The house on High Street
Our house back in New Hampshire was a center-chimney Colonial that had been built in 1770. We were charmed by its fireplaces. There were four, all built around that huge center chimney which gradually widened so that the base down in the cellar, built with a big brick arch, was at least twelve feet square. Each of the fireplaces had metal cranes, hinged at the side of the firebox so that they could be swung out over the hearth. You could hang your iron pot, if you had one, on the crane and swing it back over the fire.
The biggest fireplace of the four was in the old original kitchen, the room to the right of the front door in the photo above. Next to the fireplace opening was a small wooden door, covering what we supposed was a box for holding firewood. We struggled to pull that door open but just couldn't budge it. Several weeks after we had moved in, we heard a great crashing downstairs in the middle of the night. Because so many other "interesting" things had already happened to us since moving in, we chose to pull the sheets over our heads and wait until morning to investigate.
The next morning we cautiously came down the narrow curving "captain's staircase" that was built around the chimney. We were amazed to find that the little door, jammed fast the last time we had seen it, was now all the way across the room and up against the opposite wall. It was just as though the house was inviting us to look at what the door had been concealing.
What we saw were two openings, one above the other, built into the brickwork next to the fireplace and running back along the depth of the great chimney. The top opening was a much-coveted beehive oven and the bottom one revealed a storage space with all the old iron pots to hang on our empty cranes! We were thrilled to find that we owned a further bit of history. Research at the local library (in those pre-Internet days) showed that the Colonial housewife would build a small fire in the oven, close it up with a hinged iron door until the whole thing was thoroughly heated, rake out the coals and brush out the ashes with a long turkey feather, then do her baking. A good oven could hold as many as 17 pies, and could certainly bake up a quantity of bread and baked beans.
We searched around the property for years for the missing iron door to cover the oven but we never found it, although the hinges were there.
When we moved to New Mexico I was fascinated to see that many yards in the older parts of Las Cruces had beehive-shaped outdoor ovens, or hornos, made of adobe. According to this National Park Service website for Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, NM, the Spanish explorers brought wheat to the Pueblo Indians, who had previously made their bread from corn meal dough flattened and cooked on hot flat rocks. The Spaniards taught them how to build hornos, which can be built of sandstone, lava rocks, or adobe bricks.
The photo below is one I took of an horno at the Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos, New Mexico.