Still in Isolation and Loving It
You probably think I am crazy to love the Stay at Home requirement in Washington State. Most of us do not have any essential needs, which are the only ones that allow you to go out, pharmacy, doctor, food and the like. Right now I need none of these, so going out isn’t an option. We do go to the mailbox once a week so we can pick up all the bills and mail the ones from the week before.
Each morning I make a list of things I want to accomplish. This helps give order to an otherwise order less day. Every day my list has contact those for whom I have concerns and make sure they are OK. It also has what country I have chosen for the food we will prepare for dinner. Any projects that I have been putting off are on it as well. Yesterday I got my part of the lawn mowed!
Today’s list, and yesterday’s as well, had “CLEAN THE WOOD COOKSTOVE.” I put this in capitals because it is a project and a messy one. Obviously, I didn’t do it yesterday as I put it off. Today I decided that procrastination is a bitter enemy and I would tackle it first. As with my students and painting (my full time occupation), I tell them “Do the hardest or most difficult part of the piece first. If you are not successful with that, the rest of the piece will not come together.” Well, the list is the same. Last night I went to bed knowing I had done the easy things and had not done the hardest, clean the stove. Today was the day and since I am writing this, you can be assured that I accomplished that task!
Not many of you understand the workings of an old wood cookstove. There are many convolutions in its innards that collect soot and creosote which are a potential fire hazard. Cleaning the stove means taking it apart to some extent and scraping the surfaces to remove these nasty concretions. Usually I look something like a chimney sweep when I’m finished. Even after cleaning myself up my nails look as though they had been manicured by an auto mechanic. Unfortunately, I washed my hair when I got up this morning and it will need another washing again.
Some time back I wrote a piece called The Behemoth, a portion of which appeared in Grit Magazine along with photos of the beast. It is big, very heavy and takes up ten square feet of my floorspace, of which I have not much. For your reading pleasure, I have added the piece I wrote for you to enjoy if you like. It explains the behemoth in more detail.
If you are on enforced isolation, learn to enjoy it. It will probably be a once in a lifetime episode (hopefully). I always wanted to be a hermit, and this isolation is allowing it to some extent. It allows me all the time I need to paint, sew, and cook, a few of “my favorite things.” Enjoy the story below.
“Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice”—Henry Ford
It’s true. If you own a wood stove and you chop your own wood, it will heat you twice. I generally try to chop my wood in late spring while the weather is still cool and the wood will have a chance to dry before fall. It really does warm you, chopping wood. There is something wonderful about being outdoors on a cold crisp day and splitting wood. I love the deep turpentine-like smell of fir and hemlock as the pieces fall away. We also split alder occasionally which has its own astringent smell. It is good for smoking foods and departs a wonderful taste. Fir and hemlock are not good for smoking unless you like a piney residue taste in your foods.
I used to split wood, for most of my life, with an ax. It was easiest if the trees were still green, and not dry, as the wood pops into two pieces more easily. I did this for years. Occasionally the ax would get stuck in a piece which wouldn’t pop and that was when the real work began, trying to get it to pop by picking the whole thing up and bashing it down again to try to force the ax through, or just trying to loosen the ax from its confinement deep within the piece of wood.
Finally, as this was becoming more and more difficult,(for an old lady like me) I bit the bullet and bought a splitter to work off the tractor. It uses the hydraulics on the tractor to power a hydraulic cylinder that pushes a wedge through the wood. Now all I have to do is be careful of my fingers and watch out if it pops violently, which it does sometimes. You can get nice bruises on your thighs if you are in the way. During the course of a morning I can split a half cord of wood if I am not stacking it as well. Boy was that a great $175 investment.
Now to the Behemoth. This is what I call my wood cook stove. About twenty or twenty-five years ago when my husband was in Montana visiting his family, he called and said he had located a stove in a barn in the eastern part of the state. It was in great shape. But…..did I mind that it was pink enamel? I was just happy for such a find. I said, definitely buy it. He brought it home and it is dove grey, a perfect color. My husband is red/green colorblind and he didn’t really know what color it was and took a guess. I thought when he said pink it was probably the swimming pool green color that was popular in many stoves from the ‘30s.
It is a 1935+/- (?) Wehrle Colonial Range #82-20X. It had been sitting in a barn for a number of years when my husband purchased it and brought it back to Washington State where we live. It has heated our house ever since. When he purchased it, it had been converted to an oil pot burner, since there are not a lot of trees to burn in eastern Montana. Pot burners were a type of heating from Victorian times up until recent times. The local theater here on the island had a pot burner just in front of the screen that glowed on winter nights to keep the theatre warm. The cabin I bought when I moved here had an “appliance” which was enameled dark brown and sat in the living room. Classmates in high school had pot burners in their living rooms.
This device had a fire proof pot inside into which No. 2 stove oil (diesel) dripped at a rate set by a valve on the side of the device, by turning on the valve and letting a little oil drip into the pot. Open the door and drop a match or a piece of burning paper into the pot and the oil would ignite and heat the house as long as the valve was turned on. The amount of heat was determined by the speed at which the oil dripped. Outside there were barrels of diesel up on stands, higher than the pot in the house which were filled with oil that fed by gravity to the pot.
They worked well until oil prices skyrocketed and we could hardly afford to use them. In Montana, some enterprising farmer had converted this stove to this method of cooking and heating because he did not have access to trees and wood, and the stove was not useful for coal burning as it would become clogged with soot. When oil prices got to high, it had been relegated to the barn. Lucky us.
We, however, have enough windfall each year to heat several homes and this stove, after reconverting it back to wood, has heated ours easily. It includes a warming oven and water tank. There is also an accommodation for a water jacket, which we have not installed. We place a large box fan next to the stove to circulate the heat throughout the house. It is the only heat source we use and we are toasty. It bakes a great turkey or pot roast. I only use the oven for slow, low temperature cooking as the house gets too hot if I run the oven at anything higher than 275 degrees.
On the stove are three, three-gallon kettles. These are full of water which stays hot all night after the fire has gone out. They are still warm in the morning and the house is still toasty. When the power is down and our water pump doesn’t run, these kettles are a source of hot water for washing up.
In winter the stove simmers a lot of soup. It is the perfect stove for this. I also make crème fraiche and yogurt in the warming oven. The mid-temperature (center of the cook top) burners are used to make ricotta cheese and it works better on this stove than on our gas range. We keep the tea pots warm on the top and coffee cups are stored and warm in the warming oven ready to use.
One of the burners on the top of the stove is a special pot lid with an insert that you can raise and lower so creamy soups and porridge won’t stick or scorch on the bottom of the pan, which is real handy. It says on it “Raise register and cereals will never burn. I use this burner device to heat the milk for the ricotta. Never scorches on the bottom.
Not only is the Behemoth wonderful, but it does allow our chopped wood to warm us the second time.