Saturday, January 28, 2012

Baking Pies in the Wood Cookstove

Though this post is a couple of months late, I wanted to document baking the Thanksgiving pies for our 2011 Thanksgiving dinner.  Of course, I had wanted to be baking in the house kitchen by November, but that was not to be.  Thus, since Nancy and I were in charge of pies for Thanskgiving, we ended up baking them down in the summer kitchen.

The first thing that I always do when baking pies in a wood cookstove is to build a good, hot fire.
A hot fire preheating the wood cookstove oven.
Most double-crusted pie recipes say that you should start baking the pie at 400 degrees or thereabouts for about ten minutes.  Then, you reduce the heat to 350 for the duration of the baking time.  This is to cook the crust first so that it won't be soggy and then cook the filling at the lower temperature until it is done.  Of course, when you are cooking with an electric or gas stove, this temperature change is easily accomplished.  With a wood cookstove, techniques for regulating the oven temperature for pie baking vary.  Here are a few suggestions:

a) Compromise the two temperatures and adjust baking times accordingly.  I have often had great success by maintaining an oven temperature somewhere between 375 and 400 and judging the doneness of the pie by the browness of the crust.  This is the method that I most frequently use.

b) Have your usual, steady wood fire burning on the grate, then heat the oven to 400 by adding very small pieces of kindling, corn cobs, small sticks (what I think of as "biscuit wood"), etc.  These burn quite hot, but do not burn long.  Thus, once the pie is put into the hot oven, a larger log can be added to calm the hot fire created by burning the small fuel, reducing the heat of the oven.

c) Some cooks advocate opening the oven door for awhile when it is time to reduce the oven temperature.  I've done this on occasion, but I don't recommend it because some baked goods are too delicate for this kind of temperature shock.

d) If your cookstove is equipped with a water reservoir which sits next to the oven side, I've read that you can be ready with a bucket of cold water to pour in it when it is time for the oven temperature to be reduced.  The addition of the cold water to the reservoir robs BTUs from the oven.

e) In the book Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range by Jane Cooper (a book which I should dedicate a blog entry to), guest contributor Barbara Streeter stated: "Fruit pies are the best in a wood stove.  If you have no thermometer on it--just build the fire real hot, till it's mighty uncomfortable to put your hand in the oven to test it.  Then quick put the pie in the bottom and let the fire die out slowly.  After forty-five minutes, it should be done.  If juice runs over onto the oven, shake some salt onto it and it will burn to a crisp and will easily brush away."

Anyway, the first pie that I assembled was the raisin pie. This pie is one of my favorites; unfortunately, I was the only one who ate a piece of it on Thanksgiving. I remember a family Thanksgiving many years ago when my grandmother on my dad's side made a raisin pie. I had not had raisin pie before that, and it was not until the mid to late 1990's that I finally ran across a recipe for it in a Reminisce magazine.

I always make this pie for our local town's Fourth of July celebration, and I don't think there's ever been a piece left at the end of the afternoon. Because our kitchen was all torn apart this summer, I made our Fourth of July pies at my parents' house and somehow managed to lose the raisin pie recipe between there and here. Thus, I was excited when one of my fellow faculty members at school suggested that I look for the recipe online.  I was easily able to find it here: Raisin Pie Recipe. Don't pay any attention to the negative reviews. I've recently found this same recipe on another very popular recipe site, and all of the reviews are quite positive.

This is a good wood cookstove recipe because while your oven is heating, you take advantage of the hot stovetop to prepare the filling.

The raisin pie filling ingredients when they are first put on the fire.

The filling once it reaches a boil. 

The hot pie filling poured into the bottom crust with the top crust waiting
on the rolling pin.

The assembled pie ready for the oven.

The raisin pie baking in the wood cookstove oven.
Pardon the appearance of the oven floor.  Obviously,
it has seen its share of boil-overs.
Once the raisin pie was in the oven, I began to work on the pumpkin pies.  The pumpkin pie recipe that I used belonged to my great-great grandmother.  As my grandma says, it is what pumpkin pie should taste like.  I started by assembling two pie crusts.

The two crusts ready for the pumpkin pie filling.

Grandma Ford's Pumpkin Pie

1 cup sugar
2 cups pumpkin
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
(if you want to omit the cream, use 1 3/4 cups of milk)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons molasses
3 well-beaten eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients.  To ensure even distribution of the spices, mix them into the molasses before adding it to the rest of the custard.  Makes two nine-inch pies.

The recipe says to bake at 400 for ten minutes, then 350 for forty minutes.  I find that it is more reliable to insert a table knife half way between the edge and the center of the pie.  When it comes out clean, the pie is done.  I also notice that once the custard has risen to a uniformly shaped mound, it is ready to come out of the oven.  It will fall almost immediately and look the way we all expect pumpkin pie to appear.

Beating the eggs.

The prepared custard batter being poured into the unbaked crust.

The two pumpkin pies baking in the wood cookstove.  Notice that the pie nearest the firebox has completely mounded; it is done baking, but the one in the back corner of the oven still has a concave center.  It needs a few minutes more.

Things took a turn after that.  I mixed up a pecan pie.  It looked beautiful.  It smelled beautiful.  It was going to taste beautiful.  As you can see from the picture below, however, it didn't look so beautiful on the floor.  While I was taking it out of the oven, I managed to drop it!
An entire pecan pie on the floor in front of the cookstove.
The problem was that somehow, during the family reunion back in August, the pics of which are here, the right hinge of the oven door got broken.  Unfortunately, this makes removing baked goods from the oven a two-person affair.  I thought that I could get the pecan pie out without help, but I was wrong.  Balancing the oven door on my knee and removing the pie turned out to be too much, and the pie suffered the consequences.  I started over on the pecan pie, but the second one was not as pretty, so I'm not going to blog about pecan pie here. 
The offending hinge.

The last pie to be made was an apple pie.  It's getting late, and this post is already quite long, so I'll just show you some pictures of the process.  Really, apple pie needs its own blog entry anyway, don't you think?

I wish that we had gotten some shots of the finished products, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, you know.  Hopefully, I'll get better at this blogging thing.  At any rate, the pies were delicious, and baking them in the wood cookstove contributed to their excellent flavor.

If you bake in a wood cookstove, please leave a comment and let me know about some of your methods of regulating the temperature.


  1. Hi! I just found your blog after searching the entire internet for woodstove cookery images and blogs of folks using them. I have really enjoyed reading your posts, both for the info on the woodstoves and your writing style. I don't have a wood cookstove yet, but it's on my to-do list. Also on my list is a summer kitchen for canning and produce washing. I have "joined" your site and will be checking back regularly. I hope you will feature more pics of the summer kitchen. Also, I will be interested to see how the water tank cabinet turns out! Tracy

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Tracy, and welcome aboard! We are also anxious to see the cookstove in the house kitchen be installed. The cabinet makers think that everything should move forward this coming week. We'll be sure to post as soon as things progress.

  2. Lovely pictures!
    I'm sorry for the pecan pie, that is one of my favorites.
    What is the crust recipe that you use and how do you make the pretty scallop edge?

    1. If you can be patient, you've given me good ideas for future posts. If not, please let me know, and I'll put the crust recipe in the comments here. Thanks for reading!

  3. I'll try to be patient! I look forward to reading some pie posts. My mom taught me to bake pies when I was a little girl and it is always something I have enjoyed.

  4. I have been trying to find a nice cook stove for some time now. I am envious of your experience. The cook stove used to the core of the home for generations. I want to bring that back in my house.

    1. Welcome to my blog!

      You are correct about the cookstove being the center of the home. Best wishes on your search for one. Have your tried Craigslist? I see lots of cookstoves for sale there, and they are often very reasonably priced. You have to be the expert, though, because the sellers rarely know much about them.