Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Word or More about Pressure Canners for the Wood Cookstove

As I was reflecting a little bit further on my post about pressure canning on the wood cookstove, and as we are in the height of the canning season again, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about what to consider if a person is going to be purchasing a canner for use on a woodburning cookstove.

In my opinion, one should consider the following three items when choosing a pressure canner for use on a wood cookstove:
a) Choose a pressure canner that has a completely flat bottom.  For quite some time, the only new Presto canners that I saw in stores had bottoms in which the center had a circle approximately the size of the large burner on an electric stovetop.  This center circle protruded slightly from the rest of the bottom of the canner.  This is a good design for a canner which will be used on an electric or gas range for a number of reasons, but this is not a good design for use on a woodburning range.  A completely flat bottom on a canner will ensure the maximum amount of heat transfer from the range top to the canner because the whole stovetop on a woodburning range emanates heat, not just a comparatively small burner.

Last year, I did see new Presto canners with completely flat bottoms, and I believe that the All-American canners have flat bottoms, too.

b) What jar capacity do you desire for your canner?  I've canned with seven different pressure canners over the years, and it seems that many canners hold seven quart jars or nine pint jars in a single layer.  Some canners allow you to have two tiers of jars being canned at once.  This has the potential to double the capacity of your canner.  I sought a canner that was tall, not because I wanted to can two tiers of jars, but because I wanted to be able to pressure can in two-quart jars.  This is no longer recommended by the USDA, so please don't tell them that I do it.  All I can say is that I haven't killed anyone yet, even though I might have wanted to. 

Unfortunately, one must also remember that the flipside of increased canner capacity is increased weight, and this leads us right to the third consideration that one must make:

c) How much will the canner weigh when it is full?  The reason that this is a concern is because when the canner is finished with its processing time, it will have to be removed from the cookstove in order for it to cool and release its pressure.  This means that you have to choose a canner that, when full, is not going to be heavier than you can lift off the stove and carry to wherever you want it to cool.  You can't just turn off the heat of a wood cookstove like you can on other heating devices.  Thus, extra large canners that might be wonderful on a modern range or an outdoor turkey fryer will probably do a fine job of canning on a woodburning cookstove, but will present a huge, heavy, hot, and potentially dangerous problem once the canning time is finished.

If you have experiences--good or bad--with canners and woodburning cookstoves please feel free to share them in the spirit of trying to help others learn by commenting on this post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Things I'm Learning from Baking for the Monday Market

I'm starting this post on the evening of July 9th.  I don't know when I'll get a chance to finish it, though, so I wanted to make it clear that when I refer to "today," today was July 9th.

Today was the fourth Monday Market for which we've baked breads, cookies, pies, rolls, or cakes.  All of this baking has been completed in the woodburning cookstoves here at the farm.  On the first Market day, I didn't yet have a rhythm figured out, and we had to fire up the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen in order to get everything baked on time--or nearly on time.  Since then, we have managed to do all of the baking in the house on the Margin Gem.

When I say "all of the baking," that phrase may not mean much unless I give you a rundown of what we have been hauling to the market.  Here was today's inventory: 19 loaves of potato and whole wheat bread (this doesn't count the four loaves of experimental raisin bread that I deemed not good enough to sell yet), 11 double-crusted fruit pies, five and a half dozen cinnamon rolls, and various other items which were not baked.  Last week's inventory was similar except that we only had six pies, but had two batches of cookies, three more loaves of bread, and two half-size angel food cakes.

Needless to say, I've been learning a lot about operating the Margin Gem cookstove each Sunday afternoon and Monday.  Here is a rundown of my new knowledge.

a) I've learned that the oven thermometer on the Margin Gem, which I had previously thought was woefully inaccurate, actually just continually registers about 30 degrees cooler than the oven really is.  With this knowledge, I have been able to remove the freestanding oven thermometer which I had placed inside the oven, making it easier to maneuver all of the pans.

b) The waterfront on the Margin Gem produces a lot of hot water.  I'm beginning to wonder about what we will do with so much hot water when the cookstove is being fired 24/7 during the winter months.  Perhaps a radiator can be rigged up to provide a little heat to the basement?

c) The Margin Gem and the Vaughn range boiler combine to create a much greater thermal mass than what was afforded by the Qualified Range.  I foresee our house being much warmer this coming winter than ever before.  Not only does the stove hold its fire much longer than the Qualified ever could have, but it also holds heat longer due to its larger size and presence of such large pieces of firebrick in the firebox as well as the presence of the water reservoir.  In addition, the boiler itself radiates a great deal of heat.  In fact, after we return home from the Monday Market, we make it a point to use as much hot water as possible to get the kitchen cooled off.

d) Even though the oven on the Margin Gem does a beautiful job of browning the bottoms of the loaves of bread and rolls (see post entitled "Little Things Mean a Lot"), I still have to finish cinnamon rolls with the sticky caramel topping on the stovetop after they have baked sufficiently.

Sweet rolls with sticky topping finishing their cooking on the
hot stovetop.
The top of a pan of sticky rolls after they've been turned out.
e) Finishing sticky rolls on the top of the stove can be messy.  The beautiful cooktop on our Margin Gem bears witness to what happens when a couple of eight-inch round pans of sticky rolls boil over.

I guess this means that I'll have to do a post about how one goes
about cleaning the cast-iron top of a wood cookstove.

f) If your oven is full, you can "bake" a casserole on the stovetop.  Since the oven is full all day on Monday, the noon dinner for my help and me has to be cooked on top of the stove.  I took the extra oven rack, put it on the top of the stove.  Then I put the liner of an electric roaster upside down on top of it.  Thus, we were able to have a "baked" casserole without using the oven.  In truth, the bottom of the casserole was pretty brown, but it was certainly edible.

The improvised casserole cooker atop the Margin Gem.

I've been shopping around a little bit for a stovetop oven so that we could increase the oven capacity for Monday Market baking, but I haven't bought anything yet.  Has anyone out there used a stovetop oven on the top of a wood cookstove?  If so, please comment and let me know how it has worked for you.

g) I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this last one, but here goes.  It isn't the end of the world to run the air conditioner and the woodburning cookstove at the same time.  Don't worry, the kitchen is closed off from the rest of the house.  We've been using the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen fairly frequently this summer, but the trek is just too far to make baking on this scale feasible down there.  At least the electric hot water heater gets a rest on summer Mondays!