Cooking with wood

“I pity the fool who doesn’t have a woodstove,” reads the Facebook status update of a smug friend sitting in front of a roaring fire in the middle of a blizzard last winter.

I’ve often told not-so-lucky friends that they are welcome to come enjoy the warmth of our own woodstove any time there’s a cold snap or power outage; the offer comes along with an invitation to bring over whatever papers they want to see go up in flames–ancient Visa statements and bad teenage poetry come to mind–and to be ready to split kindling!

The beauty of a woodstove is many-fold: that ancient feeling of comfort and security that our ancestors must have felt when they gathered around their fires, the chance to use a (theoretically) renewable local resource, and of course, that warm and fuzzy multitasking feeling of cooking on the same surface that’s heating your house!

Here are some things I’ve cooked on the woodstove:

  1. Jam:  I well remember the year I decided not to spend the last few precious days of summer standing over a steaming pot of seething berries; instead, I chucked them in the freezer and went to the beach with my toddler. By October, when the nights grew chilly and we put on the woodstove, I got back into the jamming groove and pulled out the strawberries and raspberries for a few consecutive nights of preserving—and I have not looked back since! The heavenly aroma upon entering a house where jam is cooking is delectable in itself.
  2. Frying pan cookies: If you’re stuck in a power outage, or just want to try a variation on a baked dessert, whip up a batch of these beauties. Take 3 Tbs of butter and melt in a frying pan. Add several tablespoons of brown or white sugar (to taste), and 3 Tbs of cocoa powder, or several handfuls of chocolate chips, if you have them. Allow things to melt and meld, stirring constantly. Throw in ¼ cup of shredded coconut, 1 cup of oatmeal, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Stir well and drop spoonsful of mixture onto a dinner plate—they’ll look like brown haystacks. Cool a while to harden, and enjoy!
  3. Soup stock: Woodstoves are great for anything that requires a long cooking or boiling time, like soup stock. I save leftover chicken, turkey, and beef bones, and add them to a large pot of water with a couple of onions, celery stalks and carrots. You can leave this on a low-burning woodstove for several hours and not run up your power bill. If your home is heated mainly with hot air, stock making will also help to humidify dry winter air.
  4. Ketchup: I remember my grandmother making this recipe on the old woodstove at our family cottage. It came from an ancient, tattered copy of the Boston Cooking School cookbook held together with electrical tape and elastic bands. It is such a tangy and delicious condiment to have on hand for any meal involving baked beans, fried potatoes, meatloaf, or even scrambled eggs that it’s worth the extended cooking time involved. Most of that time is spent waiting impatiently while the tomatoes reduce slowly to a concentrated state of deliciousness. Here it is, for those of you who’d prefer not to squeeze your favorite condiment out of a mammoth plastic bottle!

    Fanny Farmer’s Tomato Catsup (aka Ketchup), from the Boston Cooking School cookbook:

    8 quarts ripe tomatoes, chopped

    ¼ cup salt

    2 cups sugar

    1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (or to taste!)

    1 tablespoon mace

    1 tablespoon celery seed

    2 tablespoons cinnamon

    2 quarts vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar rather than white)

    6 cloves garlic, chopped

Add all ingredients to a thick-bottomed pan and cook slowly until reduced by half. Fanny says this will take about two hours, but on the woodstove and with especially juicy tomatoes, I’ve found it can take much longer—sometimes four hours or more. Strain to remove tomato peels and add to clean pint jars. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Makes 2 to 3 quarts.