Saturday, February 16, 2013

Maintaining an Even Oven Temperature in a Wood Cookstove, Part 3

What Works for Other People

As I wrote in part I of this series, every wood cookstove baker has his or her own method of managing the temperature of the oven.  What works for one baker does not necessarily work for another.  Truth be told, what works for a baker on one day may not work for the same baker using the same stove on the next day.  The variables that go into baking in a wood cookstove are responsible for this, which is why I spent part II discussing them. 

In this post, I'd like to discuss what I know that other successful wood cookstove bakers do (or did) to maintain the temperature in the ovens of their cookstoves.  Unfortunately, there is next to no information available about what processes wood cookstove cooks have used to keep the heat steady in their ovens.  This seems odd when one takes into account that for a period of about one hundred years, most households were equipped with this sort of cooking appliance.  However, in my research for this post, I have read over cookbooks and websites and articles to no avail.  I even have original cookbooks which came with ranges made by Riverside, Home Comfort, and Malleable Steel Range, and they say nothing about the process of maintaining an even oven temperature.  Thus, this will be a short post!

Here is the paltry bit of information that I can offer:

1) I live in the Corn Belt where, historically, corn cobs were commonly used as cooking fuel.  I'm planning on writing an entire post about using corn cobs for fuel in a woodburning cookstove at some point in the future.  For now, it is sufficient for you to know that corn cobs burn for only a short time, but they burn quite hot.  One of my aunts told me that when her mother was a little girl in the days when cookstoves were the only cooking appliances in farm kitchens, her grandmother enlisted her mother's help on baking days.  Her mother would be stationed at the open firebox door with a bushel basket of cobs at her feet.  In order to keep the heat of the oven constant, she was to put one corn cob at a time into the fire at regular intervals.  This would have been a really uncomfortable job on summer baking days!

2) Jane Cooper, in her excellent book Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range (1977), writes the following:

"I find it easier to bake with coals rather than with flames--the oven temperature is no longer building and there is less chance that the goods will burn.  For short baking times (up to an hour), a bed of glowing coals will maintain the heat long enough without needing more wood.  The draft is opened a crack, and the damper closed.  For longer periods, I add unsplit hardwood sticks, one at a time, to the bed of coals."

This, dear readers, is the extent of any information that I could find from outside sources about how to maintain an even oven temperature, and neither of these methods works for me.    I'll try to hurry with the next post (part IV) about the specifics of what I do to maintain even oven heat.  However, if you are a fellow wood cookstove user, please feel free to fill the comments section of this post with information about how you manage your fire in order to bake successfully.  I'm looking forward to reading what you've got to say!