Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Blog Reader's Cookstove - V

One of the absolute joys of operating this blog is when I get the opportunity to converse with other woodburning cookstove enthusiasts.  Such was the case when Jessie, a northern New England reader, let me know that she and her husband had just installed their new-to-them Findlay Oval cookstove.  I contacted Jessie to find out whether she would be willing to let me write a "Reader's Cookstove" post about their Oval, and she was very forthcoming with information and pictures.  I asked her the usual set of questions, and as Jessie is an excellent writer herself, I'm going to let her writing be the bulk of this post.

Jessie's Oval cookstove sitting on the new
hearth that her husband built.

1. What made you decide to purchase this particular make and model of cookstove?

"Three years ago, my husband and I visited a history museum that is still a working farmstead. We have a little homestead (very much a "hobby farm") of our own -- raise our own pork, chicken, and beef, plus garden -- and we love seeing how people used to live, if only to appreciate how easy we have it these days! There was a woman in the kitchen running a wood cook stove, and my husband said, "My wife would love one of those." He was correct. So we started looking.

"We found the Oval in a Craigslist ad. An older couple who had bought it from Lehman's in the 1980s were selling their farm and moving away. We bought it for $1,200. The man who cooked on it said they had used it as their sole cooking source for 15 years. He loved baking bread in it, and put a layer of firebrick in the bottom to help with heat distribution. It seems to work.

This picture shows the layer of firebrick in the bottom of the oven. 

"It took 3 years for my husband to get it up and running, and it wasn't cheap; we had to have a metal-asbestos chimney installed, for starters. But so far we are in love with it. I imagine there are much more efficient wood cook stoves out there but we love the look of this one and for our purposes for right now, we couldn't be happier."

2. What feature of your stove do you like the best?

"I know this is a bit shallow, but I love its looks. We live in an old farmhouse, and it just seems to fit. Also, the firebox is quite a bit larger than we expected. We got 15" split wood and have no problem getting it in there. The firebox is a bit beat up and will probably need replacing at some point, but so far it's OK. The oven looks small but is very deep, which is very nice. And the warming oven is currently drying our bean pods, so that's handy. The water reservoir seems to be adding moisture to the air; the extra surface area is nice to have as well."

3. What would you change about your stove if you could?

"I don't have enough experience with it yet to say. Maybe after the first winter I will. It's not airtight, although we did patch some holes at the seams. But maybe it would be nice to have a stove that would keep a fire going all night."

4. How much of your home heating does your stove do?

"Our intention was originally just to use it for supplemental heat in the morning and at dinner, and, of course, to cook on it. To our surprise, it puts out quite a bit of heat, even reaching to our bedroom upstairs at the far end of the house. (We live in a two-story, 2,500-square-foot farmhouse that still has a lot of old windows and doors.) We don't know how it will do when the weather gets really cold. But I do know that we are going to try to use it as much as possible to heat the house, even if we have to get up during the night to feed it. I am currently surprised at how warm the kitchen is in the morning even when we let the fire go out after bedtime. It was 43 out this morning and still 70 in the kitchen." 

5. Is there anything else you would like to say about your stove?

"So many things. :-) The biggest surprise to me is how easy it is to cook on. In some ways it's easier than using the gas range. For instance, I was frying up potatoes/sausage/peppers/onions the other night, and I realized that the fire heats the entire bottom of the skillet, not just a ring. And there is an unlimited heat range, from super hot to low heat, to just barely warm. It's all in the placement.

"I went into this thinking I was some kind of throwback, just someone wanting to live in the past and make life difficult on myself just to prove that it could be done. Now I am seeing that a wood cook stove is actually a very practical dual-purpose object. Guests are already flocking to the warmth it puts out, and it has really made our house feel very homey.

"One more thing: I have noticed so far that the crust on my homemade bread and the pie crust on last night's pumpkin pie have a special texture to them that is maybe a result of the dry heat? Whatever it is, it's a good thing. It's early days yet, and maybe I'll find the burden of cleaning the stove greater than the pleasure of using it. But I doubt it."

Jessie also volunteered some information about how she manages the oven temperature.  Since maintaining oven temperature is one of the most talked-about aspects of using a woodburning cookstove, I am glad to add this method to my blog archives:

"The two times I have baked, I have started with a well-established fire, which seems to keep the oven at about 275. I then opened up the damper and drafts, loaded up the firebox with smaller pieces of wood, let them get cooking and then shut everything down, which shoots the oven temp up to 350 in about 15 minutes. (I bought a thermometer to put in the oven; the door thermometer reads about 50 degrees lower.)"

Of course, no conversation about a wood cookstove would be complete without mentioning the efficiency of these dual-purpose appliances as well as the change in thinking that they can effect on their owners:

"My impression so far is that it's a very practical addition to the house; why not heat and cook with the same fuel source? Having a hot surface always ready just makes me want to cook more than I already do. Best of all, my husband is now in love with the wood stove, even though I'm not sure he thought it was worth the effort while he was preparing for it. We were sitting in front of it Sunday morning having coffee and he said he had forgotten how much he liked wood heat, which we haven't had in over 20 years."

It looks to me like Jessie and her husband aren't the only ones
who are enjoying their new wood cookstove.

I would like to echo what Jessie says about the even heat on the surface of the cookstove.  Each summer as we transition back to gas, I get frustrated with the ring of heat in the middle of frying pans especially.  Also, I'm particularly excited to have contact with an Oval owner because I looked longingly at them for several years before purchasing the Margin Gem.  I hope Jessie will feel free to comment often on the blog.

I can tell by Jessie’s e-mails that she has already perfected that most necessary trait of any woodburning cookstove cook: the art of being a reflective practitioner.  In education we use that phrase to say that a teacher habitually reflects on his or her successes and failures in order to be constantly improving, but it really spills over into many facets of life, especially cooking over wood.  To be consistently successful, you constantly evaluate your finished product, take note of what works well and what doesn’t, remain attuned to how your stove responds, and before you know it, cooking with wood is a joy.


  1. What a lovely stove and hearth!

  2. A great article!!! It's that time again (cold weather) so we have cranked up the old cook stove. Jessie has so much in commom with me. Our old farmhouse built about 1871, old wood windows (which took me 4 summers to refinish), use my stove for both cooking and heat. Its an Ideal Sunshine stove made by Orr Painter/Reading Stove Works, Reading, PA which I bought in 1980 for only $60.00 or as someone said " I stole" for $60.00. Jessie, please contact me as we have so much in common and would love to share information on cooking and heating. Best Regards, Gary Dutko

  3. Jessie, I don't know if you can see this, taking account the fact that your post is old. But if you can, I have some information for you.

    You asked,"Is the difference in crust with my bread and my pumpkin pie the result of being cooked in a wood stove?"

    My answer is,"Absolutely." As proof, I would like to quote from "The Joy of Cooking" from the 1948 edition, page 471. To wit:

    "We believe the following recipe will make as good a French possible...with the American range, gas or electric...with the heat coming, not from all sides of the oven, but only from the bottom..."

    Jessie, the 1940s were a time of rapid transition from wood stoves to electric (or gas). While most housewives welcomed the change, a few didn't, because they were never able to get their bread recipes right forevermore. (My own grandmother kvetched over her buttermilk biscuits recipe, which was never again the same.)

    I hope you found this interesting.