by Bob McCann

1. How are you going to cook? The pots and kettles with 3 inch or so legs seem to be for use in fire pits where the ash builds up. Those with 1 inch legs are more for use on stone or brick hearths. Those with very short, broken off legs that just support the pot evenly, or no legs are for cooking on ‘6 plate’ stoves (ca. 1765). Stoves with removable covers start ca. 1790.

2. A sprue is the place where the metal is poured into a casting. The resulting column of metal ‘feeds’ the casting as the body begins to cool and shrink. The gate is the area where the metal enters the item that is being cast. What is called a sprue mark is round – the sprue was directly above the item being cast. What is called a gate mark is thin and long. It is a passageway for the flowing metal from the sprue to the item being cast. So called round sprue marks are earlier than elongated, thin gate marks.

3. Beaver tail handles seem to be older than rat tail handles. The beaver tail handles are flat and at the top of the bowl of the vessel which usually has a sprue mark. The rat tail handle is rounded and is about a third of the way down the bowl of the vessel. I am convinced that handles with holes are later than we portray on the 18th century side of the road. In earlier times the cooking vessels rarely left the hearth. A hole implies the family has many, special purpose cooking vessels which are not always used. The hole permits them to be hung out of the way. A handle with a hole is the mark of affluence! These are good on the 1840 side of the road.

4. A posnet is a bowl shape with three legs and a long handle. The early ones were poured from bell metal and had the name of the founder on its long, flat handle. As they transitioned to iron the handle becomes rat tailed. These are good for cooking sauces and soups.

5. A pot is a rounded cooking vessel with a funnel like rim. It has three legs and ears to accept a hinged, removable bail to lift and carry it around. Smaller pots may have a permanent drawn wire bail. It looks like a small pot bellied stove although the stove was named after the cooking pot. For the 18th century, the bail should be made from square stock. Round stock is early to mid-19th century. The bail fits into ears on the side of the pot. Small pots are for cooking while the larger pots are for washing, dying, rendering fat and so on. A medium pot may be a mess pot for feeding 6 to 12 soldiers.

6. A kettle has a rounded bottom and straight, outward sloping sides and three legs. It may have ears for the bail or the side may have small, round pierced tabs to hold the bail which is usually made from drawn wire.

7. A fry pan is 8 or more inches in diameter with short sides usually having a rat tail handle and three legs. The term spider is a 19th century term I am told. Earlier fry pans have straighter sides while later ones have outward sloped sides.

8. A hearth oven is a larger pan 10 or more inches in diameter with straight, high sides. It usually has a flat handle that is at the top of the pan edge and the handle may have writing. It has three legs and takes an ash lid, a lid having an outer rim on the top to contain the coals that are used to heat the top of what is being cooked inside. Coals are also placed under the hearth oven to create heat top and bottom. Modern Dutch ovens do not have handles and have very funny ears that are easier to cast.

9. Tea pots are rounded, have very short legs even button legs, and were meant to be hanged. I tend to put them into or on the coals to boil water. They have a goose neck spout and an attached, forged flat bail. They come with a separate lid. 19th Century forms are tea kettles with straighter sided.

10. Beware of cast iron with rebated bottoms that go through the hole in a stove with the rebated bottom sitting down into the fire. These are late-19th century and later.

11. Use plenty of oil in cooking and when you are done wipe down the iron vessel with sweet oil (olive oil).

12. Do not put cold water in a hot iron vessel. Do not put a cold iron vessel in a bed of coals or near a fire. If you hear a ‘ping’ you are finished. There is a crack and it will open when used over a fire. Set the empty iron vessel near the fire to gently warm it.