Open-air Kitchens in Early California

Adobe brick oven for baking and five brick open fire pits for boiling

An adobe brick oven was used for baking bread and brick open-fire pits for stewing and boiling. This oven and the fire pits are at Mission San Gabriel Archangel in California.

in the 1800s, kitchens were busy all day. Stirring up a fire from smoldering ashes in the early morning was a priority. In Alta California, a cook or wife made hot chocolate drinks for the family. A ranchero drank his chocolate and then mounted a favorite horse which was already saddled and waiting. While the husband was checking on a herd of cattle or horses or on field workers, a wife, daughters, and servants prepared tortillas, collected eggs, roasted beef for a huge breakfast to be ready for her husband, sons, and workers. The prep work was done in the kitchen on large wood tables, and tortillas and breads were baked in the adobe brick ovens, while beef roasted on a spit.

Preparations for a midday meal and supper started immediately after breakfast. Grinding grain, killing and plucking chickens, picking vegetables and fruit if available filled the hours, keeping everyone busy all day. Other household chores were packed into the day also. Washing clothes, milking cows or goats, making cheese and butter, and sewing. All this daily work was necessary to maintain a family and its servants.

Did mariners and explorers in the early 1800s need passports to enter Alta California, a Mexican territory?

Three-story brick building on Ellis Island in New York City Harbor

Passports for individual people did not exist in 1822 when Captain William A. Richardson jumped ship on San Francisco Bay. Trading ships or warships visiting for trade or provisions handed Mexican authorities documents listing all crew members. Although Richardson himself had no passport at the time he landed, the California governor gave him permission to stay if he proved his worth, was baptized into the Catholic Church, and pledged loyalty to the Mexican government. In 1841, when John Bidwell, who later became a California state governor, staggered over the Sierra Nevada Mountains into Alta California in the first wagon train, he and his fellow Americans had to purchase passes in order to remain and settle there. Having lost most of their belongings on the arduous journey, they struggled to find enough money or items to trade for Mexican passports. They would have been imprisoned if they could not.

On an Ellis Island tour, I learned how immigrants were processed before being allowed to enter the United States in the 1890s. They faced the threat of being shipped back to their native country if they were ill, lame, or a criminal. Entering the country was a lengthy process. After a long ocean voyage, passengers were transferred from their ships to ferries that lacked food or fresh water and had to stay aboard them until Ellis Island authorities were ready to process new immigrants. These tired, hopeful, hungry people were questioned, poked and prodded by doctors, had their eyelids pulled back with buttonhooks to check for trachoma, and had to prove they could support themselves, not be a burden to their new country.

During the last two years, Americans returning from overseas were asked to get PCR tests for Covid-19 or be vaccinated to prevent the spread of a disease. There were grumblings and objections, but the process was so much simpler than the one immigrants had on Ellis Island.