependent upon its hygienic and economic condition.
In view of this fact, the National Federation of Women's Clubs has practically covered the United States with their County, State, and National Committees on Housekeeping. They know that bad cooking in the home means unsatisfied stomachs, to gratify whose cravings the saloons are filled; it means anemic children, a physical condition that tends to produce criminals; it means premature funerals. To remedy these evils, churches, journalists, philanthropists, clubs are alike working, and all are working along the same lines; that is, better home furnishings, better fuels, better utensils, more efficient, more economic, and less laborious methods of housekeeping. They have not only sought and introduced new inventions, but they have studied the past and adapted and bettered the old.
Among the adaptations of the old ideas with new and modern improvements is the fireless cooker. Ages ago Norwegian and German peasant women, obliged to be away from the house all day working in the fields, knew the secret of bringing food to the boiling point and then continuing its cooking and keeping it hot by packing it in an improvised box of hay. In the evening when the women returned, weary and worn from their field labor, there was the family dinner all ready to serve.
German club women were the first to see the value of this idea adapted to the needs of the German working class of the present day. These German club women revived the hay boxes and distributed numbers of them among poor families and began an educational campaign on their use. The American manufacturer, ever on the alert for ideas, was quick to perceive the economic and commercial advantages of making such an appliance in an up-to-date manner, and so to-day we have on the market numerous fireless cookers.
The principle of fireless cooking, though it bears the difficult name of recaloration, is simple enough. It is merely the retention of heat through complete insulation, just as we retain cold in the ice-box by complete insulation. In the first case, a material which is a poor conductor of heat is interposed between the kettle of hot food and the surrounding atmosphere to prevent radiation or the escape of heat into the surrounding air. In the second case, a poor conductor of heat is placed between the ice and the warmer surrounding atmosphere to prevent the contact of the atmosphere with the ice and the consequent equalization of temperatures. A vacuum is an excellent non-conductor of heat and is employed in the Thermos bottles advertised for use on automobile trips, but a vacuum is expensive and difficult to obtain, which accounts for the high price of Thermos bottles. The effort has been to find some insulating agent within the means of the average housewife. This has now been done in the metal-lined cookers.
The explanation of the cooking principle is equally simple. Ordinarily we heat food to a certain temperature, say, the boiling point, and then we leave it over the fire for some time, not to get hotter, that would be impossible, but to keep it at the same degree of heat, and to do this we must, on account of radiation into the surrounding atmosphere, keep on supplying heat. In the fireless cooker the heat once generated is conserved, and there is no need to add thereto.
Herein lies the economy in fuel. You have only to burn gas long enough to bring the food to the boiling point, and the fireless cooker does the rest. You can put dinner on to cook, and go to work, to the theatre, to visit a friend, or read, or sew, without giving your meal any further attention till time to serve it. This sounds like a fairy tale, but it is absolutely true.
By the fireless cooker you save nine-tenths of the fuel, and ninety-nine hundredths of your temper, your time, and your labor. You do not become perspiring and cross in a hot kitchen. You do not have scorched pots and kettles to scrape and scour and wash.
Another point in favor of fireless cooking is that it is attended by absolutely no odors. Such vegetables as onions and cabbage can be cooked without any one's suspecting they are in the house.
The economy in using the fireless cooker is not confined solely to a saving in gas and labor. There is also an actual and great economy in food, for there is almost no waste in this method of cooking. Take for example a 5-pound piece of beef from the round. Put this in the kettle of the fireless cooker with a pint of water for each pound of meat. Heat it on the gas range slowly, taking about twenty minutes to bring it to the boiling point. Then, according to directions, place it in the fireless cooker and finish the cooking. When it is done and tender, it will be found that there is only a minute loss in weight; to be exact, 2 ounces for 5 pounds. You bought 5 pounds of meat and have to serve on your table 4 pounds and 14 ounces. You could not make any such showing if you had cooked the meat on a gas or coal range.
Four pounds and 14 ounces, however, is not all that you have to serve. You originally added to your meat 5 pints of water. A little of this evaporated or cooked away in the twenty minutes primary cooking on the stove. All the rest is retained, for there is absolutely no evaporation in a fireless cooker. This water has added to it the nutritive value and flavor acquired from the meat. So besides your 4 pounds and 14 ounces of meat you have over 4 pints of rich soup stock which has cost you absolutely nothing, as it is a by-product of the system of fireless cooking.
"But," objects some one, "the meat cooked in such wise will have lost all its juice and flavor." On the contrary, there is a distinct gain in the matter of flavor in fireless cookery. We absolutely know this to be so, for we have had various cuts of meat, especially the cheaper cuts, cooked in a fireless cooker and the dishes so prepared have been submitted to competent judges; the opinion was unanimous that there was a real difference between the flavor of meats so cooked and that of corresponding cuts cooked after the usual methods, and that the delicacy and richness of flavor lay with those meats cooked by the fireless method.
When one understands the principles of cookery this richness of flavor of meats cooked by the fireless method is not surprising. Every one knows the proverbial deliciousness of French cookery. The special peculiarity of the French cuisine is the long, slow simmering of meats in closely covered earthen pots called casseroles. The principle is essentially that of the fireless cooker, but the casserole not being insulated, the French cook is obliged to keep on supplying a sufficient degree of heat to keep the casserole warm and its contents simmering.
Examples of fireless cooking with which many persons are familiar by experience or hearsay are the foods cooked in primitive ways, whose deliciousness is generally ascribed to the "hunger sauce" that accompanies outdoor cookery. Among such examples are the burying of the saucepan in a hole in the ground, the cooking of food by dropping heated stones into the mixture, and the clambake known among the Narragansett Indians. In all these cases we have the principle of the fireless cooker; i.e., closely-covered food slowly cooked at low temperature. Indeed, one fireless cooker is constructed directly on the principle employed in the New England clambake, and every one knows the deliciousness of food so cooked has become proverbial.
By the fireless cooker the cheaper cuts of meat can be cooked so that they are delicious, appetizing, tender. There is here a distinct saving in money, for by the employment of the fireless method of cooking, the cheaper cuts of meat can be made to serve all the purposes of the higher-priced pieces. Further, if the meats are stewed, boiled, or steamed, you also acquire at no cost whatever as many pints of delicious soup stock, less one, as you have pounds of meat.
Let us now recapitulate the advantages of fireless cooking:
1. Because by its use cheaper meats can be made to answer as well as higher-priced cuts.
2. Because out of a given quantity of raw material you get, after the cooking is done, more actual food than by any other method.
You have only to burn your gas twenty minutes for a 5-pound piece of meat for fireless cooking, whereas by the usual method you would burn the gas two to four hours, according to the way you desired the meat cooked.
Because you have only to watch the meat until it boils. By the usual method you must attend to it all the hours it is on cooking.
For by this method of cooking the housewife knows that the food cannot burn or overcook.
Because it gives the mother time from her kitchen to oversee the development of her children, and to share with them and their father their pleasures and interests.
the fireless cooker is a positive godsend. She can put food into the cooker before going to work, and return to find her meal all ready.
and has to serve dinner at night all the preliminary cooking can be done at noon, and the meal placed in the fireless cooker till evening.
who lives by means of a kitchenette, and must do her cooking in what is at once parlor, bedroom and kitchen, what a blessing is the absence of heat and odors that the fireless cooker assures.
we quote from a bulletin published by the University of Illinois, in which a study is made of the methods of roasting and cooking meats. The authors found that there was no advantage in cooking meat in a very hot oven (385 degrees Fahrenheit), but rather a difficulty to keep it from burning; that in an oven which was about 350 degrees Fahrenheit the meat cooked better; and that in an Aladdin oven, which kept the meat at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it cooked best of all; that is, it was of more uniform character all through, more juicy and more highly flavored. These findings point to an advantage in fireless cooking, and Miss Mitchell asserts that practical experience bears it out. With regard to meats cooked in water in the cooker, Miss Mitchell asserts that experience has shown that they become well done and are more tender than when boiled, showing that the temperatures necessary to reach that degree of cooking are obtained even in the center of a large piece of meat, without toughening or hardening the outside of the meat, as is done when more intense heat is applied.