Dutch Calendar: Dutch Ovens, Cooking and Feasting

No doubt one reason the German housewife of the Fork had such a splendid reputation for cooking was owing to the widespread use of Dutch ovens, a manner of baking popular in the Black Forest area of the Rheinland from which many of these people came. The very earliest of these outdoor ovens in the Fork were made of "small rock, and mud-plastered." The later ones of the nineteenth century were more often of sun-dried brick held together by clay and about four and a half to five and a half feet tall. From all accounts, they were to be found at every farmhouse in the German area of Newberry, Richland, and Lexington. For convenience in baking, they were constructed on foundations which could vary in building material from oven to oven….The Kleckley and Corley ovens in Lexington County, constructed around 1850, are built of hand-made bricks held together by clay and on a fieldstone base three rows high mortared with clay. The base is five and a half feet square and two feet high….In the Fork, most ovens were known to have been covered by a shed, as was the case in the Rheinlanders' settlement in North Carolina, where Dutch ovens were also an important custom." Horace Harmon, of the Lexington Museum, feels that this shed would have been all but essential, as a rain shower would have cooled the hard-won results of a one to three-hour firing process, not to mention making it uncomfortable for the baker while loading and unloading her food.

The oven itself was an igloo-shaped structure with an arched square opening at the front. At least one is described as employing a door, " but likely all made use of wood (later, perhaps, tin) doors placed against the opening to keep in heat while baking….Both the Kleckley and Corley ovens have a one-brick-sized vent near the top middle of the rear for this purpose”….The ovens, of course, could vary in size; but from every account, they were all capacious.The Meetze and Corley ovens' interior baking space measures four feet in diameter and was likely representative. The Wilsons' could hold at a single time "four pies, a loaf of bread, a peck of [sweet] potatoes, and about two dozen sweet cakes."" On another occasion, Wilson describes its contents to be "a half dozen pies with the juice running out the top and a pile of 'tatoes lying over on the other side with the hulls puffed up about an inch high and a big pan of ginger cakes in the middle." Monts writes that theirs was used to bake "bread, pies, potatoes, and peanuts."" The peanuts were placed nearest the oven door so they could be turned. No mention was ever made of baking meats; these were likely spitted on the great indoor hearth. Scott writes, "Every family had a brick oven for baking on Saturday the weeks supply of fruit pies, when in season, and sweet potato custards, which were eaten cold, and bread. (Kilber, 1988)

Return to Brick Oven