Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our Wood Cook Stove

We have had our wood cook stove for a little over a year now and I thought that it would be a great subject for an in-depth blog. We spent most of the summer of 2008 looking around online for a stove that would be just right for us. We eventually settled on the Pioneer Maid, a large efficient stove made from welded steel covered with a porcelain finish.

Once it was ordered we had only to wait for the delivery and collect enough firewood. Oh, and build a new room to house the wood stove. A very good thing it was going to be six to eight weeks till it was delivered! We had a decent sized covered porch (about 7’x16’), that we decided to enclose, taking the front door, adjacent widow , and the wall between them out ,making a large entryway from our new room into the house. After the framing and setting of windows and the door, we did the sheetrock, getting it textured and painted. Next we built a rock hearth that was three and a half inches off the sub-floor, using the large, flat, lichen-covered rocks so prevalent in our area. We then had to build a large tile wall to go behind the stove an inch or so away from the framed wall as fire prevention. All in all it was a vast improvement to our living situation, giving us a space for our washer and new chest freezer as well as twice the amount of natural light we had before. The work was finished (well not quite, I still have yet to trim it all out), just days before the wood stove arrived.

We had a date and time scheduled for the delivery, but the truck it was on broke down, leaving our stove in the truck to be towed away. The shipping company called and they said they would let me know the day before they would try to deliver it again. A couple of days later I am at work when Dawn calls to tell me she received a call from the driver saying that he is about to drop the stove off at the bottom of the county road we live on, whether anyone is there to pick it up or not. I quickly get someone to cover the rest of my shift and I rush home hoping someone is there to help me move this thing. There is no one. My father-in-law, Dave, is gone and my brother-in-law, Duane, is asleep still and is almost impossible to wake up. I take Duane’s truck as I have no other way of getting the wood stove home and I arrive at the bottom of the road just as the driver is pulling off the highway. After about ten minutes the two of us manage to load it into the truck. The entire time he is cursing and grumbling and I have to refrain from telling him we paid to have it delivered to the door.

That evening Dave, Duane, and I try to move it into the house. Even after removing all the weight we can from it, it is still extremely heavy. It takes us more than an hour to get it in place. A few days later we have it all put together and the stovepipe installed. Then all that was left was lighting our first fire and as we did so we all gathered round to see and feel the effects. It was our first night in quite a while that was warm as we were determined not to light our gas heater since turning the pilot off the spring before.

Before I go on I would like to give a description of the cook stove. To start it has a large firebox. For most wood cook stoves the firebox is rather small, not able to fit very large pieces of wood which means it burns quicker so you have to watch it and add wood more often. But this one will take a log up to 21 inches long and 9 inches around. There are a lot of BTU’s in a piece of wood that size and it will burn a long time, especially if it is dense like oak. The walls and floor of this firebox are lined with insulated firebrick about an inch and a half thick with the exception of a 2 inch hole in the floor for ash removal, with a very large ash pan beneath it. Directly to the right of the firebox is the oven which is 22 inches deep, 19 inches wide, and 13 inches high with a thermometer on the door that measures upwards of 500˚F. Past this is the water reservoir, a large box that can hold eleven gallons of water which helps immensely with keeping our house humid. I recently installed an outdoor water valve on the bottom of this, letting us use the hot water for reheating bath water.

The stove top itself is where most of the weight is, being a large single piece of thick steel. There are three holes with lids on this top, the first for loading the firebox, the second for cleaning above the oven, and the third is for filling the reservoir. Two foot above the flat top is the warming box which gets around 100˚ more or less inside.

Now on to the things we do with it. It can be used for cooking in much the same manner as a gas or electric range, only you move things around to where it is hotter or cooler to adjust your temp rather than turning a knob. It does take more time to get things hot unless you have a raging fire below, so it takes a bit more planning for a meal. One of my favorite things is to make stocks on here. I get it boiling while the fire is hot and then move it over where it is less than a simmer. When I shut the stove down for the night so it radiates a lesser heat for the whole night, I just move it back over to the hot spot and let it go slow all night and sometimes the next day. This makes a much richer and deeper flavored stock that almost cannot be compared. Something that we started doing a little more recently is using the flattop for cooking flour tortillas on. We simply put them directly on the stove when it is really hot, getting maybe sixteen or so on at a time. Three minutes and one flip later and they are finished, greatly reducing the time spent making them. Pancakes are done in much the same way, just needing some butter or oil down first.

The oven does its job quite well, as long as the temperature can be kept where you want it. Basically this means checking it often, giving the fire more air or less as needed and opening the damper to release or store heat. It also works well for drying things such as sprouted grains by leaving the oven door cracked. Doing this will keep it around 150˚ to 200˚F with a warm fire going. For heating the house we just leave the oven door opened all the way, making it nice and warm inside. The manufacturer states that doing this will heat a 2000 square foot house, and with our house being much less we have never once needed to turn on a heater.

Now to the warming oven. Besides being useful for drying foods, reheating meals, or just keeping foods warm, it is a great place for wet mittens and hats. But even better it doubles as our clothes dryer. As we cannot hang clothes outside in the winter we drape it all over the warmer. We also have a clothes line that we string across the room in front of the stove. With a warm fire these will dry overnight.

After all this time we are finally learning the maintenance of the stove. Not only must the ashes be dumped periodically, say once a week or so, but there is also cleaning inside the woodstove around the oven. There is a 2 or 3 inch space around most of the oven that can quickly build up with creosote, keeping the heat from circulating around the oven, which in turn will not heat up properly. There is also the need to clean the chimney a few times a year, which is actually easier to do than it sounds. All I do is take the top off the stovepipe, scraping away any buildup of creosote that is on it. I then proceed to shove the chimney sweep down the pipe, pulling it in and out a few times. Next I remove the two pieces of stovepipe sticking above the roof which allows me to sweep all the way down to the woodstove. Then it is just a simple matter of putting it all back and cleaning the stove out from what all fell down into it.

In closing I would like to say that this has probably been one of the best purchases of our life. A wood cook stove is an almost must have for self-sufficiency and I cannot help but think we have one of the best stoves on the market.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Things we Learned in '09

I know that the majority of my posts lately have been on hiking, so this post will be more in line with this site’s original intention of self-sufficiency. What I would like to do is review things that we have learned and improved upon in the last year. This will be broken up into subjects that hopefully I can expand upon later with individual postings.

Wood Cook Stove- We bought this new in the fall of 2008, so we spent most of last winter and spring just learning how to use it for heating the house and not as much for cooking or baking as we would have liked. This season we have been able to devote more time to that. We have the cook top nice and seasoned and now we can make tortillas, pancakes and things of that nature quickly and in quantity right on top. I think my next blog will probably be about this, talking about how we got it, features that it has and the many things we do with it.

Pet Food- in our household we have a great medium sized dog and three cats. Back in the spring after much research by Dawn we decided to start them on a raw diet, consisting of raw meat, (deer, elk beef and chicken,) mixed with pureed raw veggies. It has seemed to make a definite improvement in their energy and their coats are much healthier. Now easy it is not. There has been some backsliding but it is our preferred way of feeding them, and actually it is what they favor as well.

Yogurt- This is something we have been making off and on for a couple of years now, but the last few months we have got it to be a process with the right results every time, instead of hoping with each batch that it works. Using the wood cook stove to slowly heat the milk was a big improvement and we can now make it without the use of a thermometer. This is something that I hope to share soon, posting the whole process with pictures, with the desire for more people to try this.

Buttermilk-Making this is something that Dawn takes care of almost exclusively, but her process has also improved with time. This is something that I will collaborate on for posting in the future.

Wild Game- While we did not do any hunting or fishing this year, between others sharing parts of their animals and picking up road kills we were well blessed. My butchering skills improve each time, but we still desire to learn more about using the whole animal.

Mushrooms-Here in Pagosa Country it was a poor mushroom year. Early in the season we found a few inedibles (see previous posts). We had planned on going Morel hunting down in the lower country but that never happened. The rest of the season consisted of us going out a lot but not finding much of anything. Usually we come home with bagfuls, almost more than we can reasonably process, drying them so we can enjoy the bounty all year, so we are constantly missing them this winter.

Apples-If it was a poor mushroom year, for apples it was completely opposite. Our spring was unseasonably warm, letting all the apple blossoms set into fruit. Before last year we knew of a few trees we could pick from, mostly near the Chimney Rock area, but this year we saw apples everywhere we drove. We identified scores of new trees, all of which we had driven by for years without a single apple upon them, that were now covered with fruit. And not just apples. A wild peach tree we knew of was just loaded, although most of them were picked by someone else before they were ripe. We were given peaches and we even got a great deal on buying a couple bushels from Chimney Rock Farms. (And for those of you who know me I still don’t like the nasty fruit, but we can’t deprive the family, eh?) While picking apples one day I noticed some large berry looking things on some bushes nearby. A closer inspection revealed wild plums! We ended up with a lot of them, plus my in-laws plum tree was so heavily laden that we were invited to pick from it multiple times. All in all we process at least three quarters of our apples and we still have buckets of them under our house.

Berries- Strawberries and raspberries were found, although not in their usual profusion. Bilberries seemed to suffer the same fate as the mushrooms, in fact I only found a small handful s worth. But the hawthorns and chokecherries were everywhere. In our quest to pick less from roadsides we were in search of new areas to pick from, and I assure you, we found them. They were big and happy this year and our only problem was making sure to avoid encounters with bears. This was a fall where every bear surely was able to pack on the winter pounds.

Mead- We have been making mead for a number of years now but it always seems like we are learning something about it. I am planning a detailed series of posts soon on mead making from start to finish.

Beer- There has only been two times that we have ever tried making beer, and while they were not the best in the world it is a pretty neat experience and something that I am sure we can improve upon. Our first attempt was a ginger ale that we let go a little too long leaving it a bit flat but with a nice flavor. Our next try was from a malt that we made ourselves that was pretty tasty, but could be a lot better.

Hard Apple Cider- In previous years we have made one gallon batches, but with the apple harvest we had this year…, well lets just say that after seven gallons we got a bit burnt out on juicing. But there are still all those apples under the house. If we do start making more with these then I will get some photos of the process and do a post devoted to nothing but cider.

Books- There were quite a few books added to our collection this year that are directly related to self-sufficiency, learning how to do things in the home , or on identifying. This list does stretch back to Christmas of 2008. Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. The bible of North American mushrooms, we had been drooling over this book a long time till I finally ordered a copy late last winter. All That the Rain Promises by the same David Arora. A gift, this is a collection of the best edibles and stories of people who love them. Mushrooms of Colorado by Vera Evanson. A gift, this contains the most common mushrooms found here along with some that are more area specific. Guide to Colorado WildfowersVolumes I&II by G.K. Guennel. These are books the kids got for Dawn’s birthday. While not containing anything about uses, these are some of the best books for identification in our area. The encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. A gift to Dawn, this is THE book on doing things yourself. The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymor. A prolific writer on the subject with an English point of view, this book was a gift along with The New Self Sufficient Gardener and Forgotten Household Crafts, both by the same late John Seymor. A greener Life by Clarissa Dickson Wright. A gift to Dawn, this is another take on English do-it-yourself living, Clarissa is one half of the wonderful Two Fat Ladies cooking show from the nineties. The Rainbow beneath My Feet by Arleen Bessette. A guide for using mushrooms as dyes. A Natural Year by Grace Firth. A book on harvesting and preserving naturally. In Praise of Apples by Mark Rosenstein. Just as the name says, this is everything about apples. Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers by Stephen Buhner and The Complete Meadmaker by Ken Schramm. Two books on brewing, these were gifts to Dawn. Medicinal Mushrooms by Christopher Hobbs. As the name implies this is the medicinal uses of certain mushrooms and the research behind it.

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