One of the things that can make stovetop cooking a bit challenging is that there are times when the whole cooktop is too hot for things that you want to cook very slowly or gently. A stovetop which is too hot can be caused by a number of reasons. The first and probably most common reason is that your fire is serving multiple functions. For example, if you are baking something that needs a hot oven--say 400-425 degrees or more--or if your cookstove is doing double duty as the sole means of heating your home on a cold winter's night, your fire might be hot enough that the whole cooktop is running somewhere between what would be considered high or medium high heat on a modern range.
In his 1978 book entitled Wood Heat, John Vivian writes, "When there is a good baking fire going, there will be live flame under all lids and the entire cooktop will be hot enough to boil water with the lids in place." In my experience, the "live flame under all the lids" part isn't true, but the part about the entire cooktop being able to boil water certainly is.
Sometimes you also need a hot fire because of what you are doing on the cooktop itself. If you are canning--especially in the case of water bath canning--or heating large amounts of water for laundry, you might need a raging fire beneath just part of the cooktop. What you are trying to cook on the rest of the stovetop might not benefit at all from such an intense heat.
Furthermore, in the case of small cookstoves (see the pic of my brother's), two-lid kitchen heaters, boxwood stoves, or combination ranges where the wood heated cooktop is abbreviated, the heat of the cooktop might be uniformly hot when you need a variety of heat levels.
This is where trivets and simmering pads come in handy. By raising a cooking vessel enough that it no longer is making direct contact with the stovetop, they reduce the amount of heat which is being transferred from the stove to the food. These wood cookstove accessories can be found in just about any shape or form and are generally inexpensive. I added to my collection of these over the summer, so I thought I would show them to you.
The square grate that you see at the top left is the grate that went over the top of the sidecar burner on a gas grill. We live on the road that takes people from the western side of our county to the county trash compactor, and occasionally, some interesting things end up in our ditches because they blow out of the back of pickups on the way there. Several years ago, a gas grill that was long past its prime had exited its transport in just that fashion, and there were gas grill parts everywhere. I rummaged through them and salvaged this nifty little piece. I have used it a few times. Since it holds a pan about three-quarters of an inch off the stovetop, it can provide a nice warm spot for something to rest, or when placed directly over the firebox, I've seen pots boil while sitting on it too.
The round simmering pad at the right rear was at the Goodwill Warehouse this summer, and I felt that it needed to go home with me. You buy merchandise by the pound there, so I estimate that I paid about $.80 for it. I'll let you know how I like it once I've used it.
The simmering pad at the lower right is one that I purchased new shortly after buying the Qualified range in 1997. I found it in a hardware store in Atlantic, Iowa, and snatched it up in a hurry because I knew that my great-grandmother had owned one just like it. It is constructed of two perforated steel disks that are fastened together so that there is about a half inch between them. Originally, it had a handle on it which connected to the little tab that you can see at the very right edge of the picture. However, the handle had a plastic cover that was not removable, and I found the angle at which it rose to be bothersome for large pots, so I took the handle off. This pad has seen considerable use and has proven very helpful on our new gas range too.
The "burner shield" with the red and white card still attached to it in the front center of the picture was purchased for a dollar at a local estate sale this summer. The card says, "Simply place Burner Shield on top of burner and cook as usual. Protects glass teakettles, sauce pans, casserole dishes, etc." Obviously, I haven't used it yet, either.
The four-pointed star in the lower left is basically the same thing as the aforementioned "burner shield." The difference--other than the shape--is that the four-point star is made of a much narrower gauge wire. This belonged to my grandmother on my dad's side, whom we all called Granny. She used this little thing daily because she had one of those clear Pyrex Flameware teakettles that were popular in the middle of the last century which she used to boil water for instant coffee every morning. This little star was a fixture on the Qualified range for years, but has only recently made its way to the Margin Gem. It has seen quite a bit of use over the years, too.
Other than actually cooking on them, I have also used trivets and simmering pads to keep finished foods warm. For example, when cooking a large meal where mashed potatoes are the staple, a simmering pad is the perfect place to let the kettle of potatoes rest after they are mashed while the meat is carved.
Instead of using trivets and simmering pads, I've read about people using regular building bricks on top of their stoves, and I have seen pictures of people using very short pieces of sawed off metal pipes, too. Clearly, several different options exist, but I'm pleased with my collection here because they won't leave scratches or grit on my stovetop like pipe or bricks might.
If you are a wood cookstove cook, or even a woodstove cook, please let me know what sorts of trivets and simmering pads you use if they differ from mine. It's helpful to me and to other cooks to have as much information as possible here.