“I would also like to read about your wood cookstove. They have always fascinated me, but I’ve never seen one in action. How do you regulate the temperature, clean it out, etc. etc.”

Essential to truly off-grid living is the ability to cook using available, accessible and renewable resources. True, many off-grid cooks choose readily available (now) propane or liquid fuel cooking appliances and do perfectly well with these. During the heat of summer we use propane ourselves at times in the outdoor summer kitchen. One must be aware, and most people experienced in off-grid living are, that “stuff happens.” Be it a temporary loss of income or transportation, an isolated short-term availability issue or a true melt-down of the modern supply system dependence on petroleum based fuels can easily leave you eating cold beans. Which brings us back around to available, accessible and renewable: wood and sun.

Pioneer Maid

(This isn’t our actual stove, but one like ours)

How to select a woodstove would require a book in itself. (We recommend “Woodstove Cookery – A Home on the Range” by Jane Cooper.) What follows are only our own basic observations.

  1. What do you want it to do? At first glance a simple question, but there are options. Woodstoves old and new are available that will cook, bake, heat the home and/or heat water. We wanted all the above.
  2. Are you concerned with pretty or practical? Vintage and reproduction stoves are certainly lovely with all their decorative flourishes but all those nooks and crannies will collect dust, rust and grease without proper maintenance. We looked for simple and easy to clean.
  3. How much do you want to spend? You can find all options from European scratch and dent imports at around $1,000 to beautiful classic models and reproductions up to around $7,000 plus shipping costs. Our Amish made Pioneer Maid cost roughly $2500.  (Ezra at Country Maid Stoves was wonderful to work with on the purchase.)
  4. Can you fix it or get it fixed if it breaks? If you’re considering a used or vintage stove, know what your looking at or take someone with you that does. Understand that cast iron can’t be repaired satisfactorily by welding nor can thinner sheet steel. Look for a minimum of 3/8” thickness on steel (as opposed to cast iron) stove tops. Anything less is subject to warping when you inevitably get it super hot.

Wood Stove Cooking or How To Boil Water When You Can’t Find The Knob

As with most things off-grid, using your wood cook stove is a deliberate art. I had more than one person ask “How do you turn it on?” and “Where are the burners?” The beauty of stovetop cooking on the wood cook stove is the infinite degree of heat control. The hottest spot is from right over the firebox to the area of the flue outlet. The coolest spot is on one of the corners on the opposite side of the stove top or over the reservoir. To turn the heat up or down you simply move the pot. Most stoves will have one or more round lids that provide access directly to the firebox and to the area where hot gases flow over the oven. We utilize these openings for 3 reasons: 1) To access the firebox for loading and tending. (Our stove is a top loader.) 3) To scrape soot from the top of the oven. 3) To use a wok because of its shape and design.

Cookware for stove top cooking requires a flat bottom. Coffee pots, especially, that have a little rim around the bottom take forever to boil. Traditionally cast iron and cast aluminum were the choice of woodstove cooks. We prefer pans with two short handles as opposed to one long handle for ease in manipulating the pans around the stove. Some things such as quesadillas can be cooked directly on the clean and just slightly oiled stove top. Metal trivets are also useful for increasing the area available for barely simmering.

(This is the beginning of a section on woodstove cooking that I wrote for a book I’ll probably never finish.  I will try to continue it with further installments on managing the fire, cleaning, etc.)

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5 thoughts on “Off-Grid Homekeeping: Woodstove Cooking Part 1

  1. Judy,
    This is great. I like the concept of Off-Grid Homekeeping. There are so many things to learn about everyday living off-grid and so few who know how to do it. I would love to have a week with my Grandmother now that I’m grown. So much wisdom has been lost due to the mindset that “new is better”. I hope you don’t mind, I plan to print off your comments and keep them for reference.

    Can’t wait for the next installment.

  2. My dear mother-in-law is 95 years old. She grew up in northern Minnesota on the Iron Range. She has so much knowledge and experience with the old ways and yet, when we ask her questions, she often shares the down side of doing it yourself….the yogurt was runny and we had to eat it nearly every morning when the cow was in milk… Any time my husband tells her we got another animal her response is the same…you sure like to do things the hard way, you work too hard, you don’t need more animals. I suspect part of her motivation is wanting us to be able to come visit her more often (she is near Minneapolis and three of her seven grown children and we are in middle GA with six of her 20 grandchildren). Thanks for sharing your knowledge with many (me included) who have no place else to get it.

    I do hope you’ll write that book!

    1. It is interesting how some older people completely reject the lifestyle of their youth while some are very supportive. I think the worst are those relatives who pretend to be supportive while in the back of their mind are thinking “I wish I could figure out how to manipulate them back to a ‘normal’ life.” I can handle an honestly stated opinion that we’re nuts but I despise deceit.

      I’ve about decided that right now everyone’s an expert and an author and that I’ll probably just stick to blogging. 😉

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