Elizabeth Collins Cromley


On her book The Food Axis: Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses

Cover Interview of January 19, 2011

A close-up

The part of the research for The Food Axis that I found most intriguing and unfamiliar came from women’s records of homesteading on the frontier.

When households traveled from settled parts of the United States into the interior, just about the first thing women had to do was manage to feed their families.  If they were lucky enough to arrive at a town where some houses had already been constructed, the family might move into a shelter to cook its first meal.  With yet more luck there would be a fireplace available in which to build the fire and start preparing some bread or a stew.  Many families brought a cook stove on their Conestoga wagon as they crossed the prairies.

Women described what it was like to prepare meals under these frontier conditions: when they arrived at their intended location, they would shift the cook stove off the wagon and heat it up to cook a meal out of doors.  Some households lived in a tent or under a casually created shelter of branches and cooked like this for weeks or months if the weather allowed.

We can see how food preparation tools and practices generated houses for these frontier women: houses were literally constructed around the cook stove.