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Monday, February 10, 2014

My Love Affair With Cooking on Wood Stoves

A vintage version of our stove!
During our nearly nine years of living in the UK, we happened to live in two homes that had old fashioned range cookers.  One was a converted farm worker's cottage that had something called a Rayburn, and another was a thatched cottage from the 1600's that had a more upscale version, called an Aga.

Both the Rayburn, and their pricey cousin, the Aga, work on the same principle as old fashioned wood cook stoves:  The heat source is constant on one side of the stove, which heats (typically) two ovens on the right side (a roasting oven and a warming oven) as well as two plates on the top (a boiling plate and a simmering plate).

The plates on the top are covered by heavy hinged lids when not used and, along with the ovens, are not adjustable in any way. . .you adjust the heat by where you place your pots and pans and whether you leave the oven doors cracked or not.

Fuel is no longer only wood or coal, though both are still used in some models, with oil and electricity certainly more expensive.  (Though they are far more constant and reliable than having to constantly feed the stove yourself!)

When I was first faced with cooking on an Aga as my only stove and oven option, I was a little intimidated.  No temperature controls or thermometers?  No switches or buttons or timers?  How on earth did you bake or roast or time ANYTHING?!?!?  Seemed a little archaic and dodgy to me.

But I grew to love the constant soft purr of the cooker and the round-the-clock radiant heat.  There's something lovely about coming home through freezing rain or snow and entering a warm, cozy kitchen.  Something very lovely, indeed.

And my cooking skills certainly sharpened with the process. . .I had to rely far more on my senses as I learned to cook without timers and temperature gauges.  My ability to sense heat and its impact on food was certainly honed.  By the end of our stay, I was not only proficient in Aga-style range cooking, but I actually PREFERRED it to other methods.
Our current stove: 2 cooktops!

Though we haven't been able to squeeze a proper wood cook stove into our new mountain home yet, I did discover that the wood stove we do have for heat is actually designed to cook on, too.  There's no oven, of course, but there are two 'levels' to the top. . .the lower level is for frying/boiling and the upper level is for simmering.  I can further adjust the heat via the use of trivets.

It's not in an ideal location (between the dining room and the living room), and it's a little low to be entirely comfortable for me, but I still use it whenever I can.

There's something warm and homey and 'right' about using a stove to cook on.  I would love to say that it's all because I'm being 'green' in not wasting other resources to cook on my regular stove, or being thrifty in using one resource (wood) for two simultaneous purposes (heat and cooking), but it's definitely more than that.

When I cook on the wood stove, I feel pioneer-y.  And connected to my mountain and my home and my history.  I feel warm and provided for and resourceful.  After all, even with no electricity or propane, we'd be safe and warm and fed.

Plus, we cut and stacked and carted that wood ourselves. Using it for more than heat seems to honor that effort, and the living thing that was harvested for our comfort.  It just seems respectful.

But even more than that, it just plain makes me happy.

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