Fireless Cookers In History

As Recorded in Old Books

Utilizing Google Book Search we have identified old books with information about techniques that have application in today’s developing world. During these search efforts, we found books with information about Fireless Cookers. After a careful review of some of these books, we identified the need to excerpt or extract the target information from these books. The following excerpts represent our attempt to present this vital information. (Some text and format have been edited.)

While the concept of Fireless Cookers or Haybox Cookers was well known in some countries in ancient times, it is interesting to following the timeline and the degree of development this apparatus reached in the early 1900's.

The following is a list of the books in this collection of information on Fireless Cookers. Included is the Google Book Search link that takes you directly to the full text version of the complete book.

The five book excerpts about Fireless Cookers in this collection are from:

1. Dictionary of dates, and universal reference. by Joseph Timothy Haydn -
1871 - Page 11.

2. 'The New York Medical Journal - Volume X -1870 - Page 108 - 111

3. Mechanical Devices in the Home - By Edith Louise Allen - 1922 –
Page 50 - 56

4. A Manual of Home-making - by Martha Van Rensselaer, Flora Rose,
Helen Canon - 1919 - Page 214 - 219

5. Housewifery: A Manual and Text Book of Practical Housekeeping
by Lydia Ray Balderston - 1921

Excerpt Number One from Google Book Search

Dictionary of dates, and universal reference by Joseph Timothy Haydn -

An announcement on Page 11:

Awards at the Paris Exhibition - 1867

Three medals were awarded to the Norwegian self-acting cooking apparatus (Sorenson's patent) at the Paris Exhibition, 1867. Cooking is effected by boiling water, the heat of which is maintained by enclosing it in a non-conducting substance.


Excerpt Number Two from Google Book Search

The New York Medical Journal - Volume X -1870 - Page 108 – 111 (Edited)

The Self-Acting Norwegian Cooking Apparatus

--In the Jan. (1868) number of the JOURNAL we called attention to this apparatus, which was on exhibition at Paris, in the " "World's Exposition" of 1867. The apparatus seems not until recently to have attracted the attention to which its merits entitle it; and we therefore gladly reproduce, from the Scientific American, a full description of it:

The announcement that the new experiment in cooperative housekeeping now on trial at Salem, Mass., has brought the Norwegian cooking apparatus into use as a means of transporting dinners, "all hot," from the cooperative kitchen to the respective cooperative tables of those who have joined in the experiment, has attracted special notice to this useful implement."

We gave a short notice of this device on page 346, vol. xix., but, as many of our present readers may not have seen it, and much inquiry is now being made in regard to it, we will, at the risk of repeating ourselves to some extent, give an illustration and a more detailed description of the apparatus.

It is constructed in the most simple manner, of a wooden box lined with four inches of felt, in which the saucepans containing the food, previously boiled and maintained at the boiling point for five or ten minutes, according to the nature of the food to be cooked, are placed. The heated saucepans are covered with a thick felt cover, and, the lid of the box being fastened down, the rest of the cooking is done by slow digestion, no more heat being added.

The heated vessels containing the food will retain a high temperature for several hours, so that a dinner put into the apparatus at eight o'clock in the morning would be quite hot and ready by five in the afternoon, and would keep hot up to ten or twelve at night, because the felt clothing so completely prevents the escape of the heat; and, as the whole is enclosed in a box, there are no currents of air to carry off any other heat by convection.

Fig. 1. Norwegian Cooking Apparatus. A is the box, lined with felt; B the saucepans fitting into the box; C the felt cover, to be placed on the top of the saucepans

The principle on which this cooking apparatus acts is that of retaining the heat; and it consists of a heat-retainer or isolating apparatus, shaped somewhat like a refrigerator, and of one or more saucepans, or other cooking-vessels, made to fit into it. Whereas, in the ordinary way of cooking, the fire is necessarily kept up during the whole of the time required for completing the cooking process, the same result is obtained, in using this apparatus, by simply giving the food a start of a few minutes' boiling, the rest of the cooking being completed by itself in the heat-retainer away from the fire altogether.

Directions for Use. — Put the food intended for cooking, with the water or other fluid cold, into the saucepan, and place it on the fire. Make it boil, and, when on the point of boiling, skim if required. This done, replace the lid of the saucepan firmly, and let it continue boiling for a few minutes. After the expiration of these few minutes, take the saucepan off the fire and place it immediately into the isolating apparatus, cover it carefully with the cushion, fasten the lid of the apparatus firmly down. In this state the cooking process will complete itself without fail.

By no means let the apparatus be opened during the time required for cooking the food. The length of time which the different dishes should remain in the isolating apparatus varies according to their nature. It may, however, be taken as a general rule that the same time is required to complete the cooking in the apparatus as in the ordinary way on a slow fire.

The advantages of this apparatus are thus detailed by Herr Sorensen, the patentee, whose attention was first directed to the subject by the Norwegian peasants, who heat their food in the morning, and while away in the fields keep the saucepan hot by surrounding it with chopped hay:

1. Economy of Fuel– Varies according to the length of time required for cooking the different sorts of food. For those requiring, in the ordinary way, only one hour’s cooking the saving is about 40 per cent.; two hours, 60 per cent.; three hours, 65 per cent.; six hours, 70 per cent. In the case of gas being used, the savings would be greater still.

2. Economy of Labor — A few minutes' boiling is sufficient. No fire is necessary afterward. The cooking-pot once in the apparatus, the cooking will complete itself. Over-cooking is simply impossible, and the process of cooking is infallible in its result. The food will be cooked in about the same time as if fire had been continuously used. But the food need not be eaten for many hours after the cooking process is complete; so that half an hour's use of a fire on a Saturday
night, for example, will give a smoking hot dinner on Sunday.

3. Portability The weight of the apparatus, complete, varies from 18 to 50 lbs. The apparatus can, in proportion to its dimensions, be carried about with great facility, without interfering with the cooking process. By means of a large apparatus for instance, following on a cart a detachment of soldiers on the march it is possible to provide them with a hot meal at any moment it might be found convenient (as may be proved by official reports from the officers of the Royal Guard. at Stockholm, in the possession of the patentee).

Again, fishermen, pilots, and others whose small vessels are not generally so constructed as to enable them to procure hot food while at sea, may easily do so by taking out with them in the morning an apparatus prepared before their departure. It is, in short, a thing for the million, for rich and poor; for the domestic kitchen, as well as for persons away from their homes. It cooks and keeps food hot, just as well when carried about on a pack-saddle, on a cart, or in a fisherman's boat, as in a coal-pit or under the kitchen table.

4. Quality and Quantity of the Food Prepared Where other plans of cooking waste one pound of meat, this apparatus, properly used, wastes about one ounce. The unanimous testimony of those who have used it pronounces the flavor of food cooked in this manner incomparably superior to that which is ordinarily produced.

5. Simplicity of Use One of the greatest advantages of this invention is, no doubt, its simplicity and practical application. There is no complication of hot-water or air pipes to retain the heat, no mechanical combination whatever for producing a high degree of heat by steam pressure; consequently there is no necessity for steam-valves or other combinations which would render the use of the apparatus difficult and dangerous. Any person will, without difficulty, be able to use the apparatus to advantage after once having witnessed it in operation. No special arrangement is required in the kitchen for using the apparatus. Any fuel will do for starting the cooking.

6. In addition to all these advantages, the complete apparatus constitutes the "Simple Refrigerator " for the preservation of ice, which has attracted so much notice, and had such warm approval from medical men. It will keep ice in small quantities for many days.


Skip Ahead 52 Years to 1922 and we see the progress made in the development of Fireless Cookers. Of special interest is the addition of hot stones to aid the cooking process. The heat from these stones brown the food and give to the otherwise steamed food a flavor similar to that developed in baking, roasting and frying.

Excerpt Number Three from Google Book Search

Mechanical Devices in the Home By Edith Louise Allen - 1922 - Page 50 – 56 (Edited)

Chapter VI

Fireless and Steam Cookers

47. The Fireless Cooker The fireless cooker is a box or can having a diameter somewhat larger than that of the largest vessel to be placed in it. The space left around the vessel is packed with some insulating material to keep in the heat (Fig. 22). In home-made cookers, this material may be hay, feathers, pillows, shredded newspapers, wood shavings or sawdust. In commercially-made cookers, it is felt, cork, or other insulating material. Because most insulating material will not stay in place and readily absorbs moisture and odors, some kind of lining is put between it and the vessel holding the food. This makes a little nest, into which the vessel fits. In the better made cookers, this lining is made of metal, and the seams are water-tight.

The steam from the cooking food is absorbed by the insulating material if this lining is not impervious to water. Enameled or earthen linings, if well glazed, would also serve this purpose as long as they did not chip or crack.

The cover, as well as the sides, of the fireless cooker has to be padded with the insulating material. The cover must also fit well so that the steam and heat will not escape thru cracks between it and the body of the cooker.

48. The Stones of Fireless Cookers The stones for fireless cookers are usually made of soapstone or some composite which will absorb considerable heat. They should be slightly smaller in diameter than the nest. They can only be used with safety in cookers which are metal-lined and insulated with material which will not ignite at a low temperature. Stones should not be put in home-made cookers which are not insulated with a noncombustible material or other fireproof material. Hot stones can be used with safety in any of the commercial cookers which come fitted with them.

The temperature in a fireless cooker is below boiling most of the time.

Fig. 2 Section of fireless cooker

It is, therefore, a device for simmering food, and should be used for cooking meats, fruits, vegetables and cereal dishes which require or are improved by long, slow cooking.

Since the food has to be shut in a fireless cooker to keep in the heat, fireless cookery is a method of steaming of food. For this reason, it has a slightly different flavor from food baked in the oven, much as fried food differs from roasted food. Hot Stones (Fig. 2) are put in most fireless cookers. The heat from these brown the food and give to the otherwise steamed food a flavor similar to that developed in baking, roasting and frying
49. Heating the Stones Moisture given off by the cooking food is absorbed by the stones. They must be dried or heated very slowly to prevent this moisture from cracking them. When the stones have been removed from the cooker, wash them, because they absorb odors from the food. Keep them in some warm, dry place while they are not in use, such as in the warming oven of the cook stove or on a radiator. When wanted for use, they will then be dry enough to be placed over the gas-stove burner if it is not turned too high at first. Drying thus saves time when the stones are needed.

50. Care of the Cooker The cooker should be left open to air while not in use. As soon as the food and stones are removed from it, the moisture should be wiped out and the inside washed with soap and water, wiped dry and left to air. Such care is needed to prevent the cooker from taking on the odor of dishes previously cooked and transmitting some of them to those cooked later.

Fig.3 Devices for fireless cooker

51. Other Devices Belonging to Cookers In most commercial cookers there are wire devices to raise the dishes of food from the stone (Fig. 3). This prevents scorching and boiling over when the stones are heated very hot. These devices are also used to hold a hot stone above the food to make a brown crust on it. Some cookers are furnished with valves, permitting the escape of steam when it becomes too abundant. The pressure of the steam automatically opens the valve. This device insures the cooking of certain vegetables, cereals or doughs without their becoming too soggy to be palatable (A, Fig. 3).

52. Directions for Using the Cooker Put the stones on to heat. Prepare the food as for cooking in any other way. Then heat it, either in the oven or on top of the stove. It is preferable to heat the food in the same vessel in which it is to be cooked in the fireless cooker. Transferring food to a cold vessel entails a loss of heat, since the first vessel is already heated.

When the stones and food are hot, place the stone in the bottom of the cooker. Put in noncombustible material mats or other devices which are needed to protect the food. The stone should be hot enough to respond to the test for flat irons. It should make a snappy noise of a good hot iron when the finger is moistened and touched to it. Place the food in the cooker. Place another stone above the utensil if it is desirable to have the food brown on top. Close the fireless cooker, and let it stand until ready for use.

53. Time of Cooking Food Six hours or over night should be allowed for the cooking of cereals. Stews should be given two to three hours’ time for cooking.

Large roasts and hams require five to six hours. It is sometimes necessary, when they are large, to remove them and heat the food and the stones on the stove once during the process of cooking. Dumplings and angel cakes cook well in a fireless cooker. So do all dried peas and beans.

It is profitable to cook foods requiring more than forty minutes’ heating in a fireless cooker. The heating unit is a part of some cookers.

Electric cookers, instead of being furnished with stones to be put inside the nest, have a heating unit and plate for holding heat in the cooker. Cold food may be put into this cooker, the current turned on, and the heating and cooking all be done inside the cooker. The electric oven which is well insulated answers the purpose of a fireless cooker when the current is disconnected. Either a thermometer, which the housewife may watch or thermostat, which controls the current, must be attached to electric cookers to prevent burning the food or injuring the cooker with too much heat.

Fig. 4. Gas cookers

54. Gas Cookers Since heated air rises, special cookers in the form of insulated caps are made to put over dishes of food heated on gas burners (Fig. 4)

Inside of the cap must be kept clean. Get the dishes hot with the cap suspended over the food, but leaving about an inch space for the escape of gases from the heating unit. As soon as the food and cap have been sufficiently heated over the fire, turn off the gas and lower the cap so that it will retain the heat. After the cooker has been used, it should be wiped out clean; otherwise it will retain some of the odors of the cooked food.

Fig. 5. Steam Cookers A is the pan containing boiling water B is the Whistling Device

55. Steam Cookers There are several steam cookers in use in homes. The simplest of these is a covered pan which has a perforated bottom, which is set over another pan (A, Fig. 5), in which water is placed for forming steam. One of the difficulties of this cooker is that the water in the lower pan cannot be watched and may boil dry. On the more improved cookers a whistling device (B, Fig. 5) is attached to the pan, and when the water becomes low and steam ceases to flow thru it, air begins to come in, and the device makes a whistling noise.


Excerpt Number Four from Google Book Search

A Manual of Home-making''' by Martha Van Rensselaer, Flora Rose, Helen Canon - 1919 - Page 214 – 219 (Edited)

Fireless Cookers*

The commercial fireless cooker costs more than does the home-made one; on the other hand, it is likely to be more durable, it seldom has any absorbent material exposed to the odor and the steam from food, the cooking compartment can be kept clean more easily, and it is frequently provided with a ventilating valve or some such device that makes baking and roasting possible. However, the home-made fireless cooker has proved to be wholly satisfactory for such foods as cereals, vegetables, dried fruits, custards, fowls, and certain cuts of meat.

There is practically no danger of fire from a home-made cooker unless very hot radiators are used. Since thermometers are not used in the average home, and the radiators may be heated to an unnecessarily high temperature, it seems safest to advise against the use of radiators unless the insulator is not inflammable. Under no conditions can a very hot radiator above the food be safe, because it is too near the muslin of the cushion. While baking is impossible without the use of radiators, there are sufficient other processes for which the homemade cooker may be used, to warrant the trouble and the small cost of making one.

The cost of a home-made fireless cooker may range from about $1.50 to $8.00 or more, depending on the materials used. If several sizes of aluminum pails with clamps are bought for food containers, the cost may equal that of a small commercial cooker. In buying a fireless cooker the following points should be considered: insulation, exterior case, interior lining, cooking utensils, vent valve, hot plates, locks and hinges, size, and cost.

The following materials and utensils are needed for making a fireless cooker (Fig. 6):

For the case, or cabinet: A wooden box, a trunk, an ice box, a galvanized iron ash-can, a wooden candy-bucket, or the like. Any kind of case that is used should be provided with a tight-fitting cover. If an ordinary box is used, it should be of sufficiently heavy material to permit the use of good hinges and fastenings.

For the lining of the case: A sheet of noncombustible material, or heavy wrapping paper.

Fig. 6. Diagram of a Homemade Fireless Cooker A is the oven case B is the Cushion C is the Cooking Compartment D is the Food Container E is the Packing Material

For packing material: Ground cork, sawdust, excelsior, mineral wool, paper torn in small pieces and crumpled, shavings, straw, hay, wool, cotton batting, or some such non-conducting material. Mineral wool is a good non-conductors of heat, and it has the additional merit of not being inflammable; but it is harder to work with than are the other materials. Gloves should be worn by the person doing the packing, and care should be taken not to allow the material to enter the nose and the mouth.

For the cooking compartment: A deep bucket or kettle of agate, galvanized iron, or tin, of such a size that there may be a space of at least three inches between the case and the top, the bottom, and the sides of the bucket. This bucket or kettle should have a tight-fitting, flat cover. In place of a bucket, two thicknesses of heavy wrapping paper may be shaped to form the cooking compartment; but a bucket is more durable and can be kept in a more sanitary condition.

For the cooking utensil: A covered kettle or bucket of agate or aluminum, of a size suitable for the amount of food ordinarily to be cooked in it. The utensil should be durable, and free from crevices and seams in which particles of food and harmful micro-organisms may lodge, and it should be supplied with a tight-fitting cover that can be clamped down. Seamless aluminum is perhaps most commonly used for this purpose. Special fireless-cooker utensils can generally be obtained from a local hardware dealer or a firm that manufactures fireless cookers.

For the collar to cover the packing material: A piece of zinc, cardboard, or muslin, of such a shape as to fit the space between the case and the bucket that serves as the cooking compartment. Zinc is good for this purpose because it does not tear with constant use as do the other materials, it can be washed, it does not rust, and it is not inflammable.

For the cushion: Heavy drilling, denim, or muslin.

For the hot plates, if desired: Flat stones, stove lids, or special soapstone or metal radiators. Most foods can be cooked without the use of hot plates or radiators, but a higher temperature can be reached and a cooking temperature prolonged by their use. Hot plates should never be used unless the cooker is packed with non-inflammable material, such as mineral wool.

Directions for making a fireless cooker are as follows:

(1.) Line the case and its cover with a noncombustible material.
(2) Pack into the bottom of the lined case a layer at least 3 inches deep of whatever packing material is to be used.
(3) Place the bucket that is to form the cooking compartment on the layer of packing material in the bottom of the case. Pack the space between the case and the cooking compartment closely with more of this material, filling the space to within 1/2 inch from the top of the bucket.
(4) Make a collar of any of the materials suggested, to cover the exposed surface of the packing material between the case and the cooking compartment.
(5) Make a cushion of some of the materials suggested, which when filled with the packing material will be at least three inches thick, and will, as exactly as possible, fit into the space between the top of the cooking compartment and the top of the case. Cut from the material two pieces of the desired shape and size, and put them together with a straight strip of the desired width, with extra allowance for seams.

The interior of the fireless cooker should be kept absolutely clean. It should be washed, dried, and sunned, if possible, each time after being used. It should remain open for several hours after use, and it should never be tightly closed when not in use. The observance of these precautions prevents the food from acquiring an unpleasant taste from odors or remnants of food previously cooked.

For convenience, all equipment to be used in connection with the cooker, such as hot plates, hooks, racks, and cooking utensils, should be kept near the cooker. A shelf, a cupboard, or an improvised cabinet made from a box may serve as a convenient storage place.

The cooker itself should be placed near the stove, both to prevent unnecessary loss of heat in transferring the food from the stove to the cooker and to save labor on the part of the worker.

The soapstone radiators, when not in use, may be kept warm on the back of the stove or in the sun in order to reduce the length of time required to bring them to the desired temperature when they are needed.

The fireless cooker, like any other piece of equipment, should be used intelligently in order that the best results may be obtained. As previously stated, for certain cooking processes and under certain conditions, it may be no more economical in fuel, time, or labor, than is the ordinary range; therefore, fireless cookery should be studied carefully by the housewife in order that she may discover its best applications. A few experiments with various kinds of foods, based on recipes adapted to the use of a fireless cooker, are necessary in order to give one the desired mastery.

The efficiency of insulation, the quantity of food, and the rapidity of the transfer from the stove to the cooker, influence the length of time required for the cooking. The temperature to which the radiator is heated also determines to a certain extent the length of time the food should remain in the cooker. The period that gives the best results is more or less definite for each food. However, since individual tastes differ, definite statements in regard to the required time should be verified for each household.

Foods, such as pancakes, that require rapid cooking over a hot fire, are not well suited to the fireless-cooker method. Biscuits may be baked successfully in the cooker, but since the heat required to raise the radiators to the proper temperature will bake the biscuits in an ordinary oven, there seems to be no justification for its use in this case. However, for foods that require long cooking in order to be made more palatable and digestible, the fireless cooker is admirably suited. Cereals such as rolled oats, cracked wheat, and hominy, give excellent results when cooked in a sufficient quantity of water in a fireless cooker. The tough cuts of meat, which require long cooking at a low temperature in order to be made palatable are good when properly cooked in a fireless cooker. Steamed breads and puddings are well adapted to this method.

Hot beverages and sauces may be set aside in the cooker to be kept hot for serving.

The use of the fireless cooker for canning fruits is recommended by some. The juices of fruits may be satisfactorily extracted for jelly-making. Various conditions, however, determine the practicability of its use for this purpose.

As a means of enabling one to have warm water at hand without keeping a fire, the fireless cooker is of use in homes where there is no boiler connected with the range, and especially when the fuel used is coal or wood, which necessitates building a fire.

Tables of proportions and time of cooking foods in a fireless cooker are given in Table XIV

Table XIV

Ref: Canon, Helen, and Brewer, Lucile. The Fireless Cooker and Its Uses. Cornell Reading-Course for the Farm Home, Bull. 95.

Excerpt Number Five from Google Book Search
Housewifery: A Manual and Text Book of Practical Housekeeping by Lydia Ray Balderston – 1921 (Edited) Excerpt one illustration only.

Home-Made Fireless Cooker

Fig. 58 - Home-made fireless cooker

Fig. 58 - A, outside container-box or trunk; B, insulating material - paper, sawdust, cinders; C, metal lining of nest - tin, zinc, aluminum; D, cooking kettle - aluminum, agate; E, soapstone plate, or some heat-containing material; F, pad of excelsior for covering; G, hinged cover for the top of the outside.

The Lines of Investigation in this report are:
Material to use in the construction of the cooker -
Effect of mass upon conservation of heat -
Effect of density

Many of the experiments concern types of insulation and temperature drop over time. The results of several experiments give additional insight into the performance of fireless cookers.

THE FIRELESS COOKER BY ELLEN ALDEN HUNTINGTON, A. B. Instructor in the University of Wisconsin 1908



User:William Hatcher 4 March 2008

Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Tuesday September 28, 2010 08:52:06 GMT.
  • A practitioner's journal on household energy, stoves and poverty reduction.

Upcoming Events

No records to display