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Thursday, September 16, 2010

home canning

Woodstove Cooking Part 1

Baking in Cast IronImage by Chiot's Run via Flickr
Cooking on a Woodstove, Part 1
By Shayna, www.placeofrefuge2012.com

I was very excited to begin cooking on my wood cookstove, but I was also intimidated. It seemed so complicated with all those doors, levers and implements. I got a lot of good information from the book, Woodstove Cookery, by Jane Cooper. But actually, it turns out that it’s more “feel” than exactness. And as you use it, that feel becomes something you don’t have to think about. But here are some basics that will shorten your “trainee time”.

First, don’t be afraid of your stove. Feel the different temperatures on different parts of the stove (must I say it? Be careful not to burn yourself!), notice how long things take to get to the different stages of being cooked. Try cooking things at lower temperatures and notice how the food changes as it cooks, and what subtle differences there are in the end result. If the stove gets too hot, close down the vents and see if that brings it to the tempurature you need. Even if you burn something, there’s a lesson to be learned here, too --- just don’t do it too often! You will find that cooking with a wood stove is really an art, and very willing to give up her secrets.

What kind of stove to get
Some people are lucky enough to find an oldie but goodie, used but still usable, antique stove. eBay has them from time to time, but you have to be able to pick them up yourself, as shipping costs would be unbearable. Besides, you would want to inspect it before you closed the deal.

Most new wood cookstoves I have seen range about $2000. I got my stove at a local building supply house, for only $411 in 2008 (I understand it’s $700 now in 2009). It’s a small model, cast iron, made in China. But it has 6 burners (I’ll explain more later) and an oven that holds a small roast, 2 chickens, or two loaves of bread. It’s more than adequate. I’ve been cooking on it all day, every day for about a year now and I have no complaints.

We covered the kitchen floor with saltillo tile, so that sparks would not be a problem, and we built a platform out of cement board and saltillo tile so the cooking surface would be high and comfortable enough for us.

The cookstove is also our source of heat in our 700 sq. ft. house. Because woodstoves have a small firebox, it’s necessary to fill it more often than we would like, so on the coldest nights, we have to get out from under the covers about every half hour to stuff the stove. But it does the job.


How does it work

Most wood cookstoves will have a configuation like this:


On the top, near the stovepipe, should be a lever to open and close the flue (the opening for the chimney or stovepipe). On the left side of the stove should be another grate that can be opened to allow more air to flow in. There is another air-flow grate on the back, behind the ash box.

The top will look like this:

About once every month or two depending on the type of wood I use and how often I use the stove), I burn a “creosote log” to clean out the chimney. This helps prevent a chimney fire and cleans out the chimney so that the draft is good, giving a better fire for cooking with. Some people say that if you get a really hot fire going for a while it will burn out the creosote, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.



How to BUILD a fire

The first thing to do is make sure that the ash box and the area that the ash box slips into are cleaned out of yesterday’s ashes. Then open the chimney flue all the way, open the left side vent grate and if you want or need to, the back air flow grate.

Whenever I am teaching someone to start a fire, I always tell them to remember this: You are BUILDING a fire. This means, don’t start off stuffing all your big logs onto the newspaper whatever you use for kindling, light a match and expect it all to go poof and light. Start with small pieces and as the fire grows, add bigger pieces.

Here is another thing to keep in mind when building a fire. Fire takes fuel (the wood) and air. If your kindling or bigger logs are too close together, you won’t have a good fire.

I place three small rolls of paper (I find paper grocery bags ripped into 8” by 12” pieces and rolled up the best, newspapers second) on the grate, and a few pieces of kindling on that. Don’t use too much paper, it’s not necessary and it will “dirty-up” your stove pipe.

Kindling wood is the small pieces that come off the wood when it’s being chopped or is out on the ground. About 1/8” thick and maybe 6”-8” long, and very dry. Rough, broken pieces light better. Make sure that there is air flow around the kindling, not all in one pile. Actually, I like to criss-cross the kindling over the newspaper to ensure that there is good air flow.

Then I light the paper with a match and let the kindling catch a good flame. When the kindling is burning well, I add a couple of bigger logs until they catch well, then I add more logs to fill the fire box, but being sure I have air flow. At this point, I close the back vent and bring the flue to halfway closed. This will keep the heat on the cooking surface and oven, rather than flowing up the chimney.

The next thing you have to do is wait – until the stove gets hot enough to cook with, usually about 15 minutes to ½ hour, depending on what you are cooking. First thing in the morning, I put the tea kettle on when I get the fire lit, and when it boils I know the stove is ready.

If I should let the fire go unattended for too long and find I only have a few coals left, I add a few pieces of kindling on top of some of the hot coals, and then I blow on it gently through the firebox door (move your face away when you inhale) until the kindling lights, then I re-build the fire as above.

Part 2 coming soon!
Peace,
Shayna
www.placeofrefuge2012.com