Saturday, June 2, 2012

Water Bath Canning on a Wood Cookstove

Last week, I finally got finished with school for the year, and on my first official day of summer vacation, I spent some time getting caught up with some canning that I've been putting off.  I make all of our own pancake syrup (don't get excited; it's just imitation maple syrup, not the real thing).  Sometimes, I make just a single batch at a time, but this can significantly increase the time that it takes to make breakfast.  Also, this is not such a big deal in the winter time when the stove is going anyway, but in the summer, when I might use the gas stove or electric skillet to make breakfast, having to also make syrup is inefficient.  I like homemade syrup better than anything that I've found on the grocery store shelves, but the problem with it is that since it doesn't have any preservatives in it, it molds quite quickly.  Ironically, I figure that this means that this syrup is better for you than what you find on the store shelves.  In fact, I know a lady who believes that no preservatives are healthy, and she says, "If it won't mold, I won't eat it."  I don't know if any syrup could be considered healthy since they are all simply another way to pile sugar onto your food, but perhaps this is just "less bad."  Hmmm . . . I think I've digressed.  At any rate, canning the syrup allows me to make a large batch of it all at once but not use refrigerator space to store it.

Secondly, our Qualified range was removed from the kitchen in June of last year before the black raspberry season began.  Thus, when I picked the raspberries last summer, I just washed them, cooked them, let them cool, and put entire pots of them into the deep freeze because I didn't want to spend the propane to make the jelly.  Dragging the whole mess down to the summer kitchen didn't seem appealing, either.  We were down to two jars of jelly on the jelly shelf in the fruit room of the basement, I wanted my pots back, and the room in the freezer was also needed, so I needed to make jelly, too.

Both the syrup and the jelly are canned using a water bath, and so I decided to multi-task.  Water bath canning is a very easy task on a wood cookstove, and I actually think that it is a job that is easier on a wood cookstove than on a gas or electric stove because the cooking surface of most wood burning ranges is so large.  This blog post documents what I did and shows my method of water bath canning on a wood cookstove.

First, on the right side of the stove (the part that is farthest away from the fire in our stove), I placed a metal rack from some long-forgotten appliance.  This rack is more sturdily constructed than your average cooling rack since it was designed for some kind of oven, so I use it on the top of the cookstove for various reasons.  On this particular occasion, I didn't want to put the frozen pots right on the stove because the temperature difference would be extreme and could cause damage, but I wanted to hasten the thawing of the raspberries.
Two pots of frozen, cooked black raspberries thawing on the cool
section of the cookstove.  The rack that they are resting on is
about one inch tall.
I hate to waste an opportunity to use the heat of the cookstove in the summertime, so I decided to really multi-task and put a chicken on to boil, too.  Then I started to cook the syrup.  I use the following rough proportions to make the syrup:

3 parts water
3 parts corn syrup
2 parts white sugar
1 part brown sugar
Flavor with X-tra Touch butter flavoring and Mapleine to taste.

The butter and maple flavorings are optional if you are using brown sugar, but I like the taste that they add.  Be careful about the Mapleine, however; that is such powerful stuff that a little goes a long way.
The syrup is coming to a boil over the front of the firebox; the
chicken is behind it. 
As the syrup was coming to a boil, I put the water bath canner over the back of the firebox.  I removed the lid of the stove so that the canner bottom was directly exposed to the fire.
Water bath canner now placed over the back of the firebox.  The
syrup was now boiling.
Once the syrup has come to a boil, it needs to cook long enough to reach the desired thickness.  The longer it is cooked, the thicker it gets.  I don't want my syrup all that thick because it makes it difficult to keep pancakes from falling apart on my plate if the syrup is too heavy.  I test the syrup for doneness by lifting the spoon from the syrup.  Once the initial syrup has run off the spoon and the last drop clings to the spoon for a long time before finally dropping off, I consider it done.
Testing the syrup for doneness.
I removed the kettle of syrup to the trivet on the back of the reservoir.  I then moved the teakettle to the front of the firebox because I wanted plenty of boiling water on hand.  I am never sure whether I'm going to need to add more boiling water to the water bath canner because the water level in the canner is dependent on how many jars of food are put into it.  I always put less than I think I'll need into the canner to begin with because removing too much boiling water is a lot more difficult than adding more since the teakettle is always at the ready.  You certainly don't want to add cold water to a canner that has jars in it.
A picture to show that the canner is sitting directly over the fire.
Of course, I had my lids warming in the little saucepan that I use for that task so that the syrup could be put into jars and then into the canner.
Putting the syrup into the jars and the jars into the canner. 
By this time, the frozen fruit had thawed enough to put the
kettles directly on the stovetop.

A shot of the fire at this time.  Obviously, I didn't need a raging
fire to do the water bath canning.  You can see that the majority
of the fire is placed to the rear of the firebox beneath the canner.
Once the canner has everything in it which is going to be canned at one time, pour enough boiling water from the teakettle into the canner to make sure that the jars are completely submerged.  At this point, you just follow the procedures for waterbath canning like you would on any other stove; just keep your fire hot enough to keep the canner boiling.
Seven pints of pancake syrup boiling in the canner.
I then experimented with a vintage cake recipe, and then I was on to the jelly making:

First a word or two about making jelly on a wood cookstove:

Making jelly demands an intense heat under the jelly pot because you need a full rolling boil.  In my experience, if it takes too long to reach this kind of a boil, the jelly can be ruined because too much steam escapes and changes the proportions of the mixture.  In some instances, even though I've had a very hot fire underneath the jelly, it takes a long time to reach the full rolling boil that is needed.  Thus, not only did I have less than perfect jelly, but it was also taking too much more time to make jelly over the cookstove than it did to make it over a gas or electric stove.  I have solved this problem by removing the stove lid beneath the jelly pot.  The pot is then directly over the fire, the cooking time is reduced, and the boil is much quicker.

As a side note, each of the stoves that I have used has had a traditional stove lid configuration on the cooktop.  Therefore, removing the lid to cook directly over the fire is easily accomplished.  There are several stoves on the market today (Kitchen Queen, Pioneer Maid, Ashland New Decade, Flameview--to name a few) which do not have the old-style, removable lids in their cooktops.  If you, dear reader, happen to make jelly on one of these stoves, would you please leave a comment and tell me about your method--or whether this is an issue for you at all?  I want this blog to be an information clearinghouse for all things cookstove, so your input would be helpful.
The jelly is to the left.  Because the canner and the jelly kettle are
too large to have the lids removed under both of them, the middle
rear lid is removed and is under the teapot.  The lid from beneath
the jelly is on the stove's floor pad.
I was using bulk pectin purchased from the Amish down in Redding, Iowa.  This is just like Sure-Jell, so I use the Sure-Jell proportions and method.  Once the juice and pectin have come to a full rolling boil, you add your pre-measured sugar.  Return to a rolling boil, and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and skim the foam.  Pour into jars and seal in the water bath.

Some astute observers may notice that I don't have jars sterilizing in another pot of water.  I've read that if you water bath anything for ten minutes or more, you don't have to worry about sterilizing jars, so that's what I do now.  I haven't had any trouble with sealing or spoiling using that method, and the set of the jelly remains unaffected.

In some respects, I prefer using Certo for pectin when making jelly on a cookstove because the order is reversed.  When you use Certo, you bring the sugar and juice to a full rolling boil and then add the pectin.  Therefore, while it takes longer to get to the initial boil, getting to the second boil takes very little time. 
The jelly boiling after the sugar has been added.
I made three batches of jelly on that particular day because I figure while everything is hot and the dishes are dirty, get the job done.  In the middle of the jelly making, Nancy came home and assembled a casserole from that chicken that you saw boiling earlier.  We baked it for supper, taking full advantage of the fire.  I have more pics and posts about jelly making to come since I made strawberry preserves the next day.  If you have questions about canning on a wood cookstove, please leave a comment.  I'll do my best to answer!


  1. Great post. I've made strawberry, blackberry and grape syrup and canned them before. My favorite is maple flavored honey, which I don't have to can.

    Two questions:

    Where do you get the flavorings you mentioned?
    Does the canner bottom get sooty having the lid off?


    1. Thanks for checking in, Tracy!

      Both of the flavorings that I mentioned in the blog are available in local grocery stores in our area of Iowa. However, I put a call in to the wonderful people who operate Triple-K Manufacturing (formerly Kitchen Klatter) in Shenandoah. Mr. Maxine informed me that they also have a website( where their products can be purchased online. Shipping prices are included in the prices of the items, so don't be frightened by the cost that is listed.

      He said that any grocery store that uses Affiliated Foods as one of their distributors should also have them available.

      I believe that Mapleine is sold nationally. It is found next to the spices and baking flavorings in grocery stores around here. It is also available via the net if you can't find it in a grocery store near you.

      Yes, the canner and the jelly pot do get sooty on the bottoms when I use them with the lid of the stove off. However, I find that a bit of steel wool makes very quick work of getting the soot off. I've read that people who frequently cook over a camp fire coat the bottoms of their cookware with dishsoap before putting it over the fire in order to make soot removal easy. I would strongly caution against this practice when using a wood cookstove, however! This would surely make a mess of your stove's cooktop, especially those that are cast-iron.

      Tracy, would you mind sharing your strawberry syrup recipe either here or on your own blog? Strawberry syrup is one of my favorites!

  2. Jim, I just stumbled on your blog and boy am I happy I did! Never thought of canning pancake syrup this would make my life much more efficient and easy. It looks to me that you canned your syrup in quart size jars. How long did you process and at what elevation are you? I am just below 1000 ft elevation and I am unable to find processing times for anything larger than 1/2 pint for similar syrups. Thanks so much for any insights.

  3. Welcome, Johnna! We are at about 1100 ft if memory serves me correctly. I can the syrup in pint jars because I'm really the only one who eats it since my wife is not a breakfast eater. I process them for approximately twenty minutes. Basically, I'm after the vacuum seal. If my homemade syrup is not canned, it will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator because of its high sugar content. It will keep for quite a while if left at room temperature, but it will mold after a few days. I wouldn't be afraid to just scoop the mold off and reboil the syrup and then consume it anyway in that event. Once I open a jar, I always put it into the refrigerator between uses. If you are serving a large crowd at breakfast, I don't know of any reason that you couldn't can the syrup in quarts. I would probably process quarts for about a half hour.

    Disclaimer: None of this is scientific, I don't claim to be an expert on canning, and three dead home economists with the county extension agency probably just rolled in their graves. I just feel safe with this situation because syrup is simply sugar and water with a little bit of flavor--all of which are very shelf stable anyway.

  4. Ok, I might be leaving a comment way off subject.....but I'm in need of help please. My husband and I acquired a quality range wood/cook stove like the green and beige one posted on the home page from his grandmother. It is goin to look absolutely perfect in oue newly constructed log home. We cleaned it up and it looks great except we need a new thermometer and some new grates for the wood to sit on. I've been allover the internet and can't find nothing.....only people who want to sell their whole stove. Can someone point us in the right would be greatly appreciated

    1. Yvette, I forgot to mention in my initial reply that you can find all of Lehman Hardware's contact information on their website at

  5. Yvette,

    Don't worry about being off subject. As I say over and over, I want this blog to be about all things cookstove, and I'll try to help whoever stops by with a question.

    Here are my suggestions:

    I think that the first thing I would do would be to call Lehman Hardware in Kidron, Ohio, if you haven't already. Ask to talk with someone in the stove department. The first time I visited their store back in 2000, they had three rooms of repair parts for various models of stove that they didn't even carry. I have been to the store twice since then and haven't seen the repair parts anymore, but they have moved a lot of those things to a different location. In my opinion, they are very helpful people, and they can no more than tell you that they can't help you.

    The second thing that I would do is endeavor to contact stove repair places, and the first one that I would start with would be Edward Semmelroth of The Original Antique Stoves in Tekonsha, Michigan. His telephone number is 517-278-2214. We stopped and visited him in May of 2006. He is a professional stove restorer, and he does amazingly beautiful work. Perhaps he can help you find a source for parts. You can visit his website at

    I totally understand your desire to have your stove functional and in tip-top appearance. Obviously, grates are necessary for that to happen, but I wouldn't get too hung up on a thermometer. To quote Jane Cooper in her book about cooking on a wood cookstove, "If yours is without such a convenience [oven thermometer], don't feel deprived, because it's unusual for those that do--at least for older stoves--to work properly." I would add that some of the thermometers in newer stoves aren't much better. Unless your thermometer is missing and is thereby leaving a cavernous hole in your oven door or is such a rusty mess that it draws your attention to it, by all means you should look for a replacement. But if you want to replace it because it is defective, I would just go buy an oven thermometer at any department or hardward store to put inside the oven because you'll get a more accurate reading anyway.

    When you call either of the above places, have as much information available about your stove as possible, including brand, model, and approximate year of manufacture.

    If you strike out, please leave another comment, and I will direct you to some other stove restorers who appear reputable to me. Certainly, once you get your stove installed and you've begun to cook on it, chime in with questions or bits of advice as often as you can. Best of luck!

  6. Hello Jim,
    I realy like your blog. We are cooking on a woodstove also (see; YouTube but I can not get the oven hot enough to bake bread in it. Do you have some information / tips how I can solve this problem?
    May God bless you
    Boaz & Rebekah

    1. Boaz and Rebekah,
      I looked up your youtube channel and watched a couple of videos of your stove in use. Unfortunately, I don't know much about the kind of wood cookstove you are using. Without being there in person to see what is going on, I can only suggest two things:

      a) Make sure that whatever dampers your stove is equipped with to move heat around the oven are in the correct positions for baking, and

      b) to get the oven up to the necessary temperature, I recommend using small pieces of fuel (sticks, pieces of bark, pieces split very thin). Because a lot of these burning in the firebox will have a larger total surface area that is burning, you will get more heat from them than you would a few larger pieces.

      Keep trying and keep me posted about your progress!