Thursday, April 4, 2019

Moving the Summer Kitchen

Monday was a big day at our place.  It was the first day in the last eight that I didn't have some kind of school obligation or other.  I was not scheduled to substitute, so I spent the whole day at home trying to get some things done.  While I was eating my lunch, my brother came in from loading out corn to find out if it would work to move the summer kitchen. Secretly, I had been hoping all morning that this would be the case, but he travels a lot since he is the First Vice President of the National Corn Growers Association, and his days at home are usually quite full as he catches up on farm work and other responsibilities.  Therefore, I didn't want to exert any pressure.  But, bless him, he took time out of his busy afternoon to organize and transport the necessary equipment while I vacated the more portable things from the inside of the building.

Originally, we put up this shed to operate a small bakery out of it at the end of our driveway.  After seeing how the Amish in southern Iowa have bakeries and little grocery stores on their farms, we thought that we'd like to try something like that.  Thus, back in the summer of 2009, we purchased this Tuff shed, finished the inside, installed the Riverside Bakewell cookstove, which I had had since the late 1990s, and began baking every Saturday that fall until it got so cold that the garden hose which supplied our running water froze.

We did an okay business that fall, and I learned A LOT.  Our biggest problems were that it was hard to sacrifice the time from our already busy weekends, and we never knew how much we were going to sell.  Some Saturdays we didn't have anything left by the evening; other Saturdays would see us with five or more loaves of bread that didn't sell.

We opened again the next fall, but it became a drag in a real hurry, and so ended that phase of our lives as custom bakers.  The "shed" as we called it, then became our summer kitchen, but because it was located a full 75 steps from the back door of the house, cooking down there was colossally inconvenient.  Couple that with the fact that the oven door broke during the family reunion in 2011, and you have all of the reasons that we just haven't used the summer kitchen all that much.


True confessions now: we didn't have a clue as to how to move a building. I'm not sure that I do yet, but Kevin is brave and adventuresome, and we accomplished the task!




The summer kitchen now rests on a concrete pad north of the house where our old garage used to be.  It is only 11 steps away from the back door, and is actually very close to where the original summer kitchen/washhouse was on our farm.  Hopefully, this will mean that I'll use it more.

Noting that Sunday evening marked the end of March and that there are only a maximum of two more months that we will use the Margin Gem on a daily basis, I lamented to Nancy, "I already miss the cookstove."  She was in a different room; otherwise, I'm pretty sure I would have seen an epic eye roll in response.  But, now I can look forward to just switching to a different cookstove!

I'll keep you posted on the progress as we get the summer kitchen rearranged and in operation.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Link to a Video of a Different Toasting Method in a Wood Cookstove

Back in 2011 when we first ordered our Margin Gem cookstove, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for information about new wood cookstoves.  In doing so, I ran across a video from Ron and Lea Winans (their Youtube channel is called Family Heritage Living) who already had a Margin Gem installed in their kitchen.  When I started this blog in 2011, I contacted them, and Lea was one of the first people to leave comments. In fact, she commented on my second post ever, which was about baking white bread in a wood cookstove.

In the last eight years, my life has remained pretty much the same. However, the Winans' lives have undergone drastic changes as they have moved to an off-grid cabin in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now pursue a nineteenth century homesteading lifestyle with some modern technology mixed in.  They moved their Margin Gem cookstove with them, and it is still their sole means of cooking.

I have never met any of the Winans personally, but after watching many of their videos and reading large chunks of their blogs, I feel like we are neighbors who live a long way apart.  They are also fellow Christians, and I appreciate their transparency as they seek to honor the Lord in their lives.

This last week, I was excited to see a new Youtube post from Family Heritage Living about how they make breakfast sandwiches on their Margin Gem Cookstove.  We do that too, but we cheat and use our electric toaster to toast whatever we use for our bread.  Lea, on the other hand, has five hungry guys to feed at once, so a pitiful little electric toaster wouldn't do her any good even if she had enough electricity to power it.  I wrote a post about using a woodburning cookstove to make toast in five different ways back in December of 2014, and you can read it here. However, Lea uses an entirely different method, and you can watch her video at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5usuSHidvAc

If you scroll through the comments, you will see where I asked Lea to clarify questions about temperature and rack placement.  These details are important to achieving results as good as hers.

The Winans have posted several videos about how to accomplish different cooking tasks with a Margin Gem cookstove on their Youtube channel, so if you have a snowy evening when you can spend some time watching, there is a lot to be learned from them.  I also enjoy their videos that aren't about cooking on a wood cookstove.



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Caramel Puffed Wheat ala Grandma Gladys and Grandma Marian


Nancy and I are sitting on our new reclining love seat watching Doctor Zhivago on Netflix while a blizzard rages outside.  The picture above was the view to the east of the house before it got dark and before the snow and wind got serious about their business tonight.

Prior to sitting down to watch the movie, I had a snack of caramel puffed wheat.  I haven't had this for perhaps two years, but I really enjoy it.  I think I was in high school when I was first introduced to this food by my grandma Marian.  I don't know what possessed her to make it at that time, but she said then that her mother, my great-grandma Gladys, used to make caramel puffed wheat for a snack when she was young.  Grandma Gladys cooked on a woodburning cookstove until they moved from their farm in Hazel Dell Township (the next township west of us) to their farm just south of Council Bluffs on 29th Avenue in 1941, but I don't know what her original recipe might have been.

The ironic thing about this is that when Grandma Marian first made this for us, she used a microwave recipe. I copied it from her so that I could make it while I lived in a dormitory at Iowa State University, and now I've adapted this recipe for use with a woodburning cookstove.  Lots of traditional recipes have been converted for use in a microwave, but perhaps this is the first time that a microwave recipe has been converted for the woodburning cookstove!

Here is what you will need:

5 to 6 ounces puffed wheat
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

The first step is to build your fire, but don't get carried away.  You will need only a slow oven (between 200 and 300ºF).  In the Margin Gem, this is easily accomplished with a good bed of coals and a large chunk of wood. Your fire does need to be hot enough to boil your caramel syrup first, though.  Those of you who have been following this blog for any length of time will know that I consider this a great wood cookstove recipe because it uses the heat of the fire to complete the first step of cooking while the fire is heating the oven.

Combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Put this directly over the fire to come to a boil.



While this begins to heat, put the puffed wheat in an oven-proof metal bowl or roaster bottom.  I use one of my stainless steel bread bowls.


Stirring occasionally, let the caramel mixture come to a full rolling boil.


Once the full rolling boil has been reached, remove the syrup from the fire and stir in the half teaspoon baking soda.  The syrup will foam up.


Pour the syrup over the cereal in the large bowl and stir it thoroughly.


When the cereal is completely coated, slide it into the slow oven.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes.  Baking the cereal is important because after you pour the syrup over it, it becomes distastefully chewy. Baking it makes it crunchy again.


After forty minutes have passed, pour the hot cereal out on a jelly roll pan to cool.  As soon as it can be handled, break the cereal apart so that there are no large clumps.

 
Store in an airtight container.  This will keep indefinitely.

This tastes a lot like Sugar Smacks, but without their characteristic burned flavor.  I'm sure you could eat them in a bowl with milk on them, but I never have.  Of course, the syrup and the method could also be used to make caramel popcorn.

Now, I know that many of this blog's readers do not cook on a woodburning range, so I will give you the microwave directions the way I originally copied them:

Cook the brown sugar, white syrup, butter, and salt for two minutes on full power.  Stir.  Cook for another two minutes.  Then stir in the 1/2 tsp. soda until foamy.  Pour over cereal which has been placed in a brown paper grocery sack.  Shake thoroughly.  Microwave the cereal in the paper bag for forty-five seconds on full power.  Shake.  Repeat these steps two more times.  Pour out to cool.

I hope you enjoy this one!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Quick Meal Ranges

Due to the positive response I received regarding the post about the Kalamazoo Stove Company catalog from September 1931, I've pulled another artifact out of my collection to share with you all: a little brochure about Quick Meal Ranges.

This brochure measures 3 1/2" x 6 3/8" and does not have a date on it anywhere.  From the styles of range and the print fonts used in it, my best guess is that it is from the late 1920s or early 1930s.

The Quick Meal Stove Company was located in St. Louis, Missouri, and eventually was became Magic Chef.  


The first pages of the brochure talk about the exterior finish on their ranges, which they call "Fusenamel."  I have only seen a couple of Quick Meal ranges in person.  One was a bright blue, and I have to admit that the enamel had endured beautifully.  In case you can't see it well in the scans below, these pages also tell you that the enamel comes in "lustrous white, blue, grey, or tan."



The next pages contain the obligatory advertisement for how well the ovens on Quick Meal ranges bake.  It points out that the oven is made with zinc and is "the most uniformly heated and perfect-baking oven ever devised."

It also explains that some of their ranges are made with "triple wall construction" where exterior range walls are made of two layers of fusenamel with a layer of asbestos in between.  I would think that this would make the range more pleasant to use in the summer.


The last page of text points out the range's "corner tube" with a cutaway illustration.  I thought this was particularly interesting.  The text reads "An exclusive and patented feature.  Notice how side walls clamp into tube. The tube permits expansion and contraction of walls, yet it always holds firmly."  Then, the cavalcade of beautiful pictures begins.







The range on the right of the picture below begins their more affordable line which has only single wall construction and a smaller oven.






I didn't scan the back cover because it has no pictures, but it does have "No. 678" printed there.

Are any of my readers cooking on a Quick Meal, and do any of you have any information on a more precise date for this brochure?  If so, please use the comments section below to tell us about it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Some General Information about Wood Cookstoves in Response to a Reader Request

When I created this blog, I wanted it to be a clearinghouse of information about woodburning cookstoves, so I get particularly excited when a reader leaves a comment with questions.  That is what happened a couple of days ago when reader Momma Panda ran across my blog and asked several questions about wood cookstoves.  She is new to the woodburning cookstove world, so her questions may seem basic to those of us who are more seasoned wood cookstove cooks.  However, she asks questions that are reflective of what most of today's population might wonder, and my mission here is to educate, so I am more than happy to answer.

As a side note, I am continually chagrined at how ignorant the entertainment industry is about wood cookstoves.  I like to watch movies that are set in the past, and what I see regarding cookstoves is often quite ridiculous.  When I was growing up, we had a steady diet of wood cookstoves on television with shows like Little House on the Prairie, etc., but we weren't yet so far removed from the days when wood cookstoves were in regular use that people had forgotten their general principles. These days, it is not uncommon to see actors put their hands down on cooktops, lay potholders just anywhere, and leave stove lids open indefinitely.  The worst thing I've seen recently, though, was in a movie where the stove was very obviously a Home Comfort brand range, and they had built their fire in the warming oven beneath the baking oven.  For me, that completely ruined the believability of the whole movie.

All that is to say that I really appreciate it when people ask questions, and--as always--I welcome other readers to use the comments section to add their two-cents worth whether they be in agreement or otherwise.  Keep in mind that what I write below is general information, and individual cookstove models can vary quite a bit.

So here goes.  First, the basics.

Most old-style woodburning cookstoves have their firebox on the left side, and they are usually smaller fireboxes than heating stoves have.  This allows for better control of the fire.  When the oven damper is closed, the smoke and heat from the fire travel to the right, just under the cooktop. This makes it so that the hottest part of the cooktop is directly above the fire, and the heat gets lower as you travel to the right.

In the picture below, the pressure canner and the open kettle of apples would be over what might be considered high heat, the green waterbath canner and the open kettle of applesauce apples would be roughly over medium heat, and the kettle of ketchup and pan of canning lids on the right would be over low heat.


When the smoke and heat get to the top right side of the oven (the big white door with the round thermometer on it), they then travel down the right side, beneath the oven, and then out of the stove to the chimney. Below are some illustrations of the smoke paths in wood cookstoves from John Vivian's book Wood Heat.


The heat of the fire (and consequently the heat of the cooktop and oven) is regulated in a number of ways:

1. What type of wood you are burning.
2. How large the pieces of wood are.
3. How much air is allowed to come into the fire.
4. How quickly the combustion gases are allowed to leave through the chimney.

Now to answer your more specific questions:

How Much of the Stove Is Hot:

The stove gets hot on the outside, but just as I explained with the cooktop, some parts of the stove's exterior are hotter than others.  This also can vary quite a bit with different brands/styles of stove.  For example, our Margin Gem (shown in the picture above) is so constructed that you can put your hand on the left side of the stove without getting burned.  The left side of the green and cream Riverside Bakewell that you see at the top of this blog would be WAY TOO HOT to touch.  Lightly brushing the outside of the oven door on either of these stoves would not hurt you unless you left your hand there for too long.

As far as whether this would be a problem with small children about, my opinion is that children should have a healthy respect for all stoves no matter what they use for fuel.  I'm not sure that there is any greater risk for them around a woodburning cookstove than any other range, but that would be something you would have to decide.  With our nieces and nephews, a warning or two when they were very young has always been sufficient, and we've never had a problem.

It is also important to understand that the entire cooktop gets hot, not just the round lids.  Thus, we usually lay spoons and spatulas on top of the warming oven (the long horizontal box at the top of the stove), which is also where we keep the stack of hot pads.  The tradeoff here is that you can have a lot more than four or five pots and pans cooking on the stovetop at once.  Last Saturday, I had seven vessels on the stovetop simultaneously in order to cook our dinner.

Summer Cooking:

Because the whole stove radiates heat, it can be uncomfortable to cook on a woodburning cookstove in the summer, though I have had fires in the Margin Gem during every month of the year.  We do have a gas stove in the kitchen that we use in the summer, but the green and cream cookstove at the top of the blog is actually in our summer kitchen, which is an outbuilding.  Our plan is to move that much closer to the house in order to make it even more practical to use a wood cookstove during the summer.

Truthfully, I'm quite alarmed at the amount of heat that our gas stove allows to escape unused around the edges of cooking utensils, and I'm not sure that the cookstove top lets as much heat go wasted.  One of the biggest differences, though, is that the wood cookstove radiates heat while it is getting hot enough to cook on as well as long after the cooking is completed--certainly a major difference from the instant on and off of a gas or electric stove.

We mitigate the before-cooking and after-cooking heat in the summer by using different size and types of fuel.  You can read more about that in my post about Summer Cookstove Fuel.


As you can tell from my blog, I'm very enthusiastic about cooking on a woodburning cookstove, but I'll be the first to admit that it isn't for everyone.  It really is kind of a lifestyle choice.  However, most of the people who choose to do it find it both satisfying and rewarding.

The biggest thing I would suggest you consider before getting your own wood cookstove is where and how you will get your fuel.  If cutting your own firewood (or at least purchasing firewood at a reasonable price) is not realistic, I wouldn't recommend going to all of the expense of buying a stove and renovating your kitchen to accommodate it.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask.  And, readers, use the comments to chime in here, too.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Kalamazoo Ranges from 1931

I kind of think of this last Christmas as a "Cookstove Christmas" in that most of the gifts that I received had to do with woodburning cookstoves. One such gift came from my sister.  In our kitchen, we have a framed magazine ad from the September 1931 issue of The Country Gentleman. The ad is telling people that they should order a copy of the Kalamazoo Stove Company's catalog.  It has been hanging there for perhaps three or four years, and I have often looked at it and wished that I could fill out the little mail-in card in the lower right corner and request a copy of the catalog.


A photo of the framed advertisement hanging on
our kitchen wall.  Sorry about the reflection of the
camera flash.

Well, I requested a copy of the catalog all right, but my request went through eBay.  You can't imagine how excited I was to find the very catalog that was shown in this advertisement come up for auction online! 

The catalog is comprised of about sixty pages of attractive color illustrations and really is very impressive for its age.  

In 1931, the Kalamazoo Stove Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was manufacturing not only ranges, but also heating stoves, furnaces, duct work, and washing machines.  They were in operation from 1900 to 1952, and some of the stoves that they made are still in daily use today.  You frequently see them for sale on eBay and Craigslist.  Kalamazoo stoves were popular because they were pretty affordable since the company didn't use a middleman to sell their products.  The company's slogan was "A Kalamazoo - Direct to You."

My personal opinion is that their stoves also seem to be of a little lesser quality than other brands.  Thus, when you see them for sale today, you also tend to see them in a little worse shape than their contemporaries.  

Since this blog is intended to be about all things wood cookstove related, I've scanned all the pages which had to do with their ranges and included them in this post.  I hope this can serve as a resource for anyone who has, or is interested in, this line of stoves.  I've never done a post quite like this, so let me know what you think. 

The front cover of the catalog.  You can see
"Sept. 1931" handwritten at the top left in pencil.
The following are all of the pages that had anything to do with cookstoves and are shown here in the order that they appeared in the catalog.  You may be able to read quite a bit of the text if you click on the pictures to view them in a little larger format.

The parts page appears early in the catalog.

The most common advertising point I've seen
for ALL wood cookstove manufacturers was
what wonderful bakers their particular brand
of stove was.  Obviously, this was of great
concern to the consumer, but I wonder which
brand truly was the best baker.


The only small "cookstove" in the catalog is
the one at the lower left of the above page.
The rest of them are all "ranges."











You can tell that by 1931, the Great Depression
was in effect because the prices on these ranges
had fallen from the previous years--in some cases
by quite a bit.







I wish I could have scanned the next two pages in a single large image because they are the "centerfold" of the catalog and introduce The President, which was their flagship range that year.







After the above page, the catalog transitioned into Kalamazoo's heating stoves and then their line of furnaces and ductwork, finishing with their two models of washing machines on the last page.

The catalog's back cover.
Beautiful pictures, aren't they?

I have other vintage cookstove materials like this in my vast collections. Are posts like this valuable to my readers?  I welcome your feedback.