FOOD PREPARATION SYSTEMS – VI -Kitchen Design by Fires

Post 249 – by Gautam Shah 


Fires have literally fired the Kitchens. Along with the fire kitchens have been modified for the size, shape, configuration, siting of amenities, location within the dwelling, connections to the estate, entrance and other sections of the residence, linkage to the services, and the storage systems. At another level fire has affected cooking processes, tools and utensils, ingredients and condiments, schedules and duration of cooking activities. The energy resources or fuels have continuously evolved, reducing the labour required for the kitchen related processes. Simplified fire has been a great leveller for kitchens in dwellings of all social and economic statuses. The necessity of cooking, and for that reason the need for fire (or energy), has decreased due to several reasons, such as ready to use supplies, reduced home-based eating and smaller family sizes.


The Fire in the kitchen has become efficient at several levels, its handling methods, thermal productivity and quality of effluents. The fuel supplies are more assured and continuous. New techniques of heat or energy sources such as solar, electric and microwaves are replacing the age old fuel combustion methods.

Fuels for Cooking

The cooking fire with its illumination (and warmth in many seasons) was a fear alleviating element on dark and fearful nights. It kept predators and insects away. Even a primitive age family knew it was a wastage of fuel. Oil lamps spared lots of fuel for cooking and warming. Another attempt to save fuel was to redefine the hearth from open fire to with three-sided enclosure. Direct fire roasting or barbecue, began to replace stewing or juicy cooking on indirect low fires. Agriculture provided grains, which in whole or crushed form required different methods of cooking heat. Starch foods required very little heat for cooking.

Casa_do_OuteiroThe sources of fuel were mainly wood cut from trees, twigs and heavier stemmed grasses. Liquids like oils, lard and tallow were used for lighting lamps and for sustaining the fires. Fuel collection was need-based collection activity, but with forests moving away from settlements, it became a seasonal source. Substantial time, effort and space were devoted to manage the fuel resources.


Built hearth fire is superior to open fire, but requires converted fuels like chopped wood, broken twigs, animals’ excreta cake, briquetted coals, animal tallow and fish oils. Heat efficiency of converted fuels is slightly better, but often times the combustion poor and emissions annoying. Smokeless fire was a necessity and has taken a long time to arrive. It was first achieved in a closed chamber hearth, where gasification of fuels at a very high temperature achieved complete combustion. The raised internal temperatures of the burning chamber require better insulation, higher air input, and equally efficient ventilation. The process was perfected only during the Industrial revolution, with cast Iron stoves.



It was only in the 17 and 18th C AD. that low emission and heat efficient charcoal and briquetted mineral coals were available and replaced the firewood. Charcoal was a preferred fuel, due to its compact form and high heat efficiency. It made the firing section in the closed chamber hearth very small, allowing its better insulated design. Different forms of heat application, direct-radiant, reflected, etc. became part of the cooking art. Mineral coals that began to replace charcoals only enhanced the pollution due to presence of sulphur. Coals, however, brought about many changes in storage needs, form of cooking apparatuses and house fireplaces. Houses now needed chimneys.

Cast Iron composite stove



Post 223 – by Gautam Shah



Fire has been difficult to initiate, maintain, contain, handle and extinguish. A secure fire helps the process of domestication, just as sharing of food with the family was beginning of a home. Fire is a hazard but if controlled can provide warmth, light and security. It needs to be shielded from rain and wind. Fire is a change causing element in every aspect of living.

Hearth in Pompei

Hearth in Pompeii Wikipedia Image by Jebulon

Fire can be sustained mainly with a built form and supply of combustible materials. Fire, however needs several handling technologies, such as:

  • Fuel sizing, storage and charging,
  • Ignition,
  • Aeration methods,
  • Holding tools,
  • Shielding and Insulation,
  • Heat distribution,
  • Emissions, odours and solid residues,
  • Fire enclosures like hearths,
  • Pots and vessels, supports,
  • Fire dousing tools.


Gold Smelting Egypt

Gold Smelting Egypt

Collection of combustible materials was volumetrically very large, and sometimes even more difficult then procuring the foods. Fire fuels needed size reduction for transport, and storage for an entire season. A housed fire, however, fostered many other activities besides cooking. It was used for illumination, warmth, farm, craft and industrial conversion processes. Many technological innovations were supported by such a large scale need for fire. The main thrust areas were efficient fuels and effective ways of using them. Fuels must be dry, compact, easy to size and store, smoke free and with high thermal efficiency. Effective ways of handling fire included using fire for heat conduction, convection, radiation, latent heat of materials and the residual heat in emissions.

Wall Hearth

Open fires were dangerous and problematic, but men could not do without it. The first efficiency was achieved by arranging the fire inside a walled chamber, the hearth. A hearth allowed controlled rate of combustion, protection from random sparks and limited effects of radiation. The hearth was multi-purpose entity, and allowed use of converted fuels like chopped wood, broken twigs, animals’ excreta cakes, briquetted coals, and liquid fuels like lard, tallow and oils. These fuels had smaller mass, better storage system, and greater heat efficiency.

Free Hearth

Free Hearth

Smoke and soot were problems that were tackled by locating the hearth in appropriate place. Many fire-related lessons were learnt from craft and industrial processes like pottery firing, metal smelting, shaping and forging, farm produce dehydration and baking, sintering of minerals, lamps for illumination, etc. Metal smelting taught how to achieve high temperatures, whereas dehydration and smoking (of meats) helped on how to maintain low temperatures for longer period. First attempts to reduce the temperature involved distancing the pot or food from fire. Hearth design micro improvisations (learnt from ceramics firing) taught how to control air supply to the fire.

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The local fuels, their quality and quantity, both affected the nature of food recipes. Different forms of direct-radiant, and indirect-reflected, heat applications created processes of simmering, stewing, boiling, smoking, charring, barbecuing, baking, roasting, etc. The hearths began to take different forms depending on the type of fuel available.

Wall Hearth with various forms of Heat input

Wall Hearth with various forms of Heat input

In colder climates the hearth was a warming fireplace. It became part of an alcove or a niche in the wall. The hearths were bulky to retain heat within the mass of body and use their delayed throw back of heat (re-radiation). Cooking procedures were long lasting (Stew-preparations), and dining close to the hearth. In warmer climates hearths were a source of heat and discomfort. Hearths as a result are placed in the corner of a room or outside of it. Hearths are thin bodied and to allow faster cooling after cooking. Cooking procedures involving use of fires are short and requiring lesser intervention. All non fire cooking procedures are conducted elsewhere, away from the hearth. Food preparation activities occur in other parts of the dwelling.







Post -by Gautam Shah


Dwellings anywhere and any-time have two inevitable features —a Door and a Hearth. Both offer some sense of protection. The Door offers physical security whereas the hearth offers a metaphysical sense of family. A door denotes a domainthe home, and the hearth focusesthe family.


  • Classical Latin word FOCUS =fireplace, hearth; from uncertain or unknown; perhaps Indo-European base an unverified form bhok=to flame, burn from a source uncertain or unknown; perhaps Armenian bo =flame.
  • An abode with an open door or no door, but with smoke arising from it, is a sign of inhabitation. A house however, with a broken door is an abandoned entity. No one enters a place, with an open door, no door or a broken door, because it is in some ones possession. A person with a door (or gap) has the right of occupation and residence.


In very primitive dwellings a door and the hearth, both were circumstantial -identified by their primal position rather then their physical form. Doors without any physical form have been like skewed entry positions, such as: cliff faces, entwined passages, narrow or low height(crawling) passageways (like igloos of Eskimos), fall-down (pit houses of China) or climb-up (tree houses), etc., Such primal positions have strengthened the functions of doors. For many stone age cultures and in Harappan, Egyptian and Mesopotamia civilizations the ‘door’ was a gap that served the purpose of entry, exit and illumination. The ‘door gap with cover’ additionally provided privacy, security and control of environment.


Long houses had doors at both ends, and were covered with an animal hide to preserve interior warmth. Each long-house contains a number of booths along both sides of the central hallway, separated by wooden containers (akin to modern drawers). Each booth has its own individual hearth and fire. Usually an extended family occupied one long-house, and cooperated in obtaining food, building canoes, and other daily tasks.’ (Long-house Wikipedia).



The hearth has been the focus of the family. A place with fire provided illumination, warmth, protection against wild animals. It is a focus to surround for food, talk, communication and entertainment. Today in every house, the Kitchen -the place of hearth and the Door have a very intense relationship. The person in charge becomes the natural controller of the door -front or backyard door.


Hearth and Family


The first doors were plain gaps with additional facility of cover. A variety of covering materials like, hide, fabrics, woven matins, rubble heaps, sticks, wood logs and planks, metal casts, paper, grass and leaves, and stone slabs were used. These were dumped, heaped, hung or placed strategically. Stripes of hides, vines, ropes, animal guts, sticks, etc., were also used to support the cover materials. Such doors’ covers were assembled as and when required or hung to roll up or push aside.

Harappan streets were straight walled as house entrances were placed in side lanes. Houses had entry gaps from small passages or court yards. Even today in many warm -arid and humid climates, the door remains open for substantial part of day and also night. For security reasons if the opening has to be shut, the Jali or latticed door or a curtain is closed.

Idoorways - Lahore 1946

The word Shitomi (Japanese) for the door literally means ‘a small woven mat’ recalling the hanging curtain forms of doors in ancient buildings. Shitomi was used for protection against wind and rain. Windows filled with criss-cross lattices is called shitomimado.

  • ‘There are two basic types of Japanese door covers: 1 Hung from an overhead lintel, Uchinori nageshi , and 2 Lifted in or taken out of upper and lower tracks’. The former are sometimes attached at the top by hinges in such a way as to allow them to move left to right or vice versa.
  • Tsurijitomi (=lit. hanging shutters) is term for timber shutters or doors that generally have vertical and a horizontal lattice attached to the exterior surface and sometimes to the interior surface as well. The sliding type panel board shutter without a lattice is called Shitomibame. Shitomibame are also used on shops were either the set in or the sliding type, and served as protection from thieves.


Ancient openings were associated with the Sun. The Sun entered from the East and passed out from the West. The East was associated with life, joy and brightness, and the West with darkness, gloom and death. Intaglios Babylonian seals show Sun god passing through a double valved gate of the East, and beginning to climb the mountain of the sky. The Veda  (Indian ancient texts) says ‘the dawn shone with brilliance and opened for us the doors that are high and wide with their frames’. Even where four sides of a building have openings, it is the East door that is the great door or the gate of sunrise. The great Eastern door of the sun temple at Baalbek, ‘city of the sun,’ was 21′ w x 40′ h. Tombs in Egypt, Persia and Lycia have on West side a false door that was indicated like a real door. It is low and narrow, framed and decorated like the door of an ordinary house. Door of entrance marks the birth or new beginning, and the door of exit marks the death or end of the world.