Fascinated with This 18th Century Bread Warmer

Finding an Irish recipe book, or receipt book from the 18th or 19th century as they were once referred to, is very rare. I have had the opportunity to visit the National Library of Ireland and the manuscript division to see their collection but beyond that have not had any further success. In near equal measure though I’m finding that I have also become intrigued by old cooking ware that was once used.

On my first visit to a charming small bookstore in Manhattan that specializes in just cookbook collections - Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks - there were only two books that covered Irish fare. So in leafing through one, titled “Irish Heritage” by Dr. E E Evans, which had first been published in 1942, I happened to come across this page of drawings (see image) that rather intrigued me. They were drawings of “Harnen Stands” also known as oatcake warmers - and they were so beautiful looking!

Armed with this new (but old) book in hand I began the art of googling to learn more. Here is what I uncovered:

  • Harnen (hardening) stands were predominantly used in the 18th century and across the Ulster region

  • Made of iron they were used to dry, rather than bake breads (or oatcakes). As stated by Vinterior, an online marketplace for antique and vintage furniture it is stated that “The harnen stand was used to slowly dry, rather than bake, a tradition oat bread bannock, know as moon and stars due to its rather crumbly consistency, before a peat fire. “

  • Its use was described by Worthpoint as: “the loaf of bread was placed in a baker and hung over the fire. When it was finished baking it was taken out and placed on the Harnan stand and placed in front of the fire to crust up the loaf”

  • Through posting the image to Instagram a comment was shared that a farm in Meath had an extensive selection of these denoting many different designs

  • When they are placed on the market to sell, and appears only in a limited fashion, the range is around $150 - $300 or so

  • The design was said to reflect in part a Spanish influence

So now am on a quest to see an actual one versus just images on the web. Maybe even one day I can be in a possession of one and try it out!

Anyone come across this iron bread warmer concept before?

Bridget Bray