Thursday, March 15, 2018

Latest Cookstove Acquisition: A Hayes-Custer

Okay.  I spend WAY too much time trolling about eBay and Craigslist looking at the wood/coal cookstoves that are for sale on those sites.  But I learn a lot, and sometimes I run across some real finds.

The woodburning range you see in the pictures below was advertised on Craigslist.  Very little was said in the description except that it needed to be moved ASAP as the owners were remodeling their basement, and the contact telephone number shared our area code, so I thought there was a chance that it was fairly near us.

I contacted the person who placed the ad.  The stove was fairly near, so I scheduled a time to go and investigate.

One of the pictures from the Craigslist advertisement.

The house was built in the 1950s, and the stove has probably been in the basement from the beginning.  Kevin, the owner, lived in the house during part of his youth, and he remembered a particularly bad winter storm that put their electricity out for a period of about a week.  During that time, the stove was put back into service, but even though it was connected to a chimney until just before the basement remodel began, it had not been used since then.  

Since the stove had spent all of this time in a dry basement, it was in remarkable shape.  After a thorough examination, the most major problem I could find was that the lid-lifter notch in the "T" over the firebox had rusted, burned, or worn through; and one of the cast iron tabs which cover the holes where water pipes would pass through the wall of the firebox was broken, but everything else was in great shape.

The other picture from the Craigslist ad.

You can see from the picture above, that there is no brand identification on the front of the stove, and even the oven thermometer merely indicated that the stove was American.  Furthermore, the design of the stove didn't immediately give away its brand either.  Kalamazoo ranges, for example, never had a brand insignia visible on the front of the stove either, but their familiar appearance gave away their identity at first glance.  It wasn't until I opened the left door that I saw on the interior cast iron firebox door the words "Hayes-Custer, Bloomington."  I'd never heard of the Hayes-Custer Stove Company, and it is rare that I run across a brand of stove that I'm unfamiliar with!  More on the Hayes-Custer Company will be coming in a later post.

Kevin said that he'd had other people who were interested in the stove, but no one wanted to tackle the project of getting the stove up out of the basement.

"That's why I'm giving it away," he added.

Wow!  The price was right!

I wasn't too excited about getting it removed from the basement either, but my dad and I had hauled a Kenmore cookstove out of a neighbor's basement when I was in high school, so I had an idea about how it could be done.  The price tag caused me to be suddenly motivated, too!

I knew that my family members wouldn't be too excited about helping to haul a stove out of a basement, but my advantage is that I know some really strong high school boys, and the stove was located much closer to them than my relatives.  I told Kevin that I would see what I could do about lining up a removal crew and get back to him.

Well, Kevin was anxious to get the stove out of his basement.  He made sure that the other most interested party was not coming for the stove, and then he called me back on the same day that I had convinced a junior boy to round up some of his friends to help me out.

On Monday of this week, I returned to Kevin's and disassembled the stove.  Everything came apart easily except the bolts that held the two shelf brackets to the stovetop.  In my experience, these bolts are often problematic for three reasons: a) access to them is often difficult because you can't get a straight shot at them from the top, b) food splatters have often landed on them, making them sticky, and c) they have been exposed to a lot of expansion and contraction due to temperature fluctuation.  We ended up having to sacrifice those two bolts, which had to be done quite carefully so as not to damage anything else.

Then, Tuesday evening the high school boys came, and we carried the stove up the stairs, out of the house, and into the pickup.  The main body of the stove was heavy, but not too bad really, and everything traveled very easily.

The disassembled stove in the back of the pickup in our driveway.

So now the question Nancy asks is what I will do with this stove.  It's a good question, too.

This stove is in better condition than the green and cream Riverside Bakewell out in our summer kitchen, especially since its oven door hinge broke.

The broken oven hinge on the Riverside Bakewell.

Thus, at this moment, I'm considering selling the Riverside Bakewell and using this stove in its place.  The only hang-up is that the Riverside has a warming oven, and the Hayes-Custer only has a high shelf.  Other than that, the two stoves are very similar.  Oven size, firebox size, and reservoir capacity are nearly identical.  Both stovetops have just two eyes over the firebox, but one thing that I consider an advantage about the Hayes-Custer is that the rest of the stovetop consists of just one French plate to the right of the firebox rather than two like the Riverside has.  This is an advantage because the joint between the two plates on the Riverside is not perfectly even, causing larger kettles to not heat as evenly as they might.

Even so, the warming oven is a big plus.

What do any of you readers think you'd do?  Anyone interested in purchasing a green and cream Riverside Bakewell?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cream Puffs: An Ideal Wood Cookstove Dessert

Cream puffs are one of my favorite desserts, and they are an ideal recipe for the wood cookstove.  If your chickens are like ours and the lengthening days have resulted in increased egg production, cream puffs are also a great food to make during this time of year.  For one thing, the weather has not gotten warm yet.  This allows the cream puffs to keep better, and standing over the stove while you make the filling is still a pleasant experience.

Cream puffs are very simple, and if you have your own chickens and a dairy cow or goat, you can produce a great deal of the ingredients for them on your own.  Here is what you will need:

1 cup water
1/2 cup cold butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

1. The first thing to do is to build your fire so that you will have a hot oven (400ยบ F).  As you do this, keep in mind that your baking time is going to be 45 minutes long.  I find that it is best to have a lot of pieces of firewood that are small in diameter.

2. Once the top of the stove has gotten good and hot, put the water and the butter in a medium saucepan and place it directly over the fire.  You want to bring this mixture to a full boil.

Note: I find that I have better results when the butter is cold when I put it in the water.  I don't know why, but it seems to make a difference.

3. While the water and butter are coming to a boil, crack four eggs into a measuring cup and measure your flour.  This is also a good time to grease the cookie sheet you will bake these on.

4. Once the water/butter mixture has come to a full boil and the butter is completely melted, take the pan off the fire and immediately stir in one cup of flour.  This will make a paste that smells awful and doesn't really look very nice either.

5. Stir the eggs into the paste one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Do this quickly because you don't want the eggs to cook before you've beaten them in.  Now your paste will be a sticky, bright yellow goop that still looks and smells unappetizing.

6. Drop or pipe the puff paste onto the greased cookie sheet.  You can make these as big as you want.  In stores, they seem to always be bitesized.  I tend to prefer a more bold cream puff, so I drop them by the 1/4 cup.  

7. Bake in a hot oven for 35-45 minutes, watching to be sure that the edges aren't turning too dark.  

If you are going to fill the cream puffs with a cooked custard, it is best to cook it during this time because your stove is already hot for the baking. My favorite filling is my great-grandma Gladys's vanilla cornstarch pudding. You can find the recipe here.

7. When done, remove from the oven and cool completely.

8. To serve, either slice the cream puff in half to insert the filling, or you may use a pastry gun to squirt the filling inside the cream puff.  I like to sprinkle powdered sugar over the top, but for fancier occasions, I have diluted strawberry jam with strawberry syrup and drizzled that on top of the cream puff and then dusted it all with the powdered sugar.  I know I'm weird, but I also like my cream puffs warm, so I often pop them in the microwave for a few seconds before eating them.  

I consider cream puffs an excellent wood cookstove recipe because you take advantage of the heat of the fire to make the paste while your oven is heating, and then while they are baking, you again make double use of the fire by making the custard filling.  Really, your fire is always serving a double purpose as you make these.  Also, with the exception of the butter, these are a very economical but fancy dessert.

Note: This is the same recipe for eclairs.  The difference is that eclairs are usually piped onto the cookie sheet in oblong shapes, and they have chocolate on the top. 

Grandma Gladys's Vanilla Cornstarch Pudding on the Wood Cookstove

This recipe comes from Grandma Gladys, who was one of my maternal great-grandmothers.  She passed away two months before I was born, but my recipe box has several of her mainstay menu items in it, and I think this is one of the best.  I know that boxed pudding mixes are cheap and extremely easy, but this really is such a simple recipe, and cooking on a wood cookstove makes me want to make things from scratch as often as possible.

You will need the following ingredients:

3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk, divided
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
2 Tblsp. butter
dash salt (optional)
vanilla flavoring

First, beat the egg yolks and the sugar in a heavy saucepan.  I always use my three-quart Magnalite aluminum one.

Add the rest of the ingredients except for the vanilla and bring to a boil directly over the firebox, stirring constantly.

The pudding will thicken immediately upon boiling.  At that point, remove from the fire and add a splash of vanilla.  

That's it!  It is that easy, and it tastes so much better than instant pudding that the two are not even comparable.

Sometimes I've seen recipes like this that say "discard the whites" after telling you to separate the eggs.  That makes me crazy because it is such a waste of food.  When I make this pudding, I always fry the egg whites for my breakfast the next morning.  I like fried eggs, but I love fried egg whites.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Woodburning Cookstove: A Prepper's Necessity

When one thinks of major disasters, usually events like tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, wildfires, or tsunamis come to mind.  Of course, major disasters can take the form of man-made catastrophes as well, such as terrorist attacks or economic depressions.

If your home is completely destroyed in a disaster such as these, there is relatively little you could have done ahead of time in order to mitigate the aftereffects of such an event.  However, many of these calamities can leave your home untouched or damaged but still inhabitable.  When this is the case, whatever steps you have taken to prepare for a major disruption in your normal life will be greatly appreciated.

Each of the disasters listed above--except perhaps economic depression--carry with them the possibility of an extended electrical power outage as a part of their destruction.  I, for one, find our American dependence on electrical power absolutely frightening.  Fortunately, a power outage is something people can prepare for.

Power outages take many different forms.  Some can affect just one house or only a few houses.  Others can be widespread blackouts.  When you think about it, though, the number of homes involved in the power outage is not nearly as important as the length of time the power outage lasts.  A blink of only a few seconds is a mere blip in the vinyl that makes you reset the clock on your microwave oven.  The power outage of an hour could be an annoying inconvenience that alters your plans a bit.  An outage lasting more than two days can have disastrous consequences on your household budget if the food in your home freezer is spoiled.

In contrast, the power outages that I think about being prepared for are the results of disasters of a much larger scale, such as a major storm which could take out the electricity for a period of weeks or a solar flare or EMP (manmade or otherwise), which could alter the use of electricity for the foreseeable future on a scale that we have trouble even imagining.

Now, I don't consider myself a "prepper."  I don't have anything against preppers, but I know that in the event of a long-term, large-scale blackout like an EMP, I'm on the short list of people who will die soon because of my utter dependence on blood pressure medications.  I'm actually okay with that since having Jesus Christ as my Savior makes the next life look far better than this Earthly one anyway, and if we're looking at a catastrophic compromise of the electrical grid, I don't want to stick around to watch American society implode.  The problem is that I could live a headache-ridden existence for quite awhile since it's not up to me.  Thus, I can't help but think and plan a little bit.

If a power outage of this magnitude occurs, I think that having and knowing how to use an installed woodburning cookstove is an essential preparedness item.  Here are my reasons:

1. A woodburning cookstove can be used indefinitely.
Many people's answer to energy independence is a propane range.  I see this all the time in homesteading/preparedness videos and blogs as well as in homesteading magazines.  If you live in an area where a woodburning range is an impossibility, then a propane cooking device of some kind is certainly a better option than no option at all.  However, in a situation such as an EMP, whatever propane you have in your possession at the time of the disaster is the extent of the propane you will probably have for a very long time.  Thus, you cannot cook over propane indefinitely.

What waffles for supper might look like at our
house during an extended power outage (as long
as we still have lamp oil, of which I keep gallons
on hand).

With a woodburning cookstove, you will be able to cook as long as you are able to procure fuel.  Keep in mind, however, that if you are completely dependent on your chain saw and gasoline log splitter, you are not much better off than those with propane ranges.  For this reason, it is best to keep a manual set of wood-gathering equipment at hand.  The good news about these items is that they can be procured for little money.

Also, a wood cookstove can burn a number of different bio-fuels, so unlike a propane range which can only burn one type of fuel, you have several more options with a woodburning cookstove.

2. A woodburning cookstove can be used to heat your home and your water.

It is true that you can heat your water with a propane range, but heating your home with one is a dangerous proposition because of carbon monoxide.  The other advantage to a woodburning cookstove in this instance is that the fire that is cooking your food can be warming your home and your water at the same time, whereas heating water on a propane range will involve increased fuel consumption no matter how you look at it.

While I'm talking about water, let me take a moment to admit that I feel strongly that this is our achilles heal on our farm.  Though we are still using the same water system designed by my great-grandparents where gravity delivers water to the house and barns from an in-ground cistern on top of the hill behind the house, we no longer have a windmill to pump the water from the well to the cistern.  That situation is something I would like to rectify sooner rather than later.  At least, while there is water in the cistern, our wood cookstove hot water heating system allows us hot and cold running water without the aid of any electricity whatsoever.

After a long day of dealing with the life changes that a major, long-term power outage created, a hot shower would feel really good.

3. Your diet during a large-scale emergency won't have to change so drastically.

Most of the things I've read about preparing for a major, long-term catastrophe advise that keeping as much normalcy as possible is good. This advice extends to menu-planning, too, especially if you have children in your family.  In the face of the many day-to-day challenges which will arise from living without electricity, people will take comfort in being able to sit down and enjoy a familiar meal.

A wood cookstove can do anything that a modern range can do with the only exception being broiling in the fashion that we are familiar with where a heating element or flame is above the food. This means that wood cookstove owners will be able to cook just like they had been doing before the power went out.  The problem will be that in a situation like an EMP, the availability of familiar foods will be altered.

For this photo, I opened the firebox door to
prove that I was truly baking the waffles on the
wood cookstove (some people doubt this without
seeing the fire).  You will notice that this photo
was taken after Nancy had her waffle on her plate.
She doesn't like my homemade pancake syrup--
hence the bottle of Log Cabin syrup next to her

4. A wood cookstove will allow you to prepare food for long-term storage.

As mentioned above, a long-term power outage can cause you to lose the food in your home freezer.  Of course, when you see that the freezer is no longer maintaining a safe temperature for frozen foods, you might begin to consume as much of the food as possible.  However, our freezer is a 25 cubic foot model, and eating all the food that we store there would be very difficult to do in a short amount of time.  To be prepared to save as much of that food as possible, I always maintain a large supply of canning jars and lids.  Neither of these will do me any good, though, unless I've got a woodburning cookstove to can on.

A word or two about canning lids in a long-term disaster:  We buy our canning lids in bulk sleeves from the Amish.  They are much more reasonably priced than buying them by one dozen boxes.  This means that we usually have several dozen canning lids on hand at all times.  However, these are single-use lids.  In the event of a major catastrophe where they would no longer be in production, my supply will dwindle in a hurry. Recognizing that, I have a small collection of Tattler re-usable lids, and a very large collection of zinc and glass lids and rubber sealing rings which are also re-usable.  In my library of vintage canning books, explicit canning instructions for these lids are also maintained, and I have been practicing with them.

5. A woodburning cookstove is more convenient than cooking outdoors or cooking on a heating stove.

Some readers may be thinking that as long as they have a woodburning heating stove, they can cook, heat, and can with that.  This is true, of course, if your heating stove is designed in such a way as to make that possible (our Jotul is not).  When I was growing up, we only had a woodburning heating stove, and I tried cooking on it, and I've always been impressed by what Misty Prepper could do on her Fischer, but a woodburning cookstove is far easier to cook with than a heating stove.  At a time when virtually every other task could be more difficult than usual, any little convenience will be appreciated.

No doubt some of my readers have had their suspicions about my sanity confirmed with this post.  Others will think I'm woefully ignorant about what prepping really entails.  I'd like to hear from both.
What reasons have I missed?  As always, I welcome you to use the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Why a Woodburning Cookstove?

My sister-in-law and her husband are serving as the American "parents" of a twenty-year-old Iowa State University college student from Vietnam.  He originally was a high school foreign exchange student in the town where my sister-in-law is a schoolteacher, so they have known him for a period of almost four years now.  I first met him when he was an All-State speech participant, and I enjoy him very much.  (I also enjoy watching Susan be a parent to a young adult.)

I was not privy to the conversation, but I understand that Susan explained to "Bill" that I cook on a woodburning cookstove, and Bill could not understand why any American "would want to live like the people in Vietnam."  While in Iowa, Bill also saw some Amish riding in a horse-drawn buggy, and again, his question was simply "Why?"

Making wild plum jelly on the Margin Gem last
week.  I had frozen the juice during the summer
because standing and stirring a pot over a raging
fire is a lot more comfortable in the dead of winter.
Bill's question has stuck with me.  I've been cooking over wood for over twenty years now, and for some reason, no one has asked me why for a very long time.  Furthermore, since it has become such a normal part of my life, I no longer think about the "why" of it much either.  It does seem, though, that it is a question that is worthy of an answer (and a blog post).

What I have written below are my "whys" for cooking on a woodburning cookstove.  They are not listed in order of importance, but rather in the order that they occurred to me.  I suspect that these will be similar to many other people's reasons for cooking on a wood cookstove, but please utilize the comments section to either concur or add any other reasons that I do not include.

1. Increased Self-Sufficiency

We are by no means an island, and never will be.  We have, by today's standards, a great deal of family nearby, and we are quite interdependent upon them.  We are fairly active in our community, and even though we live on an Iowa Century Farm, we are right on the beaten path.  In fact, our road is so busy and our house so close to it that sometimes it sounds as if the grain trucks are barreling through our living room.  Furthermore, we are only minutes away from downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

However, we do enjoy a modicum of self-sufficiency.  It is a rare event that we have a meal made of entirely store-bought foods, and why shouldn't the farm that produces so much of what we eat also produce much of the fuel needed to cook and preserve that food, too?  When cooking with electricity or propane, we are dependent on business entities to provide that ability (sure, once our propane tank is full, we can cook for a long time, but not indefinitely).  With the woodburning cookstove, we are able to cook as long as we are able to procure fuel--something we can do without being dependent on others.

Making supper on the wood cookstove.  Potatoes
were baking in the regular oven, but its temperature
was higher than what I wanted to bake our fish, so
I baked the fish in the stovetop oven which you see
over the firebox.  It worked really well.

2. Economics

It is true that the Margin Gem cookstove is expensive, especially when you buy the hot water heating set up that we have.  When we purchased ours, my brother-in-law asked me if it was the Cadillac of new wood cookstoves on the market today.  "No," I said in self-deprecation, "but it is the Lincoln."  Even at that, though, when you put pencil to paper, the Margin Gem has paid for itself already, and we are only in the sixth heating season with it.  Now, every time we use the cookstove for cooking, heating, or water heating, we are money ahead, and the stove and water heating setup have decades of service ahead of them.

3. Disaster Preparedness

I don't consider myself a prepper, but I am perhaps a little more prepared for disaster than some people.  In the course of my lifetime, we have had only about five power outages that lasted more than a few hours, but before having a woodburning cookstove they were much more disruptive than they are now.

Truthfully, I think this point deserves a whole blog post of its own.  You can see that here.

4.  Aesthetics

When I was growing up, my mom subscribed to Ideals magazine.  Long before I became an English teacher and could appreciate the poetry and short prose pieces in this magazine, I would search each new copy for the utopian pictures of historic kitchens.  They always prominently featured ornate antique cookstoves.

This image is from the 1966 Thanksgiving
issue of Ideals magazine.  This one was
before my time, but lots of similar pictures
passed through my hands as a youngster.
I was also raised on a steady diet of Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy television shows, both of which offered viewers memorable views of wood cookstoves in set dressers' versions of old fashioned kitchens.

Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls in front of a cookstove.
At about that same time, my aunt Ellen subscribed to Country Living magazine, and then we eventually had our own subscription.  Wood cookstoves frequently appeared as both functional or decorator items in those magazines, and they were a frequent topic of discussion.

All this is to say that I grew up with plenty of visual influences that made it seem as if a woodburning cookstove made a kitchen complete.

5. It is Old-Fashioned

This is probably silly, but I like cooking on a wood cookstove because it is old-fashioned.  I have always been fascinated with the old ways of doing things--a fact which I attribute to my great-great aunt Meme, who was a huge influence on me growing up.  She would be the first to deny that she had romanticized life in the late 1800s and early 1900s while she reminisced with me on her knee.  However, I think, just as our minds so often do, her memory only recalled the good things about life on an Iowa farm in the olden days.  Without meaning to, she helped create in me a longing for a time I never knew.  I'd wax poetic and say that it was a simpler time, but I don't know that I'm convinced it really was.  Either way, my penchant toward old-fashioned living has caused me to be frequently accused of having been born in the wrong decade.

6. Efficiency

I find that my cooking style changes in the non-wood cookstove months largely because I tend to not be willing to "waste" the extra electricity or propane that it takes to make that finishing touch or special little thing, and I certainly try to avoid the dishes that have long cooking times.  I also find that I do more experimental cooking when I'm using the wood cookstove because I don't feel bad about the wasted energy if the product is a flop.

The other thing about the wood cookstove is that rather than having one fire cook only one vessel of food, the same fire heats all of the pots, whatever is in the oven, and the water to wash the dishes after the meal.  I think that is very efficient.

7. It Just Feels Right

I don't know how to explain this one any better.  I just know that feeling the heat radiating from the cookstove while I'm standing over it stirring something seems somehow right.  When I'm cooking over an electric stove or a gas stove, it just doesn't feel quite like I'm really cooking.  I don't know how to describe it any other way.

That's all I can think of at the moment.  Wood cookstove using readers, fill up the comments please!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Baking Apple Crisp in a Woodburning Cookstove

As the new year begins and much of the nation is experiencing cold weather--and since some people have undoubtedly received new wood cookstoves for Christmas :)--I thought there might be quite a few people who are learning how to bake in their wood cookstoves right now.

If you are new to baking in a woodburning cookstove, there are two different treats that I would suggest baking first to get a feel for how your oven works.  The first would be a batch of cookies.  The reason I suggest cookies is because you will be able to determine where your oven's hot spots are by examining the various doneness of the cookies on each sheet.  You can also determine if the bottom of the oven is cooler or hotter than the top by noting whether each individual cookie is cooked evenly on its top or bottom.  Obviously, you should not bake chocolate cookies for this test because you will not be able to see the browning sufficiently to learn anything.

Baking cookies will help you to figure out whether you will need to rotate foods midway through their baking time to ensure even cooking and browning.

Of course, you may discover, as I did, that your oven bakes very evenly.  If so, all the better!

This was the first sheet of cookies baked in the
Margin Gem back in 2012.  You can see that
they are very evenly browned.  Hmm--I wonder
where those missing three cookies went!
The second thing I would suggest baking is an apple crisp.  The reason I would suggest this particular dish is because it is very forgiving of uneven oven temperatures, so you will be able to practice maintaining an even oven temperature without having to worry about ruining your finished product.  (One time, I baked an apple crisp in a Dutch oven using coals from a wiener roast fire.  It had been years since I had baked in this manner, and I got a little over-zealous with the coals.  I pretty much burned the apple crisp, but my sister carefully scraped the top off and ate it anyway, declaring that it was still good.)

1. As always, the first thing to do is build your fire in such a way that you will have a moderate oven when you are ready to bake your apple crisp.

2. Choose your baking dish and butter the bottom and sides.  If I am using purchased butter, I like to just unwrap one end of the stick of butter that I will be using in the topping and rub it on the pan.  This way, I save unwrapping an extra stick of butter just for greasing the dish, and I don't get my fingers messy, either.  When we are milking, this is also a great recipe for using homemade butter.

A word about choosing your dish: I like to use a glass or ceramic baking dish for apple crisp due to the fact that the acid in the apples will not react with it, thus increasing the shelf-life of the finished product.  If you are new to baking apple crisp, I would suggest using a clear glass pan if you have one because it will allow you to easily see how the apples are cooking.

3. Next, make your topping.  The recipe that I use is for either a 9 x 9 or 7 x 11 inch pan.  (Double this for a 9 x 13.)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar

You can vary this in lots of different ways:  

a) You can use stick margarine if you prefer, but I never think it is as good.
b) Instead of 1 cup of all-purpose flour, use 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and a 1/2 cup all-purpose.
c) Instead of 1 cup of all-purpose flour, use 1/2 cup oatmeal and a 1/2 cup flour.
d) Instead of 1 cup of white sugar, use 1/2 cup brown sugar and a 1/2 cup white sugar.

This could go on forever, but you get the idea.  Keep the same proportions, just vary the ingredients to suit your taste.

Cut the butter into the sugar and flour until well blended and crumbly.  I like to use a pastry blender for this, but I've seen my grandma just use her fingers.

The prepared apple crips topping.  This was a combination of
whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown sugar.  It was quite good.
4. Now you are ready to peel, core, and slice the apples.  Since we always do this with homegrown apples of various size and quality, I couldn't give you a certain number of apples to use.  Just cut up enough apples to fill your dish 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the top.  Use whatever apples you like to bake with.  My preference is the Jonathans that grow in the southeast corner of our orchard.  They are firm fleshed and have a flavor that is second to none.

5. This step is optional.  I like to spread just a little bit of white or brown sugar over the apples.  I do this because the sugar draws the juice out of the apples and causes them to cook better.  I don't put so much sugar on them that I notice a difference in the flavor.  My mom has baked hundreds of very delicious apple crisps and does not do this, however.  My grandma would sprinkle a little cinnamon on the apples at this time, too.  Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't.

6. Spread the topping crumbs on top of the apples.

The assembled apple crips ready to go in the oven.
7. Slide the assembled apple crisp into a moderate oven.

The apple crisp in the oven of the Margin Gem cookstove.
8. Bake as long as you like.  I've seen recipes that say as little as 35 minutes, but I like my apples to be thoroughly cooked, so I generally leave it in for at least 50 minutes.  Of course, as in all baking in a wood cookstove, you have to watch the food and the oven temperature and adjust baking times accordingly.  I suggested a clear glass pan above because I don't think an apple crisp is any good until the apples are bubbling quite a bit.  You can see that I didn't use a clear pan to bake the crisp in the picture, though.

9. When done, remove from the oven and cool for a little while before serving warm with whipped cream or ice cream.  You could serve it plain, but what is the fun in that?

The finished apple crisp.  I think this one is a little too dark on top,
but it tasted very good anyway.
There you have it.  You'd have to work pretty hard to ruin this one badly enough that you couldn't eat it, and you'll have the rewarding experience of pulling a delicious dessert out of the oven of your wood cookstove.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Vintage Candy on the Wood Cookstove: Divinity

December 23rd was devoted to Christmas cooking at our house.  Nancy and I made the second batch of Christmas Crack (aptly named for its entirely too addictive traits) and several vegetable/cracker dips.  Then, niece Josie came over again, and we made caramels and penuche, baked three dozen Danishes of various fruit flavors and a batch of mountain-top cookies, assembled an egg casserole, and made divinity.

I don't care for divinity.  Let me just say that right up front.  If it were the last candy on earth, I'm sure that my terrible sugar addiction would cause me to eat it by the handful, but since we are not in such dire straits, I could never taste it again and not feel deprived of anything.  However, it is one of the candies that my aunt Meme always made at Christmas.  She first taught me how to make it in December of 1985, and we made it together every year until she left her own home in 1992 at the age of 97.  I've made it alone many times since then, but it is a candy that I much prefer to have help with--I'll explain why in a minute.  

There was only one year that I didn't make divinity for Christmas; that was in 2009.  It always seemed to me that not very many people in our family liked it, so I decided to skip it that year.  My cousin Cory asked where it was at our family get together, and I explained that I had decided to forego it since I didn't think very many of us ate it.  He was so disappointed because he confessed that night that the divinity was his favorite of all the homemade candies.  I felt terrible since he was in the service at that time, and all of the comforts of home were doubly important to him that Christmas.

I assured him that I would make it again the next Christmas.  However, he was killed in a car accident in the fall of 2010 just after he had been discharged.  Now, I always feel like making the divinity is not just a Christmas tribute to Meme but also to Cory as well.

Divinity is a very old-fashioned, fat-free candy that apparently many other people besides my family associate with Christmas.  I saw it for sale in our local Super Saver this season, and one always sees it in the Christmas issues of the Vermont Country Store Catalog.  Meme used to tell me that she and her sister Pearl were in charge of making the candy in her home when she was young, and I often imagine what it would have looked like when the two of them would be cooking fudge, divinity, and penuche on the old Monarch range in the enormous farmhouse which used to stand where my first cousin and his family now live.

To make divinity, the first three things that you have to do are to put the teakettle on the fire, spread about 2 1/2 feet of waxed paper on a table or counter, and prepare whatever decoration you would like to put on top of each piece of candy.  I usually see some kind of nut like a pecan or a walnut on divinity when I see it for sale in a store.  Meme always poked a maraschino cherry half on the top of each piece of divinity, so that is what I do.  Before even beginning to make the candy, I cut however many maraschino cherry halves as I feel like I will need. This year, my niece Josie completed that task.
Josie cutting maraschino cherries in half.
Lay the maraschino cherry halves on a paper-towel covered plate while you complete the rest of the steps for the divinity.  You want them to be as dry as possible when you eventually use them.

Into a heavy-bottomed, two- or three-quart saucepan, place 2 1/2 cups white sugar, 1/2 c. hot water, 2/3 c. light corn syrup, and 1/4 tsp. salt (I always omit the salt).  Stir to get everything combined; then, place this directly over the firebox so that it comes to a boil quickly.  

The sugar, corn syrup, and hot water mixture
coming to a boil directly over the firebox.
The same mixture at a full boil.
When this comes to a full boil, you can move it away from the fire if you want, but it must continue to boil until it reaches the hard ball stage.  I always test this by using the cold water method where you drop a little of the sugar syrup into a coffee cup of cold water and then touch it with your finger to see how hard it is.  Test this frequently and start doing it early because this part of the process does not take very long at all, and you don't want to leave the syrup on the fire a moment longer than necessary.  I'm convinced that this is where I erred in the two batches that have failed me in the last 32 years.

While the syrup is cooking, beat two egg whites until soft peaks form.

Beating the egg whites was Josie's responsibility, too.
Once the sugar syrup has cooked, pour the boiling syrup over the beaten egg whites very slowly, beating the mixture the whole time.  This is the first place where it is very helpful to have two people.  One can pour, and one can beat.

Now comes the hard part.  You must beat this egg white and hot syrup mixture until it begins to thicken.  I've seen this take about a half hour, but usually takes quite a bit less than that.  Either way, your arm will get tired. When it begins to thicken, add a half tsp. of vanilla flavoring.

Beating the divinity candy.
Now comes the tricky part.  When this begins to get thick and the glossy look has left it, you know you are now done with beating the candy. However, don't think you can sit back and rest and enjoy looking at it, though.  This is the point where you have to work like lightening.

VERY QUICKLY, drop the candy by heaping teaspoons full onto the waxed paper you had spread out earlier.  (Even with two of us doing this, the last pieces of divinity to be dropped looked considerably different than the first ones.)  As soon as you are done dropping the candy, poke whatever you are going to dress up the candies with into the tops.

Let the candies dry for a while before handling them, then put them in whatever container you will store them in.  These will become extremely soft and sticky if you leave them in an airtight container, so we always leave the lid of their tins slightly ajar in order to prevent that.

Two tins of divinity candy.
Here is the recipe in the original form I had copied it:

2 1/2 c. sugar
2/3 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. hot water
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites

Pour hot water over sugar, corn syrup, and salt.
Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Cook until hard.  
Pour over stiffly beaten egg whites.
Beat until thick.  Drop on waxed paper.

I hope you've all had a joyous time celebrating Jesus' birth.  Things have been very busy and extremely cold here (right now the outdoor thermometer says -24 degrees, but I think it is not quite that cold out), and I'm looking forward to things calming down a bit and being able to enjoy some home time.