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!