Friday, 11 November 2011

Home on the Range

The Kitchen range at Cusworth Hall Doncaster
Grandma worked with coal, gas and electric ovens during her life. Her early years had been spent cooking on black-leaded Yorkshire ranges. Having a kitchen range was really a marvel for housewives from the nineteenth century when foundries began making good-quality cast iron. This followed on from the first design of kitchen ranges by Thomas Robinson in 1780. In Victorian times the Range was at the centre of family life, providing cooking facilities, hot water and heat to dry clothes.
As a young girl, Lizzie Cave (later Grandma Abson) lived in the small two up-two down terraced house which had a black leaded range. As second eldest in the family, she often said she had to knead half a stone of bread dough before she went to school. Later, working as Cook in charge in the kitchens at Oakleigh, a large imposing Victorian house in Wath on Dearne for her employer, Mrs Hick, gave her that mysterious knowledge of what was the “right temperature” for her baking.  As a result, she never was too explicit about cooking times and temperatures, with slow, moderate and quick as common descriptions. In Grandma Abson's Traditional Baking, I've included a cooking conversion table for different types of ovens and suggested times and oven temperatures.  Keep in mind that modern fan ovens should be at a cooler temperature than conventional ovens and may require slightly less cooking time.
Her reply to the question: “When will it be ready?”  was usually, “When it’s done”! She did, however, make regular use of a thin cake skewer or cake tester (rather like a thin knitting needle) to stick in the cake and check if the baking was thoroughly cooked. If it was cooked, there would be no trace of the mixture when the skewer was taken out, but if traces of the mixture remained on the skewer, then it needed further cooking time. I still have her skewer and use it for checking when baking cakes.
It’s great to see there are still ranges to admire around the country. There’s a range at Clifton Park Museum Rotherham, which was restored in 2005 to working order. You can go to visit and feel the warm glow of the range and reminisce about toasting teacakes by the fire. 
Many Yorkshire folk claim that Yorkshire Puddings can only be made properly in an old-fashioned kitchen range but don’t let that put you off making them in your oven at home. Just get the oven hot and the fat sizzling!

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