Saturday, October 3, 2015

Roasting a Chicken in a Woodburning Cookstove

I mentioned in my last post that I had several blog posts started.  This is not one of those posts, but I want to share what we had for our noon dinner today because it was so simple and turned out so delicious.

Usually, when I roast a chicken, I use my aunt Meme's ancient Wagner Ware "Drip-Drop Baster" roaster which had belonged to her mother and undoubtedly saw the inside of a woodburning cookstove's oven many times.  I'm not going to completely abandon that method of roasting chicken, but when we were at the Dutchman's Store in Cantril, Iowa, this spring, I purchased the Crow Canyon Home red enamelware roasting pan that you see in the pictures below.  I hadn't used it until today, however.

Because the fire in the Margin Gem was already burning, I added a bunch of small sticks and pieces of bark because I wanted to get the oven up to at least 400 degrees.  Roasting whole poultry at a high initial heat causes the skin to brown beautifully, and that was the goal.

After the fire was roaring, I placed the whole chicken in the center of the roasting pan and surrounded it with some small red potatoes that we had purchased at our local farmers' market this summer.  I then added several pearl onions from our garden, some celery stalks, and sections of whole carrots.  Next, I took a whole bulb of garlic and separated it into its individual, peeled cloves and dispersed them among the vegetables.  Into the cavity of the chicken, I placed the leaves of the celery stalks, two of the garlic cloves, and one whole pearl onion.

I sprinkled some Lawry's Seasoned Salt, several pinches of poultry seasoning that I also purchased at our local farmers' market from Wild Rose Farm, and some freshly ground pepper over the whole kit and caboodle.

The chicken and vegetables seasoned and ready to be roasted.
Everything was then ready to be placed into a quick oven.

I decided to keep the oven running hot for the duration of the roasting time, so I used a lot of small sticks and pieces of wood.  I added a little boiling water from the teakettle about midway through, and in an hour and half, our dinner was done.  Nancy and I both thought it was excellent.

When I roast a chicken this way again, I will try basting the vegetables and the bird several times during the cooking.  This should make the meat even more flavorful and moist, and I may consider adding some fruit to the vegetables.  What did take a lot of time was peeling all of the pearl onions and garlic cloves, but using wedges from a larger onion would speed that process considerably.

Let me know how you roast a chicken in your wood cookstove by utilizing the comments section below!  I always enjoy correspondence from my readers.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Beginning of the Season

Gave Marjorie the Margin Gem a partial bath tonight.  Turned off the electric hot water heater (hopefully it will remain off until May), and cooked steak and potatoes on the woodburning cookstove tonight.

The kettle on the rear half of the firebox is from Nancy's
grandma.  She explained to me that it was so black on the
outside because she used to remove the lids over the fire
on her Montgomery Ward cookstove and place it directly
over the flames.  The grill pan in the front was a Christmas
gift from Nancy last year.

We've used the Margin Gem occasionally over the summer, but with a cool forecast for the foreseeable future, the daily firing season has begun.  I've got seven other posts started; now if I can just find the time to complete them!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Cooking on a Woodburning Stove by Andrew Roy Addkison

With the exception of yesterday and today, the weather in our corner of Iowa has been very hot and humid lately.  After almost forty years of hot and humid summers, you'd think I'd get used to it, but no.  Since the weather is not conducive to cooking on a woodburning cookstove (though I have cooked a couple of times in the summer kitchen), this is the perfect time of year to read about it instead.  So this is my first book review blog post.

First, let me say that there is actually a great deal of information about how to cook on a woodburning cookstove available in print form.  It's just that it is not so easily found as other information.  If, for example, you want a plethora of vintage cookbooks about microwave cooking, you have only to travel to your nearest second-hand store, and you will find a plethora of cookbooks from the late 70s and early 80s touting the ease and convenience of Radarange cookery.  I think microwaves are lovely--for reheating leftovers that were first cooked on a woodburning cookstove.  Beyond that, ours doesn't see much action.

Anyway, back to my point.  In my regular monitoring of eBay, etc., and on the occasional browse through an antique or secondhand store bookshelf, I sometimes find some interesting books about cooking on a woodburning cookstove.  One such find is a book called Cooking on a Woodburning Stove by Andrew Roy Addkison and illustrated by Carol Carlson.  Mr. Addkison published this book in 1980, and its ISBN number is 0-915190-28-1.

Mr. Addkison uses the first fifteen pages of this book to give brief but fairly complete instructions about how one cooks on a woodburning cookstove.  These pages have a generous helping of Ms. Carlson's pencil drawings, most of which are helpful.  However, a couple of the illustrations are unexplained by the text and I would have to admit that they are therefore confusing.

Mr. Addkison's text is for the most part very good.  The only thing that I could say in criticism is that sometimes Mr. Addkison uses the words "check draft" when he simply means "draft."  This creates a certain amount of erroneous meaning that I think was unintentional, but problematic just the same. 

There is a distinct difference between the two drafts.  The word "draft" is used to indicate the openings which let air into the stove that is intended to aid in combustion.  On older stoves, these are at or below the level of the grates.  The "check draft" is situated above the fire, often in the pouch feed door, and is intended to allow air to go across the top of the fire, retarding combustion and thereby cooling the cooktop and the oven as it travels between them on its way to the chimney.  Anyway, one can tell that Mr. Addkison enjoys cooking on a woodburning cookstove, and his words reflects that. 

The latter part of the book is comprised of 150 recipes, the instructions for which are written expressly for using a wood cookstove.  While I haven't tried any of the recipes specifically, one of the things that I appreciate about them is that, for the most part, they call for pretty basic ingredients which one would often find in a fairly well-stocked but basic pantry.  The recipes do sound appealing, too.

Right before the index, Mr. Addkison includes information on procuring a wood cookstove or just a woodburning heating stove.  The general information is still all right, but the list of retailers is nearly obsolete after 35 years.

All in all, I think this book was worth purchasing if just for the recipes.  I'm particularly looking forward to trying the recipe for mustard crusted leg of lamb.  If you already have a copy of this book, let us know what you think in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Cookstoves at Living History Farms

In mid-June, Nancy and I visited her sister Susan in Southeast Iowa.  We left Susan's early on a Wednesday, and arrived that morning in the Des Moines area.  We had lunch on the Des Moines Skywalk System, and then we visited the Salisbury House in the afternoon.  The next day we visited Living History Farms in Urbandale.

Living History Farms is a 500-acre working museum which includes three farms--a Native American camp, an 1850 pioneer log home/farm, and a 1900 farm.  It also includes a town which is set to appear as it would have in rural Iowa in 1875.

Of course, my favorite part of the whole Living History Farms experience is seeing the woodburning cookstoves that are in use at the museum.  Three wood cookstoves are in regular service, and I took the opportunity to photograph each of them in order to include them here on the blog.

The first cookstove that we saw was in the Tangen Family Home.  This house is part of Walnut Hill, a fictional Iowa town set in 1875.  "Mr. Tangen" is the town implement dealer, so his house reflects a certain affluence, though it is not a mansion.

The cookstove in the kitchen is a Crawford.  From what I have been able to learn, Crawford ranges were made by Walker & Pratt in Boston, Massachusetts.  I'm sure that this range was chosen because it reflects the time period as closely as possible, but I'm not sure that a range from Boston would have made it all the way to Iowa in those days.

The Crawford range in the Tangen House at Living
History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa.  Note the
warming oven below the baking oven.
This stove had some unique characteristics.  The first picture below is of the firebox.  It was pretty standard.
The firebox of the Crawford range in the Tangen
Family Home at Living History Farms.
What was unique was that a few inches below the firebox there is a second dump grate.  I have never seen anything like that.  I wonder whether the stove was designed to have a summer (upper) grate and a winter (lower) grate like the Heartland Oval stoves.  Another theory I had was that maybe the secondary grate was used to collect clinkers when burning coal.  If someone who reads this post knows why the stove was designed this way, please utilize the comments field to educate me!

This picture shows the secondary dump grate
below the main grate.
The first picture below shows the interior of the baking oven.  The second picture shows the interior of the warming oven, which is located below the baking oven.  The warming oven has it's own oven damper on the right side of the stove to direct more heat around it.

The picture below shows the oven dampers and oven cleanouts on the right side of the range.

The second cookstove that we saw was in the Flynn House.  The historic interpreter who visited with us about this stove said that originally a house of that size would have had a larger cookstove, but again this one was chosen because it was accurate for the time period of the house.  It is also a Crawford with a warming oven across the bottom, but its design was less unusual.

The interior of the oven of the Crawford cookstove at the
Flynn House at Living History Farms.  The star and heart
are trivets which are used on the stovetop.

The firebox of the cookstove at the Flynn House.
Nancy and I breezed through the 1700 Ioway Native American Farm and the 1850 Pioneer Farm because they don't have cookstoves, and hurried to the 1900 Farm where the beautiful Acorn cookstove presides over the dining room.  Living History Farms has its own excellent blog entry about this cookstove, which I think says it all.

The Acorn cookstove at the 1900 Farm at Living
History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa.

Unfortunately, the usual historic interpreter at the 1900 Farm house was not at work the day we were there, so I didn't get to visit with her.  I did however, spend some time visiting with historic interpreter Lucy O. at the Tangen Family Home.  Lucy has cooked on all three of the cookstoves in use at Living History Farms, and she is definitely a "cookstove kindred spirit."  Talking to someone who knows exactly what I mean when I wax poetic about wood cooking is so much fun.

I told Lucy that the last time I had been at Living History Farms was in 2001, and at that time, the historic interpreter at the Tangen Family Home had told me that she didn't much care for the Crawford cookstove there, but said "I can cook anything on the Acorn at the 1900 Farm."  I asked Lucy if she agreed, and she said that she actually preferred the Crawford.  She thought the reason might be because she'd had more experience with the Crawford, but she also liked having the warming oven beneath the oven.  She said that the warming shelves were just not as effective at keeping things hot when they were finished cooking.

I told her that I could certainly identify.  After having only a high shelf on the Qualified, the warming ovens on the Riverside Bakewell and the Margin Gem, were a welcome addition. 

I said above that Lucy was a "cookstove kindred spirit."  She agreed with me that she would rather cook over wood than any other fuel.  She also told me that she is a newlywed, and she has made a deal with her husband that if she ever leaves Living History Farms, she will get her own woodburning cookstove, and he will get really good at chopping wood!  I tell you, folks, there is just something about woodburning cookstoves that gets in your blood!

If you're ever in central Iowa, I would highly recommend at trip to Living History Farms.  Their website is so that you can take a look at all that they have to offer.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Caramel Cheesecake Baked in a Woodburning Cookstove

When I was growing up, I was not a huge cheese lover, and I can remember my cousins being quite aghast when I declared that I did not like cheesecake.  Truthfully, I think that I had never had cheesecake at the time that I made that declaration, and I probably believed that it would have been made with cheddar or American cheese.  Thankfully, their mother, my aunt Ellen (a fantastic cook), educated me, and now cheesecake ranks among my favorite desserts.

The recipe that I'm going to share with you in this post is one that I developed after reading and trying caramel cheesecake recipes from the Internet.  I first made this for my family's Easter dinner, and it was a big hit.  I've made a few adjustments from that first try, and I'm very happy with the results.  This is one of the more complicated recipes that I have shared here on the blog, but the results are SOOO worth the effort.

Before you can make this cheesecake, you must have previously baked the Browned Butter-Pecan Cookies that I blogged about last November.  You'll need enough of these to make 1 1/2 cups of cookie crumbs when crushed.  The other ingredients you will need are as follows:

5 Tbsp. butter, divided
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, divided
4 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese
5 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. burnt sugar flavoring
1/2 tsp. butterscotch flavoring
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
pecans for decoration

As with any wood cookstove baking recipe, the first thing that you must do is build or maintain your fire in such a way as to get the desired temperature for whatever you are cooking.  You will need a moderate oven (350 degrees) for both of the baking steps in this recipe, so plan accordingly.

Also, you are going to need a teakettle of boiling water when the cheesecake is ready to be baked, so place your teakettle over the firebox until it comes to a boil.  You can move it to a cooler spot on the cooktop later if it is boiling too hard while you are finishing the cheesecake preparations.

If you haven't had the foresight to let your cream cheese come to room temperature by letting it set out for several hours (this happens to me all the time), the thing to do is unwrap the cream cheese, put it in a glass mixing bowl and set it either in the warming oven or on the back of the reservoir.  I chose the reservoir, and it softened the cream cheese perfectly.
The cream cheese softening on the back of the reservoir.

While your oven is heating, you need to prepare your crust.  Start by greasing the just the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.  To the 1 1/2 cups of crushed Browned-Butter Pecan Cookies that I mentioned above, add 3 Tbls. of very soft butter and 2 Tbls. of brown sugar.

The cookie crumbs, soft butter, and brown sugar ready to be blended.
Combine the cookie crumbs, butter, and brown sugar with a fork.

The cookie crumb mixture ready to be patted into the bottom of
the springform pan.
Once you've mixed the crust, pat the crumbly mixture into the bottom of the springform pan.  Place the pan on a wide, heavy duty piece of foil and pull the edges of the foil up around the pan.  Bake the crust in your moderate oven for about 13 minutes until it begins to turn a rich dark brown.

Remove it from the oven to cool a little while you mix the cheesecake layer.

A few words about mixing a good cheesecake:

  • Use only a spoon, never a whisk, because you don't want to beat air into cheesecake batter.
  • Start by beating the sugar and the cream cheese very thoroughly.  I always think that it is best if you can no longer feel the grittiness of the sugar when you are done.
  • Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each, but being careful not to "whip" them in.

So, to mix the cheesecake layer, beat 1 cup of brown sugar into the four eight-ounce blocks of softened cream cheese.  Add two tablespoons of melted butter.

The cup of brown sugar ready to be beaten into the cream cheese.

Add the five eggs, one at a time, incorporating thoroughly but not beating hard.

The three flavorings to help create the caramel taste.
Add the two tsp. of vanilla, 1 tsp. of burnt sugar flavoring, and 1/2 tsp. of butterscotch flavoring.  Pour the batter onto the baked and slightly cooled crust.

The cheesecake ready to be baked.

The cheesecake is going to be baked in a bain marie.  This is the official culinary name for a hot water bath.  What I do is use the liner from an electric roaster.  Place the foil-wrapped springform pan inside the roaster liner; then add enough boiling water from the teakettle to come about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan.

Adding boiling water to the roasting pan to create the bain marie.
The cheesecake in the bain marie in the oven of the Margin Gem.
Bake the cheesecake for approximately 70 minutes in a moderate oven.  Of course, this is all relative in a wood cookstove, so you are looking for the cheesecake to look puffy but still jiggle a little bit in the center.  It may begin to brown a little on the top, too.  Usually, I recommend baking with smaller pieces of wood so that you have more control over the fire, but since the baking time for this cheesecake is so long, and since you need only one oven temperature, larger pieces of wood work just fine.

I find that the large roaster liner and the tall foil seem to effect the thermometer in the oven door of the Margin Gem.  It appears that they tend to make the thermometer register a little cooler than the oven actually is.
The baked cheesecake.  You can see that I
probably should have turned this one mid-baking
because the firebox side is clearly a little darker
than the reservoir side.  It didn't have any ill
effect, though.
Place the hot cheesecake in the refrigerator until thoroughly cooled or over night.  This will make your refrigerator work hard and draw more electricity than usual, so maybe this is a dessert that you'd rather bake in the wintertime when you can put the cheesecake on an enclosed back porch or something like that.

Once the cheesecake is cool, it is time to make the caramel topping.  In a saucepan, combine the one and half cups of white sugar with the quarter cup of water and the 1/2 tsp. lemon juice.  Over a hot fire, cook this mixture until it becomes a light brown.  Don't get excited about stirring this too much.

The cooked sugar, water, and lemon juice just before the cream is added.
When the sugar, water, and lemon juice have cooked sufficiently to look like the picture above, add the cup of heavy cream.  Be aware that when you do this, the mixture will bubble furiously, and you may see the sugar solidify for a little while.  Don't be afraid!  It will become liquid again as it heats up once more.  Boil the caramel sauce for several more minutes until it is obviously getting thicker.  I test it using the cold water method that I talked about for making caramels.  Don't cook it until you get to the soft ball stage, though.  You want to remove it from the heat a little before that.

Once you have determined that the caramel sauce has cooked enough, remove it from the fire and put it in the fridge (or on the cold porch) for about a quarter of an hour until it gets to the point where it has thickened but can still be poured.

Removed the sides from the springform pan so that the cheesecake is on only the bottom.  Put the cheesecake on whatever plate or stand you plan to serve it from and then spread the caramel sauce over the top of the cheesecake.  Decorate the edges with pecan halves.

The finished caramel cheesecake.
I hope you enjoy this as much as we have.  The one in the pictures above was taken to a church potluck on May 31st where we honored our pastor on his retirement.  I hope it was good: it was gone by the time I got to the desserts, but that was okay because I had an excellent lemon cake instead.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

First Time Cooking in the Summer Kitchen in 2015

I know I'm an odd duck.  I'm used to it, and I'm fine with it, so please don't point it out. 

We had started the electric water heater in the early days of May, and I started whining to Nancy about how much I missed the wood cookstove after only one day of cooking on gas, so we've had Margery the Margin Gem cookstove going intermittently.   On May 30th and 31st, for example, I had a lot of cooking to do and so had fired her up.  One of the things that I cooked on those days was a caramel cheesecake--stay tuned for the upcoming post!  However, I had been cooking mostly on the gas stove since then.

Sorry, but I feel the need to vent a little about our propane range.  You see, I was raised in a home with an electric stove; in fact, the only person on both sides of my family to have a gas stove is my aunt Cheri, who has simply had gas stoves at various times during her many travels and moves.  Nancy, on the other hand, was raised with a gas stove, and her grandmother also had one.  Thus, since I got the wood cookstove that I wanted, the modern gas range next to it is the compromise that proves my love for my wife.

Of course, my opinions weighed heavily in our choice of the gas range, and I think we chose well.  I'm just surprised and frustrated by a couple of the characteristics of today's gas range.  I've cooked on only four gas ranges: the tiny, ancient, unbranded one in our church basement, the 1950s Crown in my parents' basement that we use to freeze sweet corn, the new one in our kitchen now, and the old Hardwick that my grandparents installed in our basement years ago in case of an extended power outage (used twice in my recollections of growing up here).  When we gutted our kitchen in 2011, I cooked on the Hardwick for about a year.  I don't mind cooking on old gas ranges, but our new stove (and every gas stove that is available on the market now) has the cooking vessels sitting so far above the gas burners that the amount of heat that escapes up the sides of the pots is just unreal.  Also, I'm continually surprised at how much heat comes out of the oven vent!

All of this is to say that in the 95 degree heat that we had on Tuesday, I was not excited about cooking supper in the house, even though the air conditioning was on.  The thought of all the heat that comes into the room from the gas range was enough to make me want to have just a bowl of cold cereal for supper, but our nephews were here, so we had to be more responsible and balanced in our meal choice.  Hence, the boys and I trooped down to the summer kitchen and started the Riverside Bakewell.

"But, Jim, wasn't it already 95 degrees in the summer kitchen before you even started the stove?" most sane observers would ask.

Well, yes.  It was already hot in there, and we made it hotter.  I already told you that I know I'm crazy.

We cooked some marinated chicken and macaroni and cheese (which with carrot sticks and fresh strawberries constituted our supper), and then I baked banana bars down there afterward.

Supper cooking on the Riverside Bakewell cookstove.

So yes, it was hot down there, and yes, the summer kitchen is a full 75 paces away from the house kitchen, but cooking on a woodburning cookstove just feels right.  If I could explain it any better, I would.  Surely some of you loyal readers who have your own cookstoves know what I'm talking about and could agree with me in the comments section below so that I don't have to feel quite so weird, right?

I don't know the history of the Riverside Bakewell cookstove as I bought it on an estate auction, but when I'm cooking a meal on it, I can't help but wonder how many meals it turned out before it was put out to pasture for a time.  How many Thanksgiving dinners did it cook?  Did it help keep a family from freezing to death in the notorious winter of 1936?  How many corncobs has it consumed in its lifetime?  As you can see, I have an overactive imagination.  Anyway, add one more meal to the count!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Rhubarb Cobbler

During rhubarb season in Iowa, I can't help but think of Nancy's grandma Ruth, who was sort of a "Rhubarb Queen" in her day.  Even though I didn't meet Ruth until she was 88 years old, she cooked and kept her own house on the family farm until she was 95, and every spring she would make various rhubarb dishes.  Her rhubarb/pineapple jam is still Nancy's favorite thing to spread on toast, and the following recipe for Rhubarb Cobbler was always Nancy's cousin Nathan's favorite.  This is a particularly good wood cookstove recipe, so I wanted to share it with all of you.

Here is what you will need:

3 to 4 cups raw rhubarb cut into chunks no larger than a half inch
1 3/4 c. sugar, divided
3 Tbsp. butter
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 c. milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Step 1: Build your fire such that you will have a moderate oven.  Put a teakettle of water directly over the fire so that it will be boiling when you are finished with the other preparations.

Step 2: Cut up rhubarb and place in the bottom of a greased 9" square baking dish.  Because this has a tendency to sometimes run over the sides of the dish during baking, I would tend to favor using only three cups of rhubarb.

Step 3: Cream 3/4 c. sugar and 3 Tbsp. butter.  


Step 4: Mix together the cup of flour, the tsp. of baking powder, and a 1/4 tsp. of the salt.

Step 5: Alternately add the dry ingredients from step 4 with the 1/2 cup milk.  Spread this over the rhubarb.

Step 6: Combine the remaining 1 cup of sugar, 1 Tbsp. cornstarch, and the remaining 1/4 tsp. of salt.  Sprinkle this mixture over the cake.

Step 7: Pour 1 cup of boiling water from the teakettle over the top of the whole mixture.


Step 8: Place baking dish on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and bake in a moderate oven for one hour.

Step 9: Serve with milk, cream, or ice cream.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you have already figured out that the reason I classify this as an excellent wood cookstove recipe is because it calls for the cup of boiling water just before baking, which takes advantage of the heat generated by the fire as it heats the oven.  As I look over different old-time recipes, I notice that they frequently have boiling water added to them, and I am convinced that part of the reason for this was the teakettle which was ever present on the woodburning range.