Does anyone know how to build a colonial/medieval style cooking hearth/fireplace?
I personally do not know, but I wish I did. I know enough to know that it can be quite technical getting the flue(s) right. You might start by contacting places like Colonial Williamsburg and the Smithsonian for leads. You will also need to make good friends with a blacksmith for the crane, trammel, dogs, trivets, spits, rotisserie and tools, you're going to need.
I also suggest you visit this earlier thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/759087 Our friend mendogirl already has what you desire to build; she might allow you to take measurements and/or give you additional photos.
I think what you're doing is wonderful, but I hope you have a lot of patience, firewood, and cleaning help--and an understanding insurance company.
Please post photos if you follow through with this.
I'm sure if you search the internet long enough you'll get some idea. I remember touring Colonial Williamsburg years ago and what I remember was that the fireplaces were extremely large and they had iron hooks from which they hung pots and kettles. They had some 'arms' in which a kettle could be swung to a position directly over the fire or moved away from the fire without having to lift the kettle to a different hook.
You will lose a lot of heat up the chimney with this type of fireplace. Also, cooking in this manner will get really old fairly quickly. I hope you have a backup plan that moves forward at least a couple hundred years to a wood cookstove. Ben Franklin 'invented' a small cast iron stove for both heat and cooking so it would not be too far off the mark.
Alton Brown did a show about I believe dutch ovens, and the other posters comments are correct.
I have to say though there are some traditions that technology renders obsolete for very good reasons. Electricity allows for refrigerators, which is important for food safety. And a gas (or propane) burner allows you to get water boiling in 10 minutes versus the good hour or so it takes to get a good bed of coals to heat on (and in the summer, having a raging fire going on in the kitchen? not ideal..). In older times, a lot of workers brought their dinner in vessels to the local baker, where the residual heat of the ovens could cook things during the day.
I found this link on the web:
He makes no bones about this - his first quote is:
"....authentic fireplace cooking (where entire meals are cooked in the fireplace), truth be known, is a tedious, time consuming, physically demanding, dirty, and somewhat dangerous endeavor."
I suspect you should use modern technology and professional guidance when making the flue and chimney. The fireplace, or hearth, though would be much bigger, designed cooking convenience rather than heating efficiency. Historical sites would be the best guide to outfitting such a hearth, whether it includes shelves, hooks for hanging pots, or portable items like a dutch oven and spider (3 leg frypan).
But as an immediate step I'd suggest learning to cook in a dutch oven with charcoal. There are forums for that, as well as national and regional societies and competitions. Keep in mind that pioneers had to cook in camp, before they go to homestead lands and built themselves a cabin. So they were proficient at using an outdoor fire and its coals long before they had a hearth.
I think you are in search of plans for a Rumford fireplace. A quick google search yielded this site, which includes boatloads of information. I've included a link to the picture gallery, from which you can navigate to many fireplace photos, fireplace plans, and there is a section specifically devoted to cooking fireplaces:
If you want to live off the grid, I want you encourage you to plan on using a wood stove to supplement your traditional cooking. Remember that our foremothers and forefathers used servants to do the cooking as soon as they could manage it. In the summer, cooking was often done outside, and preferably by the help. In large homes, by the time the food arrived at table, it was often cool. In small cabins, food had to be quite simple. I am sure that stoves were welcomed into the home whenever they became available and affordable.
If you don't have electricity, what will your water supply be? Usually wells are powered by electric pumps. I can't imagine that you would have municipal water and no electric. I can't imagine a city code would allow this.
But I want to wish you luck in living closer to the land.
As easy as it may seem, this is not a simple question to answer.
Depending where you reside, I would think that plans, materials you wish to use, and permits would be your first consideration. Some fireplace designs are energy efficient, but not conducive to cooking. Another consideration is the type of fuel you intend to burn.
The fireplace hearth designs here in Europe are large affairs, with room for a whole pig and other animals cooked via spit roasting. They are long, as they are deep, and tall.
The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright believed that a functional cooking hearth was an important part of the home, and included this design in his famous "Fallingwater " design in Mill Run, PA, USA. You might note that this includes a special designed steel cooking pot that swung out from a functional, wood fuelled cooking hearth (see attached photos).
As modern today as his surrounding slate rock treatment was of the hearth, this home was completed in 1937. As K points out in the first response above, you need to consider the weight of the items you might place or hang in your fireplace, a fireback, support columns, and your supporting foundation and material. Wrought iron is especially functional in such a concept.
From what I remember of our tours of Fallingwater, that kettle took hours to heat liquid and the servants started the fire days before the owners arrived in order to take the chill out of that corner of the house.
For a number of years, we lived in a colonial era farm house with one of those huge, cooking fireplaces with the swing arms, kettles, spits and all the trivets and related cooking instruments. I begged my dad to build a fire but he had long before sealed off it because it sucked all the heat out of the house.
Once they were invented, the cast iron stove (for heating) and range (for cooking) replaced the fireplace and hearth, at least where finances and transportation made them possible.
In warmer climates, open fire cooking was done outdoors, or in separate part of the house. There are outdoors craft and alternative technology websites (and books) that talk about making small wood burning stoves and ovens. These can be from masonry, earth, or scrap metal.