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At home on the range

January 25, 2009

 When I wrote about our woodstove being like part of the family awhile back, Deb was curious how I cooked on our cook stove.   So, I thought I should post about how I use our stove.

But, first I have to whine a little, (please note header, thanks Trace.)  Mostly I’m sad about the greenhouses, and how the insurance company is going to wiggle out of paying, some pesky matter about the fine print, and stupid farmers.  In other news, it is official, I have a full-fledged, smart aleck teen on my hands!   Our conversation the other morning while bedding and feeding the cows, went something like this.  I walk into the barn, “I can’t believe it!  I got another award on the blog!”  Sardonic reply:  “Oh, for what –  never accepting an award?”  OUCH, that stings!!  Mean ingrate, who does she thinks sautés her cabbage anyway?  Thanks to Danielle and Mangochild for giving me awards in the last week.  And before that, Kim, Gina, Deb, and Chris, thanks you guys, I never know what to do with the awards, and then I never can just pick a few to pass them on to, so they sit buried in my archives.  Speaking of buried, I hope I didn’t forget anyone…my former steel trap mind is turning to an aluminum foil mind.  I’m sure if I looked into that, Sally Fallon would not approve. 

And, the other embarrassing thing, I feel terribly guilty about not regularly answering my comments – kind of like a gift, so fun to receive and so hard to write that Thank you note.  So Thank You all!

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The peppers were starting to show signs of mold here and there, so it was time.  Put up, or throw out!  We eat a lot of peppers, and these store pretty well outside on the porch, but I brought them in before our cold snap, and even though stored in a cool part of the house, they were declining.  I gave up roasting peppers a long time ago, mostly roasting is to remove the skins, and lend a good flavor, but we don’t mind the skins and cooking these in little olive oil works just fine.  I freeze the sautéed peppers in small jars for adding to dishes for the rest of the winter.  By freezing in glass, the peppers will last longer than if I freeze them in bags. 

But, I’m digressing here.

The most important thing about cooking with wood, is the wood.  Not how fancy your stove is.  I won’t really dwell on types of wood, since every region will have its predominate wood used for firewood.  And, this is a good place to say, that if you live where there aren’t a lot of trees, heating and cooking with wood will NOT save  you any money.  In our area now, with the construction business tanking, timber is almost worth more as firewood.  Firewood is expensive right now.

We burn Douglas Fir, with a small amount of fruit tree trimmings, Alder, and Big Leaf Maple.  Lest you think soft wood isn’t any good for heating and cooking, think again.  Fir burns long, leaves almost no ash, and is good quick wood for cooking.

When settlers arrived here, clearing the dense forest was a huge task, but selling cord wood and pitch were early money making ventures.  Large trees were tapped for sap for boat building and turpentine production.  Cord wood was sold to the steamers that plied the Columbia River. 

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The label says Balsam Fir, but since it is from Portland, it more than likely Douglas Fir sap.  Local Native Americans used the pitch for healing, and old timers mixed it with lard for a homemade salve. 

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I use pitch to start our fire.  This piece of firewood shows pitch in a seam from an old injury.  The sap in a tree is like blood.  When I find a piece like this, I split the pitch off for kindling.   

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The pitch from an injury is usually between one growth ring and isn’t very thick.  But the pitch from the butt of the tree, (sometimes called fatwood) or from old growth may be inches thick and very heavy.  The smaller piece of pitch on the right weighs the same as the larger firewood piece on the left.  We have pitch chunks in our basement that have been there as long as I can remember.  It is so strong, you shave off a piece or two like a country ham.  A few little pieces start a fire like gasoline. 

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I’m in charge of fires around here, so while I’m building a fire in the furnace and waiting for it to take, I usually split kindling for the cook stove.  This kindling is from some sticker wood we got from a flooring mill.  It is fir, and full of knots, so it doesn’t split up too pretty.  But it does the trick.  Splitting the kindling helps, because the smaller the wood you have to start your fire with, the easier it will take hold.  Another reason for splitting your wood too, is that round wood takes longer to actually burn, because the fire travels around it easier.  So if I want my fire to hold, I use rounds, and if I want it to heat quickly, I get out the axe, and split some firewood. 

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These pictures are from our furnace, but the fire building technique is the same.  The down side of not having abundant hardwood – I don’t have coals to rake around and start my fire with.   I don’t agree much with our newspaper, so it makes good firestarter.  Wad up the paper loosely, not tight, since you want air to get through to your wood.  I start with the wadded up paper, kindling laid in pick-up stick fashion, and then gradually each layer has larger pieces of wood. 

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Light the fire.


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The fire needs air to get going at first, so the wood is loosely piled in the firebox.   At this point, I shut down the drafts, and the fire will start putting out heat.

The most important thing about cooking and heating with wood, is that your wood be dry and properly cured.  If it isn’t, you are wasting your wood and fire to dry out the wood in the firebox, and you aren’t going to get much benefit (heat).  Not to mention, you are putting a good layer of creosote in your chimney.   In our wet climate, we are cutting firewood now for next year.  We store some of our wood in our basement, and the bulk in a woodshed.  I try to never let our inside supply get too low, because even the cured wood in the outside shed draws dampness.  The wood for the kitchen stove has to be absolutely dry.  The firebox is so small, it is hard to get a large enough fire to deal with damp wood.  Our furnace is a different story, so any wood that might be a little damp is saved for that.

Cooking with wood is not quite on demand, like we are all used to with electric or gas ranges, but if your wood is dry and you start out with small firewood, you should have a fire hot enough to cook with in 15 – 20 minutes.  If it takes longer than that, a little troubleshooting is in order.  Maybe your wood isn’t as dry as it could be, bringing in the wood for morning the night before might help.  Or, the oven draft may be open and letting all the heat go up the chimney.  Once your fire is going, shut the oven draft, and that forces the heat to circulate underneath the top, and around the oven and then back up the chimney pipe.  It may take an hour for the oven to bake properly, but to cook breakfast or boil water, should happen in a short time.  If you are baking and your oven gets too hot, you can open the oven door a little instead of the oven draft to lower the temperature.  On a cold winter day, it makes more sense to let the heat into the room, instead of up the chimney.

When I start the fire in the morning, I put my cast iron pans, and teakettle on as soon as the fire is lit.  That way when the fire is hot enough to cook with, so are the pans, and the water is already starting to boil.

There is always a tea kettle full of water on the stovetop at all times.  If I need to add water to something I’m cooking, hot water will prevent my cast iron pans, (or stove top if I spill) from cracking.  Also, I keep a stock pot on the stove too, I can add vegetable trimmings at any time, and I can dip out stock if I need to add liquid to something I’m cooking.

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Several days ago, I noticed some of the apples were getting a little past their prime.  We set a stock pot full of quartered apples to cook for sauce, and had sautéed apples with cinnamon for lunch.  The stock pot could simmer on the cooler side of the cook top, and the apples could be quickly cooked for lunch over the firebox.

It is difficult to give hard and fast rules, and recipes for cooking on wood stove, since so much depends on type of wood, how good your fire is drawing due to wind (or not).
Most old recipes were for a quick, moderate or slow fire.  Biscuits, cobblers are easier than breads and pies when you start out.  Once you learn how your oven heats, you will get a feel for when you need to turn your food, and how to regulate your fire.

Cooking times and temperatures vary too.  You can cook something on top the stove at a much higher heat and in a shorter amount of time and still have great results.  The total heat of a warmed up cook stove is a wondrous thing.  Even though you are cooking with fire, it is much harder to burn something, than with a direct heat burner on a electric or gas range.

The difference in baking is from the heat source radiating from the side and top.  This means food needs to be turned.  Food can be baked on the bottom rack or the bottom of the oven and a pan placed on the top rack to protect the top from cooking too fast or burning.

This post probably didn’t give all the details you had hoped, but here is a recipe for Oven Fried Chicken that works well in any kind of oven.  Plus it doesn’t take any babysitting – my kind of recipe!  And, if you have any questions, ask me and I promise I’ll answer 🙂 

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One fryer, cut up
1 cube (4 oz) butter, melted
1 c flour
1 t salt
2 t pepper
2 t paprika
1 t garlic powder
1 t sage
1 t marjoram

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place melted butter in roasting pan.  Combine flour and spices in a large paper bag.  Roll chicken pieces in melted butter several at a time, then drop chicken pieces in the sack and shake to cover. 

Place chicken in the roasting pan, skin side down.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Turn chicken over and bake 10 longer or until crust is bubbly.  Use the pan drippings and leftover dredging flour to make gravy for… mashed potatoes, or biscuits.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2009 2:25 am


    Congratulations – teenagers are wonderful. Fair warning, their mouths just get worse from here on out 🙂 Kidding…I know you have a great gal – but they are a challenge at times 🙂

    Thank you so much for the cooking primer……I’d definately eat at your house anytime. I love fried chicken and will be trying your recipe.
    I wish I could say I cook on my stove as much as you do but I don’t. Everyone here is so scattered and cooking is definately a challenge but it is the best heater I have and I’d never be without it.
    We burn mostly Jack pine to start the stove and get it hot and ash and oak are the dominant hardwoods with a little beech or hickory thrown in once in awhile. I prefer ash and oak heats well. Most people don’t like the smell of oak but if you grow up with it it’s not so bad 🙂

    I’m sorry about your greenhouses. Insurance companies and politicians………your header says it all.

    Thanks again –


  2. January 25, 2009 5:22 am

    Thanks for the post on cook stoves. I know where there is one for sale at a local camp for $400 but I do not know the first thing about them or what would work best for us, I need to do some research.

  3. January 25, 2009 7:31 am

    I love wood stoves, but not sure I’ll ever have one. My parents have a wood burner they’ll give us for heating purposes, and I can probably cook some stews and stuff on it.

    I would love to have an outdoor wood fired mud oven for baking breads & stuff. Perhaps I’ll build one this summer.

  4. January 25, 2009 8:17 am

    I really enjoyed this post! I’m hating the situation with the insurance and the greenhouses (I’m on a total dart-throwing tear with insurance companies as well as companies that fraudulently charge my credit card and it’s “my fault”!?? definate soapbox material) Anyway, this was a better explanation on cooking with a wood stove than I’ve seen elsewhere when trying to look into it…thank you for sharing!

  5. January 25, 2009 10:28 am

    I’ll be trying this oven fried chicken recipe. Thanks for posting it!

  6. January 25, 2009 12:08 pm

    Grrrrr on the insurance! That is just annoying and worthy of quite a lot of hair-tearing-out.
    I’m intrigued by the freezing of the pepper in glass jars – do you have to use special jars? Do the jars explode in the freezer (don’t know why I thought of that, but someone suggested to me at one point that such would happen)…
    I don’t have a wood stove, but I do love to learn about anything I can, so your primer provided muchly welcome info 🙂

  7. January 25, 2009 1:22 pm

    Deb, I don’t have to look too far to see why my kid is so “witty.” It comes from both sides…

    I don’t cook every meal on the stove, but this time of year, almost. I still like my electric stove, especially for canning.

    We have none of the trees you wrote about! We got some oak from some friends before, and it does have a definite smell, although not as bad as chestnut. My favorite is alder, (clover of the forest) we don’t have too much of that, but when I find a piece I have to go outside just to get a whiff of that smoke. It reminds me of my surrogate grandparents, they always burned alder. 🙂

    Kim, you are going to wear MM out, don’t tell him he will have to cut even more wood 🙂

    Chiot’s Run, you will be able to cook quite a bit on your stove, the slow even heat is perfect for beans and the like.

    Robbyn, don’t even get me started with fraudulent charges with companies that won’t fix the problem! I hope it has warmed up for you down there. I told Trace he could play the insurance company and the compost pile would be the greenhouses. Actually he and Melvin were having a contest, it is a big break through for Trace to lift his leg so high. 🙂

    Kim, I think you will like the chicken, of course the spices can be adjusted to any combination.

    Mangochild, the insurance companies can be very hard to deal with. But, live and learn, I guess.

    I use canning jars for freezing. The tapered ones work the best, allowing for expansion as the contents freeze. The Ball Blue Book has directions for freezing in their jars. The jars exploding must be an exaggeration. More likely, they cracked. You do have to leave headspace, which varies with the contents. And, the headspace requirements for freezing are different than for canning. Liquids will expand more than solids, etc. I’m still using some plastics for freezing, but I’m much happier with the jars. I can re-use the jars, and I use canning rings that are too rusty for use in canning. I can also reuse my canning lids this way, the ultimate recycling.

  8. badhuman permalink
    January 25, 2009 4:13 pm

    Thanks for your help with the co-op badge. It made me feel a bit old though since I remember being the occasionally smart mouthed teenager helping my mom with her first computer 🙂 Now I apparently need a teenager of my own!

    My husband dreams of building an outdoor bread oven when we buy some land. He even managed to find some plans online for free.

  9. January 25, 2009 10:29 pm

    badhuman, you’re welcome, I needed to make her feel useful 😉

    The outdoor bread oven sounds wonderful!

  10. January 26, 2009 10:08 am

    I can’t fry to save my soul. I have no idea why, because my mom was a great fryer. I’m not. This recipe will be great if it works for me. Thanks for sharing.

  11. January 27, 2009 6:30 am

    I am just getting started with woodstove cooking and so far, the main thing I’ve learned is that I am totally ignorant with that stove and the wood. But I’m stubborn and I’m going to learn it if we come close to starving in the meantime :o)

    Thank you so much for all this information! I am collecting everything I can find on how to use our cookstove.


  12. January 27, 2009 4:21 pm

    YUM!!! I’m going to have to try your chicken recipe!

  13. January 27, 2009 5:54 pm

    Nita, as always your post are so facinating. I could almost smell the chicken and the wood fire. Thank you for caring so much about life.

  14. January 27, 2009 7:54 pm

    Um, did you save me some chicken? How about some of those apples? Peppers?

    I was curious about the cookware that can be used on a stove. I’m just thinking out loud here. I imagine the surface of the stove get’s extremely hot … like what you see in commercial kitchens. Cast iron, as you use here, obviously can handle it. I’m wondering about other cookware though … hmmm.


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