Buckley Rumford Fireplaces
Jefferson's Poplar Forest Kitchen
(Used to be on line at Jefferson's Poplar Forest kitchen

Poplar Forest Newsletter, Spring 2002

The favorite room of any house is the kitchen, and this year visitors for the first time will see what the kitchen facilities were like at Poplar Forest.

Masons working on kitchen in east wingMasons began work in late winter on the cooking area of the kitchen, which is the second room in the wing, and measures 24 x 15 feet. Along the east end of the room sat an oven, fireplace, set kettle, and stew pot range.

The cooking options in the kitchen, says the director of architectural restoration, Travis McDonald, represents a very sophisticated operation.

“A typical house of no pretense in America at that time would have had a fireplace,” he notes. “Better ones would have had ovens too.”

Set kettles would have been few and far between, and stew pots even rarer.

Set kettle and stew stove in progressIt was in the set kettle that the cook Hannah would keep a constant supply of hot water. The kettle was recessed into the masonry, with just a one-inch lip showing. Underneath, coals would heat the water.

Last year Poplar Forest received an 18th century set kettle, a timely donation from architect John Mesick.

Equally intriguing is the stew stove. Found in Europe but rare in America, the stoves were used for cooking sauces, something one couldn’t do well in a large fireplace where it was difficult to regulate the temperature. McDonald believes this was yet another innovation that Jefferson saw in France and brought home. The stew stove was a masonry structure with iron grates along the top and a space underneath for burning coal.

Archaeologists excavated the kitchen from the fall of 1989 through the spring of 1991. They found surviving evidence of walls dividing the kitchen from adjacent rooms, the brick floor, the hearth area, chimney base, and the location of the set kettle.

Other evidence includes a changing brick pattern in the floor near the hearth indicating the location of the stew stove, and surviving bricks from the original oven.

stew stove grate found by archaeologistsThey also recovered an iron grate for the stew stove mixed in with debris from the destruction of the wing in the 1840s.  In the yard in front of the kitchen, archaeologists found thousands of artifacts including fragments of a brass kettle, broken ceramics, wine bottle and drinking glasses,  pieces of forks and knives, and bones from cows, pigs, and chicken.  Tiny artifacts found within a deposit of ash associated with the kitchen hearth included fish bones, glass beads, straight pins, and seeds.

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