Tuesday, December 3, 2019

What Does "Back of the Stove" Mean?

200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!  200th Post!

Sorry.  I'm excited that this is my 200th blogpost!

A while back, I had a reader suggest to me that I write a blog post explaining the phrase "back of the stove"--as in "Let it simmer on the back of the stove for six hours" or "Cook at the back of the stove until thick."  It is a very common phrase in old recipes and cookbooks and is perhaps a little confusing to today's cooks.

In actuality, this phrase even predates the most common designs for woodburning ranges, so we have to go back in history a little to understand it fully.

When household cookery began to move from open fireplaces to cast iron stoves, the stoves were built with very low fireboxes at the front, which then vented toward the rear of the stove beneath an oven, the bottom of which was even with the level of the cooktop, as in the picture below:

Photo courtesy of farmallclub.org

This stove design then changed to have the oven be tucked under the cooktop, and the firebox was raised to a more comfortable height. Cookstoves then looked like this:

Photo Credit: amberghistory.org

A door is open on the oven in the picture above, but the photos only show one of the two oven doors on each stove since each of these cookstoves was equipped with an oven which could be accessed from either side.

This type of cookstove was usually installed with the firebox side toward the room as in the first picture above.

Thus, the firebox side was literally the front of the stove, and the cooler, rear part was at the back.  The phrase "back of the stove" meant the cooler part of the cooktop.

As with so many things in the human experience, our tools changed before our terminology did.  More recent stove designs put the firebox on the left (only rarely on the right), and the cooler part of the range top is now on the side of the stove instead of the back.

In the pictures below, you can see the firebox on the left side of the Margin Gem, and in the second picture you see a saucepan and our teakettle "on the back of the stove."

Basically, the phrase "back of the stove" means the coolest part of the cooktop even though it is no longer necessarily at the stove's back.  The phrase indicates an area used for slow cooking and keeping things warm while still having direct heat.

I hope that clears things up for everyone who might have been wondering!

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