Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Card from Us to You

Merry Christmas!
Things have been very hairy here over the last few days as we made the last mad preparations for Christmas, so I'm late getting my Christmas blog post out to my readers.  I should have completed this earlier so that I could have posted it this morning before we spent the day away from home first at my parents' and then at Nancy's folks'.  I'll play the sick card, though, as I have been under the weather for a little over two weeks and still feel miserable.
As I blog tonight, I'm waiting for the fire in Marjorie the Margin Gem to burn down a little bit.  I loaded her up for the night, but got a little over-zealous, so the lids over the firebox didn't fit down snugly.  There is very little danger of fire when this is the case because the strong draft of our chimney generally pulls any sparks that the fire may put off away from the loose lids, but I'm not taking any chances.
Marjorie the Margin Gem has been a very busy lady.  The current fire in her was the one that was started on November 9th when we hosted our wood cookstove workshop.  We have not had to restart her from scratch since then.  Over the last two days, she has turned out several batches of candy, cookies, Chex Mix, and I don't remember what all. 
Marjorie the Margin Gem sporting the Apricot/Raisin
Tea Ring that I baked for Christmas Breakfast.
We have had a wonderful day with family on both sides, but now I'm ready for a long winter's nap. 

I hope you all have had a chance to reflect on the reason that today was special:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."  John 1:14 KJV

Monday, December 23, 2013

Boiled Fudge: A Vintage Christmas Tradition

As we get close to Christmas, the people on my Mom's side of the family cannot help but think about our aunt Meme, who is mentioned in the "About Me" section on the left side of this blog.  As she is the one who really got me interested in cooking on a woodburning cookstove, I also wrote about her at length in the post about her toy cookstove.

Christmas was definitely Meme's favorite time of year.  In the days before macular degeneration got the better of her eyesight, she would spend time making lots of Christmas crafts.  She anticipated Christmas presents in much the same way that a child does, and I never will forget how funny she was when our family was opening gifts.  You see, because she was born in 1895, she had been the oldest person in our family since 1962 when her older brother (my great-grandfather) died.  Unfortunately for her, that side of the family has the tradition of having the youngest person unwrap one of his gifts first; then the second youngest gets to unwrap one of his gifts, and so on and so forth until the oldest person gets to unwrap one of her gifts, after which the whole process starts again with the youngest.  Meme couldn't bear the wait, and very often we would glance over at her and catch her secretly unwrapping a corner of one of her gifts.  In fact, sometimes she would have all of the tape undone on a present by the time we got to her, and all that would be left for her to do would be to pull the paper away in one fell swoop. 

As we were making plans for the two geese that my brother purchased for our Christmas dinner this year, my mother and my aunt recalled how much Meme liked to have roast goose on Christmas because that had been the traditional Christmas dinner of her childhood.  She also was the one who made all of the old-fashioned Christmas candies for the family.  The three that she made most often were penuche, divinity, and fudge.

Meme started having me help her with the Christmas candy making in 1985.  I remember that specifically because for my fifth grade Valentine party later that school year, she and I made divinity that was flavored with strawberry jello, and I remember thinking that the plain old white stuff was better.  By that time, Meme had quit making penuche, but she and I made fudge and divinity together every Christmas from 1985 through 1991.  In the late winter of 1992, Meme had a bout of bad health that spelled the end of her ability to live on her own, so I have made the Christmas candy by myself since then, with occasional help from others.  Today, my sister was my helper.  She and I figured out that the last time we made Christmas candy together was in 1995--before I had purchased the Qualified range.  Of course, all of today's cooking was done on the Margin Gem.

Of all of the candies that we make, I think that my favorite is Meme's old-fashioned, boiled fudge.  I suspicion that the recipe belonged to her mother, so the recipe has passed the century-old mark some time ago.  Meme told me that when she and her sister were old enough to make the candy on their own, it became their responsibility.  Their mother didn't help with the candy making because she did all of the other cooking.  This fudge is not the creamy, buttery fudge that is common today.  In my book, that kind of fudge is okay, but the problem is that it often calls for chocolate chips.

WARNING: I'm about to write something disparaging about chocolate chips!  This may seem sacrilegious to some people, so I thought I'd give you fair notice.

I love chocolate chips in cookies and bars (and occasionally by the handful), but in fudge I don't want to be able to detect that old familiar, any-old-Tuesday-afternoon taste.  This fudge couldn't be called fancy or gourmet, but it is out of the ordinary.

Meme's recipe simply read as follows:

2 c. white sugar
1 c. half and half
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 TBLSP white corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

And here's the kicker: The directions for the recipe consist of one word--"Cook."

Well, it's a good thing that I had a few years to have Meme teach me how to make fudge.  Otherwise, I would have had a terrible time figuring out how to "cook" this.  Here is what you do:

Combine sugar, half and half, chocolate, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  I use a 3-quart one.

Bring to a boil over medium high heat (I usually start this directly over the fire).  Stir enough to get everything evenly mixed.

When the mixture begins to boil, you can move it away from the fire.  You just need to keep it at a slowly rolling boil.  Meme always warned me to only stir it occasionally while it is cooking--just enough to make sure that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan--because you don't want it to get sugary.

The fudge mixture boiling in the middle of the stovetop.
As the fudge cooks, you'll see the chocolate become more thoroughly mixed into the sugar, and of course, the sugar will begin to darken a little too.

You can see how the look of the fudge has changed by the time
this picture was snapped.  The fudge is just about finished cooking.

The length of time that you cook the fudge is totally dependent upon what you desire the texture of the final product to be like.  Meme always made her fudge a little grainy, so she would cook it past the soft ball stage.  I like it to be more smooth, so I cook it only to the soft ball stage.  I use the cold water test, as I talked about in depth in my post about Christmas caramels.

As soon as it has reached the stage that you desire, remove it from the fire and start beating it.  Add a teaspoon of vanilla flavoring at this point.

Of course, the saucepan is very hot, so I always
cover my lap with a folded bath towel.
 Immediately, begin beating the fudge until it thickens and looses its glossiness.

You can see that the fudge is just about ready to be poured.

Pour the fudge into a buttered 8x8 cake pan and let it finish cooling and setting up.  Once it is cool, you can cut the fudge into squares and store it in tins.

I'll be the first to admit that this recipe for fudge is not for everyone.  My dad misses the fudge that my grandmother on that side of the family used to make (complete with melted chocolate chips and marshmallows), but this old recipe is what I consider my favorite Christmas candy.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wood Cookstove Clearances

Disclaimer: I am not a woodburning expert.  I do not claim to know everything about the codes for installing woodburning appliances of any nature, so please consult with contractors, building inspectors, fire protection agencies, and your insurance providers before installing any woodburning appliance.

A longtime, faithful blog reader posted a comment this morning, and here is an excerpt:

"While I love the look of the older stoves, I have been leaning towards a new stove due to the smallish space I have in which to place the stove. It is my understanding that greater clearances are required for the older stoves. I note that the pic of the stove in your summer kitchen shows your vintage stove very close to the walls. Can you talk a little about clearances?"

She is quite right that the green and cream Riverside Bakewell is installed very close to the wall in our summer kitchen.  The picture at the top of this blog shows that it is basically up against the wall behind it.  This wall is protected by 1/4" cement board mounted to the studs with ceramic electric fence insulators used as spacers.  There is no drywall behind the wall protection.

This picture shows the wall protection behind the
stove in the summer kitchen better.
However, it is very important to note that we were only able to do this because we do not carry insurance on the summer kitchen.

For the installation of any vintage wood cookstove, the most recent requirements that I have say that the clearance from the stove to any combustible wall (or furniture, etc.) is 36".  The required distance between single-wall stovepipe and combustibles is 18".  These distances can be cut in half by using approved wall protection.

Furthermore, the reader is correct that newer stoves often need lower clearances.  This reason for this is twofold:

1. Most new wood cookstoves are tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratories.  They can establish different clearances for different sides of the stove, etc. 

2. Many new wood cookstoves are equipped with heat shields which are standard parts of the stoves' construction.

Such is the case with our Margin Gem.  The entire rear part of the main body of the stove is covered with a heat shield.  This makes it so that the rear clearance from the back of the Margin Gem to a combustible wall is only 6".  This was a major consideration for us as we chose our stove.

The rear of the Margin Gem.

The Margin Gem in place.
Our contractor fireproofed the wall behind the stove so that we could reduce the clearances to 3", but the stove actually sits nearly five inches from the wall to accommodate the bend in the stovepipe as it makes its way to the chimney.

As I mentioned before, most new stoves are UL listed.  Your home insurer may require that your wood cookstove be UL listed, which would then make it impossible to have a vintage stove, so be sure to look into that before purchasing.

If space is a concern, many great new stove options still exist, so don't give up the dream!

Readers: Please be sure to click on Stephen B.'s informative comment below for valuable additional information.

P.S. (12/28/2013)  It occurred to me to add that stove owners need to exercise some common sense, too.  When I purchased the Qualified range, the installation instructions that came with it said that only 8" of clearance were needed on the right (non-firebox side) of the stove.  This was not a concern in either of the places that it has been installed so far since nothing was that close to the right side of the stove.  However, after operating the stove, it became quite obvious that the 8" listing was for Qualified ranges which were equipped with a reservoir.  I don't believe that 8" would have been at all safe for that stove's right side.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower: A Cold Weather Side

With much of the nation in the grip of a cold snap this week, I imagine that many wood cookstove users have had their stoves operating at full tilt.  The recipe that I want to share with you tonight is perfect for these very cold days when we are maintaining hot fires in our ranges for home heating purposes.

This recipe has only been in our possession for a week.  Last Wednesday, we hosted a potluck for one of the ladies' auxiliaries of the church where Nancy grew up.  This recipe for Oven-Roasted Cauliflower was brought by one of the ladies in attendance that night.  It was a big hit, so I passed out recipe cards, and those of us who were interested quickly took down the recipe.  The lady who brought it was not sure where the recipe came from because her husband had given it to her.  She said that she thought the recipe must have originated in some kind of a diet cookbook because it said that a serving counted as "two points."  If anyone recognizes it and knows where it came from, please let me know in the comments section.

Here is what you'll need:

6 cups of fresh cauliflower florets (be sure to use the stalks too)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
juice from 1/2 a lemon
3 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste (go especially easy on the salt; you don't need much)

The ingredients for Oven-Roasted Cauliflower.

Combine all and toss to coat.

Place all in a baking dish and bake at 450 degrees for one hour, stirring occasionally.  That's right: 450 degrees for one hour!  This is what makes it perfect for cooking on these days when our stoves are running hot.

The cauliflower mixture going into a quick oven.

I stirred at roughly twelve minute intervals.

Another aspect of this recipe that makes it a good wood cookstove recipe is that it is pretty flexible. The lady who brought it to the potluck said that she only cooked hers for 45 minutes at 450.  Our oven temperature fluctuated between 425 and 450, and we left ours in for a whole hour.

The finished product.  Note that the cauliflower
shrinks quite a bit during the roasting. 
Hmmm . . . not really looking forward to washing
this dish.

Nancy had not eaten any at the potluck because she didn't notice it on the table, but she loved it tonight.  I ate mine with a helping of the leftover beans and wieners that my nephew helped us make for supper on Saturday night.  It was a great supper!

I know that some people would say that this should be a summer recipe because that's when cauliflower would be in season in our part of the world.  I can see that point of view, but when cauliflower is in season, the last thing that I would want to do is have an oven of any variety heated to 450 degrees for an hour, so I'll spend the money to buy out-of-season cauliflower.

Hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Big News! My Brother's New-to-His-Family Wood Cookstove

That's right, folks.  I am no longer the only wood cookstove owner in my family.  My brother and his family now are also the proud owners of a vintage woodburning cookstove!  When they took their family vacation just before harvest started a couple months ago this fall, they stopped at an antique store in Oklahoma and found this cute little Montgomery Ward cookstove. My sister-in-law had posted a picture on Facebook of my nephew standing next to it, saying that he walked right up to it and started taking the lids off like an old hand.  This made me proud.  He has helped me start the Margin Gem, and whenever he is here while the stove is going, he always wants to see the fire.

Kevin called me to see if I thought that the price was reasonable.  He had inspected it thoroughly and found it sound, and I thought that the price was certainly reasonable, so he bought it and brought it home.  After they got back, I couldn't wait to get over there to take a look at it.  My nephew was more than happy to show it to me.  Since it is just his size, he is under the impression that it is his.   He removed all of the lids for me and gave me a tour.

HD showing me "his" cookstove.

You can see in this picture that the oven clean out door was
missing.  Other than that, the stove was complete.  The lid
with the concentric circles is not original to the stove, but
fits perfectly, and I think it adds to the value of the stove.  I
am hoping to eventually find a lid like that to fit the
Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen.
I inspected the stove pretty closely, poking and tapping on every surface.  A couple of missing bolts make the cast-iron cooktop loose, but they will be easily supplied.  I was disappointed to see that the door for the oven clean out was missing since that meant that the stove could not be fired until a replacement could be made.

However, while I was completing my inspection, I decided to poke the camera into the oven clean out opening, and with the flash and camera screen discovered that the clean out door was simply reposing inside the oven flue.  Thus, the stove is complete.  (At this point, I would just like to sing the praises of the digital camera.  When I was growing up and my parents took the occasional photograph, we would not know what the pictures looked like until the film was developed, and sometimes this would be months after the photo was snapped.  I'm not usually one who gets very excited over the latest technological advancements, but I think that it is wonderful to be able to see the pictures that you've taken immediately so that you can delete the terrible ones and get a retake before your subject flies the coop.)
The oven clean out door hiding in the flue beneath the oven.

I was surprised at how large the firebox is for such a small stove.  I was also fascinated by the grate.  It is what is called a dump grate where the whole grate pivots on a single axis and "dumps" the ashes down into the ash drawer.

A picture of the inside of the firebox and the dump grate at
the bottom.

The clean out door is in position, and HD is busily replacing the
lids in the cooktop for the umpteenth time.
I don't know enough about serial numbers to know exactly when this stove was manufactured, but I have a small collection of antique catalogs, and this model stove appears in the 1958 Spring and Summer Montgomery Ward catalog.  At that time, the stove retailed for $22.95.

A scan of part of the page from the
1958 Montgomery Ward catalog
where Kevin's stove appeared.
Here is what the text in the catalog says:

Economy Cook Stove
Welded steel body, steel oven--17 3/4 x 13 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. high.  Four 8-inch cooking lids.  Easy-to-clean white porcelained panels.  Cast-iron cooktop.  Cast-iron firebox, 17 x 7 x 7 1/2 in., has flat dump grate; burns soft coal, 18-inch wood.  Size overall: 26 x 21 in. deep, 25 in. high.  Use 6-in. stovepipe--see Notice, Page 906.  Pay Freight from Factory near St. Louis, Mo.--shipped promptly.  Ship. wt. 120 lbs.  68 A 1518F-$2.50 Down; Cash $22.95

When all of the lids are removed from the cooktop, I can lift the stove by myself.  I was surprised at how roomy the oven is.  Had I known that the catalog didn't include the dimensions of the oven, I would have measured it and included them here.  Suffice it to say that a 9 x 13 pan would easily fit with a little room to spare.

Now here is the part where all of you readers will discover just how weird I am:

I don't consider myself a prepper, but the fact that Kevin has this stove makes me feel a little bit more secure.  You see, on the farm where he lives, there are three homes: Kevin's, my grandmother's, and my cousin's.  Each of these homes is equipped with only electric stoves for cooking.  I feel better because in some kind of drastic emergency, this little cookstove could be easily put into service.  It wouldn't take a huge crew of men to transport it to my grandmother's basement where a furnace duct could be taken down and fashioned into a stovepipe that would be sufficient to attach it to one of the two old, but lined and safe chimneys which can be accessed down there. My grandmother would probably be able to remember a little about cooking on a wood cookstove, and my sister-in-law is a brilliant cook who could probably prepare a five-course, gourmet meal over a can of Sterno, so I know they will all be able to eat because she would easily be able to figure out how to cook on a cookstove.

As it is, I'm looking forward to the day when we can try out this little cutie, and of course, I'll write a post about how it works so that you'll all know too. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks in 2013--A Different Sort of Post

We're just finishing baking pies for tomorrow's dinner at my parents' home.  Nancy has gone to bed, anticipating an early and busy morning, and I find myself spending some time in Psalms, thinking about the many things that I am thankful for while I wait on the last pie to come out of the oven.

The pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving 2013 coming out of the
oven of the Margin Gem cookstove.
I'm thankful for many things, but here is a shortened list of some of the blessings that are on my mind tonight:

1. I'm thankful for steady, relatively secure employment for both Nancy and me.  Even though school is the chief source of stress in my life, when it comes right down to it, I do find my work rewarding.

2. I'm thankful that we live in an area of the country where God's provision results in abundant food and fuel.  When my aunt Cheri, who is a missionary in Africa, talks about the difficulty that she and the native people have sometimes had in securing fuel to cook their food, I realize how closely tied these two items really are.  We often hear about how much food is wasted in our society, but I'm amazed at how much fuel we let go to waste in our part of the world, too.

3. I'm thankful for our home.  With homelessness being such a large problem, I'm thankful that we have not just a house to live in (albeit humble and still in need of a great deal of work), but a home rich in family history and memories.

4. I'm thankful for our parents for several reasons.  First, they raised us in Christian homes. 

Second, they have remained married to each other.  Nancy's celebrated their 51st anniversary in August, and my folks celebrated 42 years together yesterday.  I am continually amazed at what a huge difference it makes in the lives of my students if they live with their own two parents rather than an assortment of step-parents or transient live-in mates.  Each year of teaching makes me more and more thankful that my parents have held steadfastly to their marriage vows.   

Third, my parents and Nancy's parents get along great with each other.  This is one of the best blessings that our parents could have given to Nancy's and my marriage.  We all had supper together at our house last Saturday night, and Nancy's folks will be with us for Thanksgiving at my parents' house tomorrow.  The friendship between our sets of parents makes our lives so much easier.

Fourth, both sets of our parents are very generous to us with their time and resources.  Even after over nine years of marriage and being fairly independent people, I'm humbled by how much we rely on our parents in various ways.  I see this in other families who are our friends and neighbors, and I cannot fathom what it must be like for those who cannot rely on their parents for whatever reason.

5. I'm thankful for our remaining grandmothers who are two of the sweetest women God ever created.

6. I'm thankful for the blessing of having siblings and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law whom we get along with and enjoy the company of.

7. I'm thankful for extended family, the aunts, uncles, and cousins who play such a large role in our lives, and for our many friends. 

8. I'm thankful for our six nieces and nephews who help fill the void left by our own childlessness--especially my brother's sons who live only a few miles away and see us regularly.

9. I'm thankful for the "wife of my youth" who still loves me and makes my life interesting.

10. I'm thankful for our church family and the opportunities that we have there to serve Christ together.

11. I'm thankful that we live in a country where we can still worship God.  I often feel that many things are not on the correct track in the U.S., and I sometimes wonder how long we will be allowed to worship freely, but at this moment we have that right, and I am thankful for it.

12. I'm thankful that God knew that we needed a Savior and sent His Son to save us.  Without that, everything else is pointless.

Oh, and #13.  I'm thankful for this blog which has allowed me the opportunity to visit with so many people regarding woodburning cookstoves.  Nancy's thankful for it too because otherwise she would have to listen to me all by herself.  ;)

I'd better stop there.  I hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving!

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever.  - Psalms 107:1

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Blog Reader's Cookstove - III

New blog reader Gary from Pennsylvania contacted me to tell me about his Ideal Sunshine cookstove, and I'm very glad that he did because he has quite a story to tell.

Reader Gary's Ideal Sunshine cookstove. 

Gary purchased his cookstove at an auction in 1980 for $60.  I've heard other people say that antique wood cookstoves were flooding the markets in the late 70's and early 80's and could be purchased pretty cheaply.  By today's standard prices for usable, antique cookstoves, though, Gary didn't buy his stove; he STOLE it!  At the time that he purchased the stove, the grates were in pretty bad shape.  In the picture below, you can see that someone had welded a garden rake to the left grate in order to bridge the gap between the broken pieces. 

A garden rake welded to the left half of the grate.
Gary spent another $100 dollars to have a new left oven wall cast and to purchase stovepipe.  Gary also replaced some firebrick and metal firebox linings, and he and his wife have used the stove (in tandem with a Vermont Castings heating stove) to help heat their 1870's-era home for the last 33 years.

During those three decades, Gary has worked hard to find more information about his stove, especially with the hope of finding some replacement parts.  This has proven to be a challenge.  The Sunshine ranges were made by the The Reading Stove Works, Orr, Painter & Co. in Reading, Pennsylvania.  A smattering of information and a view or two of historical documents which reference the Sunshine stoves are available online, and Gary has seen two other Ideal Sunshine ranges go by on eBay, but that has been about it.

This year, however, Gary found out about Cattail Foundry, an Amish-run foundry near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  In the photograph below, you can see what beautiful work the craftsman at Cattail Foundry did--very impressive!

The newly manufactured replacement pieces are on the left.
Look at what an improvement the new grates are!

The firebox of the Ideal Sunshine cookstove
with its new replacement grates.
Now that colder weather has set in, I imagine that Gary is really enjoying firing his stove with the new grates.  I can't help but think that they would make using the stove much more convenient.

Gary's stove has a few characteristics which I find particularly interesting.  For one thing, the stove has two clean out doors for the flue around the oven.  One is located under the oven door on the front of the stove.  This is the standard location for soot clean out doors.  The second is located on the right hand side of the stove.  You can see it in the picture below.  I think this feature is great.  A door there would make it much more convenient to clean the stove.

Furthermore, Gary has equipped his stove with two swinging towel racks.  Some antique cookstoves had this great feature in various locations. 

Another aspect of Gary's stove that I find interesting is that the bottom part of the stove is enameled brown.  Of course, enamel on wood cookstoves is nothing out of the ordinary, but I've never seen enamel which was such a dark shade of brown. 

The ash clean out door on the right, the towel rack, and the
dark brown enamel can all be easily seen in this picture.

Gary guesses that his stove was manufactured sometime in the 1920s because of the presence of so much enamel.  Though I'm not an expert at dating stoves, after having researched wood cookstoves for a number of years, I would have to agree with Gary's guess.  Gary sent this photocopy of some of the literature that he has regarding the Ideal Sunshine stoves.  His is most similar to the stove on the right.

Three of the Ideal Sunshine cookstoves manufactured by
The Reading Stove Works, Orr, Painter, & Co.
Over the last 33 years, Gary has done some experimental cooking on the Ideal Sunshine, but its main use has been for heating and making breakfast during that time.  However, Gary has recently retired, and he is looking forward to spending more time cooking on this grand old lady.  I'm looking forward to hearing him chime in on the blog from an Ideal Sunshine owner's point of view.  Gary would also really appreciate connecting with anyone else who owns an Ideal Sunshine cookstove, so if you are the proud owner of another one of these beauties, please use the comments section to let us know about your existence. 

Thanks, Gary, for getting in touch with me.  Talking to other wood cookstove users is one of the most rewarding parts of operating this blog!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our First Wood Cookstove Cooking Workshop!

Last Saturday, Nancy and I had the pleasure and privilege of hosting our first wood cookstove cooking workshop here at our home.  A person who lives east of the Des Moines area had contacted me via the comments section of one of the blog posts a couple of months ago.  After e-mailing back and forth, we settled on Nov. 9th as the date of the workshop.  Seven people came: two married couples and three additional ladies.

They arrived around 8:30 in the morning.  We started both the Margin Gem and the Riverside Bakewell once they got here and commenced quite a bit of cooking.  First, they made and canned grape jelly using juice that my sister-in-law had canned.  Then, we started our noon dinner consisting of baked onion-crusted chicken breasts, homemade noodles with buttered bread cubes the way my great-grandmother always cooked them, pork and beans with homemade ketchup, and green beans with bacon and sauteed mushrooms and onions.  (You will note the conspicuous absence of a dessert.  I forgot that we had planned to make cinnamon apples--oops!)

After dinner, we baked oatmeal raisin cookies and white bread in both stoves.  I was disappointed in the quality of the bread, and I know that the reason for it not being as good as usual was because I was too busy talking to pay as close attention to the dough as I should have.   Talking too much is one of my weaknesses.  I'm sure that you couldn't possibly know that from reading my egregiously long blog posts!

The seven guests who attended the workshop were all exceptionally nice people.  If I have my facts straight, they meet once a month and do something with food.  They had made cheese together the last time they met, and after using our Atlas noodle maker, I wouldn't be surprised if making noodles shows up on one of their upcoming agendas.  Nancy and I both had a wonderful time visiting with them.

A picture of the Margin Gem which was taken
by one of the guests.  The canner is over the
firebox, and the sauce pan on the far right
contains the pork and beans.
Besides the cinnamon apples, Nancy and I forgot to snap any pictures of the whole event.  Luckily, one of the guests sent us the one above.

The whole thing was great fun for both of us, but I told Nancy afterward that we'd better be careful.  I might become completely impossible to live with if given the opportunity to talk about wood cookstoves with a group of interested people very often! 

Anyway, our thanks to the attendees for such a fun Saturday!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Art of Creating a "Duo-Temp" Oven in a Wood Cookstove

I think that I have an oven fixation.

There, I admitted it. 

Even when looking at a modern range, the first thing that I'm interested in is the oven.  In fact, when we were at the Iowa State Fair this summer, I spent what my wife and her family considered an interminable amount of time touring travel trailers, but I was only interested in the trailers that had stoves with ovens on them.  I wouldn't even consider buying a camper if its stove didn't have an oven.

Oops.  Sorry, I'm getting carried away.  I wasn't actually considering buying any of the trailers which had ovens in them either.  Our budget would certainly not allow such a thing. 

It's just that cooktops hold no real fascination for me, which I think is why I'm not very interested in cooking on woodburning heaters.  If I had been satisfied with that, our old Englander woodstove would have placated my appetite for cooking on wood quite sufficiently.  I'll admit to being intrigued by watching the Youtube videos of Misty Prepper doing a lot of cooking and even baking biscuits on top of her Fisher woodburning heating stove, but for me a cookstove isn't a cookstove without an oven.

That said, it can sometimes be a bit frustrating to me that both of the working cookstoves here only have a single oven.  The first two stoves that my mother cooked on in her married life were both equipped with two separate ovens.  My grandmother on my dad's side had two ovens on her stoves for the last twenty-six years of cooking that she did, and my grandmother on my mom's side is famous for cooking in two different ovens simultaneously.  In fact, for Thanksgiving 2011, Grandma was cooking in three different ovens all at once--and she wasn't even hosting the dinner that year!  Obviously, I'm used to having some "oven flexibility."

Of course, the advantage to having two different ovens is twofold: a) more space for more foods, and b) the ability to cook at two different oven temperatures.  The acquisition of the stovetop oven last fall certainly helps with both of these, but I had been creating a "duo-temp" oven using the single built-in cookstove oven fourteen years before purchasing the stovetop one.

I formed the idea for this trick after I remembered a conversation that I had once had with a saleslady at Kitchen, Bath & Home in Ames, Iowa.  While I was in college at Iowa State, I would occasionally take some time to visit historic downtown Ames.  Of course, I was drawn to Kitchen, Bath & Home because they had a beautiful red AGA cooker in their front display window.  One Saturday morning, I ventured inside the store and spent a pleasant half-hour visiting with one of the salesladies about cooking on an AGA.  Naturally, I told her that what I really wanted was to cook on a woodburning range, but she was a dedicated employee and did her best to persuade me that an AGA would make me every bit as happy. 

In the course of our conversation, she taught me how one uses the AGA Cold Plain Shelf in the roasting oven of an AGA.  The super-condensed version is that the shelf is inserted in the middle or toward the top of the oven, and a cooler baking space is thereby created between the floor of the oven and the Cold Plain Shelf, while a hotter roasting space is created in the top part of the oven.

Knowing that the ovens on most wood cookstoves are heated from the top down like the AGAs (for more information about this, see this post), it didn't take me long to try this in the Qualified range.  I can still remember the first meal on which I used this technique.  Mom and Dad and I had supper together in the little house, so it was in the first year that I had the Qualified, and we had roast chicken, baked potatoes, dressing, and escalloped corn--pretty starchy, I know, but so delicious.

What I do is to cover one of the oven racks with aluminum foil.  Then, I place that rack in the middle position.  Since the oven is heated from the top down, the area above the rack will be hotter than the area below the rack.  I don't know what the actual temperature difference is because I've never had more than one oven thermometer to measure both spaces simultaneously, but I can tell you that it has worked every time.

Baking potatoes in the hotter, upper part of the oven while
green bean casserole is cooking in the cooler, lower part of the oven.
I used this technique for cooking our supper last night.  I mentioned in an earlier post that my preferred method for baking potatoes is to cook them for an hour at 400 degrees.  Green bean casserole only has to cook for half an hour at 350.  Thus, the "duo-temp" oven method worked great in this situation.

I have also used this technique at Thanksgiving dinners.  Once the turkey is out of the oven, I put my makeshift cold plain shelf in so that I can bake the dinner rolls down below in the moderate section while I brown the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes and dry out the dressing a little in the hot upper section.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

1) I never scrape all of the fly ash from the top of the oven chamber in the flue area beneath the cooktop.  Doing so would probably result in an even larger temperature difference between the two chambers created in the oven by using this method.  I would just be extra careful about the top of the food cooking too quickly in comparison to the bottom.  Some foods can be turned or stirred, though, and that would eliminate this concern.

2) Using this method renders the reading on the oven thermometer useless except to give you a general idea of how hot the oven is.  Since most oven thermometers are in the middle of the door right about where the foil-covered rack is going to land, they are only going to present a happy medium between the two temperatures of the upper and lower parts of the oven.

As usual, I hope that this little hint helps someone else make his or her wood cookstove cooking adventures more successful.  If you are a wood cookstove cook who does something similar or has something more to add, please take advantage of the comments section below.  Happy cooking!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Stove that Started It All

I credit my great-great-aunt Meme with getting me interested in woodburning cookstoves.  Born in 1895, she was in her eighties by the time I was born, but she was still walking beans (for those of you who are too young or from an urban background, that is what we called it when people walked the soybean fields in order to hoe or cut the weeds in the days before herbicides made this practice obsolete) and keeping very active.  She was my maternal grandfather's aunt and grew up on the farm where my grandmother, brother, and cousin all make their homes today.  My grandfather was both an only child as well as an only grandchild since Meme and her sister never married.  Meme expended all of her motherly instincts on my grandfather, in many ways becoming much closer to him than his own mother was. 
When my mother's generation was growing up, it always felt to them like they had an extra grandmother because Meme was very much a part of the family at all times.  With her great-nieces and nephew she did things like take them to see Mary Poppins when it first came out in theaters, but by the time I came along, her driving days were numbered, so the majority of the time that I spent with her was in her apartment, where we played together and she started baking cookies with me very early on.
As I mention in the "About Me" column beneath the labels index on the left, Meme and her sister had been given a toy wood cookstove when they were young.  She reminisced about how the two of them would collect small sticks in the yard and burn them in the stove, baking tiny pies in the oven and cooking small pots of things on the top.  Eventually, Meme's sister-in-law (my great-grandmother) convinced her to give the stove to some cousins to play with.  During that time, several of the stove lids were lost, a frying pan handle was broken, and the long stovepipe extension went AWOL.  Meme always indicated that she saw the stove on a visit to their house after the children were grown, and she was heartbroken to see it in such a state of neglect, so she asked for it back.  Her wish was granted; she brought it home and cleaned it up, using baby food jar lids to replace the missing stovetop lids.
Thus, it came to be that I always played with it while visiting her.  She left her home on Grace Street in 1977, and I remember playing with it on the living room floor there, so I had to be very young when I started enjoying it.  Once she moved to her apartment, my sister and brother and I spent countless hours in the second bedroom, which she had fitted up as a sort of sewing/play room, "cooking" buckeyes, acorns, and some other nut that I haven't been able to identify.
The enjoyment of this toy stove was compounded by the fact that Meme's last real-life cookstove reposed comfortably in the summer kitchen out on the farm.  I made frequent forays into the dilapidated old building to gaze at the beautiful Monarch range with its rusted nickel trim and white enamel panels.  When I was in high school, I even re-blacked it in an effort to keep the rust in check so that I would be able to use it when I got my own home.  Sadly, some unidentified reprobates burgled it while I was in college. 
At any rate, imagine my surprise while I was cruising e-bay and ran across another toy stove exactly like Meme's!  I've seen many toy and salesman sample stoves over the years, but this is only the third one of these that I have seen.  You can visit the ebay auction here.  The photographs that go with the entry are quite inclusive, so I want to document them here because this truly is the stove that started my fascination.



Looking at these pictures brings back the memory of many happy hours spent with Meme.  Goodness knows how many "meals" of buckeyes she pretended to eat for us.  While she attended our dinners or patronized our imaginary restaurants, she would recall the days when she and her mother cooked on the Monarch cookstove.  She would vehemently deny that she had romanticized wood cooking for me, but she did.  I remember telling her as a little kid that I wanted to cook on a real wood cookstove someday.  She told me that she thought it was silly and would then talk about the days when they couldn't start a fire due to poor weather conditions and chimney draft problems, but I was already hooked.
I can't justify spending the money on the price listed on this "buy-it-now" auction, but I sincerely hope that whoever the lucky buyer is gets just a fraction of the enjoyment out of this stove that Meme's stove brought to us.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Height of Irony: Frozen Pizza Cooked in a Wood Cookstove

Tonight's supper: frozen pizza.  It got a little more brown than
we might have liked because we were glued to while
we followed the local high school football scores.  Go Vikes and Eagles!

Q: What do a tired teacher and his wife have for supper on the last day of the first quarter of school?
A: Frozen pizza.

Yup.  It's sad.  Very, very sad.

However, this English teacher's mind appreciates the irony of cooking the quintessential modern convenience food in the appliance which symbolizes the kitchens of a century ago.  I can't help but smile whenever I think about it.  Weird, I know.  I never have claimed to be normal.

I told Nancy that I'd been wanting to blog about cooking frozen pizza in a wood cookstove for quite some time, but I was a little ashamed to do so.  She--ever the pragmatist--said that it would be a good post because it shows that wood cookstove cooks can be regular people too.  Pretty wise sometimes, isn't she?

The Margin Gem is particularly convenient for baking a frozen pizza on a busy night because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it is so easy to get the oven hot in a hurry.   To do so, I just build the fire with a lot of small pieces of wood--usually nothing larger than two inches in diameter. 

I've discovered that the thermometer in the oven door is not only inaccurate, but it is also slow.  The oven thermometer that is to the right of the pizza in the picture above seems to be very accurate, and it shows that as the oven heats, it is always hotter than the thermometer in the door indicates.  This proves true that some wood cookstove thermometers merely measure the temperature of the oven door rather than the oven.

Once the oven has reached the appropriate temperature, you want to back off on adding so much fuel because you don't want the temperature of the oven to continue to climb.  In fact, depending on how much fuel is in the firebox and at what phase of combustion it is in when the oven reaches temperature, I can just close the drafts on the Margin Gem, and that will maintain the oven temperature for the short amount of cooking time that a frozen pizza needs.

My mother always served homemade applesauce on pizza nights, and now both my brother and I (and maybe my sister too, but we haven't discussed it) feel like pizza has to be served with the wonderful stuff.  I didn't know that he had this same penchant until his wife mentioned how strange it seemed to her.

When we have frozen pizza, however, it is a last-minute, when-we-don't-have-a-better-plan event, so there is rarely defrosted applesauce waiting in the refrigerator.  This used to mean that we'd have to negotiate thawing a tub of it in the microwave or chip away at it and eat it as slush.  Now, I just put a container of it in the warming oven as soon as we are beginning to heat the oven for the pizza.  By the time the pizza is cooked, enough of the applesauce is thawed to be able to serve it with the pizza.

Well, there you go: the ultimate "cheating with your cookstove" post.  If you would like to comment, please be gentle.

Oh, and please don't tell me how evil frozen pizzas are.  My imagination is probably more vicious than the facts.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Request for Tomato Information

On page 184 of my well-loved copy of Jane Cooper's Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range (Storey Publishing, 1977), there is a recipe for tomato sauce which is simmered for two days.  Hmmmm . . . . perhaps I am being overly generous when I call it a recipe.  It includes no measurements for anything and merely says to pare a bunch of tomatoes; to put them in a heavy, non-aluminum pot; to simmer them for two days until you've reached the desired thickness; and to add whatever else you would like to flavor it at about halfway through.

This "recipe" has a certain element of romance and intrigue to it, doesn't it?  I mean, it seems to me like anything that has to simmer for two days ought to come to a savory climax that, upon one taste, transports a person to a completely different time period when people slaved for interminable hours over a wood fire creating all manor of delicacies which have been lost to the twenty-first century palate.  Furthermore, the recipe seems perfect for the wood cookstove because that is the only appliance for which I am willing to foot the bill for such a long cooking time.

I have tried this at various times over the last several years, and I have to say that I've never been transported anywhere but to a state of frustration.  First, I decided that what was happening was that I was adding sugar to the tomato sauce too early.  I theorized that the longer the sugar was cooking, the more caramelized it was becoming, and that was what was causing a slightly burned flavor to creep into the sauce.

Here's what has made me begin to wonder, though.  Recently, we have been making my sister-in-law's pizza sauce, which doesn't have any sugar in it, and I still managed to ruin it.  The first time we made it, we didn't simmer it all that long because we had used Roma tomatoes, so the fresh pulp from them was not too juicy.  The sauce turned out great.  This last batch was made with a combination of Roma and regular tomatoes, so the pulp was very runny.  I put nothing in the pulp and simmered it very gently for two days before putting the spices and lemon juice in it, but I could tell before I even added anything to it that it was going to have that old familiar slightly burned taste to it.

The long simmering time appears to be mainly intended to evaporate the excess moisture from the sauce.  Before finding the ketchup recipe that I shared here on the blog, I had tried this long simmering method to reduce the tomato pulp for ketchup, but always got similar results.  Now, however, I think I'm really partial to the "draining by hanging in a bag" method.

My question, readers, is this: can anyone explain to me why the burned flavor appears in the two-day simmered sauce?  I'm cooking it slowly in a stainless steel stockpot.  It has not scorched or even mildly stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I don't understand it, but I've not had the years and years of tomato cooking knowledge and experience that some of you have undoubtedly accumulated.  Does anyone else use this method for reducing tomato sauce but end up with a desirable end product?  Please be generous with your advice down in the comments.  I'm anxious to have this mystery solved.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Making Jelly on a Wood Cookstove

I mentioned in an earlier post that a job that I would far rather do on a wood cookstove than a gas range is to make and can jelly.  I had never made jelly on a gas stove until I made a batch of strawberry jelly on the new gas range back in July.  The reason that I didn't like making jelly that way was because so much heat was traveling up the side of the pot that stirring it was a very uncomfortable experience.

A veteran gas stove user told me a couple of years ago that if a lot of heat was traveling up the outside of the cookware, the flame is too high, so I lowered the flame.  No dice.  I still nearly burned my arm trying to make the jelly.  In late August, we were over at my parents' house putting up sweet corn using the 1950s gas range in their basement, and I was surprised to note how little heat was traveling up the side of the pots.  I attribute the difference to a change in the structure of new gas ranges from old ones; the burner grates on our new range lift the pots a lot farther above the flame than the old style grates did.  That's the only way that I can account for the difference.

At any rate, here is how I go about making jelly on the wood cookstove:

1. The first thing to do is to build a very brisk fire.  I fill the water bath canner about half full of water and place it and the full teakettle directly over the firebox.  Once the water in the teakettle is hot, I pour a little of that over my canning lids and place them away from the fire over low heat.

A brisk fire in Marjorie the Margin Gem, getting ready to make jelly.
2. Next, I pour the measured fruit juice into the heavy-bottomed stockpot that I use for jelly making.  If I am using powdered pectin, I put the pectin into the fruit juice.  If I am using Certo, it is the measured sugar that is put into the fruit juice right away.

It is in this step that one has two options.  Most jelly recipes say that you are to bring the fruit juice mixture to a boil quickly.  I think that this is very important.  When I've had batches of jelly that I've brought to a boil too slowly, it seems that the firmness of the set is adversely affected.  Since the "high" heat over the firebox is usually not quite as hot as the "high" setting on a gas or electric range, what I've taken to doing is removing one of the lids over the firebox and boiling the jelly directly over the fire.  This speeds the time that it takes to bring the fruit juice to a boil.  However, some jelly recipes don't call for a lot of juice, so I've successfully made jelly without removing any of the lids in those situations.

The jelly kettle is moved slightly to the right just
for this photograph so that you can see that the lid
over the firebox is removed.

Marjorie is so embarrassed.  She needs a bath
really badly, but she's been busy doing a lot of
canning recently and hasn't been cold when we
had the time to give her one.
3. Once either the sugar or the Certo is added, bring the jelly back to a good rolling boil and boil it for one minute.

4. Remove the jelly from the fire.  Skim the foam and put the jelly into the jars.

Now, according to what I read online from the USDA, canning jars do not need to be sterilized prior to canning if they are going to be used in a pressure canner or if they will be in a boiling water bath for longer than ten minutes.  I hate messing with hot jars, so even though many jelly recipes say to just water bath jellies for 10 minutes, I usually water bath jelly for 12-15 minutes, and I've never had a problem with the end product.

If you are worried about jars breaking when the hot jelly is poured into them while they are cold, the niftiest place to keep jars warm is in the warming oven.  When we made so many batches of peach jam on the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen last year, I kept all of the jars in there.

The warming oven of the Riverside Bakewell keeping
jelly jars warm and ready for peach jam back in 2012.
5. Fix the lids on the jelly jars and place them in the water bath for the required amount of time. 

This is where the teakettle comes in handy.  I am not good at guessing how much water needs to be in the canner to cover the jars sufficiently when they are all inside it.  Taking extra water out of the canner is a mess, so I find it much more convenient to have the teakettle of boiling water ready to put extra water into the canner if I need it.

6. After the processing time has elapsed, remove the jars of jelly to a towel in an area free of drafts so that the jelly will set and seal.

In the picture below, the canner is actually what is called a "sweet corn pot" which we purchased from Bomgaar's this year.  Our last kettle which was just like it had sprung a leak, so it would leave its autograph on the cooktop after we had used it.  I like to use "sweet corn pots" as small water bath canners because their bottoms are flat so they make good contact with the stovetop and facilitate efficient heat transfer.

Most real enamelware water bath canners have the familiar corrugated bottom of concentric circles.  This works just fine on gas stoves and is all right on an electric stove.  However, it is very inefficient on a wood cookstove because only about half of the bottom of the canner is making contact with the hot stovetop.  Removing the stove lid beneath one of these fixes that problem, so I have done a lot of water bath canning directly over the fire, too.

The jelly is now in the water bath canner, and you can see that
the fire doesn't have to be so brisk to keep it boiling.

Another added advantage of making jelly on a wood cookstove as opposed to making it on our gas stove is that on the gas stove, the only burner that is small enough to use for keeping the lids warm is the burner that is behind the biggest burner.  Thus, you always have to reach around either the canner or the jelly pot to reach the canning lids.  On a wood cookstove, the small pan with the canning lids is always to the side of the big kettles rather than behind them.

Well, there you have it. Making jelly on a wood cookstove is not really an involved process, but it does have some unique idiosyncrasies.  As always, if you are a wood cookstove user who makes jelly on his or her stove, please chime in by using the comments section and tell me what you find works best with your stove.