The iron heart of Pederstrup Manor
Text by Annika Kiehn, August 2022
Experience history on Denmarks oldest cooking range
The cast iron cooking range of the manor house Pederstrup, which is now the Reventlow-Museum of Lolland, has been thoroughly renovated. Ever since the heart of the house has come to life again, historical eating habits have been explored. When Louise Sebro joined the team working at the Reventlow-Museum in Pederstrup, Lolland, she immediately fell for its obvious heart: a big cast iron cooking range from around 1850. With dimensions of approximately four meters in length and two meters in width and a remarkable weight of almost 2,5 ton (2500 kilograms), it is regarded as one of Denmark’s most extraordinary historic ovens. And it is still in use thanks to a thorough restoration initiated by the museum crew. “We assume this is possibly Denmark’s oldest and largest functioning iron cooking range.”
“Functioning” is the key word in this matter. Due to its good condition, the Reventlow Museum has gained a remarkable piece of history, which is alive and attracts visitors with its charm and function.”Usually, exhibits are kind of frozen in their ability to use them,” says Louise Sebro. This is because the items get registered with a number. “And as a museum, we are obliged to take care of them. But we cannot use them, sometimes because of damage, but more often due to the obligation to preserve them – which means, in practice, you best leave them unused,” she added.
The fireplace or kitchen represented the heart of the house
However, much to her delight, this does not apply to the stove at Pederstrup Manor. Back in the day, the fireplace or kitchen represented the heart of the house. The fireplace was also where the maids and servants discussed current happenings involving the lord’s family. It was the center of gossip and announcements and a good indicator of current vibes within the household.
As a historian, Louise Sebro is an expert in Colonial and Caribbean history as well as West African culture. At the Reventlow Museum in Lolland-Falster, she used her second specialization: manor history, especially of the 18th century. So, when she first saw the iron oven downstairs, she was captivated by its allure, even though it was worn down and needed a proper refurbishment. Its internal components had fallen, and the iron plating was cracked. For obvious reasons, as Louise tells me, the restoration of the oven came quickly into discussion among the team. “Our aim here at the Reventlow-Museum is to create history as an experience. We do not just want to look at it; we want to feel it. So I thought that this oven would be a great opportunity to make the museum experience at our place more lively. I mean, to light a fire is time travel, isn’t it?”
She is right, I think. As we enjoy the comfort of many modern aids, we tend to forget about the rustic habits that used to fuel our souls due to their slowness and the way they stimulate our senses. For example, I once found myself most relaxed while making brushwood, forgetting the world around me for hours. And don’t you like the smell when you light a match or the calmness that overcomes you while watching the flames evolve.
These days, Louise Sebro gives cooking sessions at the museum, fully dressed as a kitchenmaid in historical clothes. “As a researcher, I am trying to work in an authentic environment that relates to history. I am so happy that we have the opportunity to create this experience for our visitors. Unfortunately, we cannot recreate a complete, true kitchen setting, as that would require more than ten people to only work downstairs. But we are glad we can do special occasions now, just like Christmas goose or baking cookies.”
Like a beating heart, the stove is now the center of attention for visitors
Just like 150 years ago, when the oven was installed in the manor, the staff of the Reventlow- Museum these days are finally able to cook in the same old manner as back then. Like a beating heart, the stove is now the center of attention for visitors, who can get a feel for the cooking habits of the 18th century. “When the house was inhabited, the stove would run all the time. It would cool out at night, but the chimney would stay warm, so it was much easier to fire again when some basic heat was still there. Especially on warm days, it is more difficult to light it when there is a small hole in the chimney. You first need to light a little extra fire in there and then start the stove; that’s the trick. You need to know these things. Otherwise, you will simply produce smoke. When we began experimenting with the restored oven, we informed the fire people, so they would not come out whenever they saw a smoky cloud over the Pederstrup manor. But that’s part of the experience; learning how to cook like they did 200 years ago. It was very exciting.”
How did they manage to get it restored?
Looking for a skilled oven builder was a challenge, Louise Sebro tells me. Luckily, she caught the interest of the Danish oven builder, Hans Dines Schmidt, from Christiansfeld in Jutland. His family once emigrated from the German province of Saxony, close to the border of the Czech Republic. It is a mountainous region, which requires good ovens to survive the long winters there. For nine generations, the Schmidt family has been practicing and improving the craft of creating the Christiansfelder Kakkeloven, a brand that aims to produce the most efficient and environmentally conscious heat there is. They also restore all kind of antique ovens and stoves and own the most incredible collection I have ever seen in my life. Hans lives his profession. “Grandpa used to say: the workplace should always be a bit more comfortable than the couch,” he tells me with a big smile while showing me around his showroom, located in the heart of Christiansfeld, which is under Unesco Heritage protection.
Hans Dines Schmidt seemed to be the perfect match for the task. “Honestly, it was a lot of work, more than I expected it to be. But I am glad I have gotten the chance to do it. I really wanted the job,” he says. Despite having seen a wide variety of antique ovens, this one was a total exception: “It was very exciting to be able to restore such a unique oven with so many fireplaces and nine cooking places. I have never seen one made of such thick iron,” he says. “It could be a hint that the original manufacturer was not very experienced at the time it was manufactured.” Otherwise, he concludes that the manufacturer would have built it with a thinner layer, which would have been much more financially advantageous. Also unusual are the exposed chimney pipes, typically concealed beneath the oven.
Within the restoration process, which took about two months of work, Hans Dines Schmidt and his wife, who is also an oven builder, were able to figure out more information about the role of this charming iron beast. Although the original receipt of the purchase from the landlord wasn’t found, they were able to define its sophisticated character, as Louise Sebro explains to me.
Cooking sessions at Museum Pederstrup
According to old records, when the house was modernized in the 1850s to have a classical façade, the kitchen remained untouched. “This hints that the oven must have been quite modern, sort of ahead of its time. This means there was no need to replace it when the whole house got a general overhaul,” Louise Sebro says. Hence, this oven exemplifies a spectacular change in eating habits for mankind. For a long time, meat was prepared on an open fire. But, for the first time in mankind’s history, such an oven allowed us to roast meat for hours and keep the juice in it. “It paved the way towards the Christmas roast tradition, as we know it today.” says Hans Dines Schmidt -Ovenbuilder
In Pederstrup’s kitchen you can taste, smell and see the many special shapes and utensils that were necessary for a magnificent stately household. Here you meet the life of the Reventlow family in the last heyday of the manors – when beet sugar and grain exports from Lolland made landowners rich and the servants many.
Every week you can meet the cook girl who works at the stove where the fire crackles. Watch out for the calendar to see when.
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