My wife’s grandfather was an accomplished woodworker, and the last time we went to visit her grandmother, she passed on one of his books. It’s called The Practical Woodworker and it was published in 1925. It was printed for the RAF, “for airmen under training as carpenters”, and this edition is stamped ‘Technical Instructors Library, RAF Halton Camp’.
At the back of the book are instructions and plans for a variety of useful projects, such as rabbit hutches, a beehive or a stepladder. There’s also a section called ‘domestic woodware’ which includes various long-forgotten devices like the meat safe, the smoker’s cabinet, or a box pedestal for boot cleaning, but the one that caught my eye is a ‘fireless cooker’. This is ” a wood box which is built up with four sides and a bottom, while a cover is hinged to the top edge of one side. The cooker must be fitted with a suitable metal stew-pan, and this is packed in hay, while a hay-stuffed cushion is made to fit above the stew-pan.”
As to how to use it, the book has less to say. “The method of using the cooker is no doubt well known” it says, but it does have a little introduction at least. “The stew-pan containing the food to be cooked is simply brought to the boil on the gas or fire, and is then placed in the hay-box cooker. The time required to cook in this way will, of course, vary with the nature of the food being treated; but the great saving in fuel will be very evident to everyone.”
Indeed, it is the saving in fuel that is most evident to me in this age of rising energy prices. In attempting to lower our household carbon emissions, one of the big obstacles has been our electric hob. A haybox might be a good way of cooking simple things like pasta or rice. Our house dates from the 20s, so it would be rather nice to fit it out with a kitchen appliance from the era.
Of course, you could improve on the design here. For one thing, you could do better than straw. Polystyrene or a fleece-based loft insulation material would be more effective. A cool-box and an old duvet would probably work as well as this design, if you weren’t concerned with aesthetics. There are videos online of people using two beanbags.
Websites like instructables will have more modern plans and Youtube can no doubt provide further inspiration, but I thought I’d post this design too in case anyone is interested. Just click on the image below to download the pdf. Then you just need this 1913 haybox recipe book to go with it.