Wooden tubs with fine carving inside the lid were traditional containers for a few pounds of butter in parts of Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Some were beautifully finished on the outside too, and could be used to take butter to festive gatherings and serve it attractively.
Because the interior carving gave the top of the butter an attractive design, these were called butter moulds by the treen (woodware) expert Edward Pinto. Obviously they did shape and mould the butter, but English-speaking antiques experts today tend to call them butter tubs.
Decoration on the outside was carved or painted or burnt, or all three. Tubs were constructed in the traditional cooper’s way. Made in the same way as barrels or buckets, with upright staves braced by bands around them, these tubs had two pieces of wood longer than the rest. They slotted into the lid and had a hole for the pin that fixed top and bottom together. Loose joins were sealed with rushes.
Size, shape, date
Other tubs have a neater finish than the first one pictured here, with wood curving smoothly round the whole surface, using techniques like Swedish svepask. They all tend to follow the classic form: round, on three little legs, a characteristic handle on top integrated with the side fastenings. They are often about 20cm (8in) high and wide. Pinto says a typical container holds 4 to 6 pounds (2-3 kilos) of butter, though some might carry more.
None of the tubs illustrated here is dated but I guess they are 19th century. I’ve seen one from 1837 and the overall style fits in with these. This extra special one is from the 1830s.
Containers of this type were also used for carrying stews, porridge and other semi-liquid food. I’d like to know if carving inside the lid is a decisive clue to their purpose. Or was one container used for both purposes? This would break with the usual rule that dairy utensils are kept separate and scrupulously clean to avoid souring the butter.
The Swedish container in the black and white picture is called a porringer (cooked food container) in a book by Charles Holme, who travelled to many parts of Europe to study, photograph, and write about “Peasant Art” – what we would call folk art now. It’s hard to know how much information he gathered about the everyday use of the items he studied. He was an art journal editor whose main interest was design.
As far as I can tell without knowing the language, the Norwegian name smøramber for these is closer to butter tub than to butter mould. Smør means butter. Amber doesn’t seem to be a common word in Norwegian. Interestingly, in medieval England an amber was a “vessel with one handle”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and also a measure of liquid and dry weight. And while we’re looking at words, the dictionary says a porringer is a “a small bowl or basin, typically with a handle, used for soup, stews, or similar dishes.”
Tiled stoves were a wonderful way of heating homes in Northern Europe. I’ve often wondered why the British never used them. The settlers in North America hardly used them either, even in regions with bitter cold winters. At first they seem to have followed the British idea of having a fire to warm yourself by, rather than trying to keep a whole room warm. In English-speaking countries the open hearth reigned supreme long after other nations had taken to stoves, although there were some iron stoves in the early USA and colonial New England…. but I’ll write about them another day. This is more about ceramic glazed tile stoves, sometimes known by their German name of Kachelofen.
Stoves warm rooms more efficiently and cleanly than open fires. Heat doesn’t escape up the chimney, it’s safer and easier to keep them going overnight, and you don’t have to chop down so many trees to fuel them. (The Green movement has rediscovered wood-burning stoves.)
What explanations could there be for the traditional British resistance to stoves for heating? Some I’ve considered are discussed in Priscilla Brewer’s From Fireplace to Cookstove: Technology and the Domestic Ideal in America – essential reading if you’re interested in the history of heating and cooking stoves in the US. Can you think of any apart from these three?
Milder winters than the rest of northern Continental Europe
Distaste for the “unhealthy” idea of an enclosed warm room with “no” fresh air, no open chimney
Feeling that open fires are part of the British way of life – supported by Lawrence Wright in the 1960s in Home Fires Burning
The stoves pictured here are not from mansions. There certainly are many fine stoves in palaces and grand houses, but these are the kind you can see in simple or middling houses.
Green seems to be a popular tile colour for rustic German stove rooms, with their characteristic benches and drying racks. In Sweden there are lots of tall, white stoves. If anyone knows more about regional styles of ceramic stove I’d love to hear from you.
A stove-room for the stove?
A stove used to mean a heated room, and not the thing heating it. In the 15th century the idea of keeping a living room warm, with heat radiating out through glazed tiles or iron panels, started to spread in German-speaking parts of Europe. There was still an open fire in the kitchen for cooking. This could be connected to an enclosed oven-box in the next room to create a warm space called the “stove” (German “Stube“). There might be enough heat to warm an adjacent bedroom too. It was a big step forward in comfort for people living in ordinary homes. A French traveller reported:
For the cold …. [German people] have stoves that heat in such a way that they are warm in their rooms, and in winter craftsmen do their work and keep their wives and children there and it takes very little wood to heat them.
Gilles le Bouvier, Livre de la description des pays, mid-15th century
In many countries the heating “box” is still called an oven (German Ofen), but English speakers have got used to calling it a stove, and have forgotten that stove used to mean a room. In the 17th century illustration above the oven is in the back right corner, numbered 5. Here’s a list of the things pictured: from the 1659 English edition of Comenius‘ school book Orbis Pictus, with the original punctuation.
The Stove 1. is beautified with an Arched-Roof 2. & wainscotted walls, 3 It is enlighted with Windows; It is heated with an Oven.
Its Utensils are, Benches, Stools, 7, Tables, 8, with Tressels, 9, Footstools, 10. and Cushions, 11.
There are also Tapestry hanged. 12. for soft lodging, in a sleeping-room, 13. there is a Bed 14. spread on a Bed-stead, 15. upon a Straw-pad, 16. with Sheets, 17. and Cover lids, 18. The Bolster 19. is under ones head. The Bed is covered with a Canopy 20. A Chamber-Pot 21 is for making water in.
This model of an 18th century kitchen in New England should appeal to people who like historic kitchens, and to people who like doll’s houses. There are lots of “authentic” things in it, and care was taken with historical details. The room is interesting and charming even though it may not be 100% realistic, but see what you think before reading my opinion.
Fireplace and mantelpiece
The fine fireplace has plenty of period detail: an oven set into the soot-stained brickwork (behind the doll-woman), andirons to hold the logs in the fireplace, a chimney crane to the left for hanging cooking pots over the fire. But where are the cooking pots? One brass pan with a long handle for open hearth cooking, but no kettle, no griddle, no spit – not much to make meals for what looks like a reasonably prosperous household. And setting the table so close to the fire – too hot, too dirty, too inconvenient in real life, but it’s the right kind of table and contributes to the overall scene.
On and around the mantelpiece are ornaments and domestic bits and pieces. The sailing ship is accompanied by Toby jugs and candlesticks: probably pewter like the tankard, plates and other things in the room. The gun and powder horn are nearby. A bed warmer hangs by the fire, as they did, ready to be filled with embers while also looking fine. Hard to imagine the family would hang a twig besom alongside, nearly hiding the brass heirloom. Even though a broom would have been used for sweeping away ash round the hearth, it surely belongs to some inferior corner. Anyway, it’s good to see this one here, reminding us what 18th century Americans used.
A dresser displays plates, pitchers, and another Toby jug. The seats are not upholstered, but two have traditional draught protection with their high backs and sidepieces: a shape that inspired the more comfortable wing chairs gradually coming into use. With their longlasting design, the stools could have come from Elizabethan England or been made brand new by a local carpenter. A candlestand adds portable, adjustable lighting for close craftwork in a room that is already equipped with candles on walls and mantelshelf. The spinning wheel for flax would have been in frequent use in many households, making linen thread for weaving cloth. The miniature furniture here was made by professional cabinetmakers. Originally it would have been pine or maple.
Hanging near the door is a pierced tin lantern, ready for anyone going out into the dark. The glass balls in netting remind me of fisherman’s floats and, the museum suggests, echo the “witch balls” that people hung in doorways or windows for protection against dark forces entering the house. What are the strings of little dark things hanging next to the broom? Probably food being preserved by drying – apples, perhaps? What do you think?
I admit to knowing nothing about how New Englanders used indoor plants in the 18th century, but I can’t help wondering if the pretty curtains and flowers are typical of hard-working kitchens of that era. Even though this room is the kind of kitchen that doubled up as a family living room, to me the window area seems more like pretty parlour than kitchen.
Is it possible to date this kitchen? My guess is that Mrs. Thorne, the woman who masterminded this and many other wonderful model rooms, probably had a date in the late 1770s or 1780s in mind. The clothing suits this period well enough, as do the furnishings, and the model ship has a (post-independence) US flag. Without the flag, it could be somewhat earlier, perhaps.
Even with “real” historic kitchens, we aren’t necessarily seeing things exactly as they were. In this carefully-staged one, the period seems pretty consistent, but we’re probably looking at everything through a lens that makes the room more attractive than the original reality.
If you’ve ever made bread, how much flour did your recipe call for? One pound? One kilo? Just enough for one or two tasty loaves? You need to get into a different mindset to understand a dough box. (Also called dough bin, dough trough, kneading trough or tray, with or without a lid and/or legs.)
Baking used to be an important weekly task in many households. Bread was a staple food in Europe and North America. People depended on having plenty of it: not just medieval peasants with scant resources, but 19th century middle-class families too. These might be big families, active, with farmhands or servants to feed as well.
A family of ten needed “three pecks” of flour for a week’s bread, according to Eliza Acton‘s advice around 1850. Three pecks is roughly 27 litres or 7 US gallons, so we’re thinking big sacks of flour for many households. The flour was tipped into a dough box or trough to start bread-making. It held the flour more tidily than a bowl. If the trough was on legs it didn’t need to sit on a table, and could be moved to a part of the room where the temperature was right.
The flour had to be warmed in winter if it had come in from a cold barn or cellar, and a dough box was a good place for that. Once the yeast was added the mixture had to stay quite warm for the dough to rise into a nice “sponge”, which would make light bread. You could knead the dough thoroughly in a box-shaped trough without spilling much flour.
The box’s position (near the fire?) was important. The lid was good for keeping in the warmth, and it protected the dough from mice, ash, or other horrors: especially useful if the dough was left to rise a long time. Overnight was not unusual. Slow rising generally improved flavour and texture, and did not require temperatures near to blood heat.
The lid offered a surface for shaping the risen dough into loaves and then leaving them to rise again after being handled. Some lids had tray sides to make carrying the bread to the oven simpler. A kneading trough with no lid was covered with a cloth. A lidded box could be used for storing bread.
Why not bake every day or two?
There are many other jobs to do.
Getting an old brick or stone oven hot enough to bake bread took time, a couple of hours or more. You used valuable fuel, and had to rake hot ashes out before putting the loaves in with a peel.
In New England and Europe some people used a shared bakehouse, and had their turn once a week.
To make Bread … Put half a bushel of good flour into a trough, or kneading tub; mix with it between four and five quarts of warm water, and a pint and a half of good yeast, put it into the flour, and stir it well with your hands till it becomes tough. Let it rise about an hour and twenty minutes, or less if it rises fast; then, before it falls, add four quarts more of warm water, and half a pound of salt; work it well, and cover it with a cloth. Put the fire then into the oven; and by the time it is warm enough, the dough will be ready. Make the loaves about five pounds each; sweep out the oven very clean and quick, and put in the bread: shut it up close, and two hours and a half will bake it.
The Domestic Encyclopedia, Willich & Cooper, Philadelphia, 1821
In practically all the colonies, dough tables and bins were essential items of kitchen equipment. Without them, how could the colonists’ “daily bread” have been produced? Usually, these items were made of pine, poplar or similar softwoods. Some of the most handsome models were made of walnut.
One interesting point about the design and construction of Pennsylvania dough tables and bins is that you rarely see two of them that were designed exactly the same.
He says a typical dough box from that part of the world has curved handles spanning the lid. Slanting sides are the norm, and the box shape doesn’t vary much, but if the box has legs their designs can be quite different. A photograph of an exceptional 18th century box shows fine painted floral decoration, with a German folk art look.
Some French dough bins have ornate carving and are polished on the outside.
Some Eastern European “kneading troughs” were bucket-shaped and used with a paddle.
No soap was used for cleaning a dough box for fear of tainting the flavour.
Enamel cookware, dishes and candlestick, a black stove with a flat iron and skillet on top, a nice old wooden high chair – nothing too surprising for a 1930-ish kitchen. But if you live in an English-speaking country, there may be things in this German kitchen that seem slightly, or very, unfamiliar.
Do you recognise the little shelf on the left-hand wall with three pots of sand, soda and soap: a characteristic German way of organising cleaning materials in the early 20th century? Nearby is a “modern” touch: an electric outlet. (The wooden apparatus next to it is a puzzle. Could it be glass-making equipment from the workshop on the other side of the wall? Please tell us below if you know.)
The coffee mill on the wall has a glass cup to catch the ground coffee and a jar above the grinder to store the roasted beans. This type was used in other European countries too – but not in Britain, where you were far more likely to see a tea caddy than a coffee mill. There was a variety of wall mills in the US, another coffee-drinking country.
There’s a mould hanging on the wall for baking ring cakes. If you’re American you’ll call this a Bundt pan, but they were uncommon in the USA of the 1930s. In Germany and Austria Kranzform (wreath-shape) pans for baking Bundkuchen aka Gugelhupfer have been known for 300 years: ceramic, copper, or iron before the days of enamelled steel or aluminium.
Just to the right of the cake pan is a collection of long-handled utensils. At first glance you may think it’s just a set of spoons and spatulas, but these are slightly different. The meat tenderiser in a poor household surely reflects a “schnitzel-oriented” style of cooking, and would not have been owned by a working-class family in England, for example.
And then there are four quirls. Three of them haven’t changed much from when they were part of a tree. Quirl is often translated as whisk but that could be misleading. These are wooden beating and mixing implements and are not used for whisking up snowy peaks of egg-white or cream. German-speaking households would have a schneebesen (snow-broom) for that, a wire whisk, if they didn’t have an electric or hand rotary beater.
A quirl is essential for making some kinds of traditional dumpling! It can also be used for mashing potatoes, making doughy or porridgy mixtures, stirring liquids, and it’s handy for other things too. You can make one from your Christmas tree when the seasonal festivities are over. Quirl means a “whorl” on a plant.
German kitchens used to have a decorative shelf with a set of pots, neat and tidy, filled with three essentials for a clean home: soap, sand, and soda. Although English-speaking countries never had a special storage unit like this, and didn’t think of the “three esses” as a trio, they also made much use of sand and soda as well as soap.
Antique wall-hung shelves with their three containers appeal to collectors in the USA, not just parts of Europe. The most attractive to me are the ones ornamented in folk art style with full-petalled pink roses and curving outlines. Traditional German lettering adds character too.
They all seem to be made of enamelled sheet metal and belong to the first half of the 20th century, or possibly the late 19th too – the heyday of enamelware. If you know when these first came into use please do add a comment. The early 20th/late 19th century dates would match with cleaning and washing methods in that period.
Washing soda in the late 19th century was factory-made and quite affordable. Among other things, it helps with laundry and with taking out stains from wood, and is simple enough to be seen today as a “green” product. Soap, like soda, was quite plentiful by 1900, not too expensive, and was available in powder or flakes suitable for filling a nice enamel pot.
Sand had been a basic cleaning agent for centuries: for scrubbing floors, scouring iron cooking pots, and much more. This is easier to remember in German-speaking countries where the word Scheuersand, meaning scouring sand, is still recognised. Fine sand for cleaning gradually morphed into white abrasive cleaning powders with hygienic-smelling chemicals. There was an intermediate stage with sand and soda scouring mixes. One brand of “sand”, ATA, was remembered with nostalgia by some older people from former East Germany, after it vanished around 1989.
Household advice books from 100 years ago tell us about using the three esses. There’s one in German that recommends mixing soda and sand for cleaning wood – no soap as that makes wood look grey. Use all three for metal utensils but be sparing with the sand or you will damage tinned surfaces. Enamel is best cleaned with a soap and soda mixture, after soaking.
Or you can buy some detergent at the supermarket…..
Hand-operated rotary egg beaters were invented just before 1860, but at that time it wasn’t yet clear what the best design for the job would be. Different inventors had different ideas for labour-saving ways of whisking eggs. The first beaters with rotating parts were probably an American design patented in 1856 (below right) and, in England, Griffiths’ Whisk patented 1857 (below left). A very different “egg-beater” invented in 1849 is illustrated near the bottom of the page.
Rotating beaters with a handle were always going to work best, but they came in different forms. Some early ones were fixed inside a pot, and couldn’t be used with the cook’s own choice of mixing bowl. Some were developed by the same inventors who designed small hand-cranked butter churns.
By the 1880s, mechanical egg beaters were usually the shape we know now. In the US they were called Dover egg beaters after being popularised by the Dover Stamping Company. The company acquired patents from a series of inventors, starting with the Monroe egg beater (below right), patented in the US in 1859. This design got a UK patent soon after and was manufactured in London by George Kent who also marketed the Griffiths model.
Some inventors focused on whipping egg whites and emphasised how much air they could get into the mix. Others wrote about batter and other mixtures as well as eggs.
Eggs prepared by beating are thoroughly charged with atmospheric air… (Collier patent, 1856)
Who used the new egg beaters?
The 1856 patent, like others after it, said how useful the new invention would be for hotels and restaurants as well as for ordinary households hoping to speed up a “laborious and fatiguing operation”. But some people may have been influenced against the new egg beaters by cookery experts who didn’t think highly of new-fangled devices.
…beat…with the proper stroke, and with wooden rods, and in a shallow, flat-bottomed earthen[ware] pan. The coldness of a tin pan retards the lightness of the eggs. For the same reason do not use a metal egg-beater…..put…the egg-beater always down to the bottom of the pan…Continue till the surface is smooth as a mirror, and the beaten egg as thick as a rich boiled custard… (Eliza Leslie, The Lady’s Receipt-Book, 1847)*
However, by the 1890s The “Dover” egg beater was well-established in the US and was often mentioned in recipes and ads. In the 20 years between 1870 and 1890 Dover made 4 million egg beaters. Almost all were “family size” but they also sold 1000 “hotel size” and 10,000 “extra family size”.**
There’s less evidence of rotary beaters getting a firm grip in Victorian Britain, although some people certainly used them. With no well-known brand like Dover, they were advertised as “one-minute” or “ten-second” beaters, or with fanciful names like Biatrope or Archimedian. Advice on cooking and equipping kitchens mostly assumed an ordinary wire whisk would be just fine. Rotary hand mixers seem to have been even less popular in continental Europe.
To clamp or not to clamp?
Holding the beater by screwing it onto something fixed seems like a good idea, rather like an electric mixer set firm on a stand. The Monroes’ clamp was part of the original design, but you do wonder how it would work in an ordinary kitchen. Was the bowl held below a table? In 1859 a UK business demonstrated an “egg whisk, fitted with arrangement for screwing to table”.
The later 1800s saw numerous US patents for original clamping devices, presumably trying to improve on what we may call a “normal” clamp. But how many people really used egg beaters like this? Not many have survived. Most antique egg beaters are clamp-free.
Perhaps a hand egg beater is more versatile without a screw fitting? Perhaps the clamp has to be solid and strong to be effective? But then it would be more nuisance for washing and storing. The advertising I’ve seen doesn’t mention clamps.
EGG-BEATER: We have tried five different kinds in Boston, before a large audience and on the demand of an inventor of one, but none could beat eggs as well as a common hand-beater. The whites of the eggs could not be raised with any of the others much more than half as much as with the common one; and besides, could not be beaten stiff……Any tinsmith can make an egg-beater. It is generally made with tin-wire, but may be made with brass-wire.
1867, Handbook of Practical Cookery, Pierre Blot
Drinking strong coffee made in a small pot called a briki, ibrik, cezve or rakwa, has become quite popular in English-speaking countries in the last few years. If you have an old briki – from an antique shop, relative’s attic, or an old souvenir – you may wonder if you can put it on the kitchen stove and prepare intense, concentrated coffee in the Greek or Turkish style.
If it’s a copper briki – and many are – you must check the inside. An unscratched tin lining is important for both taste and health reasons. Copper can give a nasty metallic taste to coffee. Even if it tastes OK, there’s a question mark over the safety of unlined copper cookware, especially for acidic drinks and foodstuffs. Using copper for cooking could lead to toxic levels in the body. Brass contains copper so it can’t be seen as a safe alternative.
You should be able to find a tin re-lining service if you want to get a vintage briki back in use, but be aware that having copper cookware re-lined is not cheap. Try to estimate the surface in square inches or centimetres before asking about price.
Making Greek or Turkish coffee
To prepare coffee in any briki, start with Greek or Turkish roast beans ground to a fine powder. You can buy a traditional spice mill to grind the beans by hand if you want to do it the old-fashioned way. Otherwise buy the coffee ready-prepared or use an electric mill or food processor. It’s possible to buy Greek coffees with special flavouring – like rose petal – but this is not for everyone.
Use at least a teaspoon of coffee, an optional teaspoon of sugar, and about 3oz (85g) of water per person and heat the mixture till it boils and froths. Many cooks like to remove the coffee from the heat, stir it, then boil it once or twice more. Pour or spoon out the froth (kaimaki “cream”) so everyone gets some in their demitasse cups. Next share out the liquid, trying to leave the coffee sediment in the briki. Sip slowly, hoping any grounds will stay settled at the bottom of the cup. Do not stir!
Other names for the briki include the Turkish cezve, and ibrik, a word related to briki. Brikia is the Greek plural, but ‘brikis’ sounds more natural to English speakers. Arabic speakers may say raqwa, rakweh or similar. Whatever the pot is called, coffee is made this way in many countries around the eastern Mediterranean.
Food served with a cold spoon may cool down too quickly for some tastes. Even worse, a dish with rich, fatty gravy may congeal unappealingly on its way to your plate. A decorative container filled with hot water to keep serving spoons and sauce ladles warm seemed like the perfect solution in Victorian England. The earliest spoon warmers date from the 1860s.
This makes more sense when we remember how cold British houses could be for much of the year. Until the later 20th century rooms were often poorly heated, even in wealthy homes. Households with servants urged their staff to hurry from kitchen to dining room so food could be served hot, or at least warm, on heated plates. (Keeping the plates hot was a big deal, but that’s another story.) Hot food was appetising and proof of a well-run home too. Spoon warmers played their part in the effort to serve food at the right temperature – and fitted in with all the other paraphernalia in a fashionable late 19th century dining room.
Shapes and materials
A silver nautilus shell, open end upward, was a popular shape for a spoon warmer. Antique shell types are not hard to find today. Presumably they’re appreciated as decorative items and not used much.
Silver and silver plate warmers were common, but spoon warmers were also made from majolica, bone china and other pottery, and sometimes from brass or copper. As well as the favourite shell style, often on a seashore-themed base, there were frogs and fish with open mouths, helmets, or hunting horns on their side.
Designs ranged from elegant pieces of silversmithing and ceramics to absurd novelties. You could buy a neatly lidded spoon warmer to match your Royal Worcester dinner service, or a boat-shaped warmer or bright blue toad made by Minton. The best warmers kept the hot water mostly covered, with an opening just big enough for convenience.
Some were designed to double up as something else, like this one which could also be an egg coddler.
Not everyone was whole-heartedly enthusiastic about spoon warmers and other fancy dining accessories:
His table was a torment by reason of its patented aids to enjoyment. What with his radial carver, iris spoon-warmer, and folding cruets; his self-acting gravy-helper, excelsior asparagus-tongs, and duplex plate-warmer; his royal potato-parer, imperial cucumber-slicer, and oriental digester, to say nothing of patent wine-lifts, corkscrews, oxygen-generators, appetite-stimulators, and the rest of it, dining became a burden, and dessert a weariness of spirit.
M.E. Braddon, A Victim of Patents, July 1869 Belgravia
They went out of fashion early in the 20th century. It wasn’t long before magazines were suggesting you could use them as “novel” flower holders.
This kitchen is on an early dude ranch set up for city dwellers who wanted an “American West” experience on vacation. Perhaps it’s a little more folksy than some other kitchens of the 1920s, but everything in there is authentic, and could have been found in other homes of that era.
Before I start naming names, have you had a chance to ID the things kept on “Mama” Holzwarth’s stove? The tea kettle is easy, and the classic speckled enamel coffeepot too. These don’t really look big enough to supply breakfast-time hot drinks for a full house of visitors. At busy times 50 people had their meals served in this one building.
In the middle of the stove are two sadiron bases: one with the detachable handle fixed on, and one without. Although heat-it-on-the-stove flat irons, aka sadirons, had been around for centuries, this particular design is an American classic originally patented in 1871 by Mary Potts. In the days of non-electric ironing, the spare base would have been heating on the stove, ready to be used when the other got too cool for effective clothes pressing. Then you’d switch the cool wooden handle over to the hot iron.
If you don’t recognise the dark metal item on the left, it may help to click on the link below to reach a bigger version of the picture. This item was used for campfire cooking as well as in the home kitchen, though I imagine it working better on a camping stove than balanced precariously over an open fire. Yes, it’s a toaster with a base to set on the heat and four wire racks to hold slices of bread, rather like this. The long tongs: what are they for? Probably for reaching into the fire burning inside the stove – but whether for rearranging logs or deliberately charring some “toasted” food, I don’t know.
Now for the big copper pot with bulbous lid and a tube draining away from it. Perhaps it’s the most difficult thing to identify in the picture. If the ranch owners told you it was only there for “medicinal” reasons, would that help? This is a still for making moonshine or hooch or whatever name you wanted to call your homemade liquor. Heat from the stove would certainly get the distilling process going, but I guess it would be a little risky using it in full view of your guests while alcohol was strictly illegal. Historic kitchens sometimes display items which weren’t there originally, and I don’t know whether the Holzwarths made their own distilled spirits. If they did, it may not have been in the kitchen. A quiet corner seems more likely.
The stove would have burned wood behind the left-hand doors. The central oven door has a temperature gauge, and the right hand section probably held hot water. You could warm plates, buns etc. in the top part or keep cooked food warm in there before serving.