Kitchens in upper class Colonial American homes were often relegated to outbuildings or basement levels to keep their heat and aromas out of the main house. They were the heart of poorer people's dwellings, where all food preparation took place and where the family members gathered to keep warm, socialise and sometimes sleep. Whether in lower or upper class homes, 18th century kitchens had a common layout.
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The fireplace was the mainstay of an 18th century kitchen, where all baking and cooking took place. Fireplaces of Colonial-era kitchens were large, sometimes 8 to 10 or more feet wide and tall enough to walk into. A fireplace often took up the majority of an outside wall. Many fireplaces featured a bake oven, often called a beehive oven, to one side of the open fire.
Toward the end of the 18th century, the invention of freestanding, cast-iron, wood- and coal-fired stoves made Colonial kitchens more efficient and somewhat cooler. The wood stove often stood to one side of the fireplace on the outside wall, and both the stove and fireplace were used for cooking.
A Colonial kitchen was centred by a large, hand-hewn wooden table used for both a work space and dining space. Another rustic table may have been pushed against a wall to provide more counter space. A dough box, which is a wooden box on legs with a top where bread dough was placed to rise, may have been along one of the kitchen's walls. Once the bread dough rose, the Colonial housewife kneaded it on the box's flat top. While the dough rose, she may have used the flat surface for other kitchen chores. A butter churn and a chair on which she could sit and churn or a spinning wheel for turning wool into yarn may have been tucked into a kitchen corner.
No hanging cupboards were used in the 18th century. Storage was provided by standalone dressers, which were large cupboards with open shelves on top and closed cupboards below. Cooking implements were stored in the open on hooks on and surrounding the fireplace. Foodstuffs were stored in crocks, firkins -- wooden boxes that could be stacked -- and baskets. A separate room or pantry provided storage in some large homes. Open shelving was used to organise everyday items such as crockery, eating utensils and baking implements.
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