Saturday, Nov. 06, 2004
There are always these moments in movies about homesteading days when the woman o' the house opens the oven door on her wood stove and pulls out a perfectly baked pie or four golden loaves of bread.
All sham and trickery. Hollywood special effects.
I know, because I bake in a wood burning cook stove.
Our little village's fall harvest supper is tonight and they asked me to produce a dessert. While I am the proud owner of a counter top range, I do not have an electric or gas powered oven.
No, no, none of those new fangled appliances for me, by golly.
This lack of a conventional oven would be a true tragedy in the summer (when a wood cook stove would raise the temperature in our home to something approaching the surface of the sun) if I was one of those people who actually cooks.
Fortunately, cooking and I are only casually acquainted. No one will ever accuse me of anything approaching culinary skills. In our home, a meal that does not involve the smoke detector going off, or food poisoning, is considered something of a small triumph. Yep, the spousal unit did not marry me for my cooking.
Anyone who has seen me knows it wasn't for my looks or raw sex appeal either, which leaves the whole "why did he marry her?" question as one of the great imponderables, not unlike the whole "how much wood would a woodchuck chuck" dilemma which has stumped great minds over the millennia.
But I wasn't talking about that. No, no I was talking about producing a dessert in a woodstove.
Clearly the spousal unit did not marry me for my clear, linear thinking, either.
First off, on a woodstove you can't just turn a thermostat to 350 degrees, walk away for ten minutes and then come back to an appliance radiating an even, perfect temperature. Where's the sport in that?
No, with a woodstove you have to insert newspaper, kindling and then small bits of hardwood. It takes about 15 minutes to get that going and after that you can put in some larger blocks of wood and start them burning. The woodbox on a woodstove is on the left. Heat and flames are drawn to the right, over the top of the oven.
If you close the draft, you can force heat down the right side of the oven, under the bottom and then up the back to the stovepipe and chimney. This means the oven is stupidly hot on the left side, only less obscenely hot on the top, cooler on the right side and a bit cooler on the bottom.
If I'm just producing a casserole or stew type dish which has lots of liquid, this is not a big deal. Food such as this can deal with heat fluctuations as the wood fire burns hotter and colder, as well as the different heat zones in the oven itself.
But a baked item such as a cake, cookies, or in my case an apple crisp? Now you're talking science because your baked items are not amongst your flexible food groups.
To ensure an even temperature, I have to burn my fire down to the point where there is just a large bed of coals--the heat given by burning wood fluctates constantly. I have to cover the top rack of the oven completely with foil to reflect the hellacious heat upwards so it doesn't burn the top of my baked cookness to volcanic ash.
I have to continually rotate my baked goodness so that the heat from the left side of the oven does not sear the left side of my dish. (While I have found that throwing in enough hot pepper sauce makes it possible to pawn off a burnt pot roast as Cajun blackened pot roast, the whole Cajun blackened apple crisp thingie? Simply doesn't fly.)
You might think that is challenge enough, but you would be so very, very wrong. If the bottom does not cook, but the top begins to brown too much, you have to take the apple crisp out of the oven and place it on a series of strategically placed trivets on the top of the woodstove and finish cooking the apples that way, peering through the Pyrex constantly to make sure that the bottom of the dish does not burn.
All told, including the 20 minutes it took me to peel 7 pounds of apples and make the crust, it took me over 90 minutes to produce one jumbo apple crisp. This I do on an air tight wood cookstove, which is a marvel of modern design and gives the sort of relatively even heat that someone using an old fashioned cookstove could only dream of.
So next time you're watching some sort of homesteading show and you see the woman o' the house pulling four perfect, golden loaves of bread out of the oven with almost no effort on her part?
Smoke and mirrors, kids. Pure smoke and mirrors.
Oh man. This is going to be hard
Goal for 2004: 1,000 miles - 1609 kilometers
Want to delve into my sordid past?
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