Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cream Puffs: An Ideal Wood Cookstove Dessert

Cream puffs are one of my favorite desserts, and they are an ideal recipe for the wood cookstove.  If your chickens are like ours and the lengthening days have resulted in increased egg production, cream puffs are also a great food to make during this time of year.  For one thing, the weather has not gotten warm yet.  This allows the cream puffs to keep better, and standing over the stove while you make the filling is still a pleasant experience.

Cream puffs are very simple, and if you have your own chickens and a dairy cow or goat, you can produce a great deal of the ingredients for them on your own.  Here is what you will need:

1 cup water
1/2 cup cold butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

1. The first thing to do is to build your fire so that you will have a hot oven (400ยบ F).  As you do this, keep in mind that your baking time is going to be 45 minutes long.  I find that it is best to have a lot of pieces of firewood that are small in diameter.

2. Once the top of the stove has gotten good and hot, put the water and the butter in a medium saucepan and place it directly over the fire.  You want to bring this mixture to a full boil.

Note: I find that I have better results when the butter is cold when I put it in the water.  I don't know why, but it seems to make a difference.

3. While the water and butter are coming to a boil, crack four eggs into a measuring cup and measure your flour.  This is also a good time to grease the cookie sheet you will bake these on.

4. Once the water/butter mixture has come to a full boil and the butter is completely melted, take the pan off the fire and immediately stir in one cup of flour.  This will make a paste that smells awful and doesn't really look very nice either.

5. Stir the eggs into the paste one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Do this quickly because you don't want the eggs to cook before you've beaten them in.  Now your paste will be a sticky, bright yellow goop that still looks and smells unappetizing.

6. Drop or pipe the puff paste onto the greased cookie sheet.  You can make these as big as you want.  In stores, they seem to always be bitesized.  I tend to prefer a more bold cream puff, so I drop them by the 1/4 cup.  

7. Bake in a hot oven for 35-45 minutes, watching to be sure that the edges aren't turning too dark.  

If you are going to fill the cream puffs with a cooked custard, it is best to cook it during this time because your stove is already hot for the baking. My favorite filling is my great-grandma Gladys's vanilla cornstarch pudding. You can find the recipe here.

7. When done, remove from the oven and cool completely.

8. To serve, either slice the cream puff in half to insert the filling, or you may use a pastry gun to squirt the filling inside the cream puff.  I like to sprinkle powdered sugar over the top, but for fancier occasions, I have diluted strawberry jam with strawberry syrup and drizzled that on top of the cream puff and then dusted it all with the powdered sugar.  I know I'm weird, but I also like my cream puffs warm, so I often pop them in the microwave for a few seconds before eating them.  

I consider cream puffs an excellent wood cookstove recipe because you take advantage of the heat of the fire to make the paste while your oven is heating, and then while they are baking, you again make double use of the fire by making the custard filling.  Really, your fire is always serving a double purpose as you make these.  Also, with the exception of the butter, these are a very economical but fancy dessert.

Note: This is the same recipe for eclairs.  The difference is that eclairs are usually piped onto the cookie sheet in oblong shapes, and they have chocolate on the top. 

Grandma Gladys's Vanilla Cornstarch Pudding on the Wood Cookstove

This recipe comes from Grandma Gladys, who was one of my maternal great-grandmothers.  She passed away two months before I was born, but my recipe box has several of her mainstay menu items in it, and I think this is one of the best.  I know that boxed pudding mixes are cheap and extremely easy, but this really is such a simple recipe, and cooking on a wood cookstove makes me want to make things from scratch as often as possible.

You will need the following ingredients:

3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk, divided
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
2 Tblsp. butter
dash salt (optional)
vanilla flavoring

First, beat the egg yolks and the sugar in a heavy saucepan.  I always use my three-quart Magnalite aluminum one.

Add the rest of the ingredients except for the vanilla and bring to a boil directly over the firebox, stirring constantly.

The pudding will thicken immediately upon boiling.  At that point, remove from the fire and add a splash of vanilla.  

That's it!  It is that easy, and it tastes so much better than instant pudding that the two are not even comparable.

Sometimes I've seen recipes like this that say "discard the whites" after telling you to separate the eggs.  That makes me crazy because it is such a waste of food.  When I make this pudding, I always fry the egg whites for my breakfast the next morning.  I like fried eggs, but I love fried egg whites.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Woodburning Cookstove: A Prepper's Necessity

When one thinks of major disasters, usually events like tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, wildfires, or tsunamis come to mind.  Of course, major disasters can take the form of man-made catastrophes as well, such as terrorist attacks or economic depressions.

If your home is completely destroyed in a disaster such as these, there is relatively little you could have done ahead of time in order to mitigate the aftereffects of such an event.  However, many of these calamities can leave your home untouched or damaged but still inhabitable.  When this is the case, whatever steps you have taken to prepare for a major disruption in your normal life will be greatly appreciated.

Each of the disasters listed above--except perhaps economic depression--carry with them the possibility of an extended electrical power outage as a part of their destruction.  I, for one, find our American dependence on electrical power absolutely frightening.  Fortunately, a power outage is something people can prepare for.

Power outages take many different forms.  Some can affect just one house or only a few houses.  Others can be widespread blackouts.  When you think about it, though, the number of homes involved in the power outage is not nearly as important as the length of time the power outage lasts.  A blink of only a few seconds is a mere blip in the vinyl that makes you reset the clock on your microwave oven.  The power outage of an hour could be an annoying inconvenience that alters your plans a bit.  An outage lasting more than two days can have disastrous consequences on your household budget if the food in your home freezer is spoiled.

In contrast, the power outages that I think about being prepared for are the results of disasters of a much larger scale, such as a major storm which could take out the electricity for a period of weeks or a solar flare or EMP (manmade or otherwise), which could alter the use of electricity for the foreseeable future on a scale that we have trouble even imagining.

Now, I don't consider myself a "prepper."  I don't have anything against preppers, but I know that in the event of a long-term, large-scale blackout like an EMP, I'm on the short list of people who will die soon because of my utter dependence on blood pressure medications.  I'm actually okay with that since having Jesus Christ as my Savior makes the next life look far better than this Earthly one anyway, and if we're looking at a catastrophic compromise of the electrical grid, I don't want to stick around to watch American society implode.  The problem is that I could live a headache-ridden existence for quite awhile since it's not up to me.  Thus, I can't help but think and plan a little bit.

If a power outage of this magnitude occurs, I think that having and knowing how to use an installed woodburning cookstove is an essential preparedness item.  Here are my reasons:

1. A woodburning cookstove can be used indefinitely.
Many people's answer to energy independence is a propane range.  I see this all the time in homesteading/preparedness videos and blogs as well as in homesteading magazines.  If you live in an area where a woodburning range is an impossibility, then a propane cooking device of some kind is certainly a better option than no option at all.  However, in a situation such as an EMP, whatever propane you have in your possession at the time of the disaster is the extent of the propane you will probably have for a very long time.  Thus, you cannot cook over propane indefinitely.

What waffles for supper might look like at our
house during an extended power outage (as long
as we still have lamp oil, of which I keep gallons
on hand).

With a woodburning cookstove, you will be able to cook as long as you are able to procure fuel.  Keep in mind, however, that if you are completely dependent on your chain saw and gasoline log splitter, you are not much better off than those with propane ranges.  For this reason, it is best to keep a manual set of wood-gathering equipment at hand.  The good news about these items is that they can be procured for little money.

Also, a wood cookstove can burn a number of different bio-fuels, so unlike a propane range which can only burn one type of fuel, you have several more options with a woodburning cookstove.

2. A woodburning cookstove can be used to heat your home and your water.

It is true that you can heat your water with a propane range, but heating your home with one is a dangerous proposition because of carbon monoxide.  The other advantage to a woodburning cookstove in this instance is that the fire that is cooking your food can be warming your home and your water at the same time, whereas heating water on a propane range will involve increased fuel consumption no matter how you look at it.

While I'm talking about water, let me take a moment to admit that I feel strongly that this is our achilles heal on our farm.  Though we are still using the same water system designed by my great-grandparents where gravity delivers water to the house and barns from an in-ground cistern on top of the hill behind the house, we no longer have a windmill to pump the water from the well to the cistern.  That situation is something I would like to rectify sooner rather than later.  At least, while there is water in the cistern, our wood cookstove hot water heating system allows us hot and cold running water without the aid of any electricity whatsoever.

After a long day of dealing with the life changes that a major, long-term power outage created, a hot shower would feel really good.

3. Your diet during a large-scale emergency won't have to change so drastically.

Most of the things I've read about preparing for a major, long-term catastrophe advise that keeping as much normalcy as possible is good. This advice extends to menu-planning, too, especially if you have children in your family.  In the face of the many day-to-day challenges which will arise from living without electricity, people will take comfort in being able to sit down and enjoy a familiar meal.

A wood cookstove can do anything that a modern range can do with the only exception being broiling in the fashion that we are familiar with where a heating element or flame is above the food. This means that wood cookstove owners will be able to cook just like they had been doing before the power went out.  The problem will be that in a situation like an EMP, the availability of familiar foods will be altered.

For this photo, I opened the firebox door to
prove that I was truly baking the waffles on the
wood cookstove (some people doubt this without
seeing the fire).  You will notice that this photo
was taken after Nancy had her waffle on her plate.
She doesn't like my homemade pancake syrup--
hence the bottle of Log Cabin syrup next to her

4. A wood cookstove will allow you to prepare food for long-term storage.

As mentioned above, a long-term power outage can cause you to lose the food in your home freezer.  Of course, when you see that the freezer is no longer maintaining a safe temperature for frozen foods, you might begin to consume as much of the food as possible.  However, our freezer is a 25 cubic foot model, and eating all the food that we store there would be very difficult to do in a short amount of time.  To be prepared to save as much of that food as possible, I always maintain a large supply of canning jars and lids.  Neither of these will do me any good, though, unless I've got a woodburning cookstove to can on.

A word or two about canning lids in a long-term disaster:  We buy our canning lids in bulk sleeves from the Amish.  They are much more reasonably priced than buying them by one dozen boxes.  This means that we usually have several dozen canning lids on hand at all times.  However, these are single-use lids.  In the event of a major catastrophe where they would no longer be in production, my supply will dwindle in a hurry. Recognizing that, I have a small collection of Tattler re-usable lids, and a very large collection of zinc and glass lids and rubber sealing rings which are also re-usable.  In my library of vintage canning books, explicit canning instructions for these lids are also maintained, and I have been practicing with them.

5. A woodburning cookstove is more convenient than cooking outdoors or cooking on a heating stove.

Some readers may be thinking that as long as they have a woodburning heating stove, they can cook, heat, and can with that.  This is true, of course, if your heating stove is designed in such a way as to make that possible (our Jotul is not).  When I was growing up, we only had a woodburning heating stove, and I tried cooking on it, and I've always been impressed by what Misty Prepper could do on her Fischer, but a woodburning cookstove is far easier to cook with than a heating stove.  At a time when virtually every other task could be more difficult than usual, any little convenience will be appreciated.

No doubt some of my readers have had their suspicions about my sanity confirmed with this post.  Others will think I'm woefully ignorant about what prepping really entails.  I'd like to hear from both.
What reasons have I missed?  As always, I welcome you to use the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!