The invention of the cooking range in 1780 changed the nature of cooking pots and pans. Prior to that, cooking was done over an open fire as it had been for thousands of years. Over the fire was a spit for roasting, a round-bottomed cauldron for stewing hung over the fire and a flat-bottomed “kettle” with a lid (the ancestor of the modern saucepan) stood at the edge of the fire on a metal tripod, called a trivet.

The first cooking ranges had an open top but these were gradually replaced by an enclosed fire topped with a “hob”. At the same time mass produced cooking utensils began to be produced, replacing iron items made individually by the village blacksmith or tin items produced by itinerant tinkers.

Antique butter churn
Antique butter churn

One of the first new types of kitchen utensil to become popular early in the 19th century was the copper kettle. Tea drinking had become fashionable in England in the previous century but was expensive and confined to the rich who used silver kettles for both boiling the water and serving the tea. As the price of tea declined, the less expensive copper kettles were used by the poorer classes for boiling the water. A variety of shapes were introduced, including low flat kettles which boiled the water quickly but were awkward for pouring. The now traditional copper kettle shape quickly became established. At first they had metal handles as many people still suspended them over an open fire but, as this practice diminished, wood and bone handles came into use.

Other types of kitchen utensils which were once common are now little used. One group of such utensils is butter making equipment. Milk was left overnight for the cream to separate in a tin or earthenware settling dish. The cream was then removed with a skimmer, a flat perforated disc with a handle. The cream was then converted to butter in a churn. These came in a variety of shapes – upright churns in which a plunger was pushed up and down were used since the 16th century but later barrel and box-shaped designs were more efficient. Large wooden bats, known as butter beaters were used to squeeze and remaining moisture out of the butter and then to shape the butter on a butter board.

Before refrigeration and rapid transport, preserving was an essential household chore. The basic equipment required for making jams and the like was a preserving pan, a set of scales and storage jars or bottles. Preserving pans were large pans made of copper or brass – copper was preferred because it is a better conductor of heat; brass was a less expensive alternative. Other type of pots and pans made of copper are always lined with tin because copper reacts with many foods but preserving pans are not because the large amount of sugar used in the preserves neutralises any reaction with the copper.

Antique kitchen scales (1935)
Antique kitchen scales (1935)

At the beginning of the 19th century, only a tradesman would have possessed a set of scales but by the end of the century any well-equipped home would have at least two – a set of kitchen scales and a set of postal scales. For most of the century, kitchen scales were either beam scales or counter scales on which the item being weighed was balanced against a set of weights. At the end of the 19th century, a type of spring balance with a weighing pan on top and a pointer that moved around a dial was invented. This was much more convenient and attractive than the older types of balances and quickly supplanted them.

Postal scales were introduced with the Penny Post in England in 1840. Initially, these were a type of counter scale, usually made of brass and mahogany. Like kitchen balances, these were generally replace by spring scales towards the end of the 19th century.

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