I was cleaning out my oven today and it made me think how far we’ve come in the 22 years we’ve been on the farm. I have a wood stove, a Wagener Fairburn, made in the far north out of New Zealand steel by Kiwi craftsmen. It heats our water and our house and cooks our food. I love it. Even when I have to clean it out. Scraping ashes out of the fire box around the oven is a dirty job that needs doing every couple of weeks but it’s very satisfying, producing a pile of black ash and restoring the heating potential at the same time. And you never, never, never have to clean out the inside. If something spills, it just burns off and you sweep out the cold ash. No poisonous smelling cleaners in our house.
I remember the day we put the stove in. The Man of the House said I would be able to make scones now we had a wood stove. His Granny had one and he seemed to equate having a wood stove to cooking like Granny. The pressure was definitely on. My scones had always resembled hockey pucks and I was sceptical about ‘the wood stove effect’.
In the early days we had an old range out in the yard that we cooked in occasionally. Our inside kitchen consisted of a two burner gas top out of an old caravan and just to vary the menu I got creative with whatever we could find. I could cook almost anything in a camp oven on that gas stove; pies, roasts, even birthday cakes. They tended to be a bit blonde on top but still made a nice change from everything fried. To my surprise I did actually produce one batch of unbelievably good scones out of that old range. But only one. And since then, I’ve found an idiot proof scone recipe that almost proves the wood stove theory.
There is one draw back to the wood stove, though and that is the effort required to keep it well fed. We spend a lot of time collecting firewood. I’m sure that’s why the early settlers were all old by the time they were thirty. Collecting firewood, without a chainsaw. Even with a chainsaw, it’s a never ending task. Just as well we have an endless supply. Trees are always falling over for one reason or another. Oh, actually there are two things that I don’t like about the stove. The other is the dust it produces. Because we live in a log house, our walls are perfect dust catchers. I positively hate housework and by the end of winter, the house resembles a dusty old mausoleum because spiders love living in a log house too.
We don’t light the stove in summer now. Our water wheel produces enough power to heat the water, especially since Our Darling Girl left for university and thirty minute showers have become someone else’s problem. And because my middle aged cholesterol level won’t cope with fried anything any more, next to the wood stove is a stainless steel gas oven and next to that a microwave. But I still prefer to cook in the wood stove. It is far more forgiving than these modern appliances that seem to require very specific temperature and timing and nothing else can produce food quite as good. Perhaps there is something to the ‘wood stove effect’ after all.