I have visions of a banked up fire, a stock pot simmering, a roast promising a hearty meal, or a fluffy sponge – a family gathered in warmth and laughter. Well something like that. I do have some memories of a fuel stove in a cold climate and of making the toast on a fork of coal embers in a cool climate, but most of my memories of the old fuel stove come from far north Queensland.
Often too hot to touch, but always enticing, the old fuel stove was the heart of many homes when I was growing up. I loved the one in the kitchen at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother, an expert cook, would test the oven by putting her hand in it to judge if the temperature was right for a tart or sponge.
My earliest memory is of my grandmother cooking the evening meal on the stove while my grandfather read the paper. My young uncle, lying stretched out on the floor, with his knees up bounced me up and down. I have no memory of the meal, only the memory of the love of those three wonderful people.
A later memory involved my extended family at Christmas time. Despite the heat the extended family kept the rituals of an English Christmas. With about 20 people to feed, trestle tables were laid out in the big back room. There was a roast, and many vegetables. I remember vividly a cauldron where a huge pudding bubbled away. My uncle’s mother-in-law, red-faced and sweating, directed and supervised while her sisters carried out her orders. The man of the house and my grandfather, both World War I veterans, and now in their 70s, occupied the squatters’ chairs till called to the table. The seven children raced around, the responsibility for them passing among the two sets of parents.
Again, I do not remember the details of the meal, or who cleaned up, but I remember the camaraderie of the extended family and I have kept the little tin that came filled with English toffees they gave me.
Old-fashioned stoves such as this are back in vogue, but do I wish for the times of the old fuel stoves? No way.