The Wood Cook Stove

Published on December 12, 2015
Written by Becky Rogers

And how to appreciate modern-day appliances

Ask your Appalachian-born-and-bred grandparents: “Before you had electricity, how did you cook your food?”

Their answer undoubtedly will be “Why, on the cook stove, of course.”

A wood cook stove is a stove built out of iron that could house a fire. This stove had many uses, from heating up a chilly house on an Appalachian Mountain morning to warming up our hands after a day of hunting and playing. But its primary use was cooking.

Back in the Day

The fire in the wood stove heats the Appalachian roomWhen I was young, my grandmother, Mommy Dorie, cooked everything on her cook stove. To start, she’d send us out back to the woodpile to gather small sticks. We carried in the wood inside and built a fire under one of the eyes on the stove. It only took a few minutes for the stove to get hot enough to produce heat.

First, the heat would warm the room. Then it warmed the water that was in a tank on the right side of the stove so we could have warm water for washing up. (The house had no hot running water at that time.) While we waited for the stove to heat, we went to the cupboard and began working up flour and lard to make dough for biscuits.

Good Country Eatin’

With the bread in the pan, Mommy Dorie put on a slab of meat in a big old iron frying pan. It sizzled loudly, letting us know the oven was hot enough to put in the bread. Mommy Dorie then started making a pan of scrambled eggs. When it was time take up the meat, she pulled the biscuits out of the oven and set the meal out on the table for the rest of the family coming to eat before they started their workday.

an authentic Appalachian wood cook stoveWhatever was left over was kept in the warmer on top of the stove. It was in Mommy Dorie’s kitchen — over that old wood cook stove — where I got my first cooking lessons. And the food always tasted great.

Staying Warm

In the evenings, Mommy Dorie always kept a great big pot of water heating on the stove. We poured up the warm water in a tub or wash pan for our baths. To be honest, it was more of a treat in the winter than in the summer, but we were probably dirtier in the summer.

Life is so much different today. We have hot and cold running water at our fingertips. We cook fast on an electric stove and even faster with a microwave. The wood cook stoves now decorate Cracker Barrels and other country stores. But I still have those memories of waking early on a crisp winter morning, building a fire and cooking breakfast. I have to admit, though, I feel an even deeper appreciation for modern plumbing — and being able to take a warm bath in a warm bathroom with just the turn of a knob.