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Cooking on a woodstove.

Cooking on a woodstove The warmth and fragrance of a fire in a wood-burning cookstove suggest times gone by, but cooking this way, even on a stove designed for heating your home or cabin, can be practical today.

To support a pan safely, the stovetop must, of course, be flat. If your stove will hold a steady heat, chances are the surface temperature will often be between 300 [deg.] and 500 [deg.], a good range for cooking. Why not use this heat for cooking as well as comfort?

How to regulate heat on a woodstove

Though woodstoves lack the precise heat controls of modern stoves, you can regulate cooking temperatures on them.

Stoking the fire is the first step. Heat output depends upon the amount and kind of wood burned, and how much air mixes with the fire. More fuel generates more heat. You need an open draft to get started, then less to hold the heat. With reduced draft, the stove radiates more heat. (With space-heating stoves, it may not be practical to build a hot fire just for cooking--if that would disrupt the basic function of warming the air.)

Woods burn differently. In general, pine burns quickly but doesn't give off much heat. Tamarack makes a hot fire that burns at a moderate rate. Birch and oak burn slowly, producing strong heat; they make good fuel for a fire that lasts. Experiment with fuel woods available to you to get the kind of heat you want.

A stove's temperature often jumps several hundred degrees as fresh fuel catches, then drops as it burns. By adding fuel frequently in smaller amounts, you can temper this cycle.

To test the surface temperature of stoves or ungreased pans, observe how a little water dropped on the surface behaves. If the water beads and rolls while sizzling, the surface is 450 [deg.] to 650 [deg.]; you can easily bring foods to a boil or pan-fry them on this heat. If the water drops spread out slightly and sizzle steadily, the stovetop is 300 [deg.] to 400 [deg.] and hot enough to simmer or bake foods. If the drops of water flatten and bubble, cooking will be slow, but perhaps adequate for long-term steaming. (Keep in mind that foods also may spatter as cooked.)

A helpful tool, especially for stovetop baking, is a surface thermometer available at hardware or woodstove stores for about $15. The thermometers usually register up to at least 800 [deg.].

Wood cookstoves have cooler and hotter areas--you just slide the pan around to find the heat you want. Smaller stoves designed for heating have fairly even surface temperatures.

Pans to use, foods to cook,

more heat controls

Bottoms of pans used on a woodstove should be flat for maximum heat contact. If foods are simmered (soups, rice), braised or stewed (spiced pork stew-following; chili, apples), or fried (potatoes, chicken), you need heavy pans for even heat. Use cast-iron, enameled cast-iron, or heavy-grade aluminum.

For baking such foods as cornbread (page 198) or biscuits, you need cast-iron pans and lids, because both must be heated before foods are added; their released heat helps cook the foods and creates the "oven."

If foods are boiled or simmered in a lot of water, as with pasta, potatoes, or green beans, you can use a thinner metal pan.

Or if the foods are steamed or cooked over hot water, as with rice pudding or a custard, the water pan can be a light metal.

For maximum heat to stir-fry, you need a stove with round, removable plates, Lift off a plate and nestle a wok in the opening over a hot fire.

To reduce heat, elevate pan 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches on a metal trivet, wok ring, or metal rings (such as open-ended cans).

For low, consistent heat, use a double boiler or a steamer, or fashion your own steamer. Put foods in a heatproof container that will fit inside the steamer on a rack. (You may need to fashion a string harness on the cooking container so you can remove it easily from the steamer.) Cover container if recipe directs. Add water in the steamer to bring level up to just below the rack.

Here are directions for cooking three dishes on a woodstove, each using a different technique. You will also find regular-stove alternatives.

Spiced Pork Stew 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt, or leg, cut into 1-inch cubes 1-1/2 pounds tiny onions (1/2- to 1-in. diameter), peeled; or 1-1/2 pounds small onions (1-1/2- to 2-in. diameter), peeled and quartered 1 cup dry red wine 1 to 2 cups regular-strength chicken broth 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste 1/4 cup raisins 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced 2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 whole dry bay leaf 1 cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long

To cook on a woodstove, set a cast-iron or other heavy 5- to 6-quart pan on stovetop heated to 300 [deg.] to 500 [deg.] until a drop of water splashed into the paz sizzles steadily, 10 to 15 minutes. Add meat, half the onions, and 2 tablespoons of the red wine; cover and simmer until liquid cooks out of meat and onions, about 20 minutes. Uncover and boil or simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated, then stir often as drippings darken and turn a rich caramel color, 20 to 40 minutes.

Add remaining onions, remaining wine, 1 cup of the broth, tomato paste, raisins, vinegar, sugar, garlic, cumin, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick; stir to free browned bits in pan. Cover and bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer until meat is very tender when pierced, about 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally; move pan to a cool or hotter area of stove, as needed, or elevate pan 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches on a metal trivet to reduce rate of cooking. Add broth if stew begins to stick. When meat is tender, if you want a thicker consistency, cook, uncovered, until sauce reduces as you like.

To cook on a range, combine meat, half the onions, and 2 tablespoons of the wine in a 5- to 6-quart pan. Cover and cook on medium heat as directed for the woodstove. When the drippings are browned, continue as directed for the woodstove, cooking over medium-low heat.

Makes 5 or 6 servings.

Frying Pan Cornbread

Baking on top of a woodstove is tricky until you get a feel for judging its temperature. To get started, we used a surface thermometer to measure the temperature of the stovetop; after practice, we could guess pretty accurately. 1 cup yellow cornmeal 1 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon cayenne About 1/3 cup salad oil 1 large egg 1 cup milk 1 can (8 oz.) corn, drained 1/2 cup sliced green onions (optional) 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

To bake on a woodstove, you need a 10-inch cast-iron frying pan with a cast-iron lid. Side by side, set pan and lid, handle up, on stovetop until pan is hot enough to make a drop of water splashed into it sizzle steadily, 10 to 15 minutes. (The surface temperature of the stovetop should be between 350 [deg.] and 400 [deg.] and should stay between 300 [deg.] and 400 [deg.] as the bread bakes.)

If the drop of water bounces (if the surface temperature is 500 [deg.] to 600 [deg.] now and when the cornbread bakes), set the pan on a 1/2- to 1-1/2-inch-high metal trivet.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cayenne; set aside. In another bowl, whisk together oil, egg, milk, corn, onions, and cheese; stir into cornmeal mixture just until blended.

When the frying pan is heated as directed, oil the inside of the pan. Pour batter into pan and cover with hod lid. Cook for 20 minutes; lift off lid and with a dry towel quickly wipe any condensation from inside of lid. Re-cover pan. If bread is browning around edges yet still moist in center, set pan on a 1/2- to 1-1/2-inch-high metal trivet (or that much higher if already on a trivet) to continue baking.

Check and wipe any condensation from lid at 10-minute intervals until bread springs back when lightly pressed in the center and a slender wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes total. If desired, sprinkle with cheese, cover, and cook until cheese melts, 3 to 4 minutes longer.

To bake in an oven, pour batter into a buttered 8- or 9-inch-square or round baking pan. Bake in a 400 [deg.] oven until bread tests done (see preceding), about 25 minutes. If desired, sprinkle with cheese and bake until it melts, 1 to 2 minutes.

Cut into wedges, lift from pan, and serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Rice Pudding

You can cook this pudding in several hours in simmering water, or, with certain precautions, overnight with the same arrangement of pans on a stove that will keep a fire through the night. About 3 cups milk 1/3 cup short-grain rice, such as pearl 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1 cinnamon stick (about 2 in. long)

To steam on a woodstove, first fashion a harness out of string for a 2- to 3-quart deep metal or heatproof bowl, so the bowl is easy to lift (or have wide tongs to lift the bowl). Mix together in the bowl 3 cups milk, rice, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon stick. Cover securely with foil.

Choose a pan several inches deeper and wider than the bowl. Set a rack or trivet 1 to 3 inches above the pan bottom. Add water up to, not covering, the rack.

On a stovetop at 300 [deg.] to 500 [deg.], bring water to simmering; lower bowl of pudding mixture onto rack. Cover water pan and simmer until pudding is thick and rice is creamy to bite, 3 to 4 hours. If water boils, elevate pan on a 1/2- to 1-1/2-inch metal trivet to maintain a simmer. Add hot water as needed to keep pan from boiling dry.

To cook on a woodstove overnight, you need a stove that can be fueled and closed down to keep the stovetop hot for 10 to 12 hours and the pudding hot enough to avoid spoiling.

Prepare pudding as directed for steaming; add boiling water to pan, and set pan on stovetop. Cook 6 to 8 hours. When you open the pan, water should be steaming and the pudding hot to touch. If temperature in center of pudding is below 120 [deg.], discard mixture, as harmful bacteria have developed.

To bake in an oven, stir 3 cups milk, rice, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon stick together in a 9-inch-square baking dish or a 2- to 3-quart shallow casserole. Cover and bake in a 300 [300] oven until thick and light golden color, about 3 hours. (Or you can bake the pudding uncovered; an amber, caramel-flavored skin will form on top.)

Stir pudding; serve warm. If thicker than you want, stir in more milk to desired consistency. Makes 4 cups, 4 to 6 servings.

Woodstove safety and legality

If you're installing a new woodstove or have concerns about the safety or legality of your present one, we suggest that you read "Ready for a woodstove?" on page 120 of the November 1984 sunset.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1988
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