A Place in the Country, Part II: The Wood Cookstove

Keeping warm on top of the Pioneer Maid

Keeping warm on top of the Pioneer Maid

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

My friend Curt looked at me across the cookstove, with concern in his eyes. He has more experience with cookstoves than I do.

“Of course not,” I thought. “A few months ago, I still lived in a city neighborhood, cooked on a gas stove, and never dreamed I’d be using cast iron cookware and fire to make dinner. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“No,” I said.

“I wondered, because that’s the hottest part of the stove, and if you let the chili simmer there, it can burn faster than you’d think. That cast iron can get pretty warm.” I moved the chili pot nearer to the right side of the stovetop, which is cooler.

Eventually, things turned out—the chili wasn’t burned, and my husband and I had a nice dinner with our very patient friends.

It’s been entertaining, learning to prepare meals on my cookstove. (Mine is a Pioneer Maid, predecessor to the Pioneer Princess that Lehman’s also carries.)

My favorite thing to cook with is a Lodge Dutch Oven–pre-seasoned–which my husband bought me as a ‘moving in’ present when we bought our former Amish farmhouse a while back. I picked up some traditional cast iron too, but the hubs has issues with the idea that you can’t ‘wash it’. I know, I know. To keep peace in the home, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. We’ve used the Lodge to make every kind of soup imaginable. The slow-simmer spaghetti sauce turns out rich and wonderful too. And there’s always chili. I want to do a stovetop roast chicken in it this winter.

I also got my hands on a restaurant quality heavy-gauge stainless steel wok that has a high-temp silicone handle. It’s sturdy, does well in high heat conditions, and makes the yummiest stir-fry in no time at all. I just lift up and remove the lid over the front of the firebox, settle the wok in, add some sesame oil, let it warm up, and cook away. (This won’t work for everyone! Make sure your wok will stay in place by checking on a COLD stove first.) You should have all your ingredients ready to go, because with the heat you get from a freshly stoked and stacked firebox, you can’t leave the wok. Be careful—make sure your face, hands and body are protected from the heat as you cook. (As I write this, I realize I’ve not yet made rice on the cookstove. There’s another to-do for the cooking list.)

Last winter, I attempted baking. It was a spectacular fail, but I learned a great deal. First, make sure that your brownie pans don’t touch the oven walls. Mine did–the oven wall closest to the fire box. The pan overheated. Batter exploded everywhere. I learned quickly that modern ovens weren’t as difficult to clean as I thought they were…it’s a lot harder to cool down an oven in cookstove so you can clean out what you managed to blow up.

Cool weather is just settling in my area of Ohio now, so I’ll have lots more opportunity to experiment with my cookstove. Some candymaking, maybe, and some more Adventures in Baking.

Some of my friends shake their heads. ‘You have a brand-new electric range,” they say. “Why not just use it?” But you know, we do most of our heating with wood. And the Maid keeps our house toasty warm. Why consume more energy by firing up the ‘other’ stove, when the cookstove’s all warmed up and good to go? I just don’t see the sense in it. Besides, where’s the fun in doing what’s expected?

2 thoughts on “A Place in the Country, Part II: The Wood Cookstove

  1. I’ve not had the pleasure of cooking on a wood cookstove. I have however, become quite adept at cooking over an open fire. (try biscuits in the dutch oven)

    If I recall correctly my mother used to “clean” her cast iron by tossing them in the camp fire and burning the gunk out of them on the last night. Of course when we got home it had to be re-seasoned. Other than that we just boiled a little water and scrubbed them out with a metal scrubby.