Appalachia Appalachian Food

Cooking by Lamp Light


“There was no electricity in those days, so we carried oil lamps from room to room and cooked in the fireplace. Pots and pans hung from a wire over the fire, and corn bread and biscuits and even cakes baked in a Dutch oven set right in the hot coals. You used a pair of long tongs with a hook on the end to take the lid off to see if the bread was getting brown. When it got done, it was so good, it would melt in your mouth!”

~Lois Saine, – “I Remember Dahlonega”


Granny says she can remember visiting an old lady in her family that still cooked in a fireplace. As hard as cooking for your family is, I just can’t imagine having to do it bent over a fireplace by lamp light.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Ray C. Presley
    February 1, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    I can identify with several lines in your posts today. I remember staying overnight with my aunt Deene and Uncle Bill, her escorting us to bed awith a big coal oil lamp. It smelled the same as my Dad’s ‘old diesel coal truck, mixed with the clean smell of the hand-hewn cedar boards on the walls. Don’t remember cooking over the fire, but we often popped corn over an open eye of the cookstove and roasted potatoes in the ashes. Good memories indeed.
    Thanks for reminding us, Tipper, and keeping those old memories alive.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou MxKillip
    January 8, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Tipper I thought about the five foolish women who had no oil in their lamps in the Bible Our power went off in Enloe Texas I had to get my oil lamps but no oil in them about the time we got them going the power came on

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 8, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    Tipper our power in Enloe Texas went off I gathered up my lamp light had no oil in them had to go to cooper to get oil we manage to get two lights going and the power came on. We have a gas fireplace and cook stove so we can heat and cook I am thankful for the flip switch on lights. My brother made me two mirrored light wall plaques to reflect the light but I didn’t have them mounted either I am thankful for the grand days now as to oppose to the so call good old day mr Truman calls me a pansy said I never made it west in covered wagon. I signered to myself I can’t hardly make it west in the pick up truck. I love the southern mountains of NC not the West

  • Reply
    January 7, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    Tipper, that is one of the prettiest pictures i’ve seen ,with the lamp. Beautiful! When i was a little girl, and we killed hogs, sometimes we get us a piece of ham or tenderloin and put it on a long fork and open the wood stove door and cook some meat over the fire. O it was good. We also had a wood cook stove in the kitchen. We cook all the time on it. Good ole soup beans and Cornbread. Those were the days.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      January 7, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      My Daddy believed that you shouldn’t eat meat from an animal you killed until all the “animal heat was gone” meaning until it was cold. He thought is had life in it as long as it was warm. That meant the first mess of meat would be the next day. We learned though, if we begged long and hard enough, that he would cut us off a little piece of tenderloin to put on a forked stick and roast on the fire under the barrel that held the scalding water. No salt, no pepper, no nothing, just caveman style! That was the best meat a person could ever eat!

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    January 7, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    I cooked by lamplight for about 15 years. One thing you learn is to prepare ahead, have things ready so you’re not looking for them when there is less light. It really wasn’t as difficult as it sounds as your eyes adjust to the lower light… and as the evening goes on the lamps seem to actually get brighter. Weird, I know but it sure seemed to be true. The other thing is we used more lamps than most people did in older times. I had 4 in the kitchen alone.

  • Reply
    January 7, 2019 at 10:58 am

    We were ice and snow bound with power lines down one winter in NW Nebraska when we first retired and moved to our lake cottage from Iowa. We kept the water pipes from freezing by leaving one faucet in the basement dripping into the sink, and the fireplace in the large main room going day and night for four days.

    The first twenty-four hours seemed a little like an adventure. Cooking in the fireplace was a challenge. The second day was not nearly so much fun. The wood pile was covered in snow and the logs were frozen after we had burned all we had on hand inside. I brought wood into the basement to thaw before adding it to the fire. The third and fourth days were tedious. Waking every two hours to add wood to the fire, wearing outdoor clothes in the house, cooking on the fireplace, and trying to keep from freezing with outside temperatures hovering around zero was exhausting.

    We closed off the two bedrooms and slept on a roll-away bed in the loft above the main room with the fireplace. When the lights suddenly came on late the fourth day, we cheered. Then the furnace started. We laughed and jokingly said, “We’re SAVED!”

    Prairie pioneers coped every winter. But their log or sod homes had maybe 100 square feet, low ceilings, and large fireplaces. Still, they are admired for the way they prepared for each winter and for enduring and prevailing!

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    January 7, 2019 at 10:23 am

    My granny’s wood cookstove was in the kitchen along with the electric stove. She considered electricity the “Work of the Devil” and refused to touch any electric appliance.

  • Reply
    January 7, 2019 at 9:13 am

    I cooked on my woodstove for ten days during the ice storm of 2009. It never seemed to get hot enough to do much more than heat a hot dog or warm a can of soup. That’s due to the stove being semi-inserted and the blower not working to warm the surroundings. It kept me and my pipes from freezing and also kept me from going hungry. Mom cooked on a coal stove the entire time I lived at home. I’m sure she cooked on an open fire as well, I just can’t remember it.
    Looks like we will need to buy some lamp oil for daytime use here in KY, as I think the sun has relocated. Haven’t seen it but once or twice in a month!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 7, 2019 at 8:38 am

    During the “Blizzard of 93” we heated with our double fireplace and our Fisher Mama Bear wood stove. The “Mama Bear” also served to cook on, several members of the family brought food from their freezers which along with ours was thawing even though we buried coolers in the snow, and packed snow in the bottom of the coolers. Our power was out for several days but we were able to stay warm, had propane lights from our camping equipment and an enigmatic menu from various contributions and thanks to my Dutch Oven and other cast iron pans some of which had lids and others which didn’t. Growing up in Needmore where we didn’t have electric power helped but we were very happy when electricity was restored. We are spoiled with all the electric implements we count on daily.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 7, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Back in the days when all there was were fireplaces the good ones had a wrought iron rod (or more) that attached to the inside of of the fireplace and swung out away from the fire. A pot (or pots) were hung on that rod and placed in whatever position over the fire the contents called for. Kinda like a manually controlled thermostat. Plus you didn’t have to reach back into the fire to stir or check on your food. All you had to do was hook the rod and pull it around to you then push it back in if necessary.
    I was studying on just that the other day but couldn’t remember what it was called. I finally got it but I’m not going to tell you right away. You may know already. Want to guess?

    • Reply
      Ron Stephens
      January 7, 2019 at 12:11 pm

      I believe that was a crane.

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        January 7, 2019 at 1:44 pm

        You are right!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 7, 2019 at 8:19 am

    That is a really nice lamp in the picture with the etched chimney, the glass bowl and the glass feet.

    It is really hard for me to imagine cooking in a fireplace. But for those who did it I’m sure it was just ordinary. It must have required a lot of knowledge of wood and fire. We visited Rocky Mount, a living history site near Johnson City, TN, in April 2018 and the lady in the kitchen building explained that in the huge fireplace there might be four of five kinds of cooking going on at once, each situated so as to have a different temperature. She talked about cooking an entire meal in the fireplace for a special event. Little wonder that a well-run kitchen needed 3 or 4 people.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 7, 2019 at 7:54 am

    I remember my grandmother’s house had a fireplace and a wood cook stove in the kitchen. There were hooks at the fireplace where they had once hung pots before they had the wood cook stove. There was also an electric stove in the kitchen. So, the wood cook stove replaced the fireplace for cooking and the electric stove replaced the wood cook stove for cooking. The wood cook stove remained after the electric stove was added because it supplied heat for the house and my grandmother preferred it for cooking. I guess it was quite an adjustment to go from a wood cook stove to an electric one and food cooks differently with the wood stove. It cooked hotter and made crusty cornbread that you cannot do in an electric oven.
    I also remember that at my grandmothers house we went to bed at dark, regardless of the time. That was just their way of life. They went to bed at dark and got up at daylight. Life without electricity was very different from our current day lifestyle…no computers, phones, or TV’s then!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 7, 2019 at 7:40 am

    At my age I love my gas log fireplace and gas stove. I know I will always have heat and be able to cook. Ain’t life grand…

  • Reply
    January 7, 2019 at 6:14 am

    It’s nothing you’d want to go back to but everyone needs to learn to cook over a fire, and have the utensils to cook with. Recent hurricanes, tornados and just evac. situations you need that skill, folks now days just panic, when not just less than a 100yrs ago give or take a few, it was a way of life for some folks, and they made it work. We had a wood heater growing up and I can remember Mama using the wood heater to cook on when the power was out and in an ice storm it may be out for days back then.

  • Reply
    January 7, 2019 at 5:55 am

    The lamplight sounds kind of nice, and I could probably learn to cook in a fireplace but it’s the “bending” part that would do me in! I did without an oven for over 20 years until I could afford to have a wall oven installed in my kitchen. My back says it was worth the wait!

  • Leave a Reply