Life is not all "college educated"; there is a lot of learning found in the books of our ancestors. I am amazed at what my forefathers and foremothers learned from books. My grandfather Williams once told me there was a lot of "book larnin'" that would help me in life; hence, I became a great reader and inherited many of the books from my grandparents' homes. Many an hour can we whiled away reading those ancient volumes of useful information.
One such volume in my collection was published by the Phelps Publishing Company in 1907. The title tells the story, "THE FARM AND HOME COOK-BOOK AND HOUSEKEEPER'S ASSISTANT." It is a gold mine of those old time recipes, long forgotten. It actually begins with a four-verse poem, "THE WORLD'S HEROINE," a tribute to the household cook: "She saves the lives of thousands, by her duties every day, though she does it in a simple, and unnoticed, quiet way, but when I am an author, I shall surely write a book about the queen of womanhood-the worthy household cook! (Alice Jones)
I learned something new from the "FARM AND HOME COOK BOOK"; did you ever try "hay box" cooking?
In a chapter, "Fireless Cookery-The Hay Box," a lengthy explanation is given for this unique, and possibly lost, method of cooking. It explains, "Though the method is old-almost a century old, it is said-yet 'fireless cookery,' brought up to date, may be new to many of the present day housewives. Our great-grandmothers and grandmothers used the hay box in the 'old country' and in the armies of the continent this same method of fireless cookery has been used with success for many years. Progressive American housewives are now adopting it and enthusiastically sounding its praises." The author then listed those who were promoting the method, including the government, and concluded, "Too much cannot be said in favor of the hay box and fireless cookery."
The principle of hay box cooking can be easily explained; "when anything has once reached the boiling point, all that is needed is to keep it there, and this is accomplished by boiling for a few minutes over a coal-fire, or an oil or gas stove, and then depositing the boiling, bubbling food in a covered kettle in an airtight receptacle closely packed with a non-conducting material, which will retain the heat." A "hay box" can easily be constructed of wood and made airtight by filling all the cracks and lining it with thick paper. It is then filled with clean, sweet-smelling, hay. A ticking pillow stuffed with hay is made to fit under the cover to make it snug when the cover is closed. The covered pots of the boiled food are placed in the hay, the cover is closed, the entire box is covered with a carpet, old coat, shawl, or quilt, and the cooking begins. It then becomes the "slow cooker" of yesteryears!
Hay-box cooking had its advantages: "It is so nice to come home from church and find the Sunday dinner all ready to serve. It is so nice to be able to leave a hot, well-cooked dinner for the hungry men-folks when we want to go visiting, and being able to do so encourages us to "take a day off" oftener. It is so nice to be able to cook a dinner for company a day beforehand, and so be free from care and able to enjoy their visit."
Several other cooking advantages can be listed along with alternative uses of the hay box. "One can have hot water for a tub bath hours after all the fires are out, by putting the kettle in the hay box, and milk or water can be kept warm all night for the baby in a little hay box made for that purpose."
Thus, those who came before us found life a little better by their "book larnin'" and maybe, just maybe, we can put those old books to use and find some of that joy in living that was a part of the lives of those on the farms and woodland homes of days-gone-by.