Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Homemade Cranberry Sauce for Thanksgiving Dinner

I'm one of those people who think that Thanksgiving dinner isn't complete without the cranberry sauce.  It seems that only a few of the members of our family feel this way, so usually I get plenty of it.  I put some on my turkey, next to my dressing, and often inside my dinner roll.

My family always has homemade cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving Dinner, and we always use my great-grandma Ruth's recipe.  She has been gone for nearly thirty years, but she was a remarkable cook whose skills are still legendary in our family.  You can find her recipe for apple pie here, and her recipe for strawberry preserves is here.  Actually, making the cranberry sauce reminds me a lot of making the strawberry preserves, except that these cranberries are tart in spite of having two cups of sugar on them.

First, wash a 12-ounce package of cranberries.  Put them in a saucepan with two cups of water and bring them to a boil over the hottest part of the stove.  I find that this part goes faster if they are covered.

The cranberries and water beginning to cook directly over the fire.

Boil the cranberries and water together until the cranberries split open.  You can actually hear them pop, which makes this part kind of fun.

The cranberries had to be moved away from the fire after a while
(along with the soup kettle), which worked out well because
Nancy was frying bacon for the potato soup.

Run the cooked cranberries through a Foley food mill or press through a sieve.

Running the cooked cranberries through the Foley.

Add two cups of sugar to the strained cranberries and return all to a hot fire in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Bring the sugar and cranberry mixture to a boil, and let it boil until it looks glassy and coats a spoon. Stir occasionally to make sure that it is not scorching.  I also skimmed the foam from the top like I would when making jelly.

Cranberry, water, and sugar mixture boiling on the Margin Gem.

Pour cooked mixture into a glass dish (one that will be able to withstand the extreme heat of the sugary mixture) and refrigerate--without touching or jostling it at all--for twenty-four hours.  The mixture should set up fairly firmly.  If it doesn't gel, it wasn't cooked long enough or it was disturbed during the cooling period.  Don't despair, however, because it will taste just as good; it just will run all over your plate.

The finished cranberry sauce ready to be

Side note: This recipe, of course, still leaves the tiny cranberry seeds in the sauce, so this would not work for diverticulitis sufferers.

This can be made quite a few days ahead of Thanksgiving dinner.  It will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator (it is really jelly after all), and getting it finished early takes one more job away from the long list of cooking for the holiday.  Simple and delicious.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Browned Butter-Pecan Cookies: Another Kitchen Klatter Recipe

I feel guilty about the number of recipes for sweets that I include here on the blog.  Our cookstove is basically our sole means of cooking from October to May, and we cook and eat a lot more than just desserts and candy around here.  The problem is that I'm very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy; in fact, I'm not sure that I would ever get tired of that combination for the main meal of every day.

All of the cooks in my family always planned their meals around the "meat, starch, vegetable, fruit, and glass of milk" pattern, and to this day my favorite meals are like that.  The potatoes were usually mashed, sometimes baked or replaced with rice or noodles for infrequent variety.  The meat was seasoned nicely, cooked well done--but not overly so.  The vegetable was usually just boiled, occasionally buttered, and maybe lightly salted.  Fruits were fresh, in Jello, or home-canned.  That plan makes for balanced, economical eating (I bought a cookbook entitled something like Flat Out Dirt Cheap Cooking and was surprised that the recipes fell into two categories: "familiar" or "more expensive than what I was used to").  The only problem with that kind of menu is that it makes for rather uninteresting blogging.

I notice, though, that the majority of the cookbooks that I have are as unbalanced as my blog.  While proportionately I eat more nutritious foods than sweet foods, the vast majority of nearly every cookbook is spent on sweets of some variety.  Thus ends my apology for sharing another unhealthy recipe.

I recently spent some time going over my Kitchen Klatter Cookbook--the book I think of as the Southwest Iowa Kitchen Bible--looking for new ways to prepare round steak.  We tried a couple of good steak recipes, but nothing worth sharing yet.  Of course, I was distracted by the cookie section and marked a few recipes to try, and this one has been a real winner with us.  It also has been given good reviews by my family and co-workers.  Here is how they are made:

1. Brown one cup of butter over the fire.  Set aside.

Butter melting over the fire in the Margin Gem.

The same butter browning nicely.  I find that a larger pan works
best to brown large amounts of butter in.  If the pan is smaller and
the melted butter deeper, the butter tends to boil for a while before
it finally decides to get brown.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together two cups of brown sugar, two eggs, and a teaspoon of X-Tra-Touch maple flavoring.  If you don't have X-tra-Touch maple flavoring, you can order some here.  If you are going to use a different brand of maple flavoring, you might want to start with a 1/2 teaspoon and adjust from there.  For example, I use Mapleine for making homemade pancake syrup, and to quote my brother-in-law, "that stuff is high-octane."

The eggs, brown sugar, and maple flavoring ready to be beaten.

The same combination as above after it was beaten.

3. Pour the browned butter over the sugar, egg and flavoring mixture.  Beat together.  It surprises me how long it takes to incorporate the melted butter.

4. Stir in a 1 tsp. baking soda, a 1 tsp. cream of tartar.  You can add a 1/4 tsp. salt if you want to, but I omit this and don't miss it.

5. Stir in one cup of finely chopped pecans.

6. Then add three cups of sifted flour.

If you let your butter cool a little before you mixed it in, you should have a pretty stiff dough now.

7. Shape the dough into a roll and wrap it in waxed paper.  Chill the dough for at least twenty-four hours.

The roll of cookie dough ready to go into the refrigerator.

8. When you are ready to bake the cookies, you need to build your fire so that you have a moderately hot oven.  The recipe says to bake these at 375.

9. Slice thin (1/4 inch) cookies off the roll of dough, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Leave plenty of space between the cookies because they expand quite a bit while baking.

10. The recipe says to bake these for ten minutes at 375.  I say bake them however long you like.  Truthfully, I'm kind of entertained by recipes that have an exact baking time on them.  After having cooked with a wood cookstove for so long, I detect doneness by look, feel, and smell rather than minutes.  The temperature in a modern oven varies widely too according to when the element or burner cycles on and off, so a range of minutes seems more realistic to me.  Cookies like this that are sliced or rolled and cut can also need more or less baking time depending on how thick they are.

If you like a chewy cookie like Nancy and I do, take them out of the oven when they have completely risen and are just starting to brown around the edges.  If you like a really crispy cookie, leave them in the oven until they are a uniform caramel color but have not yet fallen.  Aunt Meme used to always tell me that you can tell that a cookie is sufficiently baked if you can remove it from the cookie sheet easily.

These are done enough for Nancy and me.  My mom would
say that they're not any good yet.

11. Remove from cookie sheet to whatever you usually cool your cookies on.  I like to use a layer of paper toweling on the enamel countertop of our vintage Sellers cupboard because that is what Meme taught me to do many years ago.  Cooling cookies this way results in a chewier cookie than cooling them on a rack does.

The first sheet of finished cookies.
A hint: The first time I baked these cookies, I didn't let the browned butter cool at all before I poured it over the egg and sugar mixture.  Of course, you have to beat quickly then so that your butter doesn't cook your eggs.  The dough was also quite warm then, and while it was easier to stir in the flour since the dough was so soft, I had a terrible time getting the dough shaped into a roll.

The second time I baked these, I had a phone call in the middle of the process, so the butter got a chance to cool quite a bit before I poured it on top of the sugar and egg mixture.  I had to work a little harder to get the flour stirred in, but I think that the extra effort was worth it because I was able to make the neat, uniform roll that you see in the pictures here.

Here is the recipe the way that it appears on page 438 of the Kitchen Klatter Cookbook:

Browned Butter-Pecan Cookies
1 cup butter, browned
2 cups brown sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp. Kitchen-Klatter [X-tra-Touch] maple flavoring
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
Melt butter and brown nicely.  Pour over brown sugar, eggs and flavoring.  Add pecans.  Add dry ingredients which have been sifted.  Form into rolls and chill for 24 hours.  Slice thin and bake for 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven.
Trust me; these are delicious!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Maximizing the Heat from Your Wood Cookstove

This is my 100th blog post!
Sorry.  I just had to point that out.

As the weather has definitely decided to become chilly, it seems timely to talk about how one can get the most room heat from a wood cookstove.

Let me first just say that I have often read in older information about cookstoves that they should not be required to do double duty as a heating stove.  I think the intention was to prevent people from over-firing their cookstoves, causing undue wear and damage.  In addition, the small fireboxes of vintage cookstoves did not lend themselves to fires large enough to heat much more than a few rooms in fairly temperate winter weather.  However, the expectation to not rely on the cookstove as a heater was probably almost always unrealistic.  History is replete with accounts of early households for which the only source of heat in the winter was the kitchen stove, and I have also read (and know from the stories from my family) that even homes with furnaces or additional heating stoves counted on the heat from the kitchen stove to keep at least part of the house livable during winter weather.

It is my guess that most of the people who currently use a wood cookstove also rely on theirs for at least part of their home heating.  Present-day stove manufacturers certainly know this and have thus equipped modern cookstoves with far larger fireboxes than their predecessors had in order to meet that need.  Large modern firebox or small vintage firebox aside, there are a few steps that a cookstove operator can take that will result in the maximum amount of heat being radiated into the room.

The main theme of this discussion then focuses around surface area.  More surface area of the stove being heated and more surface area being exposed to the room results in more heat radiating from the stove.  On all of the cookstoves that I have looked at, the most effective thing to do then is to close the oven damper.

The oven damper in the closed or baking position.
Yeesh!  I just hate how I can't see the dust on
Marjorie in normal light, but a camera flash creates
a horror show.

This results in the heat of the fire having to travel over more area of the stove before it can escape up the chimney.  When the oven damper is open, some of the heat goes around the oven, but quite a lot can simply travel to the great outdoors in short order.

The next step would be to open the oven door.  This drastically increases the surface area which is radiating heat into the room.  As long as we are not baking something, the oven door on our cookstove is open nearly all winter long.

The open oven door.

The Margin Gem cookstove is equipped with a lever which, when in the open position, diverts some of the heat and smoke traveling around the oven so that it travels under the reservoir tank in order to get the reservoir water hotter than if it were just absorbing the head from the side of the stove.  Opening this lever causes the reservoir side of the stove to radiate more heat into the room because the reservoir itself reaches a higher temperature.

The lever in the open position to let the smoke and heat reach the
bottom of the reservoir.  Hmmm . . . Marjorie needs polishing too.

Lastly, when you have a fine draft (our kitchen chimney is superb in this regard) keep the stovepipe damper partially closed to retain more of the heat from the fire rather than just letting it rush up the chimney to the great outdoors.

The stovepipe damper on the Margin Gem is in
the length of stainless steel pipe (which comes
with the stove) between the cooktop and the
warming oven.

If you are a wood cookstove user, what do you do to get the most heat out of your stove?  Let us know by utilizing the comments field below.  Hope you are all keeping warm!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Danish Apple Bars with Brown Butter Frosting

Our apple crop this year has not been nearly so large as last year, and the quality of the apples is lesser also.  However, we have taken the opportunity to make a couple of these Danish Apple Bars. This is a perfect seasonal recipe for autumn when apples can seem to be multiplying before your very eyes and while the chickens begin to respond to the waning daylight by slackening off on their laying.

The first step is to cut 1 cup of vegetable shortening into 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour and a scant teaspoon of salt.  I always use a pastry blender for this job.

Shortening, flour, and salt blended together.
Next, place an egg yolk in a measuring cup.  Add a little vanilla and enough water or milk to make 2/3 c. of wet ingredients.  Beat the mixture until well combined.

The egg yolk, vanilla, and milk combined to make 2/3 cup.
Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine.  Do not over beat!  This is a pastry after all.
The completed pastry dough.
Divide the dough in half and roll one half into a 10x15-inch rectangle.  Line the bottom of a 10x15 jelly roll pan with this bottom crust.
The bottom crust in the jelly roll pan.
Next, peel eight to ten small baking apples and slice them thin as for pie.  Spread these on top of the bottom crust.  On top of the apples, sprinkle two handfuls of corn flakes (to absorb some of the moisture from the apples), one cup sugar, and one teaspoon of cinnamon.  I also added some raisins because I love them--in everything.  

The apple, corn flake, sugar, cinnamon, (and raisin) mixture.
Roll out the other half of the crust and put it on top of the fruit mixture.  Seal the edges.  Beat the egg white and brush it over the top of the upper crust.

The Danish Apple Bars ready to go into the oven.  My second
one of these of the season looked a lot better.
Bake in a moderately hot oven for 45-60 minutes.  The recipe says to bake it at 400 degrees for that amount of time, but I think that an oven closer to 375 degrees for about forty minutes seems better.  You be the judge based on how brown you want the crust to be and how thickly you have sliced the apples.
Danish Apple Bars baking in the oven of Marjorie, the Margin
Gem cookstove.

The finished bars.  The second batch of these was not so dark,
partly because I didn't put the egg white on top.

And now for my favorite part of the whole thing: the frosting!

Some of you may recall that I had written about the Applishus booths at the Iowa State Fair and how wonderful I consider their frosting.  This recipe is so similar to what they use that it may be the very same recipe.  I found it on page 339 of the 463-page Kitchen Klatter cookbook, a wonderful collection of recipes that I sometimes call "the southwest Iowa kitchen bible."  This was a very popular cookbook in our area in the middle of the last century, and it remains so popular that they are very hard to come by.

For the frosting, melt 1/4 cup of butter.

A half stick of butter melting over the fire.

Gently brown the butter.

Add the browned butter to two cups of powdered sugar.  Add 2 Tbls. cream, 2 Tbls. hot water, and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  Beat until smooth.

The finished frosting.
Drizzle frosting over the pastry.

Here are the same recipes in a little more accessible form:
Danish Apple Bars
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable shortening
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
enough water or milk with the above to ingredients to make 2/3 c.
Directions: Mix as for pie crust.  Roll out half to cover the bottom of a 10x15 inch jelly roll pan.
8-10 medium baking apples
1 c. sugar
2 handfuls corn flakes
1 tsp. cinnamon
Directions: 1. Peel and core apples, slice thin. 
2. Spread apples and rest of filling ingredients on bottom crust.
3. Roll out top crust and place over apple filling.  Seal edges.
4. Beat egg white and brush over top crust if desired.
5. Bake at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes until apples are done.  (See what I think about this above.)
 Brown Butter Frosting
(p. 339 of the Kitchen Klatter Cookbook, The Prairie Press, 17th Printing, March 1978)
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbls. cream
2 Tbls. hot water
1 1/2 tsp. Kitchen Klatter vanilla flavoring
Melt butter or margarine over a low flame until golden brown.  Remove from fire and add sugar, cream, water and vanilla.  Beat until smooth and creamy.
I have also used this recipe for making apple strudel.  Instead of making the pastry into bars that will be cut into squares, I roll the pastry out, put the apple filling along one side, then start rolling the fruit up in the pastry.  It works pretty slick.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Request for Information about the Olympic B-18 Range

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that every once in a while I get a comment from a reader that I feel needs more attention than it would receive if simply left in the comments section of a blog post. Such is the case with a recent comment put on the "Purchasing a New Wood Cookstove" entry from June 2013.

Blog reader Charlie G. asked if anyone had any information about the Olympic B-18 range made by the Washington Stove Works in Everett, Washington.  I will share the little bit that I had on hand here, but if any of you readers can help Charlie out, please use the comments section below.

The Olympic B-18 Family Range made by the
Washington Stove Works.  Pretty sharp looking
cookstove, in my opinion.

I knew which range Charlie was asking about because my grandmother on my dad's side was a great catalog saver.  I have 1950s Sears catalogs that she saved which were found "over top of the garage" and various catalogs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Thus, the picture that you see above is a scan of page 990 from a JCPenney catalog.  Unfortunately, I do not know the exact year because I took this scan from just a few pages that were removed from it.  I can say with certainty that this stove was not carried by Penney's in the early 1970s, but did appear in their catalogs for a space of about three years in the late 70s when wood heat was making a comeback due to high energy prices.

Compared to the other wood heating stoves that Penney's advertised on the near pages, the price of the Olympic was quite high, which leads me to believe that its quality might have been pretty good, too.

The catalog description reads as follows:

One of America's Classic Stoves . . . authentic down to the smallest detail.  Cast from original molds by Washington Stove Works, builders of fine wood-burning stoves since 1875.  All castings made of Western Gray Iron, famous for its strength and toughness.  Ideal for your home or country retreat.  Superbly crafted, this stove lets you heat a large room or cook a complete meal on its full-size, cast iron cooking surface.  This surface also has cast-iron polished tops, 32-in. rag rack and commercial-size 27x40-in. griddle.  Lids and center are reinforced to prevent warping, sagging and crackling.  Two center posts support the top section--helps keep it flat.  Linings are sectional to avoid burning out.  Oven is heavy-gauge, rust-resistant steel with heavy cast-iron braces.  The body is one-piece 20-gauge polished steel, features triple-wall construction accented with heavy nickel-plated trim and legs.  Kettle shown not included.  Firebox: 9 in. wide, 20 in. deep, 9 in. high.  Cooking surface:35 1/4 in. wide (wing shelf adds 4 1/2 in. to width), 26 1/2 in. deep, 31 1/2 in. high.  Oven: 18x18 1/2 x 13 in high.  Overall: 59 3/4 in. high.  Installation: use with 8-in. stovepipe, sold above, from stove to ceiling or wall.  Finish the installation with 8-in. Metalbestos Chimney Pipe, sold on page 998.  Not fully assembled--only pliers and screwdriver needed; instructions included.  See Clearance information below.  Warranted by manufacturer--see page 802.
RJ 904-2078 A--Delivery Class C--see page 808.  Wt. 490 lbs. ....1299.99

The clearance information states that the required space between the sides of the stove and a combustible wall is 36 inches.  The clearances from the stove to the outside edge of non-combustible floor protection is 12 inches on all sides.

Charlie is looking for any information that about this stove, and he wonders if anyone has an owner's manual.  Again, if you have any additional information, please utilize the comments feature below.

P.S.:  With the two brand new cookstoves that I have purchased in the last seventeen years, the information that came with them was sparse to say the least.  That's why I started this blog.  I'll do my best to answer any questions that anyone has.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Trivets and Simmering Pads: Keys to Stovetop Flexibility

It seems like I have written quite a bit about how to use the oven on a woodburning cookstove, but have written relatively little about using the cooktop.  I suppose this is partly due to the fact that stovetop cooking on a woodburning range is really pretty easy.  In a nutshell, high heat is directly over the firebox, medium heat is the middle section of the stovetop, and low heat is the section of the stovetop farthest from the fire.  All the cook needs to do is slide pots and pans to the location that is providing the desired level of heat . . . usually.

One of the things that can make stovetop cooking a bit challenging is that there are times when the whole cooktop is too hot for things that you want to cook very slowly or gently.  A stovetop which is too hot can be caused by a number of reasons.  The first and probably most common reason is that your fire is serving multiple functions.  For example, if you are baking something that needs a hot oven--say 400-425 degrees or more--or if your cookstove is doing double duty as the sole means of heating your home on a cold winter's night, your fire might be hot enough that the whole cooktop is running somewhere between what would be considered high or medium high heat on a modern range.

In his 1978 book entitled Wood Heat, John Vivian writes, "When there is a good baking fire going, there will be live flame under all lids and the entire cooktop will be hot enough to boil water with the lids in place."  In my experience, the "live flame under all the lids" part isn't true, but the part about the entire cooktop being able to boil water certainly is.

Sometimes you also need a hot fire because of what you are doing on the cooktop itself.  If you are canning--especially in the case of water bath canning--or heating large amounts of water for laundry, you might need a raging fire beneath just part of the cooktop.  What you are trying to cook on the rest of the stovetop might not benefit at all from such an intense heat.

Furthermore, in the case of small cookstoves (see the pic of my brother's), two-lid kitchen heaters, boxwood stoves, or combination ranges where the wood heated cooktop is abbreviated, the heat of the cooktop might be uniformly hot when you need a variety of heat levels. 

This is where trivets and simmering pads come in handy.  By raising a cooking vessel enough that it no longer is making direct contact with the stovetop, they reduce the amount of heat which is being transferred from the stove to the food.  These wood cookstove accessories can be found in just about any shape or form and are generally inexpensive.   I added to my collection of these over the summer, so I thought I would show them to you.

Starting at the top left side and working clockwise, a grate from
the sidecar burner of a gas grill, the new round simmering pad from
the Goodwill Warehouse, a relatively new perforated steel simmering
pad, a "burner shield" still with its original packaging, and the four-
point star that belonged to my Granny.
The square grate that you see at the top left is the grate that went over the top of the sidecar burner on a gas grill.  We live on the road that takes people from the western side of our county to the county trash compactor, and occasionally, some interesting things end up in our ditches because they blow out of the back of pickups on the way there.  Several years ago, a gas grill that was long past its prime had exited its transport in just that fashion, and there were gas grill parts everywhere.  I rummaged through them and salvaged this nifty little piece.  I have used it a few times.  Since it holds a pan about three-quarters of an inch off the stovetop, it can provide a nice warm spot for something to rest, or when placed directly over the firebox, I've seen pots boil while sitting on it too.
The round simmering pad at the right rear was at the Goodwill Warehouse this summer, and I felt that it needed to go home with me.  You buy merchandise by the pound there, so I estimate that I paid about $.80 for it.  I'll let you know how I like it once I've used it.
The simmering pad at the lower right is one that I purchased new shortly after buying the Qualified range in 1997.  I found it in a hardware store in Atlantic, Iowa, and snatched it up in a hurry because I knew that my great-grandmother had owned one just like it.  It is constructed of two perforated steel disks that are fastened together so that there is about a half inch between them.  Originally, it had a handle on it which connected to the little tab that you can see at the very right edge of the picture.  However, the handle had a plastic cover that was not removable, and I found the angle at which it rose to be bothersome for large pots, so I took the handle off.  This pad has seen considerable use and has proven very helpful on our new gas range too.
The "burner shield" with the red and white card still attached to it in the front center of the picture was purchased for a dollar at a local estate sale this summer.  The card says, "Simply place Burner Shield on top of burner and cook as usual.  Protects glass teakettles, sauce pans, casserole dishes, etc."  Obviously, I haven't used it yet, either.
The four-pointed star in the lower left is basically the same thing as the aforementioned "burner shield."  The difference--other than the shape--is that the four-point star is made of a much narrower gauge wire.  This belonged to my grandmother on my dad's side, whom we all called Granny.  She used this little thing daily because she had one of those clear Pyrex Flameware teakettles that were popular in the middle of the last century which she used to boil water for instant coffee every morning.  This little star was a fixture on the Qualified range for years, but has only recently made its way to the Margin Gem.  It has seen quite a bit of use over the years, too.
Other than actually cooking on them, I have also used trivets and simmering pads to keep finished foods warm.  For example, when cooking a large meal where mashed potatoes are the staple, a simmering pad is the perfect place to let the kettle of potatoes rest after they are mashed while the meat is carved. 
Instead of using trivets and simmering pads, I've read about people using regular building bricks on top of their stoves, and I have seen pictures of people using very short pieces of sawed off metal pipes, too.  Clearly, several different options exist, but I'm pleased with my collection here because they won't leave scratches or grit on my stovetop like pipe or bricks might.
If you are a wood cookstove cook, or even a woodstove cook, please let me know what sorts of trivets and simmering pads you use if they differ from mine.  It's helpful to me and to other cooks to have as much information as possible here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Little Information about Maintaining Dual Hot Water Systems

The trees and the grass in the lawn are still arrayed in the deep greens of late summer, but the corn and beans have begun to turn here, and my nephew (four years old) announced last weekend that harvest is coming soon.

He is indeed right.  The weather turned sharply cooler this week too, so my thoughts are turning toward more regular use of the cookstove.  One of the aspects of having the stove steadily fired that I'm really looking forward to is having it supply our hot water.  I'm looking forward to this because it results in such a savings on our electric bill and because the water that comes out of the tap is so much hotter than what we have our electric water heater set at.

Having dual hot water systems creates for us a unique set of maintenance routines.  Last year, we turned our electric hot water heater off in late September and didn't turn it back on again until late May.  It was the second heating season in which we had turned off the electric hot water heater for an extended period of time.

Before we had installed the Margin Gem with the water jacket system, I was telling my uncle about our plans to shut off our tank-type hot water heater during the winter.  He didn't think this was a good idea at all.  He works as an electrician and has seen a number of vile occurrences in people's homes and said that the inside of a turned-off water heater is the beginning of all kinds of nasty things.  I, however, am unwilling to heat water that we are not intending to use, so I went ahead with turning off the electric water heater. 

What has happened each winter, though, is that the water in the electric hot water heater does sour after about the third month of it being off.  This is not a humongous problem, however.  Both the electric hot water intake and supply lines are equipped with gate valves about a foot above the water heater, so those are both shut off.  When we are far enough into the spring that we are going to use the electric hot water heater, I drain and flush the tank, let it fill again, and turn it on.  Initially, the water does have a slightly objectionable smell to it.  After the water heater has been on for a couple of days, I completely empty the tank again, but since it is hot water this time and I am so frugal, I empty it by washing clothes in hot water in the top-loading automatic washer and the wringer-washer.

Now, because I fear the same situation happening in the water heating system attached to the cookstove, I make sure that we use the Margin Gem at least once a month during the summer season.  We make sure to switch the valves in the water lines so that the water heated by the cookstove is used, thereby circulating fresh water into the system.

I don't want the water in the wood heated system to sour because there is no easy way to drain the system.  The Vaughn range boiler has a tapping on the very bottom of the tank which would have been ideal for a drain valve.  However, due to the low height of the legs on the bottom of the tank and the fact that our tank sits on a marble slab, the plumber could not attach a fitting to the bottom of the tank. 

A photo of our range boiler before it was attached
to the Margin Gem range.

I think that what I'm going to try to do this winter is to occasionally circulate fresh water through the electric hot water heater by setting the top-loading automatic washing machine to the hot water cycle, but washing a load of clothes in the cold water that would come from the turned-off water heater.  I can't use the high-efficiency washing machine in this scheme because it senses the water temperature and heats what has come into the washer to the temperature that it desires according to its setting.  Hopefully, this plan will alleviate the easy but inconvenient task of draining and flushing the electric hot water heater in the spring.

Of course, we use well water here on the farm.  What I'd like to know from my readers is whether this situation as I've described it would happen to people whose homes are served by chlorinated water.  Does chlorinated water ever sour in a turned-off water heater?  If you have a range boiler system which is hooked up to a chlorinated water supply, are you able to leave your wood-fired hot water system unfired for the entirety of the summer without any adverse effects?  Please let me know by utilizing the comments section below.  Thanks for your help!