My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Since man first discovered fire there has been a kitchen of sorts.  It didn’t take man long, I’m certain, to discover how different foods tasted when cooked.  Or how warm a fire could make a living structure.

The earliest kitchens were a mere campfire on the ground, or in a pit.  Today people experiment with this type of cooking and most find the results to be wonderful.  One of the best meats I ever tasted was a pit roasted buffalo at a rendezvous.  It was so tender and tasty. 

I’ve had many a meal that has been pit cooked and not a one has been bad.  The food has always been cooked to perfection.  I’ve added to my long list of planned articles to do one in the future on pit cooking and how truly simple it is.

With a few pieces of good cast iron I can cook just about anything on a campfire, but those early men and women didn’t even have that.  They either spit cooked or wrapped the foods in leaves or wet clay to cook them. Yes, I’ve had foods cooked in this manner too, and yet another article for the future.  Spit roasted hog is wonderful.

Experimenting with these types of cooking can not only cut down your cooling bill in the summer, but can be a great learning experience for the whole family.

As people became more and more adjusted to the creature comforts of a shelter their “kitchens” developed as well.  Small campfires were put in a pit in the center of lodges or tipis and smoke flaps were used to draw the smoke upward and out of the structure.

As more permanent homes were built the fires were moved into either the tallest part of the house to allow the smoke to go upward and out, or into a fireplace with a chimney.

Eventually stoves were developed and the fire was more enclosed and easier to control.  Then of course came the development of electric stoves and various cooking appliances.

What all of the cooking sources of the past and present have in common is of course heat.  In the winter it is great to cook large pots of a hearty stew or other meal and let it simmer all day, filling the air not only with delicious aromas, but with wonderful heat.

In the summer, however, while a stew may sound great for supper no one wants to heat up the house.  Not only is it uncomfortable, but it runs your air conditioning bill even further up.  But you simply can’t stop cooking entirely—although I know some that have seriously considered it.

This is where we go back in history.  My husband, son and I love touring old historical homes.  One common thread you see in most of these older homes is the “Summer Kitchen” or the “Canning Kitchen”.

Generally these kitchens are in the basement, on a lower level or an entirely separate building from the main house.  They were where all the “grunt work” of the labors of preparing elegant and not so elegant meals occurred. 

Some were huge and housed in well lined basements that kept the rooms a decently cool temperature while the cooks labored over the wood and coal fired stoves or fireplaces.  Some were merely a shed that sheltered from rain and little else. 

What they all had in common was keeping the main house cool in the summertime.  It is this concept we have been looking into at the Rock ‘n Tree Ranch.  I actually have in my mind’s eye what I eventually want, but budget is always a concern with each new structure we add here.  So in the meantime I am opting for a modern version of the Summer Kitchen.  The idea is so simple anyone can do it anywhere.

You move the cooking outdoors.  It can be as simple as plugging your crockpot, toaster oven, rice steamer, electric wok, bread machine, electric turkey roaster, or other electrical cooking appliance in out in the garage or on a covered patio, balcony or porch, or in the basement.   

Avoid using extension cords if you can, but if you must use one use a heavy duty cord.  Having the appliance in a sheltered area is best so that you are prepared for sudden showers or the neighbors sprinkler that comes on with no warning.

Also use your hibachi, charcoal grill, or gas grill often.  I know one family that cooks entirely on their gas grill during warm weather.  All three meals a day they cook on their gas grill OUTSIDE.  Anything you can cook on a gas grill you can cook on a charcoal grill or wood fire, it just takes a little practice and patience.

Then of course you could experiment with building and using a solar oven.  There are plans all over the internet for ones as simple as a foil lined cardboard box to very elaborate ones. 

Think now about the kids’ winter science fair and get a head start on the project.  Have them help build and cook with the solar oven and do a project on it.  Think about it, how many birds could you kill with that one stone?  1) Moving the heat of cooking outside and therefore lowering your cooling bill. 2) Answering the problem of “Mom I’m booooored!” by giving the kids an interesting project to do 3) Avoiding the last minute rush of science fair time by doing the project now and thus creating a better project 4) You get a great meal at the same time.  Now that’s a great way to take down a whole flock of birds with one stone!

You could do similar with the pit and campfire cooking, but with close adult supervision. Include a history lesson or two along the way while doing this form of cooking and you have another winning scenario.

No matter which way you do it move your cooking outdoors and cut your cooling costs.  As with all projects you do need to exercise caution as you move to your summer kitchen.  Don’t string electrical cords in main walkways, don’t leave food cooking where a dog, cat, child or other critter could dump hot foods on themselves. 

Oh and beware of cobbler thieves.  At one rendezvous we were having a Dutch oven cook off and I made peach cobblers, yes cobblers.  You see I’d make one, then set it to cool, then I’d go back to check on it and it would be gone.  By the time the actual camp meal rolled around I had armed Dog Soldiers standing around the fourth and final cobbler because I was all out of dried peaches by that time.  To this day I do believe one of those Dog Soldiers was the cobbler thief. My cobbler placed well in the competition, but my biggest cobbler fan ( a Dog Soldier) pled out from eating any because he was too full.  Could it be because I saw a bit of peach in his beard?

My dream summer kitchen is a wood and screen structure just off my side deck, under the shade trees.  It would have a two burner propane camp stove on a sturdy base OR an apartment size propane stove with an oven.  Tables, a water hook up, a storage cabinet, and all the conveniences including an electrical hook up and lighting.  There would be storm panels I could put up as a wind break  or against sudden changes in the weather.  I have most of the bits and pieces I need to stock it, I simply need the structure. 

In the meantime I use our sunroom for setting up the electrical appliances for cooking out of the main house.

How much could you lower your cooling bill by cooking outside this summer?  There is no reason to not cook a frugal and savory stew even on the hottest odays this summer.  Just cook it outside.

Jan who uses the heat of the wood burning stove in the house in the winter to cook many a pot of soup all day long in OK


  1. Hi, Jan, I'm enjoying your new blog!
    I'm struggling with this a lot. I get home at 5:30 and the last thing I want is "comfort food" or to turn the oven on or the fryer, etc. I have tried the "solar oven" thing and didn't have any luck with it.
    Last week, I dehydrated onions and did it outside and thought, "Why don't I bring the crock pot out here?" but I haven't done it yet. I bet I made 20 trips in and out of the house for those onions!

    1. Thanks Ashley, writing the blog helps me keep more centered on cutting our costs around here. Jan who is working today on listing things for sale in OK