Saturday, November 3, 2012

Using a Stovetop Oven on a Wood Cookstove

Nancy and I spent a few days in Storm Lake, Iowa, while I attended a conference there about Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction this last week.  On the evening of the second day, we ventured downtown and stopped in a candy and antique store.  There, clean and bright, stood a stovetop oven.  For those who are unfamiliar with these little contraptions, they are metal boxes which are placed on a stovetop and thus heated for baking.  Historically, the most common use for these ovens was for baking atop kerosene cookstoves, most of which did not come equipped with an oven.  In our area, many homes had kerosene cookstoves for use during the summertime when the extra heat of a wood or corncob-fired cookstove was particularly undesirable or unnecessary.  My great-great aunt Meme, who taught me to cook, used to talk about using a kerosene cookstove and stovetop oven occasionally during the summers and on days when the weather conditions prevented them from being able to get a fire started in the Monarch wood cookstove.

We have been looking for a stovetop oven since this summer when we were baking for the Monday Markets.  While baking for the markets, we operated at peek capacity most of the time.  Something was usually in the oven from as early as possible in the mornings to just a few minutes before we left to set up our table.  Even at that, demand exceeded supply.  We could have fired up the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen (we did, in fact, on the first baking day), but the distance to the summer kitchen from the house was too great to make that really feasible.  Furthermore, the heat radiating into the kitchen from the cooktop of Marjorie the Margin Gem was extremely uncomfortable, and it seemed like we ought to figure out a way to make better use of it.

New stovetop ovens are still being manufactured and can be purchased from Lehman Hardware.  These are rather expensive, though, and we couldn't believe that we would make enough additional sales at the Monday Markets to offset the cost.  We found a couple of ovens in antique venues, but the only one that was large enough to be at all helpful was not only quite expensive, but also had some visible insulating material which looked alarmingly like asbestos.  Thus, Wednesday's find was a happy one, especially since its price tag was less than half that of the first suitable antique we had located.

Of course, I had to try it out as soon as possible.  My first foray into the stovetop baking world was with a batch of from-a-box blueberry muffins.  I'm ashamed to admit that I love from-a-box blueberry muffins.  There, I've confessed; now we can be done with that and move on.  I started with the oven positioned on the cookstove as shown below.

The stovetop oven heating on top of the Margin Gem.

I placed our trusty oven thermometer inside it because the thermometer in the door of it simply says "cold, BAKE, hot."  Don't you get a kick out of thermometers like that?

The oven thermometer inside the stovetop oven.  The shiny piece
of metal on the bottom is a baffle.  The right and left sides are
open to the stovetop below.
It didn't take too long for the oven to reach the appropriate temperature for baking muffins.

I popped them in and began to monitor their progress and the oven's temperature. 

I used one light pan and one dark pan to see which type of pan would work best. Just so the faithful blog readers who don't know me very well can get a glimpse into how tenaciously I hold onto the past, I'd like to point out that the pan on the left is one of a pair which belonged to my grandmother on my dad's side.  The pan on the right is one of a pair which belonged to the aforementioned aunt Meme. 

Obviously, I'm big into hand-me-downs.  Many people know this and give various wonderful things to me.  By the way, if you are the person (or know whom the person was) who left three pairs of blue jeans and a brown sort of mock suede shirt on our back porch, would you please make yourself known?  I really appreciate both your generosity and your belief--albeit mistaken--that I have a narrow enough waist to fit the jeans.  If you would like them back, you're going to have to forfeit your anonymity.  Otherwise, we're going to forward them to the Goodwill.

Where was I? 

The oven began to get too hot over the firebox, so I had to move it a little to the right.

After what was probably a little more than normal baking time, the muffins were done.  They weren't quite as brown on the top as they might have been had I baked them in the regular oven, but they were quite presentable.  You can also see from the second picture below that the bottoms were an acceptable brown also.

This was all very encouraging, but we don't sell from-a-box muffins at the Monday Market, so today I had to try baking bread in the stovetop oven.  I made a batch of whole wheat bread which should really have had more whole wheat flour in it, but when you don't measure much of anything, you are bound to turn out the occasional less-than-perfect-but-still-delicious batch of bread.

The oven beginning to heat while the loaves of bread rise in
Marjorie's warming oven.
Seven loaves of bread all ready to be baked at once.  Notice that
the thermometer in the oven door has moved to just a little to the
left of "BAKE."  The stockpot on the right is a mess of chicken
breasts being cooked for casseroles and salads next week.
I put four of the loaves into the Margin Gem's regular oven and initially put three loaves into the stovetop oven.  This was a mistake.  With three loaves in the oven, it was filled wall-to-wall with bread, and the heat rising from the cooktop was not allowed to sufficiently circulate within the oven to cook the tops of the loaves of bread.  I took the middle loaf out at about the halfway point, and the other two loaves immediately began to brown on the top--lesson learned.

The two loaves on the lower right were those which were baked
in the stovetop oven.  Their top crust is lighter due to the initial
presence of the third loaf.
The bottoms of the same loaves of bread.

Despite the difference in the complexion of the top crust, which I believe will be resolved next time since I won't try to cram too much into the oven, the loaves of bread baked in the stovetop oven were thoroughly cooked and identical to the other loaves in flavor.  All in all, we figure we have successfully accessorized our cookstove.  Not only have we increased our capacity for the Monday Markets, but as Nancy pointed out, we will be in better shape whenever we next host Thanksgiving dinner, too, since the foods that we traditionally make for that meal are mostly cooked in the oven.

As always, I hope this information is helpful to a reader, and if you've got information to add, please do so in the comments section.  I enjoy hearing from readers!


  1. The bread looks delicious and if the jeans are too small for you, I am going to start working on a jeans quilt after Christmas and would be happy to take them off of your hands!

    1. Too late. You'll have to wrestle them away from your mother now.

  2. I'm so thankful that I found your blog! It's full of useful information. I used to cook on our wood stove, but it leaked a bit and the wood smoke bothered my husband's allergies. Then we installed an old wood cook stove, but hubby cut out the top and inserted a gas cook top. So, it looks like a wood cook stove, but it's not really. My dream is still to have a working wood cook stove.

    My stove is the same colour as yours (green and cream), but it's a "President" model from the Kalamazoo Stove Co. of Kalamazoo, MI. After some research, I found out that it was manufactured somewhere between 1920-1930. Here's what mine looks like:

    I've just become a follower of your blog and added you to my blog sidebar. I'll be back!

    1. We're glad you're here, Brenda! I think that the Kalamazoos were some of the prettiest cookstoves made, so I'm sure yours looks great.

      A thought for you about smoke and your husband's allergies:

      Before we purchased the Jotul heating stove, we had an Englander which was purchased in 1984 or 1985. There was technically nothing wrong with the Englander, but a deteriorating chimney demanded that we do something different, and we opted to replace the Englander with a more efficient model at the same time as we changed the chimney. An unexpected benefit of this change was the lack of smoke in our house.

      Every time the Englander was opened for fueling or stoking, a LOT of smoke escaped into the room. I believe that this was a result of its design (and maybe was a little exaggerated by the chimney). Neither of the cookstoves that we have used in our house ever leaked any smoke under normal conditions, and the Jotul is the same. Now that we have the Jotul, you only smell smoke inside the house on a very rare occasion. When we had the Englander, you could tell that we heated with wood the minute you walked in the door simply because you could ALWAYS smell smoke in the house. Maybe a cookstove with a good chimney wouldn't aggravate your husband's allergies.

      I'd love to see you realize your dream of having your own wood cookstove, and I hope this information helps.

  3. A very interesting post. I've seen those ovens but thought they were only used for camping. I had no idea there were used in the home. It looks shiny and new on the inside. A real find! The bread looks delicious.

  4. I followed Brenda over :) I ordered a kerosene stove and an oven a few weeks ago - just waiting for it to be delivered - yeah! I bought the stove to can on since the electric hotplate was groaning under the weight of my All American. The oven is for a bit of fun - I am looking forward to trying it out and being able to bake outside in the summer time!

  5. Jim, thanks for the tip about the Jotul. I'll encourage my husband to give it a try. We have a huge woodlot with plenty of deadfall wood on our property, so it would be a shame not to use it for fuel.

  6. I recently purchased a similar stove and I just read your article about how to bake in one. I am hoping to be able to use mine on the wood stove we use to heat our house, but the temperature seems to only go between 150 degrees and 200 degrees and I am afraid that might not be hot enough. What temperature does your oven reach on your cook stove?

  7. On the top of our cookstove, the stovetop oven can reach 350 degrees, but it takes a really hot fire. Depending on the design of your heating stove, the top may not be the primary heat radiation surface. It is my understanding that the newer high efficiency stoves, such as our Jotul, radiate most of their heat through the glass door.

    A temperature of only 150 to 200 degrees would allow you to use the oven as a sort of slow cooker, but baking would be next to impossible, I think.