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bake oven / bake-oven

A footed cast-iron vessel, often with a flanged lid. It is placed in the coals of a fire and additional coals are piled on the lid so that the food inside is heated from all sides, as in a traditional oven. — Webster, 1882

Sometimes the cook used the Dutch bake-oven, which everyone knows, a shallow iron pot, with a close fitting iron cover on which you can pile a great thickness of coals, or can build a miniature fire. -Scribners Monthly, May 1880, 128.

In Little House on the Prairie, Ma’s primary cooking vessels are the coffee pot, the spider, and the bake oven (or bake-oven). All three were suitable for cooking over an open fire. Set among the hot coals of an open fire, additional coals could be raked against the bake oven’s sides; its lid had a deep flange around the top, creating a container where hot coals could be placed. This allowed for all surfaces of the vessel to be heated, which baked the food from all sides. The flanged lid prevented coals or ashes from falling onto the food when the lid was lifted to check for doneness or when serving.

Ma used her cast iron bake oven to cook cornmeal cakes. She prepared a stiff batter of cornmeal and water, shaping it into small loaves which were placed in the greased bake oven until cooked.

Although Garth Williams included a drawing of a tin reflecting oven or tin kitchen in Little House on the Prairie (see Chapter 16, “Fire in the Chimney”), there is no mention of Ma having or using a tin oven in the Little House books, in reference to cooking, cleaning, or packing. They were quite common, however, so Ma may have used one, especially when roasting the Ingallses’ Christmas turkey (see Chapter 19, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus”).

The following article briefly explains how a tin oven could be set up in front of a wood-burning stove and used to roast meat the same as if it was set before an outdoor campfire or on the hearth of an indoor fireplace:

Roasting in a Tin Oven. The most primitive cookery was undoubtedly done at an open fire… When it is possible, meat should be roasted before an open fire, rather than baked in an oven as most so-called roasts are now cooked. At the old-fashioned fire upon the hearth, it was easy to roast, because there was in the same spot before the fire the intense heat required for cooking, and the constantly changing current of air necessary to carry away from the meat the fumes of burning fat, which must impair its flavor, and the steam set free from its interior, which destroys the crispness of its surface if confined about it as in baking. In the oven, the fat drawn out by intense heat spatters against the hot sides, and burns; while the steam generated by heat from the natural moisture of the meat, if confined to the oven, cannot fail to soften the surface…

It is possible to roast meat before many of the modern cook-stoves and ranges, because there is a moveable front before the grate containing the fuel. When this is the case, meat can be roasted with aid of the tin case open on one side, called the Dutch or tin-oven. A clear, hot fire should be made. The meat, properly prepared, should be hung in the oven, and placed directly in front of the grate; the greatest available heat being required to quickly crisp the surface, and thus retain the juices of the meat. The tin ovens are generally provided with a moveable hook in the top, upon which the meat is hung, and by means of which it can be turned without changing the position of the oven; some of the ovens are made with an automatic spring, that keeps the meat constantly revolving upon the hook, and so favors a uniformly brown surface. — Juliet Corson, Miss Corson’s Practical American Cookery (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1885), 40-41.


bake oven / bake-oven (LHP 3, 7, 11, 26)
     outdoors was hot like an oven / bake-oven (LHP 14; BPC 27) – Typically a hot, dry, and still day in which the air feels uncomfortably warm on the skin, as the heat from a hot oven feels when you open the door and are standing too close. Oppressive heat.