Myth #107: Cooks went barefoot so they could sense where it was hot on the brick hearth in order avoid burns.

kit_woman

Thanks to Brian Miller at Historic Odessa in Delaware for submitting this oddball. He says it is often stated in Odessa kitchens that cooks went barefoot for this reason.

I had not heard this one before, nor had Frank Clark, food historian and supervisor of Colonial Williamsburg’s foodways program, but he said, “I can pretty much tell you from experience that would be impossible. You might not burn your feet on the hot brick, but the heat of the fire on any bare skin is hard to take, especailly when you have to get your feet up next to the fire to get out coals and the like. Plus the chance of stepping on a stray ember is constant. I do it all the time. Sounds like a unsubstantiated myth to me. I think if someone was barefoot, it was only because they had no shoes, not for any advantage in hearth cooking.”

 

7 Responses to Myth #107: Cooks went barefoot so they could sense where it was hot on the brick hearth in order avoid burns.

  1. Keena, Katherine says:

    Mary – nOw this is a new one on me…I cannot help but respond that in Girl Scouting we insist on shoes for everything, especially coking!

    Katherine Keena

    Program Manager

    Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

  2. Sounds like somebody (un)wittingly transposed the dubious practice of “firewalking” onto a historical question. The suggestion becomes fact, if it’s told often enough….

  3. Deborah Brower says:

    It’s official people will believe anything if they think it cool enough.

  4. azambone says:

    Reblogged this on Notanda and commented:
    I think this is one of the most bizarre “just so” stories told in a historic house museum. Most of them are attempts to square the circle, to give some sort of “practical” or “common-sense” explanation for some sort of human behavior that, like a lot of human behavior, defies common-sense. But this is so counter-intuitive that it baffles me, just a little bit. Does that mean I don’t think that someone has spun this story to a group of rapt visitors? No. I can easily believe that they did.

  5. Gregory Hubbard says:

    This myth is truly bizarre.

    I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (the Other CIA) and an historian. With apologies to The Food Channel’s Barefoot Contessa, I can say with certainty that anyone who works in a kitchen barefoot is crazy.

    They won’t last 5 minutes.

    1713, 1813 or 2013, working barefoot would be extremely dangerous. Not simply coals, as mentioned above, but with spattering grease from pan frying, roasts drippings, splatter and drips from kettles, and this list could go on and on, the tops of your feet would be badly burned as well.

    Bare legs or short pants would be equally loony. This myth presumes our forbearers were stupid. Who thinks this stuff up?

    Gregory Hubbard
    Chatsworth, California

    • Mary Miley says:

      Thank you Gregory. To answer your question, “Who thinks this stuff up?” I have no earthly idea, but it never seems to stop. But yes, many people do presume our ancestors were stupid. That’s one reason myths are so enduring–they appeal to our sense of superiority.

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