Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rosalie's Spice Bars

While we have been waiting for the house kitchen to progress far enough that we can install Marjorie the Margin Gem, precious little baking has been done around here since June.  I've mentioned in other posts that we have a couple of 20" propane stoves in the basement that we've been trying to limp along with, and we've learned to do some baking in the electric roaster, but neither of these methods are quite satisfactory, especially since the ovens on both of the stoves are wonky.  The one that I thought was stuck at 350 degrees no matter what seems not to be so attached to 350 as it used to be and has begun to run a little too cool for anything other than roasting or cooking things "en casserole."

Side note: I'm amused at how cooking on a wood burning cookstove gets in your blood and changes your thought processes.  When I began to notice that the oven on the propane stove wasn't hot enough and knew that turning the dial resulted in nothing, I experienced a fleeting moment when my mind was instinctually wondering what small sticks or corn cobs I could put in the broiler drawer to get the oven hotter.  Obviously, I didn't go so far as to try such an outrageous thing, but nonetheless, the thought most certainly crossed my mind before I was jolted back to reality by the cognizance that I could easily burn our house down by doing a thing like that.

At any rate, when Nancy suddenly remembered that she might need a pan of bars for our church's potato bake tomorrow, our only real options for accomplishing such a thing that had any sort of quality were to travel to either her folks' or my folks' houses and bake there or fire up the range in the summer kitchen.  We had already been away from home twice today, so I wasn't too excited about going anywhere and therefore chose to build a fire out in the summer kitchen.

The last time that I cooked on a wood cookstove was for the family reunion in August.  For me, this has been a long, long time.  In fact, this is the longest I've been away from a cookstove in ten years, and I've just got to say that tonight's baking felt good.  I trust that other wood cookstove enthusiasts out there will know exactly what I mean.  Standing next to a wood cookstove that is hot enough to bake in just plain feels right to me.  I probably can't even describe it adequately, but tonight while I was down in the summer kitchen working over the stove, it struck me that I feel like a stove ought to be a presence and a personality rather than a sterile, dead box.  Even in the summer, when the heat of the cookstove literally drives me out of the summer kitchen, it seems like it still subconsciously feels right.

Anyway, enough with this waxing poetic.  On to the recipe and pictures!

Tonight, I decided to make Rosalie's Spice Bars.  Rosalie is a former neighbor and longtime family friend, and she is an excellent cook.  Many recipes in my family's boxes bear her name.  Generally, our family simply calls these "Raisin Bars" because the raisins are really more the star ingredient than the two teaspoons of cinnamon which constitute the only spice in the whole recipe.

I chose this recipe tonight because it makes a large batch of bars, but I consider it a good wood cookstove recipe because you have to parboil the raisins before baking the bars.  I think that any recipe for something that starts with top-of-the-stove cooking but ends with baking is particularly well suited to the wood cookstove because it allows you to utilize the heat that the stove is emitting while you wait for the oven to heat.

Rosalie's Spice Bars


1 and 1/2 cups raisins parboiled
1 cup reserved raisin water
1 cup shortening at room temperature
1 1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour

Start by placing one and a half cups of raisins in a saucepan.  Put enough water over them to cover them.  Place directly over the firebox and bring to a boil.  Once they have boiled, pull them over to the coolest part of the cooktop to steep for bit while you mix the other ingredients.

Cream the shortening and the sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs.  Mix in the soda, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Drain the raisins, reserving the one cup of liquid.  Add the flour alternately with the hot raisin water.  The dough will be kind of fluffy.  Fold in the cooked raisins.  Pour into a greased 12" x 17" jelly roll pan.  Bake in a moderate oven until a fork inserted in the center tests done.  Let cool and frost with caramel frosting or cream cheese frosting.  We always use caramel frosting.  I'll put that recipe in a later post.


Raisin bar batter ready to go into the jelly roll pan
while a hot fire burns in the wood cookstove.
There is no electricity in the summer kitchen, so this
picture is taken in the light of an oil lamp.

The bars being put into the oven of the cookstove.  We used
the camera's flash in this picture and the next so that the color
of the bars is visible.

Golden brown doneness!  You can see that they cooked very evenly.
I turned them once after about fifteen minutes of baking.

A view from the top so that you can see the texture. 
Obviously, a smaller pan would be a problem!



They should be cool enough to frost now, so I'd better go take care of them.  They will be delicious!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kitchen Progress


When we got home tonight, we discovered that we are one step closer to having Marjorie the Margin Gem installed in our house kitchen.  Our cabinet builder installed the woodbox/boiler stand that will be behind the cookstove.  The carpenter brought the boiler in (which we spray painted the silver color) from the shed and put it where it will stand so that we could see what it would look like.  The bottom cabinet is a large, deep drawer that will be our woodbox.  The part that is Durock will be covered with tile to match that which is on the chimney (last week's progress).  Many things have to be done before the stove is in, but we can see movement!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Waiting Patiently for a Kitchen

As I blog tonight, I feel a little guilty about doing so because the pile of school papers that I should be checking is quite high.  I guess I'd better make this short.

Progress on the house kitchen is slow at best, but at least we do have progress.  Drywall is in, and mudding should be complete early next week.  Our cabinet makers, who are basically in charge of everything from here on, will be here next week to lay everything out on the floor so we can "walk through" the actual dimensions of things.  After that, the chimney needs to have its exterior tiled, the cabinet which will sit behind the stove and hold the water boiler needs to be constructed, and the floor needs to be refinished.  Then, we will be ready to have Marjorie the Margin Gem cookstove make her way from the utility room, where she sits in a depressing state of disassembly, to the kitchen.  We won't be able to fire her until the plumbing is hooked up and water is in the waterfront, though.  Firing a cookstove that has a waterfront which has no water in it is risky business because dry waterfronts can be damaged too easily.

At any rate, I am hoping that I'll get to bake Thanksgiving pies in the Margin Gem.  I know that we won't be in any kind of shape to host Thanksgiving (much to my disappointment), but if I can just cook part of the meal here and haul it to Mom and Dad's, I'll have to be satisfied with that.

Fortunately, God has blessed us with a very warm autumn so far, so we haven't missed the heat of the cookstove very much.  Our little Jotul has had a fire in it only three times, and that has been enough to keep us sufficiently warm.  Since school started, time has been in short supply, so cooking down in the summer kitchen has not been feasible.  We have two old 20" propane stoves in the basement of the house, and most of the cooking has been done down there.  The only problem is that both of the ovens are wonky; one is basically unusable, and the other is stuck at 350 degrees no matter what temperature it is set at.  I've been learning to do some baking in an electric roaster, but I certainly miss the cookstove.

A view of the Qualified Range in the kitchen before
we began remodeling.
Some people have asked what we will be doing with the old Qualified Range.  Right now the Margin Gem cookstove is barricading it in the utility room, and it too is in a sad state of disassembly.  The answer to the question is that we have no idea yet.  I want to hold onto it until I have decided for sure whether I like the Margin Gem.  I can't imagine not liking the new stove, but it doesn't seem prudent to get rid of the Qualified until we're sure.

As money is always tight around here, one of the things that I've thought about is selling the Qualified Range to someone local and offering a couple of free lessons on how to cook on it.  I would love to have another wood cookstove cook close by to exchange ideas with.  We'll see.  As it is, I'd better go find my red pen and get back to my real job.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Marjorie Has Arrived!

Until June of this year, we had a Qualified woodburning cookstove in our house kitchen.  I had ordered it from Lehman Hardware back in 1997 when I lived in the little house on our farm.  I cooked on it a little over a year in that house, then it got a year's vacation when I moved into the big farmhouse.  Once I had the old kitchen chimney re-lined with stainless steel pipe during the next summer, the Qualified was again in use.  This stove has cooked a great deal of food (including four or five Thanksgiving Dinners), done a lot of canning, dried a lot of clothes, heated a fair amount of water, and saved us a ton of money in home heating. 

The Qualified keeping us warm a couple of days after Christmas 2007.

The Qualified working hard during "Apple Fest" in 2008 or 2009.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, we are currently remodeling our house kitchen.  There is nothing wrong with the Qualified, but we wanted an airtight firebox (I don't much enjoy middle-of-the-night trips downstairs from a warm bed to refuel) and a stove that would heat our hot running water.  As a part of the remodel, we removed the Qualified in June and ordered a Margin Gem cookstove from Stoves and More Online.  It arrived this month and now sits awaiting the kitchen remodel to be finished.  We named the stove Marjorie because Marjorie the Margin Gem seems to have a nice ring to it.

Marjorie was shipped from the Canadian factory to the Conway trucking terminal nearest us, and I went to pick her up after school a couple of weeks ago.  She spent a few days in the back of my grandma's pickup in a shed here on the farm, and then we uncrated her and invited helpers over to put her in the utility room for right now.  There she will sit in a sad state of disassembly until the kitchen is ready.

I wanted to post a few pictures that may help to illustrate how she was crated since I was quite curious to know about this before she arrived.  I'll apologize right now for ruining the pictures by being in them.  As you can see, I was not in charge of the camera.

The crate as it looked when loaded by forklift to the back of the pickup.

Reservoir side of the stove once the right end panel of the crate was removed.
The backsplash and warming oven were in a cardboard box that lay horizontally
on the cooktop.

Same view with two more panels of the crate removed.

The body of the stove was covered by cardboard which was strapped to it with metal bands.


Once the cardboard was removed, the plastic that the stove had been wrapped in was accessible.

Note the 2x4 frame attached to the bottom of the crate to support the oven side during shipping.

Front view with custom order sticker still attached beneath the firebox door. 
I'm figuring out how to remove the firebrick to make it as light as possible for unloading.
We can't wait to get it installed, but we have a long way to go before the kitchen will be ready.  My goal is to have Marjorie employed by November.  We'll see.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wood Cookstove Cooking for the Family Reunion

Since Nancy and I live on the home place for my father's side of the family, we host a family reunion every so many years.  My dad's brothers and sisters and their families all come, and we have a great time being together, playing together, visiting together, and, of course, eating together.  My dad also had nine aunts and uncles on his mother's side of the family, and that branch traditionally had get togethers at our home when my grandparents lived here, so we invite his first cousins as well.  If I have counted correctly, we only had 39 guests at our maximum on Saturday night, but we planned on about fifty.  We actually ended up with enough food for 100, I think.

At any rate, we used the cookstove in the summer kitchen to cook corn on the cob for the crowd, so I wanted to show you a few pictures of what we did. 

My brother slow roasted a hog that he had purchased at the 4-H premium sale at our county fair.  He had lots of help and interested onlookers, and it smelled fantastic all day.  He set up the borrowed cooker next to the summer kitchen so that water was nearby.


Supper was scheduled for six in the evening, so I started the fire in the stove in plenty of time to get water boiling for the sweet corn.  We had four pots of corn cooking at once.

Lids removed on the pots to the right for the photo only.

Once the sweet corn was cooked, I pulled it out of the pots and put it in a stainless steel bowl.  The bowl was put on a cast iron trivet and sort of rested above the reservoir and the far right side of the cooktop.  The stove was putting out plenty of heat to keep the corn hot, and I poured a little bit of the water from one of the pots that the corn was cooked in into the bottom of the bowl just to create steam to keep the corn moist.



The large cooktop of the wood cookstove certainly came in handy for cooking for a large crowd!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grilling on the Wood Cookstove

One of our favorite types of cooking to do on our wood cookstoves has always been grilling--especially during the winter.  It's a long ways from winter around here with highs in the 90s, but we don't own a regular grill, so we used the Riverside Bakewell in the summer kitchen to grill beef filets for our Sunday noon dinner.  I think grilling on the cookstove is particularly efficient because the same fire that you use to grill can accomplish multiple other cooking tasks.  As with most cooking on a wood cookstove, it is all about the rhythm.  Here is what I did today.

The first thing that I did was put the defrosted beef filets in a marinade that I concocted.  Nancy could tell you the name of the Jersey/Simmental cross steer that made the ultimate sacrifice in order to provide us with the filets, but I've forgotten.

Second, I started the cookstove in the summer kitchen the way that I always do.  When the fire reached the point where I could put larger pieces of wood on it, I was a bit more discriminating than usual about the kind of wood that I added.   Cooks seem to pretty much universally agree that the best way to cook meat on a wood fire is to cook it using coals because they provide a more predictable and even intensity of heat and there is little risk of coals imparting a smoky taste to the food.  Of course, hickory would probably be the ideal wood to use because it is coveted for the flavor that it gives to meats.  We don't have hickory available to us here, though, so fruitwood is my best choice. 

Digression: I'm told that my great-great grandfather always used silver maple to smoke pork, so I feel comfortable using it, too, when it is available.  Maple is less ideal than fruitwood, however, because it is generally lighter and therefore doesn't provide a long-lasting bed of hot coals quite so easily.  End of digression.

I would caution against considering Mulberry a suitable fruitwood for grilling.  I think that Mulberry, while a good wood to burn, has acrid smoke which would render any food that was exposed to it quite unappetizing.

On this particular occasion, I used some small pieces of ornamental pear that my parents cut for me after they lost the tree in a storm last year.  Isn't that one of the beauties of a wood cookstove?  What would ordinarily be carted off as garbage created by a storm can be used to cook a complete meal.

While these pieces of wood were initially burning, I started cooking the meal with my pots arranged as you see below. 

Beginnings of dinner on the wood cookstove.
The larger pot at the back was half filled with water coming to a boil for the sweet corn.  The pot at the front is our potatoes.  The coffee pot and teakettle are full of water to absorb extra heat from the cooktop.  The firebox door is open for taking this picture so that you can see that we have a rapid fire burning.

Sweet corn has just been added to the boiling water at the back of the firebox.

Once the potatoes had come to a boil, I had to cock the lid a little so that they didn't boil over.  I didn't move them away from the firebox right away because I wanted them to cook as quickly as possible in the beginning because they would be moved away from the firebox in a little while.  Once the water for the corn had come to a boil, I put in the ears of corn--which I had stolen from the raccoons, by the way.  It is quite clear to them that they own the patch and I am the interloper.

I put the lid on the corn and moved the potatoes to the back of the stove where they continued to boil, but less rapidly.  I then removed the lid over the front part of the firebox and placed over it a grill salvaged from a long-defunct Hibachi.  We saved the grill for just this sort of cooking.  The marinated steaks are then put directly over the fire.  I try to be very careful that the steaks do not rest over any part of the stove's cooktop because their drippings will make a mess on the iron that may eventually smoke into the room as it burns off.  Smoke resulting from drippings that go into the fire is carried out the chimney.


I suppose that one could cook the steaks sufficiently just like this, but in my experience, three undesirable things can happen at this point: a) the usual draft of the stove is spoiled, and cool air rushes right past the cooking meat to the fire, slowing the cooking considerably, or b) if the chimney to which the stove is connected has a slow draft, a lot of smoke escapes into the room, and c) at the very least, the sides of the steaks don't cook as thoroughly as I like them to.  For these reasons, we place a lid over the steaks that we are grilling on the cookstove.  The lid also adds a certain measure of safety in preventing sparks from escaping the fire into your house, although I have never had a problem with that while grilling.


The lid that you see in this picture is used solely for the purpose of grilling on the cookstove.  It came from a very thin stockpot that bit the dust some time ago, but it is perfect for this type of cooking because it is large enough to fit completely over the grill and tall enough to accomodate a fairly thick cut of meat.  A word of caution here: the under side of this lid looks like it has been used to grill meat, and no amount of scrubbing so far has successfully changed this, even though it feels clean.

By this time, the fire was reduced to just coals, so I scraped the coals to the front of the firebox so that they were all under the steaks.

View of the firebox from the feed door on the left side.

Even though the coals were all in the front of the firebox, their heat was sufficient to bring the sweet corn back to a boil and continue cooking the potatoes.


You can see that I had to move the potatoes closer to the fire after the fire had died down, to keep them cooking as quickly as I wanted them to.  For this picture, I had taken the lids off everything, but with the lids on, both the potatoes and the corn were at a pretty fast boil.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the final meal once it was plated.  You'll just have to take my word for it when I say that it was delicious--especially the steaks.

Some side notes: 

1. If the coals begin to get ashy on the top and cool down, simply stir them a little with your poker; the ash will be knocked off, making them radiate more heat again.

2. To cook larger amounts of meat, I have used the same timing/rhythm with the side dishes, but removed both lids over the firebox as well as the "T" and placed a rectangular rack from a gas grill over the fire.  For a lid, I used the liner from an old electric roaster.  Of course, you want the firebox to have a full bed of coals in this case.  I once cooked steaks for about a dozen people on the Qualified Range in the dead of winter that way.

3. In the absence of good firewood for this purpose, I have used charcoal in the cookstove in order to grill like this.  I was disappointed at the large amount of charcoal that was necessary to achieve a high enough heat, however.

4. All chimneys are different, and the same chimney can behave differently in differing weather conditions.  I have found that it is sometimes necessary to at least partially open the oven damper to prevent too much smoke from entering the room while grilling.  This can make difficulties if one of your side dishes is baked and it hasn't finished cooking before you begin your grilling.


If your wood cookstove is one that has removable lids, I recommend giving grilling a try sometime.  I have to admit to feeling quite smug in January when we have treated ourselves to a grilled steak without ever having to brave the cold outdoors.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cheating with Your Wood Cookstove: Shrimp and Broccoli Alfredo

I hadn't planned on writing a "cheating" post quite so soon in my blogging experience.  I had thawed a beef roast today, intending to post a blog about one of the ways that I like to fix a beef roast on the cookstove, but life got in the way.  I didn't get the roast started early enough because I was working on getting ready for the family reunion that we will be hosting in a little less than two weeks.  Thus, when Nancy called to let me know that she was on her way home from work and that she was too hungry to wait for a roast, I had to resort to plan B.

Plan B was what I call cheating because it was a combination of ready-made foods.  Hey, it happens sometimes! 

The reason that I want to include these cheating recipes on the blog, though, is to drive the point home that cooking on a wood cookstove doesn't necessarily mean that every meal is going to take an eternity of prep time.  I read somewhere that cooking on a wood cookstove tends to draw people toward cooking meals that generally take more time than usual just because of the nature of the stove.  This may be true, but it doesn't have to always be that way.  My approach to living with a wood cookstove is that I want this beast in the kitchen to do what I want it to do, and occasionally that means that I need a meal in a hurry.

If you start with a cold stove, the meal in this post can be completed in less than an hour.  If the stove is already going before you start, this meal could be complete in about a half hour.


With a hot fire in the firebox, I start with my pans arranged in the manner that you see above.  The large pot in the back is water coming to a boil for the pasta.  The saucepan to the right has about a half inch of water boiling in the bottom to steam broccoli.  The frying pan in the front has a couple tablespoons of butter melting in it to saute the shrimp and mushrooms.  Once again, the coffee pot and teakettle are filled with cold water to just absorb extra heat since our summer days are still climbing into the nineties with high humidity.


I add a good two cups or so of uncooked bowtie pasta to the boiling water.  I'm sorry about the vague measurements; I'm just that sort of cook.  You'll have to be patient with me.

If I were a good Italian, I suppose that I would have added a little olive oil and salt to the water.  You can feel free to do so, but I'm not a good Italian.  I'm not even a bad Italian.  I'm mostly German, but that has nothing to do with anything.

I tend to not salt much while I'm cooking because my mother didn't salt much when she cooked.  Furthermore, since there is a purchased jar of alfredo sauce coming up, I can depend on it to have plenty of sodium for me.  I also figure that people can salt their own plates at the table so that they get the flavor that they desire.


 I then put a lid on the pasta.  This may seem like a gratuitous picture, but I want to take this opportunity to talk about the importance of lids while cooking on a cookstove.  When I'm cooking on an electric or gas stove, I usually use lids because of the energy savings that they afford.  The same is true on the cookstove.  Since a wood-fired range generally provides a less intense heat than a gas or electric range, the lids can help ensure faster cooking.  The other reason that I am a proponent of using lids on a cookstove is because sometimes it is necessary to add fuel to the fire while you are cooking.  I tend to feed the fire through the front top lid, and occasionally small pieces of bark, splinters, dirt, or fly ash will land on the cooktop as a result of this.  The lids make sure that none of this debris lands in your food. 

Just being honest here, folks. 

I can hear my mother's voice right now, saying of the debris (of the skinned knee, of the bug you accidentally swallowed as you were walking up to Gramps and Gran's, of the manure you fell into, etc.), "It won't kill you."  She's right; it's not a big deal, but I want to be a clean cook.


I put frozen cooked shrimp into the butter to begin cooking.  I think that we put about two cups in this batch because we are shrimp lovers. 

Opened the firebox for this shot just to prove that we are indeed cooking over a wood fire.
I get tired of seeing posed shots on the net where pots, pies, and loaves of bread are put
all over the cooktop of a wood cookstove in a vain attempt at making the stove look
like it is really in use.  Nothin' but the real thing here.
Unfortunately, you'll have to click on the pic to see that I've added a drained can of mushrooms to the shrimp in the frying pan.  About two cups of frozen broccoli are steaming in the saucepan behind the shrimp.  You'll note that the pasta pot has been moved off the firebox because it was boiling too hard while it was directly over the fire.  Moving a pot to the right (or away from the firebox) is the same as turning down the heat on a modern range.


Once the shrimp was thoroughly heated and the broccoli had steamed long enough to be hot, I scoop the broccoli out of the water and put it in with the shrimp and mushroom mixture.



Then I poured in a jar of alfredo sauce.  You can use homemade alfredo sauce at this point, too.  Do what you want here.


I let this cook together, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is finished cooking.  Usually, this is only a few minutes.

I put a bed of pasta on a plate, and pour some of the shrimp alfredo mixture over the top, and supper is served.

Shrimp and broccoli alfredo, a quick wood cookstove meal.


Shrimp and Broccoli Alfredo

2 good cups uncooked bowtie pasta
2 T. butter
2 good cups frozen cooked shrimp
1 can mushrooms, whatever size you want
1 jar alfredo sauce, or about a pint homemade
2 cups frozen broccoli

1. Bring sufficient water for cooking pasta to a boil.  Add pasta to boiling water and reduce heat to simmer.
2. Saute shrimp and mushrooms in butter.
3. Steam broccoli in about a half inch of water until hot.
4. Remove broccoli from steaming water and add to shrimp and mushroom combination.
5. Add alfredo sauce to shrimp and broccoli and let cook together until pasta is finished cooking.
6. Drain pasta.
7. Place a bed of pasta on each plate, pour shrimp alfredo mixture over the top.

Yield: Four servings.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pressure Canning on the Wood Cookstove

Several years ago, I was reading an article about canning in one of my homesteading/country/hobby farm magazines.  I was excited about the article because it was written by a fellow who is considered a recognized authority on wood heating and cooking.  All was going well until he wrote that pressure canning on a wood cookstove was impossible because you couldn't adequately control the pressure in the canner.  I was amused and a little angry, to say the least.  Apparently, he has never tried to maintain a constant pressure on an electric push-button stove--now that IS a challenge. 

I'm here to tell you that pressure canning on a woodburning cookstove is not only quite possible, it is pretty easy.  In fact, the Presto canner that my mother and grandmother bought at Minden Hardware in 1979 came with instructions on how to can on a "constant heat stove."  It is just about knowing where to put everything on the cooktop.  Furthermore, it only makes sense to me that the farm that produces much of my food should also be able to produce the energy needed to cook and preserve it. 

Below, I'll show you how I pressure can on the wood cookstove.  I want this blog to be helpful for people who want to know more about using a woodburning cookstove, but I don't claim to have all of the answers.  My hope is that by showing others what I do, they will have a better chance of finding success with their own stoves. 

This post assumes that the reader is familiar with the pressure canning process and focuses on how it is accomplished on a wood cookstove.  If you aren't familiar with canning, resources about it abound in both print and electronic forms.


I start by building a hot fire of small sticks and pieces of what I think of as "biscuit wood."

Small pieces of wood burning in the cookstove.

Once the fire was burning nicely, I closed the oven damper halfway.  All I need in this particular case is intense heat over the firebox.  The rest of the cooktop doesn't need to be all that hot, and I'm not going to be baking anything at the same time, although I have done that before, so the oven doesn't need to be evenly heated.  I'm going to be canning green beans (courtesy of my mother-in-law's beautiful garden) for this post, so the first hot item that I need is boiling water to pour over the beans once they are in the jars. 

Boiling water in the teakettle to the left.  Canner and lids on the
cooler part of the stove on the right.

I start with the various vessels arranged on the cooktop as shown above.  Directly over the firebox at the back (usually the place with the most heat) I have the teakettle with water coming to a boil for the beans.  In the pink saucepan in the front, my canning lids are warming up.  The base to the canner already has water in it, and it is warming over the coolest side of the cooktop, which of course, is still way too hot to touch.  The white coffee pot in the back has water in it and is there simply to absorb some BTUs since the outside temperature was in the 90s.

While I wait for the water to come to a boil, I fill the canning jars with the produce.



When the water in the teakettle has come to a boil and I'm ready to start putting it in the jars, I move the warm canner over to the top of the firebox so it can begin heating more.


Jars are then filled, lids are adjusted, canner is filled, and the lid is put into place.

Putting the lid on the pressure canner.

Now here comes the fun part.  This canner belonged to Ruth Nickle, my wife Nancy's grandma.  As near as I can tell from the instruction book that came with it, she purchased it sometime in the 1940s.  Ruth had only a wood/coal stove until the early 1950s, and I can tell from the bottom of the canner that she frequently removed a lid from over the fire and placed the canner right over the fire.  With the other pressure canners that I've used, I've always tried to keep their bottoms in pristine condition.  This one left pristine condition in the dust over three score years ago, so I'm going to speed things along and follow Ruth's method.


What is it about men always wanting to cook over flames? 

Above, the canner isn't centered over the eye of the firebox, just so that you can see the fire.  As soon as the picture was snapped, I moved the canner forward so that the eye was completely covered; otherwise, removing the lid is pointless because it spoils the draft and cold air rushes right by the canner to the fire.

As this is a dial guage canner, it has to exhaust for about ten minutes over high heat.  At the end of that time, I closed the petcock so that it could begin to build pressure.

In a few minutes, the canner had reached the correct amount of pressure for our elevation. 



Thus began the 20 minute countdown for pints of green beans, and thus began "the dance" of moving the canner to a location with less intense heat to just maintain the correct pressure level.  In the following sequence of pictures you can see the clock above the warming oven and notice the location of the canner as the twenty minute interval progressed. 




Canning on the wood cookstove.


The canner didn't have to move much because I only added a small piece of wood once. If I were going to can more after this batch, I would probably have kept the fire hotter in order to bring another teakettle of water to a boil, etc. Therefore, the canner would have had to be moved farther to the right to a cooler portion of the cooktop so that its pressure did not continue to rise.  If the fire slows, I move the canner closer to the fire so that it doesn't lose pressure.

I could tell that the fire was not going to get too hot or too cold very quickly, so I didn't stay right with the canner the whole time.  I went outside of the summer kitchen and weeded the gladiolus and sweet peas, but I didn't go far.  I wouldn't go far from a pressure canner on any kind of stove, for that matter.

By the end of the canning time, it had gotten quite dark in our summer kitchen.  Since it has no electricity, the lamp that you see in the last picture was necessary when the camera wasn't flashing.  You can also see that the fire had burned down to just coals.

Once the correct amount of processing time has elapsed, I move the canner completely off the stove so that its pressure can go down.  Once the pressure is gone, I remove the jars to a towel on the countertop for them to cool, and I begin waiting for that all-important and rewarding sound of canning: the ping of a canning lid sealing.

I got a little artsy with the camera while I was waiting.

Vintage cookstove in the lamplight.

All of this batch sealed.  Canning with a pressure canner on a wood cookstove is not only possible, it is easy.

Update: For more information about pressure canners and wood cookstoves, please see this post.