Thursday, September 19, 2019

Answer to Request for a Diagram of the Cookstove Hot Water System

Yesterday, I received a request for a diagram of our hot water system from a reader who is installing a similar system.  I apologize for my extremely poor artistic ability, but here it is.  I put together two views since the plumbing is divided up that way.  Below the diagrams, you will see a key to the red letters in case the words on the diagrams are too difficult to read. The scan is long, though, so you'll have to scroll down through quite a bit of white space in order to see the key.

A. Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) Valves
B. Hot Water Line which exits the top of the waterfront on the cookstove, carrying hot water into the top portion of the boiler.
C. Check Valve which allows cool water from the bottom of the boiler to only flow toward the stove, not vice versa.
D. Cool Water Line through which cool water from the bottom of the boiler flows into the bottom of the waterfront on the cookstove.
E. (left side diagram) All TPR valves are connected to a common drain pipe which empties toward the floor drain in the basement.

E. (right side diagram, sorry!) Hot Water Pipe exiting the top of the boiler.
F. Tempering Valve-Hot water from the top pipe enters this valve and is mixed with cold water from the supply line in order to have control over the temperature of the water in the household system.
G. Cold water enters the boiler at the mid point opening.
H. Hot Water Line to household system.
I. Cold Water Supply Line

Here are some actual pictures of the system:

I hope this answer's the reader's question.  If not, let me know in the comments what more I could help with.  The system certainly works well!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Some Vintage Instructions for Roasting Beef in a Wood Cookstove

I'm beginning to feel the itch to cook on the wood cookstove.  I had hoped that I would get the Riverside Bakewell, the Hayes-Custer, or even my brother's Montgomery Ward hooked up in the summer kitchen over the last few months, but this whole being a new author thing has taken up far more time than I imagined (very excited about it, though).

It is too warm and humid to fire up the Margin Gem, and the forecast for the next few days looks like that trend is going to continue.  However, on my way to school the last couple of days, I've been watching fields of corn and soybeans that are beginning to turn, so my mind is looking ahead to the days when a fire will be burning in the kitchen stove once again.

As I was thinking about this, I ran across a recipe from 1872 that I copied from the Anita, Iowa, centennial cookbook late last school year.  Really, I wouldn't call it a recipe so much as it is directions for how to cook a roast in a wood cookstove, and even at that, the directions are pretty sparse.  What I do think it shows well is how efficient cooks thought of ways to stretch the meat and how one might have handled the lack of refrigeration in the early 1870s.  I've been told before that beef was the early cook's friend because of its relative shelf stability compared to other meats.

These directions were shared by Mrs. William A. Suplee.

To roast in a cooking stove, the fire must have careful attention lest the meat should burn.  Lay it, well floured and seasoned, into a dripping pan, with rather more than enough water to cover the bottom.  Turn the pan around often, that all parts may be equally roasted, and baste frequently.  The oven should be quite hot when the beef is first put in that the outside may cook quickly and thus retain the juices.  A large roast of 8 or 10 pounds is much better and more economical than a small one, even in a small family.  The first day it can be served rare; that which is near the outside will be well enough done for anyone.  It can be re-roasted the next day.  If much remains, serve cold on the next, or cut in very thin slices, dip each one in flour, then chop 2 onions fine.  Place a layer of meat in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and onion.  Above this, place a layer of sliced or canned tomatoes.  Alternate layers until the dish is nearly full, moistening with the gravy.  Place a layer of tomatoes upon the top.  Fill with boiling water, cover with a plate, and bake 2 hours.

I don't think I'll be trying to stretch one roast over three days like this because Nancy isn't fond of leftovers, and the method of serving it the third day doesn't appeal to me because I'm not that fond of tomatoes cooked like that.  Thus, I'll stick to my method of roasting beef in the cookstove, which you can find at this link, but it is fun to read vintage pieces of kitchen advice.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Big News! But It Doesn't Have Much to Do with Cookstoves

I have hinted to some of you that I haven't been posting on this blog as regularly as I liked because I was spending all of my writing time working on a different extensive writing project that I would share with you all later. Well, it is later!

I have written and published a novel, and it is now available for sale. Published through WestBow Press, it will be available in bookstores soon, but it is already available online in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.  Copies can be purchased at the following links:

Here is the back text:

On the run after committing a crime and deserting the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1935, Harlan Jensen has been riding the rails and living in fear that someone will recognize him. Hunger causes him to jump off a train at the Meyer farm in rural West Pottawattamie County, Iowa, where he plans to work just long enough to earn a square meal and then be on his way. Elsie Meyer, the farmwife who feeds him, knows more about God's plan for his life than he does, though. Harlan is the answer to her prayers. Just before harvest, her husband suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed and mute, so the Meyers had asked God to send a farmhand. Harlan is surprised to discover a family's love, an unexpected romance, and the grace of Jesus. But everything in his life changes as he learns the truth of Proverbs 28:13: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper."

The cover looks like this:

As it is set on an Iowa farm in 1935, I do mention the woodburning cookstove a couple of times because I couldn't resist, of course.  However, it is certainly not the main focus of the novel.

We will be having the formal book launch on Monday evening, Sept. 9, at the Underwood Monday Market, which runs from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. south of UMBA Hall in Underwood, Iowa.  Copies will be available for purchase there, but if you can't wait that long to get yours, just bring your copy to the market and I will be glad to sign it then if you wish.

I apologize to any of my readers who may be offended that I used this post as a shameless plug rather than writing about wood cookstoves, but I promise that more on-topic posts are coming!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Roast Lamb Grandma Marian Style

When I was little, my grandparents on my mom's side raised sheep.  Cattle were always their main focus, but they still had sheep around from when my aunt Cheri raised them during her 4-H career.  We even got in on it one spring when they had a bottle lamb that my grandparents thought we kids would enjoy taking care of.  "Linda the Lamb" came to live with us in a big cardboard box in the basement garage of the little house, and eventually she moved to a pen to the west of the driveway where a second garage now sits.

I raised sheep when I was in 4-H, too, and in fact, I didn't get rid of them until shortly after Nancy and I were married.  Thus, at various points in my life, lamb has been a common item on the menu.  

Grandma Marian was a fantastic cook in her day, as I've mentioned several times on this blog, and when she served lamb, no one ever turned their nose up at it.  It was always delicious!  Of course, she wasn't using a wood cookstove by the time I came along, but that would have only improved the flavor.

Here is what she did:

1. Place the lamb roast in an enamel roaster that has a lid.  If you want, you can brown the roast in a little bit of butter over a brisk fire to begin with. Sometimes Grandma did this, and other times she did not.  When I cooked the roast in the pictures for this post, I did not brown it before putting it in the oven.

2. Season the roast with salt and pepper, being a little less generous with the salt and more generous with the pepper.

3. (This was one of her secrets.)  Sprinkle the roast with marjoram leaves. Whenever she cooked any kind of lamb, she insisted it ALWAYS be seasoned with marjoram.

4. On top of the marjoram, place several bay leaves.  She would always put bay leaves on a beef roast, too.

5. Then, she would drape the lamb roast in slices of bacon.  The bacon is the reason that one can get away with using less salt in step two above.  I operate under the premise that "Bacon and butter make everything better," and it certainly holds true in this case.  As my own addition, I sprinkle a little pepper over it all once more because I am very fond of peppered bacon.

6. Put the lid on the roaster and put it in a moderately slow oven (about 325ºF) until it reaches the doneness you desire.  I prefer lamb roast to be well done.  In the picture below, I baked potatoes in the same oven for the same amount of time, and everything was cooked in a little over an hour and a half.

The roast and potatoes were accompanied with the broccoli that you see over the firebox at the left in the photo below.  The roast was very good, but the bacon was awesome!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Homemade Chicken Nuggets on the Wood Cookstove: A Gluten Free Meat Stretcher

This is the first time that I've ever posted a recipe on my blog that involves deep-fat frying on the wood cookstove.  We don't deep-fat fry often at all, but I'd like to.  I have to admit that I enjoy fried foods.  I always say that if someone deep-fat fried rocks, I'd eat them.

Historically, wood cookstove cooks were very willing to deep-fat fry foods (especially breads) because it is easier to manage the temperature of the cooking oil than the temperature of the oven.  Now, please don't read the last sentence and believe that it is difficult to bake in a wood cookstove. We do have to consider, however, the fact some stove designs are better than others; and no matter what design the stove is, stovetop cooking is easier than baking.  Of course, people also didn't consider fried foods as unhealthy as they do now.

So, for my first post about deep-fat frying on a wood cookstove, I'd like to share with you my method for making homemade chicken nuggets.  You might find it odd that I called chicken nuggets a meat stretcher, and I can assure you that I was very surprised to find out that this was so.  Here's how it works: If Nancy and I were going to have Poor Man's Chicken Monterey, I would cook two chicken breasts.  However, if we were going to have homemade chicken nuggets, one chicken breast would be more than sufficient.  Thus, you can stretch a small amount of chicken over quite a few people by using this method of preparing it.

Here is what you need:

Baking Powder
Pepper and Seasoned Salt (or whatever seasonings you want)
Chicken (We use either boneless breasts or thighs.)

Now, the first thing to do is to build a hot fire in the wood cookstove. Whenever you deep-fat fry, you  need a very hot fire.

Second, put an inch of oil in the bottom of some kind of pan with tall sides. I like to deep-fat fry in a cast iron chicken fryer.  You want something with tall sides so that the hot oil doesn't slosh or splatter out onto the cooktop of the stove.  Place the pan of oil on the hottest part of the cooktop to begin heating.  It goes without saying that whenever you have oil heating for deep-fat frying, you want to keep an eye on it.  This is especially true when you are heating oil on any kind of stove where the heat beneath the oil is not under thermostatic control.

Usually, the hottest part of the cooktop on the Margin Gem is
right between the two lids over the firebox and slightly to the
right. Thus, this is where the pan of oil for frying the chicken
 nuggets was placed.
The third thing to do is cut the chicken up into small pieces.  Usually, I try to cut the pieces into 1" x 2" pieces that are about 3/8" thick.  You can make them as large as you want, but the smaller they are, the quicker they will cook and the further you can stretch the meat.

The chicken cut into small pieces for making the nuggets.  We
were using boneless thighs in this picture.
Next, beat two eggs in a medium to large mixing bowl.  (I prefer to use a bowl that has a fairly flat bottom to make coating the chicken easier, so I usually use our 8-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup.)

Add 1 cup of cornstarch, about 3/4 tsp. baking powder, pepper and seasoned salt to taste, and enough buttermilk to make a batter that is a little thicker than pancake and waffle batter.  Using cornstarch instead of flour is what makes this recipe gluten-free, and it also allows the batter to cling to the chicken better.

Dip the chicken pieces into the batter, being sure to coat them on all sides. Place them in the hot oil and begin frying them on one side.

Fry them until they are a deep golden brown on the bottom side.  The fire should be kept very hot during the entire time that the nuggets are frying.

I moved the pan a little so that I could get a shot of the raging
fire I had under the chicken nuggets.

Turn the nuggets over with a fork so that they can fry on the other side.  As long as the size of the chicken pieces has been kept fairly thin, there won't be any trouble with the chicken being thoroughly cooked in the same amount of time it takes for the outside of them to become a nice golden brown.

Remove the chicken nuggets to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain and cool a little before they are eaten.

Finished chicken nuggets.

I like to dip my chicken nuggets in sweet and sour sauce, whereas Nancy prefers barbecue sauce or ranch dressing.  Either way, these are cheap and quick.

Some words of caution about deep-fat frying on a wood cookstove:

1. Oil spilled on the cooktop can easily ignite.  At the very least, it will smoke horribly, so be careful to prevent that.

2. In order to adjust the heat beneath the frying oil, you may need to move the pan around on the stovetop.  This can be dangerous, so be careful!

3. As soon as you are done frying, you'll need to remove the pan of hot oil from the stove.  This also can be dangerous, so plan accordingly.

And a hint:

In order to get the oil for deep-fat frying hot enough, I sometimes have had to remove one of the lids over the fire and place the pan directly above the flames.  This does perhaps elevate the level of danger, but I'm not sure that it would be any worse than deep-fat frying over a gas flame.

I hope to eventually share a few more deep-fat fried recipes, but even though I enjoy fried foods, I don't make them at home very often.

As a record-keeping side note, we operated the Margin Gem daily from September 21, 2018, to May 14, 2019.  I would have liked to continue using the stove daily well after the fourteenth of May, but though we haven't been affected at all by the local flooding, we have had a very wet spring, and we just plain ran out of dry fuel.  We have run the stove a couple of times in the month of June, too, since it's been pretty cool a lot of the summer.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Moving the Summer Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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