Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cleaning a Woodburning Cookstove

After some unfortunate incidents with the caramel from sticky rolls boiling over on top of the stove, a rather large splash of oil while frying chicken, and a gurgle of ketchup which managed to even hit the ceiling, the time had come to clean the cookstove.  Marjorie needed a bath.

If you click on this picture, you can get a better glimpse
of how dirty Marjorie the Margin Gem had gotten.

Her cooktop was particularly unbecoming.

Grease from frying chicken had cooked onto the stainless steel trim
that surrounds the cooktop.
The light-colored square on the top of the water reservoir
is the outline of my breakfast griddle.  I had left it on the reservoir
but didn't realize that it was covering the holes which are on the left.
Those holes are steam vents for the water reservoir, and when I
realized what had happened, the griddle was sitting in a puddle of
water.  Not only did the bottom of the griddle have to be re-seasoned,
but the top of the reservoir had retained its autograph.

I started out with a stainless steel soap pad on the top of the reservoir. 

The soap pad and I were soon good friends.  We spent a lot of time together.

The soap pad skittered across the stainless steel cooktop trim,
followed closely by a damp rag.  Then, the soap pad waltzed all
over the backsplach and stainless steel section of stovepipe.

In the picture above, please note how rusty the stove collar is at the base of the stainless steel stovepipe.  When Marjorie arrived last year, like all new cookstoves, her highly polished cast iron cooktop had been coated with a thin layer of some type of petroleum product in order to keep it from rusting before it was put into use.  Unfortunately, whoever had applied this coat of oil, missed putting it on the collar.  Hence, the collar began to rust even before we had installed the stove in March, but I hadn't done anything about it yet.

The next thing that I did was begin working on the cooktop.  I rub a grill brick all over the cast iron.  This effectively removes any food and grease that has cooked onto the stove.  It also smells very strongly of sulfur.

The grill brick leaves all manner of sand in its wake.  I remove this with the vaccuum cleaner.  Next, I was on to soot and ash removal.  I removed the short length of stovepipe which connects the stove to the chimney, then began cleaning the flue which stretches up from the bottom of the back of the stove to the top of the warming oven.
A view down the stovepipe from the top of the warming oven
before cleaning.
The next step was to remove fly ash from the top of the oven and creosote which had accumulated along its right side and beneath it.  New cookstoves are generally shipped with a handy little tool called a soot rake which is made for this task.

The soot rake scraping across the top of the oven.
The manufacturer's identification plate masks the
oven clean out door.  The soot rake is pulling
creosote from beneath the oven.
After that, I drained the reservoir and began working on cleaning it out.  You can learn more about that in the previous post.

After the stovepipe had been cleaned outdoors and re-attached, the next job was to coat the newly scrubbed cooktop with vegetable oil.  I also put a layer of stove black on the collar.

All other surfaces were wiped clean and parts replaced, and the ashes which had missed falling in the ash pan were also scooped out.  The water reservoir was refilled, and a new fire lit.  As the coat of vegetable oil burned onto the stovetop, the kitchen took on the scent of a large hot breakfast griddle, and Marjorie was once again a gleaming beauty gracing our kitchen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Rag and a Rock in My Reservoir

Grandpa Doc, my great-grandfather, had a favorite cousin by the name of Bessie.  By the time I came to know Bessie, she was a little antique lady who lived in a little antique house on the edge of a Southwestern Iowa town which was not our own.  She was the sort of person who had several reasons to feel sorry for herself, but who couldn't find the resources of personality or the asset of extra time in order to have a pity party.  Instead, her outlook was always bright and humorous, and the result was that I now wish that I could have spent many more hours listening to her reminisce than the few with which I was blessed.

She was once telling my grandmother and me about the summer that she and her husband had lived in the mountains of Colorado at some sort of mining or logging or oil drilling post.  Conditions had been primitive at best, even by the standards of seventy or eighty years ago, and the reason that they only stayed for the summer was because choosing to stay into the fall was the same as committing oneself to stay until the next summer because the roads became impassible with snow earlier than in most other places.

I had recently purchased the Qualified Range when Grandma and I went to visit Bessie, and Grandma is fond of bringing my woodburning cookstove penchant into conversations with people whom she feels might be suitably impressed, curious, or horrified at this bit of knowledge about me.  (I have to admit that with the right crowd it can be quite a diversion in an otherwise humdrum discourse.)  When Grandma brought up the woodburning cookstove that day, it was sufficient kindling to launch Bessie into a detailed memoir about her Colorado summer because it was there in that camp that she had had the most experience with a woodburning cookstove.

Bessie's husband's job (I'm sorry that I don't remember what it was) was of the sort that resulted in him coming home filthy every night.  Fortunately, her husband valued good personal hygeine.  Unfortunately, the cabin where they made their home did not have running water.  Thus, his nightly bath water had to be pumped from a well some yards away, lugged to the cabin, heated on the woodburning cookstove, and poured into a portable bathtub before the grime that Bessie's husband's person had accumulated could be removed.

As Bessie recalled the toil that bathing involved, she said, "And the water that we had up there was so hard that a cat couldn't scratch it."  Both my grandma and I dissolved into giggles at that Bessieism.

Lovely story, Jim, but why are you sharing it here?  you may ask.  What does this have to do with woodburning cookstoves?  I'm getting to that.

I tell the Bessie story because our well water here at our farm is also hard.  I do believe that a cat could scratch it, but it is full of minerals nonetheless.  Therefore, I am learning about how to handle hard water in the reservoir of a wood cookstove.  As I have stated before, reservoirs were traditionally used to heat rainwater when it was available, and rainwater is naturally soft.  Not everyone had the luxury of a rainwater cistern, though, and so one occasionally does come across advice from our ancestors about how to minimize the build up of lime on the inner lining of the reservoir.

My brother bought Mildred Armstrong Kalish's book Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on and Iowa Farm during the Great Depression in an airport on one of his many travels on behalf of the Iowa Corn Growers' Association.  He lent it to me, saying that he figured I'd get around to reading it before he would.  Two years later, I proved him correct and discovered that Ms. Kalish had included quite a bit of information about cooking on a woodburning cookstove amongst her memoirs of growing up during the Great Depression.*  One such memory dealt with hard water in cookstove reservoirs.  She said that what her family used to do was to tie a piece of cloth around a clean rock and place it in the reservoir.  The cloth would collect the lime deposits rather than the sides of the reservoir.

I was immediately skeptical, but I've seen (and scrubbed) the inside of our teakettle, and I knew that we didn't want that kind of mess in our reservoir, so I decided I'd give it a whirl.  Nancy and I sacrificed a portion of an old cotton tea towel, and she tied it around a rock which had endured a thorough bath.  Into the reservoir it went, and there it stayed from March until last Sunday afternoon.

The rock in the rag in the reservoir.  Ahh, I love alliteration.

Last Sunday afternoon, I decided that it was high time to thoroughly clean the whole stove (stay tuned for an entire post about that process), including the reservoir.  As you can see in the picture above, the reservoir has accumulated lime deposits on the side and bottom of the copper lining, so I was not impressed with the effectiveness of the rock-in-the-rag technique--until I removed the rock.  I was AMAZED at how much lime had truly accumulated in the cotton around the rock.  The material literally felt like it had been saturated with sand, and it had to be put through a wash cycle to get it all out. 

Needless to say, once the cloth was dry, it was re-tied around the rock and submerged in the reservoir again.  I'm going to try to remove and clean the cloth more frequently and see if that helps reduce the rate at which limescale is building up in the reservoir.  Indeed, there is a rock and a rag in my reservoir.

*The book was very interesting insofar as its content about the Great Depression, but I wouldn't recommend it because of the sprinkling of unbiblical theology which it included.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Homemade "Heinz" Ketchup

One of life's unfortunate circumstances is that the season for canning tomatoes does not coincide with the bitter cold of December. If it weren't for the fact that it is usually blistering hot weather when tomatoes begin to produce in earnest, tomatoes and wood cookstoves would be the perfect match. After all, it seems like every tomato canning recipe necessitates the use of one's largest kettles in addition to the water bath canner, and the recipes often involve long stretches of gentle cooking--all of which are easiest to do on the wood cookstove. Making ketchup is no exception.

I'm a ketchup lover.  I'll admit it.  I am not ashamed.  And because I love ketchup so much, I started several years ago to attempt to make homemade ketchup that was palatable.  I studied recipes and studied recipes, and then I cooked and stirred and cooked and stirred.  Some of what I made was all right, and on a good day it might have been considered palatable, but a sizeable portion of what I produced made its way back to the garden in a dark, brownish red, and thoroughly unappetizing new version of compost.  I was sort of in a quest-for-the-Holy-Grail-of-ketchup-recipes mode during each tomato season that amounted to anything.

Enter sister-in-law Susan, who keeps me supplied with a steady stream of fascinating, unique, and often unconventional cookbooks.  Susan gave me a copy of Cooking with the Horse and Buggy People, the first in a pair of cookbooks by that name (ISBN 1-890050-16-4).  In it I found a recipe entitled "Heinz Catsup" which was submitted by a Mrs. Henry M. Troyer.  Despite the fact that spelling the word "ketchup" c-a-t-s-u-p is one of my biggest pet peeves, I gave the recipe a try, and my search for the perfect homemade ketchup recipe came to a happy end.  I'll be the first to say that the end product is not exactly like the beautiful crimson nectar that pours forth from the Heinz bottle, but it's close enough for me.

The recipe calls for a peck of tomatoes and three large onions.  I don't have a peck basket, but I have found that if I fill my 16-quart stock pot with tomatoes and then slice the three large onions into it, everything comes out just fine.  I have used several different varieties of tomatoes, but my preference is Romas.  Gently cook the tomatoes and onions until the onions are soft.  We find that this process takes over an hour.  Stir frequently to make sure that it is not scorching; it is particularly vulnerable to doing so at the beginning of the cooking time.

Tomatoes and onions beginning to cook.  I added some more tomatoes
after this picture was snapped.  Also, please note that the pot was not left
directly over the firebox for very long.  It was moved to the right
 shortly after this picture was taken as this mixture can scorch very easily
even though the bottom of this stockpot is very thick.
Once the tomatoes and onions are cooked, run them through a food mill.

Running the cooked tomato and onion mixture through the mill.

Press as much of the pulp from the tomatoes and onions through
the mill as possible because that is the part that you end up saving.

When you are finished running the tomato mixture through the food mill, you will have a large bowl of thin tomato juice.

At this point, you want to line another large bowl with a cloth bag.  We use an old t-shirt of mine.  The neck and sleeves have been cut off, and we tie the cut end shut with cooking twine.  You then poor the tomato juice into the bag.

Only the first few scoops of tomatoe juice are in the bag in this picture.
Once all of the juice has been put in the bag, tie the bag at the top.  Then, suspend the bag in such a way that the pulp can drain for two hours.  I've read ketchup recipes that say that you should discard the tomato juice.  This seems wasteful to me, so we often can it for use as soup base.

The bag of tomato juice hanging from the clothes line
which is above our Jotul heating stove.  We used to be
able to hang the bag in the kitchen, but our remodeling job
prevents that at the moment.

Drained tomato and onion pulp.  It looks a lot like raw hamburger,
doesn't it?

To the drained pulp, you now add the following:

4 C. white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 pint of vinegar
In a small square of cloth (in our case a piece of the shoulder from the t-shirt) you tie the following mixture of spices:
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Put all of this together in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and return it to the stove.  Bring it to a boil and let it boil for ten minutes.  Be warned that this step can get pretty messy.  As the ketchup boils, it has the ability to splash a long way.  You also want to stir pretty frequently during this step because the mixture is very thick and easily scorches.
The ketchup coming to a boil with the cloth bag of spices in it.
Once the ketchup has boiled for the ten minutes, remove the spice bag.  Poor the ketchup into jars, adjust lids, and water bath can.  We can ours in quart jars, and I process them for twenty minutes.

The recipe as given yields two quarts.  We put two batches of pulp together; double the sugar, vinegar, and salt; and then put two spice bags in the mixture while it is coming to a boil. 

Two batches of ketchup boiling away in the water
bath canner.  Note the splashes of ketchup on the
warming oven.  This is why I mentioned that it can
be a bit messy.
Side notes:
I pushed the pencil on this recipe a few years ago to see whether it was at all economical to make your own ketchup.  The result was that the cost to make the ketchup was so close to the cost of purchasing ketchup that if I didn't economize on canning lids by using two quart jars instead of four pint jars, my homemade ketchup was more expensive.  Of course, many people would say that there is a great deal of value in knowing exactly what went into your bottle of ketchup, so the penny pinching becomes less important.

As always, I have to point out the efficiency of using a woodburning cookstove.  While a pot of the tomato and onion mixture was boiling on the cookstove, we were also cooking a batch of salsa and baking a chicken casserole as well as heating water in the boiler and the reservoir.  One small fire can do so much when you have a cookstove!  With conventional appliances, we would have had four heating elements or gas burners going to accomplish these tasks.  As it was, we had energy to spare.

Ketchup, salsa, and a casserole cooking on Marjorie the Margin Gem
while she also heats our domestic hot water.