Friday, October 30, 2020

Link to a Great Cookstove Video

With the latest uptick in Covid-19 cases around here, I've taken to eating my school lunch alone in the classroom in which I am substituting to minimize my exposure.  And since I'm by myself, I watch Youtube videos while I eat.  Among other things, I watch whatever videos I can find about cooking on a wood cookstove, and I found a fantastic one this week.  

Cape Cod couple Tom and Lauren own and use an antique Herald C range made by O. G. Thomas in Taunton, Massachusetts.  They've had the range since the 1970s and had it restored in the 1990s.  Besides supplementing their home heating, the range does a lot of their cooking as it is conveniently located between their kitchen and living room.

The reason I'm excited to link to this video is because it contains excellent footage of the flue path around the oven, the oven damper, and the oven clean out door for this style of range.  I've mentioned before that the woodburning ranges which were manufactured in the Northeast are entirely different from those manufactured in the Midwest, and I've never seen a stove like this in person, so this video is an excellent resource for those of us who are unfamiliar with this style of stove.  The video contains several points of new learning for me, and I was totally fascinated.

The first thing that caught my attention was the tool that he demonstrates at 00:39.  I've never seen something that could lift the "T" and the two lids over the firebox at once.  I might have to put one of these on my Christmas list sometime for use on the Hayes-Custer!

The second surprise for me was at 1:22 when we get to see the oven clean out door.  I did not know that some of these were located so that they opened into what is called the "hearth" on this style of stove.  It seems to me like this would be a much cleaner way to remove the soot from the flue path around the oven than having the door open at the front of the stove.

Starting at 2:00, you can see the flue path around the oven.  In the diagram's below from John Vivian's book Wood Heat, you can see two flue paths.  I'm used to the version on the top, but the video shows an excellent version of the lower design.

The oven damper is demonstrated at 3:28, and I've never seen another one like it.

At 14:10 Tom does an excellent job of explaining the function of the check draft on the upper left side of the firebox, too.  To me, this is one of the most informative Youtube videos I've ever seen about a wood cookstove.

So after all of that advertising, here is the link:

Please do them a favor and hit the like button on the video.  For bonus content, you can see them making a Cape Cod Clam Boil along with appetizers on the cookstove at this link:

I hope you all enjoy these videos as much as I did, and I'm very thankful for Tom's permission to link to them here.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Economizing with Your Wood Cookstove

In the autumn of 2019, we didn't turn off our electric water heater and make the annual switch to wood heated water and daily firing of the Margin Gem until October 11.   Well, the fall of 2020 has been much cooler here, and with the economic uncertainties of the world today, it seemed prudent to make this transition much earlier.  Thus, we turned off our electric hot water heater on August 30 of this year, and with the exception of running it again for an hour and a quarter on Labor Day, which happened to be hot, all of our water has been heated by the Margin Gem since then.  And because the Margin Gem has been fired daily, the vast majority of our cooking has been done on it too.  This is the earliest we've ever made that transition, and the monetary savings has already been borne out in our most recent electric bill.

This got me to thinking about wood cookstove economics.  If you don't have to pay for your fuel, the wood cookstove can be an enormous money saver.  Yes, buying and installing a woodburning range is quite an investment, but as long as you can harvest and work up your own fuel, you begin to save money starting with the first fire you use in your range.  In the face of dire economic circumstances, I think a woodburning cookstove can be a tremendous tool for making a household as cost-efficient as possible.  Below you will find a list of some ways to take advantage of the money-savings a woodburning cookstove can provide.  Links are provided to posts which go into more detail.

A). Use a Wood Cookstove to Heat Domestic Hot Water

Shutting off our electric hot water heater shaves a minimum of $20 from our electric bill each month.  I figure that by the end of this calendar year, having our water heated by the Margin Gem will have saved us at least $1300 over the life of the system so far.  This means that the extra cost of the range boiler, the water jacket, and the specialized plumbing has paid for itself, and there are many years of continued service left in them.  If your water system and local codes will allow the installation of a range boiler system on your woodburning cookstove, I highly recommend it.

However, even if hot running water from your cookstove is not an option, heating water with your cookstove can be accomplished in a number of other ways.  Most cookstoves have a water reservoir option for heating water that is manually drawn from the stove.  In my experience, water heated in the range's reservoir is much hotter than the temperature at which most people would set their automatic water heaters.  Thus, a water reservoir that only holds five gallons actually provides far more hot water than its capacity because the super-heated hot water will have to be tempered with additional cold water before it can be used.

In addition to a reservoir, water can be heated in vessels on top of the stove.  The most commonly found is the old-fashioned teakettle; its spout makes using the water from it quite convenient, too.  You'd be surprised how many dishes can be washed and rinsed in a mere gallon of boiling water that has been diluted with cold water to a usable temperature.  You may find it impossible to turn off your automatic water heater, but you can still save a little money by supplementing it with a little hot water here and there from your wood cookstove.

B. Take Advantage of the Home Heating Capacity of Your Woodburning Range

The woodburning cookstove can be a powerful heater.  In fact, new ranges even come complete with BTU ratings and information about the number of square feet that they can heat.  I'm kind of amused by that because when you look at old cookstove advertisements, the heating capacity of the range is never mentioned.  Instead, they were always about the quality of the stove's construction, its fuel efficiency, and ALWAYS about its superior baking capabilities--even though history is replete with stories about cookstoves being the sole source of heat for many homes.  Nowadays, advertisements tout the cookstove's heating capacity, but they don't say much about how well a stove can bake.  Oh, the pendulum swings we see in life!

To maximize the heating capabilities of your woodburning range, keep the cooktop as free from extra kettles and miscellaneous as possible in order to let the heat radiate into the room.  Open that oven door, too!  The greater the surface area that is exposed, the greater the heat sent into the room.

Also, a strategically placed fan can move the heat through your house better, making you feel warmer when you are not standing right next to the stove.  You can see our wood stove fan to the right on the Qualified Range below.  For more details about getting the most heat from your wood cookstove, visit this post. 

C) Use Your Woodburning Range Instead of Your Small Kitchen Appliances

Conventional kitchen wisdom is that electric countertop appliances use less energy than utilizing your kitchen stove to accomplish the same cooking task.  This is the complete opposite of what happens when your kitchen stove is a woodburning range.  Here is a list of small electrics that can stay in the cupboard when the cookstove is in use:

The Electric Skillet
French Toast cooking on the wood cookstove.

The Toaster

For a very lengthy post about the many ways you can toast bread on a wood cookstove, visit here and here.

The Microwave

In the pictures below, you can see me using the warming ovens on both the Riverside Bakewell and the Margin Gem to soften or melt butter and to defrost homemade applesauce.  Susan Fenoff, in her video about using wood cookstoves, calls the warming oven her "Amish microwave."

The Waffle Iron

Waffles are delicious, but waffles cooked on a wood cookstove are a step above in my opinion.

The Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

There are actually many ways that you can use your cookstove as a slow cooker/crock pot, but the method discussed in this post creates the most similar heat by using your wood cookstove's oven with the door open.

The Electric Wok

I don't know anyone with an electric wok anymore, but I know they exist.  However, you don't need one because you can cook wonderful Oriental food in a stovetop wok on a wood cookstove.

The Insta-Pot

I am almost afraid to point this one out since I know many people are in love with their Insta-Pots, but you can use a pressure cooker on top of a wood cookstove quite easily.  Sure, it won't do all of the things that an Insta-Pot can do, but you can pick up a cheap used pressure cooker in second hand stores very easily, and the food possibilities are endless and fast.

My favorite thing to cook in a pressure cooker is tougher cuts of meat, but you can quickly cook vegetables, rice, and even hot cereals in them.

The Popcorn Popper

You'll need a very hot fire, but you can easily pop popcorn on top of a woodburning cookstove, and don't worry about having a fancy hand-cranked popper.  You can get popcorn that is every bit as delicious by shaking it in a plain old saucepan.

The Deep Fat Fryer

Of course you have to be careful, but the wood cookstove is great for deep fat frying.  Historically, wood cookstove cooks favored frying over baking because it is easier to control the temperature of the oil than the oven.  In the picture above, you see homemade chicken nuggets frying on the Margin Gem, and in the post I wrote about them, I discuss the details and cautions that are necessary to deep fat fry on a wood cookstove.

Some readers may look at the above points and note that specialized equipment is sometimes necessary.  For example, in order to bake waffles on your wood cookstove, a stovetop waffle iron is a requirement.  They are increasingly hard to come by in antique stores, and the price has risen exponentially in the last twenty years.  However, new stovetop waffle irons are still available from Lehman Hardware, and at anywhere between $30 - $60, they are competitively priced with new electric ones.  Stovetop waffle irons can be used on gas and electric coil-type modern ranges too, so they are not a bad investment when your countertop waffle iron gives up the ghost.

D. Use Your Wood Cookstove in Place of Other Non-Cooking Appliances

Your wood cookstove can do the jobs of other energy consuming appliances as well.  Here is a list of non-cooking appliances that you can unplug:

The Scentsy® Warmer

Wonderful aromas can be sent wafting through your home by simmering potpourri on top of your wood cookstove.  You'd be amazed how many things resting quietly in your spice rack can be put to use as perfumes for your house without having to spend a ton of money on a ceramic warmer and individually packaged lumps of colored soy oil.

Still, if the colored lumps are your preference, you can melt them in a pan on the cool end of the range just as well as in the expensive warmers.  The same can be said of candles in glass jars.  When we get down to the bottom of a candle which has a scent we really enjoy, instead of lighting the candle, we just put the glass jar as far away from the fire as possible.  The warmth of the stove still melts the wax so that it can emit the scent.  Eventually, the aroma wears away and the candle can move onto its next stage of usefulness, but we've taken all possible advantage of its perfume.  NOTE: Just be sure not to put any glass candle vessels where the heat of the fire is so intense that it could break the glass.  That could be a disastrous fire hazard!

The Clothes Iron

I know, I know.  Some of you are laughing because it's been years since you've ironed any clothes at all.  Well, more power to you.  But for those of us for whom ironing is still a very real chore, ironing can still be accomplished with a wood cookstove as your source of heat.  That's all I'll say about that here.

The Clothes Dryer

American households have to be the worst in the world about wasting energy to dry clothing.  Oops!  Sorry, I jumped up on one of my soapboxes there for a second.  Seriously, though, a clothes rack placed near the wood cookstove can speed along the drying process for freshly laundered clothes.  In the past, woodburning ranges were even equipped with rods for drying towels, mittens, and socks.  Cookstoves can still be used to cheaply and quickly dry clothes.  The double advantage in this is that your can also unplug your home humidifier if you are hanging your clothes to dry indoors.

E. Eat Leftovers

Reducing food waste is one of the easiest things a household manager can do to save money.  In the future, I hope to write a series of posts which give hints and recipes for making leftover foods into entirely new dishes.  I will admit that reheating leftovers is the primary function of our microwave oven, but there are many more tasty ways that leftovers can be reheated or re-made using the wood cookstove.  For example, instead of tossing mashed potatoes in the microwave and having them come out smelling unappetizing and looking no better, making mashed potato patties requires only a little extra effort, and the end product is three times as delicious.

Two posts that I already have which deal with leftovers include one about how to use leftover roast beef and gravy that is very good.  However, if you are really serious about stretching your grocery dollar, the most economical food discussed on this blog is definitely pot-au-feu.

A bowl of Pot-a-Feu.

Literally translated from the French, pot-a-feu means "pot on the fire."  It is as delicious as you want it to be, it is never the same twice, and it is only feasible on a wood cookstove.  

In short, to get the largest financial return from a wood cookstove, make it the energy center of the home.  This is most certainly the way our ancestors used their kitchen ranges, and if one of today's households is blessed with a working wood cookstove, it still has every capability of serving in that capacity.

So, dear readers, what have I missed?  Fill up the comments below with what you do, what you remember your ancestors doing, or what you have heard others did to save money with a wood cookstove.  I'm anxiously awaiting your feedback.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Crawford Ranges from the Walker & Pratt Company

I am fascinated by the fact that American wood and coal cookstove construction varied so much by geographical region.  As I scroll through the various antique ranges that are for sale on eBay (something I spend too much time doing), I can pretty much tell at a glance whether the stove was made in the Northeast, the South, or the Midwest.

One of the giveaway traits of cookstoves made in the Northeast is that they continued to make 100% cast iron stoves long after the strategic incorporation of steel infiltrated stove construction in other parts of the country.  I've been told that all-cast iron ranges last longer and are easier to repair than their partly steel contemporaries, and my personal observation is that they seem to have greater longevity as well.

The Walker & Pratt Manufacturing Company of Boston, Massachusetts, is one of those northeastern companies whose ranges are still commonly found today.  Try as I might, I am unable to find definite dates for when the Walker & Pratt Company began and ended their manufacture of stoves.  One thing that everyone who talks about them likes to mention, though, is that the company manufactured cannon balls and other ammunition during the Civil War.  Once again, no date is present anywhere in this circular, but judging from the women's fashion depicted, the print fonts used, and the styles of ranges advertised, my best guess is that it was printed circa 1910.  

I actually had the opportunity to see two Crawford Ranges in person at Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa.  You can read about them in this post.  The stoves shown in the circular below are considerably younger than those at Living History Farms, however.

Gabriel and Sarah Chrisman of Port Townsend, Washington, have a restored Crawford Range in use in their Victorian home.  You can read about the stove and watch a video of Sarah baking cookies in it at this link.

Someday, I hope to get the opportunity to cook on one of these fine ranges.  Until then, if any of my readers are Crawford Range owners and operators, by all means please fill up the comments with your thoughts about these beauties!  Any additional information about the Walker & Pratt Manufacturing Company would also be greatly appreciated.