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.


  1. I find this experiment fascinating, because cooking pizza is supposed to be different in many ways from cooking almost any other type of baked goods. Even Julia Child has mentioned this.

    Does baking the pizza in a wood cookstove affect the taste? It seems that it might be quite different from baking a pizza in a regular oven, due to the fact that the moisture doesn't escape from the oven the same way.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      To tell the truth, we've never done a scientific comparison, so I'm not sure if there is a difference in the taste. I guess we'll have to conduct an experiment sometime. Thanks for the idea!

    2. I think you nailed it in a previous post when you mentioned the moisture staying in the oven.

      Julia Child had always contended that baking French bread, with its crispy crust, is pretty nigh impossible with a modern oven. She did come up with a workaround, that involves heating a brick red-hot, and immersing it in a pan of water that had been previously placed in the oven. "This," she asserted,"will bring about the moisture needed to produce the right atmosphere to get that crispy crust." On a different occasion, she mentioned that this would also work for pizza.

      It's counterintuitive, isn't it? Moisture=crispy crust? Doesn't make sense.

      But the experience of our grannies supports the idea. "Wood cookstoves make the best buttermilk biscuits, cakes, and pies you'll ever taste," they'd say.

      In terms of food chemistry, maybe our wise old grannies knew best.


    3. You know, I remember reading a magazine article about bread baking not too long ago, which mentioned a method similar to what you are talking about here. They put a pan of boiling water into the oven while they were baking bread, but they also baked their bread at a much higher temperature than I am used to. I don't remember whether I saved it, but now you make me wish I had. When I have some spare time, I'll have to go magazine hunting.

  2. I loved your post-Like your wife says a good post
    I was thinking the same-if your frozen pizza took on more flavor being baked in the wood kitchen stove

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I think we're definitely going to have to conduct an experiment around here. The only thing is that we'll have to import some extra taste-testers. There is just no way that Nancy and I could possibly eat two pizzas by ourselves!

  3. Dear Jim, I love your blog and your way to tell stories around your range cooker. I am the editor in chief of yourFire (, a sort of web-magazine where we like to spread the "culture" of fire. May I contact you in private? My email is

  4. Hi Jim, Just stumbled upon your blog and love it. I have an Ideal Sunshine cookstove which I have used for 33 years. Just got replacement grates and parts cast by an Amish foundry in Lancaster, PA. Took me 32 years to find them. Will post a lot more soon. Just wanted to say I love this site and all the good information is provides. Will post soon. Gary Dutko, Gettysburg, PA

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Gary. I'm always glad to hear from another fellow wood cookstove cook. I've tried to do an image search for an Ideal Sunshine cookstove to get an idea of what one looks like, but it was a wild goose chase. I'll look forward to hearing more about your stove!

  5. Jim, I am not sure how to post a picture of my Ideal Sunshine cookstove. Seems like this beauty is not well known as it was made in Reading, PA and none of the top stove restorers of the northeast every heard of it. Any help in letting me know how to post pics would be appreciated. Gary

  6. Jim, Just send you some pictures of my stove and the parts I had recast.