Saturday, June 27, 2020

Using the Hayes-Custer Range in the Summer Kitchen

As I've mentioned before, we moved our summer kitchen closer to the house in April of 2019.  However, I didn't get a cookstove hooked up in it last summer because I was so busy with all of the rigamarole of publishing my novel.  This year, because of all the Covid-19 stuff, I've had a lot more time at home, so with the help of my brother, I was able to move the Riverside Bakewell to a different corner of the summer kitchen and put the Hayes-Custer on the hearth.

First, some of you may be wondering why I traded the beautiful green and cream Riverside Bakewell with its spacious warming ovens for the beige Hayes-Custer which is only outfitted with a high shelf, especially when I tell you that the baking ovens and cooktops are the same size.

The Riverside Bakewell--former occupant of
the hearth in our summer kitchen.

Folks, it all comes down to this:

The right oven door hinge broke some years ago, and while the stove still heats, cooks, and bakes just fine, this is a major inconvenience, and it's also rather dangerous since one has to balance the hot oven door on one's knee in order to transfer anything into or out of the oven.

Besides, I also wanted to be able to share the experience of cooking on a different cookstove with all of you.

You can read about the acquisition of the Hayes-Custer at this post, and you can read about the history of the Hayes-Custer Stove Company here, so this post is about the range itself and its actual use.

This stove has done 100% of the cooking, baking, and food preservation here since its installation on June 12th.  While food preservation has so far only been canning pickled beets, blanching peas for the freezer, and a batch of mixed fruit jelly, there is a lot more of that to come.  The meal preparations have only involved breakfast once because I've been eating a lot of toast and cold cereal on these warmer mornings, but dinners and suppers have been a little more elaborate.

So far, I would say that the stove performs just fine.  I do have to rotate things which are baking, but I've got some chimney improvements to do which may change that.  I'll let you know.

The fire you see burning in the stove is of wood, but yes, you
do see coal in that hod in the lower right corner of the picture.
I'm trying to learn how to burn coal, but it is proving to be quite
the learning curve.  I'll let you know if I ever get it figured out.

In the picture below, you can see some homemade hamburger buns which were toasting over the fire, waiting for the barbecued beef which is in the pot to their right.  The hamburger buns were baked in the Hayes-Custer and rotated once.  You can see that the bottoms were sufficiently browned as well.

One of the things that I like about this stove is that it has a pouch feed with a door which lifts up.  The Riverside Bakewell has a pouch feed, but it opens down.  The Qualified Range has a pouch feed too, and it opens up, and I really prefer this arrangement.  The Margin Gem doesn't have a pouch feed, and I would have to admit that I miss it.

You can also see from the picture below that the hole for the lid lifter in the "T" has worn through, and I have stuffed it with foil so it doesn't spoil the draft.  There is also a chip out of the cast iron to the right of the pouch feed door, which I have also temporarily patched with foil for the same reason. This is not scientific stove repair, but it is certainly affordable.  (Actually, the foil had even been used once already.)

While putting the stove back together after moving it, I noticed something unique about the pouch feed door.  The left hinge pin is constructed such that it has a tab on the end that juts out to the left.  This seemingly little thing is actually quite thoughtful on the part of the Hayes-Custer designers. The Qualified Range is not equipped with this extra tab, and I've had the pouch feed door fall off a few times during particularly athletic episodes of adding fuel through this door.

You may have noticed how rusty the top of the range is in the two pictures above.  I had removed all of the rust with my grill brick and given it a good coating of vegetable oil once the stove was in place, but I've had some hot fires since then, so the oil burned off over the firebox quickly.  Then, even though the summer kitchen is an enclosed building, the windows are open nearly all the time, so the humidity can get pretty high in there.  Hence, the rust came back in a hurry.

You can see in the picture below that this stove has seen some intense heat. Below the pouch feed, a repair has been made using stove cement. I imagine that this injury is the result of an extremely hot coal fire at some point in the stove's history.

The Hayes-Custer firebox is 7" deep x 8" wide x 18" long and is equipped with duplex grates.

Another interesting feature of this stove is that the only place which tells you who the manufacturer was is the outside of the front firebox door.  In a day when most stove makers were prominently autographing their ranges, the Hayes-Custer company was concealing their information pretty well. You can also see from this picture that the handle has broken off the front of the ash drawer.  This makes ash removal a little more difficult than it need be, but I've learned that by prying with a small flat screwdriver or the handle of a pair of pliers, you can create a gap between the top of the ash pan and the opening to get your fingers into and pull.

Although I haven't measured its capacity, the reservoir on this stove seems HUGE.  It must hold at least ten gallons.

Of course, when I run into a vintage stove, I can't help but wonder about its history.  Was this range a household's only heat during the notorious winter of 1936?  How many Thanksgiving dinners did it turn out?  In this stove's previous home, it had not been used since the 1970s when an ice storm knocked out the electric power for a week.  It kept its owners warm and well fed during that time.

No matter what its history, it is certainly working hard in its present.  And I'm pretty sure that I'm the first person in its list of owners to ever bake a frozen pizza in it!  Don't be too harsh on us.  During Covid-19 Quarantine, we've eaten exactly two frozen pizzas, but we've had three from-scratch homemade ones, complete with sauce which was home-canned.

You can see the raging fire that was burning in
order to achieve the quick oven needed for baking
a frozen pizza.

The finished frozen pizza.
I don't know what the temperature inside the summer kitchen reaches, but I can assure you it is beastly hot.  However, doing all of the cooking out there has enabled us to go without turning on our house's air conditioning so far this summer.  In addition, there is very little cost involved in collecting the fuel for this stove since I'm able to use small sticks and other poor quality scrap wood I've picked up in our pastures.  And while the Lord has so far protected us from dire financial consequences during these uncertain times, it does seem prudent right now to trim costs wherever we are able.

Stay tuned for more posts which feature this stove, since it looks like it's going to have a busy summer.

In the meantime, if you are interested in the Riverside Bakewell, let me know--since I'm interested in having the floorspace back.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Using My Brother's Vintage Montgomery Ward Cookstove in Our Summer Kitchen

So, way back in 2013, I blogged about my brother's new-to-his-family cookstove in this post, and for nearly seven years, I've been looking forward to hauling this little cookstove over to our place and hooking it up in our summer kitchen.  Since we moved the summer kitchen much closer to the house last spring, we had disconnected the Riverside Bakewell cookstove that was in it.  I wanted to perform a little cookstove rotation anyway, so this was the perfect time to try this little baby out.

When I say "little baby," I mean it.  With the cast iron eyes and "T" removed from the cooktop, I am able to carry it by myself.  Kevin was surprised to find that I had carried it out of the loft of his shed without assistance.  This stove is 26" wide by 21" deep, and it is a back-breaking 25" tall, but don't let its diminutive size fool you.  This stove performs very, very well.

As I have mentioned before, there is no joy in cooking with a wood fire for me unless the stove I'm using has an oven, so I was particularly interested in how this stove would bake.  At first glance, the oven seems tiny, measuring 17.75" deep, 13.5" wide, and 9.5" tall.  In the picture below, I tried to give you a little perspective by holding my spread hand in front of the oven door.  I'm not sure it was the most effective photography technique, though.

Also, it is the first oven on a woodburning cookstove that I have used to be heated using a configuration similar to the one illustrated in the bottom drawing below.  The oven damper is operated by a small lever near the upper right hand corner of the oven door.  For kindling the fire, the damper is turned to the right.  For baking, the lever is turned to the left and thereby diverts all of the smoke and heat from the fire around the oven box.

Well, the stove was installed in our summer kitchen from June 5th to June 12th.  During that time, I did absolutely all of our cooking on it, and I was thoroughly impressed.  You can see from the pictures below that baking was no problem at all.  I did rotate a few things, but this is not uncommon in wood cookstove cookery, and I was pleased and surprised to note how well the bottoms of things had cooked (this can sometimes be a problem on some wood cookstoves).  

The first thing that struck me about the operation of this stove is how quickly it heated.  With the first fire I built, I had the oven temperature up over 400ºF within 15 minutes.  The firebox is small, but not overly so, and during the whole time that the stove was in use, I only used small sticks and wood chips picked up from the floor of the shed where we keep the wood splitter.  Even though the stove is nowhere near airtight, I would say that it was remarkably efficient as I was surprised at how much cooking I could do on so little fuel.

While the stove was in service here, I baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato casserole, bread, hot dog buns, a sour cream cake, a meatloaf, and brownies.  The only thing that didn't turn out well was the brownies--and that was due to a little nephew messing with the timer, not any problem with the stove.

The size of the oven was not as limiting as I thought it would be.  The brownie recipe calls for them to be baked in a 10" x 15" pan, and it fit and worked perfectly.

I have already blogged about cooking our supper of shrimp scampi and capellini pasta, but that was a supper for only two people.  

Our supper of shrimp scampi and capellini pasta
cooking on the tiny Montgomery Ward Cookstove.

I wanted to stretch the capacity of this little stove a bit, and since my young nephews claim the stove as theirs, I wanted to teach them how to use it, too.  Thus, we invited my brother and his family over for supper and therefore served supper for eight cooked on this tiny cookstove.  We had Lamb Loaf Supreme (a recipe out of a vintage pamphlet from the Martin Meat Market which used to be in our hometown--I wasn't impressed, so you won't get to see the recipe here), mashed potatoes, and fried cabbage.  As you can see from the picture below, we had sufficient room on the stove to have been able to cook more food if we had wanted to.

The one characteristic of this stove that I didn't care for was the fact that the sliding draft on the left side is located at the same level as the grate so that when you rake the ashes down or maneuver the dump grate, ashes jump out of the stove onto the floor--a minor inconvenience but worth mentioning.

Overall, the experience of cooking on this stove was fantastic.  Its ease of use and fuel efficiency were quite impressive.  If given the choice between this stove and no wood cookstove at all, I would be glad to have this Montgomery Ward Economy Cookstove.  

One thing I couldn't help but wonder about was its room heating capacity. Our summer kitchen is only 10' x 12', and the weather was hot here the whole time the stove was in use, so I have no idea how warm it might keep a home in the winter.  My romantic side thinks it would be fun to test this stove in some kind of small cabin in the middle of a blizzard, but that will only happen in my imagination.

If you are local to the greater Omaha area, an identical stove is currently for sale on Craigslist at the following link:

After supper with my brother's family, we let the fire go out and exchanged this little cookstove with the Hayes-Custer that I brought home in March of 2018 (more on that stove will be coming).  The next day, I gave my brother's little stove a coat of stove black to retard rust, and he has taken it home now.  I feel better knowing they have it back.  In the event that some humongous disaster occurs, I know that they will be able to stave off starvation with this little marvel.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Making Popcorn on a Wood Cookstove

I like popcorn, but Nancy LOVES popcorn.  Her grandparents, with whom she frequently stayed, would have popcorn for Sunday night supper.  Her grandmother made it in the bottom of an old pressure cooker which she shook over a burner of her propane stove.  We are a little more uptown with a Lindy's stainless steel stovetop corn popper that we purchased at an Amish store, but we still use a stove rather than a microwave or electric popper.

Making popcorn on the gas stove is very easy, but there was a bit of a learning curve for us when it came to popping corn on the wood cookstove.  Here is the key: you've got to have a REALLY HOT fire burning in the stove in order to get the best popcorn.  Thus, at the risk of sounding like a broken record on this blog, we use lots of small sticks to build a raging inferno when we are going to make popcorn.  You can see one of the fires built for popping corn during the Covid-19 Quarantine in the picture below.

You can't tell it well from the photo above, but I try to keep the bulk of the fuel toward the front of the firebox so that the hottest part of the cooktop is the front left lid.  This is the easiest spot to place the popcorn popper since you have to be able to lightly hold the handle with one hand and turn the crank with the other.

Nancy puts a little canola oil in the bottom of the popper along with two kernels of corn, places it on the fire and begins turning the crank.

When she hears the two kernels pop, she knows the oil is the right temperature.

Once the oil is hot, she adds a scant cup of popcorn, shuts the lid and begins turning the crank in earnest.  She says the popcorn is done popping when she can no longer turn the crank.

Within minutes, she has a popper full of delicious popcorn, which she pours out into one of our large stainless steel bowls.  She then seasons it as she desires, and we scarf it down.  If you want, you could use the recipe at this link in order to make caramel popcorn.  Either way, the popcorn is delicious.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Tonight's Supper: Shrimp Scampi on Capellini Pasta

I don't have a single drop of Italian blood in me, and this landlocked Iowa boy would take beef, pork, or poultry over anything from the sea most every time, but I do have a weakness for shrimp.  The last time Nancy and I were in the grocery store together, which we think was sometime in March, Nancy put a bag of frozen shrimp in the cart, saying that we would use them as some kind of treat during the Covid-19 Quarantine time.  The bag was put in the freezer in the basement, and Nancy forgot about it. When she went down to retrieve her ice cream yesterday, she saw it there and asked if we could have "shrimp something" for supper after she got home from work today.

"Shrimp something" would probably have been shrimp Alfredo, but I neglected to buy cream on my last grocery run, so I had to strike out on my own.  The results were so good that I have to blog this before I forget what I did so that I can recreate this supper sometime in the future.

First, since I use this blog for personal record keeping, I need to report that as of last Friday (June 5) I have done all of our cooking out in the summer kitchen on my brother's Montgomery Ward Economy Cookstove that I blogged about back in 2013 in this post.  Our last daily fire in the Margin Gem went out on the morning of June 1, which was when it began to get pretty warm around here.  Obviously, that was also the day that I turned on the electric hot water heater, which we will run for the next four months. This was the latest in the season that we have ever waited to do that, beating our previous record of May 27th.  Thus, the stats for the 2019-2020 heating season are that from October 11 to June 1, all hot water was heated by the Margin Gem, and it cooked all but four of the meals prepared at home during that time (two frozen pizzas, one crockpot roast, and one meal cooked entirely on the grill).  Also, because of Covid-19, the Margin Gem cooked all but seven of the meals I ate between March 16 and May 31.

My brother's Montgomery Ward Economy Cookstove
temporarily installed in our summer kitchen.

I worked the primary election on June 2, and I had cooked enough food ahead that the only cooking I did between the Margin Gem and this little stove was French toast on the gas stove (a ridiculously difficult task--so hard to get it to brown evenly over a gas flame) and baking four potatoes in the electric stove in the basement.

I am writing a whole post about cooking on this little cookstove of Kevin's, so all I'll say here is that it has worked surprisingly well--great really.  I was so anxious to get cooking on it, you'll notice that I didn't get the floor of the summer kitchen scrubbed yet.

Anyway, back to supper tonight.  I started by making the angel hair pasta. To roughly a cup of all-purpose flour, I added a sprinkling of baking powder and a dash of salt, then an egg.  I worked additional flour into the pasta dough until I couldn't get it to take any more by hand.  Then, I started running it through the rollers of my Atlas pasta machine.  I got to level 7 on the rollers and then cut the pasta with the cutter labeled capellini (Italian for "little hairs," slightly larger than true angel hair).  I kind of clumped the pasta into little loosely packed nests and set them aside on a plate to dry a bit while I did other things.  These were probably the best pasta I've ever made.

Making pasta is a messy proposition no matter how you look at it.

I started the fire out in the summer kitchen then, and put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. I also put on the base to the steamer with a little water in it.  While they were heating, I headed to the gardens and picked some garlic chives and two onion leaves.  I washed those and snipped them into a frying pan with a 1/2 stick of butter in it.  Then, I took two tiny garlic bulbs harvested yesterday and put them through my Pampered Chef garlic press; they would have been the equivalent of two store-bought garlic cloves.  The frying pan was carried out to the stove then, where the other two kettles had come to a boil.

While the butter was beginning to melt and cook the herbs from the garden, I put a large head of broccoli in the steamer and dropped the nests of pasta into the boiling water.  By that time, the butter was simmering nicely, so I added about nine oz. of the cooked, frozen shrimp and a few parsley flakes.  Since the shrimp was already cooked, it just needed to thaw and heat through.

Tonight's supper cooking on my brother's little stove.
Sorry about the lens cap on the right side of the pic.
I couldn't hold onto the lids of the two kettles and
keep the lens cap out of the way at the same time.

Everything was finished cooking at the same time, so I carried it all back into the house.  We used a slotted spoon to fish the pasta nests out of the water, draining them as we did so.  Then, we scooped the cooked shrimp and its buttery juice over the pasta and sprinkled it with grated parmesan cheese.  The steamed broccoli was seasoned with a quick sprinkle of garlic salt, and supper was served.

Our supper.  Next time we'll be sure to buy shrimp that doesn't
have its tails on.

Nancy said I had hit the nail on the head with what she had in mind for "shrimp stuff," and we agreed that our supper tasted like it had come from a fine Italian restaurant.  It really was outstanding if I do say so myself. Making the pasta was the most difficult part of this meal, and if I were in a hurry and not in the middle of a pandemic, I would have bought angel hair nests in the grocery store and not thought twice about it.  We are looking forward to having this meal again when our own broccoli is ready to eat.