for the Kitchen
The Antebellum kitchen of the John Fox House stood
about 50 feet behind the main house. It was a building totally separate
because of three problems in the operation of the John Fox household
of the 1840s and 1850s. The kitchen fireplace posed a fire hazard
to the wooden buildings. The heat of this fire was also unwanted
in the main house, particularly during hot summer days. The kitchen
was a work area where people talked and made noise while handling
iron pots or large numbers of glasses, plates, and china serving
pieces. The noise was much like that of a restaurant kitchen in
modern times, for the Fox kitchen provided meals for about 30 household
members and anyone who might be visiting. All cooking was done in
this building for the entire household, black or white.
The kitchen also served as a rainy weather work building
where some activities usually done outdoors took place inside during
periods of inclement weather. Meals for the Fox family were prepared
in the kitchen and carried on trays into the main house for serving.
After meals were served there, the china or dishes were brought
out to the kitchen for washing or processing the leftover foods.
The clean dishes were then brought back to the dining room for storage.
Since many pieces of broken china were found just between the kitchen
and the main house, it is probable that there were a number of accidents
between the two buildings.
The kitchen was a place of closely supervised activities.
In a large household like that of the John Fox family each person
in the kitchen knew what work was expected of him or her. Women
did most of the work, but boys provided labor in bringing in water
and firewood. Kitchen work brought about close contact among white
and black members of the household.
In the John Fox household, it is believed that at
least three adult slave women did most of the actual cooking with
the most talented and experienced one being the head cook. According
to a house servant list dated 1862, a 40-year-old woman named Ellen
was the head cook. Eliza and Beek, both just under 20 years old
in 1862, probably worked in the kitchen with Ellen. This list also
includes twelve children, and their ages ran from 2 to 10. Their
names and ages are Elick (10), Bettie (8), Flora (6), Sallie (4),
Allice (3), Jesse (10), Lemmuil (7), Siller (6), Morris (4), Amelia
(2), and Harriet (2). Click here to see another list of 49 slaves
and their monetary value, according to John Fox. Can you find Ellen
or any of the other names listed above?
Enslaved people usually ate their meals in the kitchen.
The Fox property had three slave houses where slave families lived.
A common kitchen provided them with three meals a day, but each
house had a fireplace where stews, cornbreads, or baked potatoes
could be prepared at night to suit individual tastes.
Herbs: Herbs from the nearby garden were dried above
the fireplace in the summer for year round use. Sage, rosemary,
thyme, dill, oregano, chives, and parsley were very important food
herbs along with others used for medicine or fragrance. Onions,
black pepper, and red peppers were very popular for seasoning foods.
Do you use herbs in your kitchen today? What other things might
people today use to add flavor to foods?
Fireplace: Most of the food was cooked in pots over
hot coals raked out of the back of the fireplace onto the hearth
or front of the fireplace. This fireplace contains pots hanging
from hooks or adjustable arms called "cranes." Most of
the time, the fires were kept small for cooking, and hot coals alone
were sometimes sufficient. Loaves of bread, cakes, and pies were
prepared in the kitchen, but baked outside in the brick oven, using
long handled wooden peels or flat shovels to arrange the food for
baking. Fried food was popular. Not only was the taste of fried
foods appealing, but also frying was a quick method to get one away
from the hot fire faster than broiling or baking. Biscuits, cornbreads
and deep-dish pies were cooked on the hearth. Very little food was
eaten raw, with cole slaw of cabbage and melons being the exception.
Even fruits were usually poached or boiled or made into fried pies.
Mousetrap: This mousetrap is typical of southern
kitchens of the 1800s, as the Fox family wanted to keep rodents
and other pests away from food. Wire rattraps were set out at night
to keep down this problem. What other pest control devices can you
find in this kitchen?
Cornhusk Mop. This mop, made of cornhusks, is an
example of how farm families of the 19th century were not wasteful
and that they found a use for nearly everything produced on the
farm. What are other examples of farmers reusing products from the
Fly Brush: A fly brush of paper strips tied to the
end of a cane would be waved over those eating at the kitchen table
to shoo away flies. Shooing away flies was typically the work of
young children. A fly brush, made of peacock feathers, is also located
in the dining room. Pieces of cloth tied over the mouths of storage
jars kept flies out of stored preserved food and pierced tin panels
kept them out of food safes while allowing air to circulate. Why
would flies be such a problem in kitchens during the 19th century?
Ant Guard: Ants, flies, roaches, and rats were a
serious kitchen problem. Small saucers, called ant guards were placed
beneath the legs of the food safes, the outer reservoirs filled
with water to prevent pests from crawling up to the stored foods.
Each table leg (such as one near left window) contained a circular
dish filled with vinegar water as a way to repel ants. Like the
mousetrap, this ant guard helped keep pests away from the kitchen.
Sweet Potato: Sweet potatoes were a common food for
folks living in Lexington District during the 19th century. John
Fox produced 300 pounds of sweet potatoes in 1850 and 400 pounds
in 1860. Click here to see where sweet potatoes were stored.
Food Safes: Notice that the small kitchen contains
two food safes. The dining room also contains a pie safe. When dinner
was over in the early afternoon, leftovers were put into food safes
and little cooking was done the rest of the day. In the late afternoon,
the cooks made candles, soap, churned cream into butter, and preserved
foods by drying or salt preservation. Sugar was expensive, so making
jams and jellies was very limited. Preserved foods such as dill
pickles, sauerkraut, honey, syrup, and dried foods were stored in
crockery jars on open shelves. Salt, black pepper, and coffee were
purchased products used rather freely.