Since an electric range is out of the question, anyone off-grid or considering going off-grid is faced with determining how they’ll cook meals. Most opt for a gas/propane stove trading dependence on the electric company for dependence on the gas/propane company. Instead, why not consider a wood burning cookstove for your off-grid kitchen.
Why Consider a Wood Cookstove
For the modern day off-gridder, a wood cookstove is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. It’s a key component of self-sufficiency and energy independence, especially if you have your own source of firewood. Propane/natural gas are fossil fuels. If availability ever becomes an issue, any off-gridder relying on these fuels for their kitchen stove is no better off than someone who is still “plugged in,” at least in our opinion.
The off-grid kitchens in all 3 of the homesteads we’ve built have featured a wood cookstove. I use my kitchen woodstove every day: spring, summer, fall and winter. I do all of my canning, baking and meal preparation with this appliance.
Features of Wood Cookstoves
Antique cookstoves are kicking around but new ones are still being manufactured. Either is a versatile piece of equipment that will heat your home and potentially can heat domestic hot water while at the same time cook and bake your meals.
Wood cookstoves come in various sizes and include many different features. Cookstoves can come with an attached warming oven that sits above the cooking surface which is a dandy place to raise bread dough, keep things warm while the rest of the meal cooks or be used to finish drying herbs and pans of fruit leather.
Cookstoves can come with a water reservoir attached to the right hand side of the oven for heating water. Depending on the manufacturer, the reservoir may be equipped with a faucet at the bottom of it or you may have to dip hot water out of it. I used to dip water out with a pot or a quart sized measuring cup when I used a cookstove with a side reservoir. Obviously you’ll have to add cold water for heating to replace whatever you took out. But this is a low tech way to heat water whenever the cookstove is going.
If your cook stove comes equipped with a water jacket plumbed in the firebox as ours does, it can heat your hot running water too. What a deluxe set up that is. Our stove is plumbed so pressurized cold water flows through the firebox, is heated and then heads back out to a hot water storage tank. So every time I make a fire to cook, can or bake, I’m also heating our water resulting in hot running water for the shower and both sink faucets. What an off-grid luxury! This set up (thermosiphon loop) is very efficient as I’m getting triple duty out of each piece of firewood.
Cooking on a wood cookstove is not difficult. Virtually anything that can be prepared with a conventional range can be prepared with a cookstove: yeast breads and rolls, quick breads such as coffecakes, muffins, biscuits, and sweet breads as well as cakes, cookies, pies and crisps. Soups, casseroles and even pizza are all possible with a wood cookstove. Anything that benefits from braising, that method of long, slow cooking that makes for tender pot roasts, stews, swiss steak and such is a cinch with a wood cookstove. The need for an electric slow cooker is virtually eliminated.
Canning on a Wood Cookstove
What about canning? Is it possible to can garden produce with a wood cookstove? Absolutely. For almost 40 years, I’ve done all of my canning on a wood stove. Compared to a gas or electric stove, canning on a wood cookstove is an economical alternative especially given the long cooking times for preparation of items such as the reduction of tomato sauce prior to filling jars. Because of the ease of temperature regulation on the cook top, it’s much easier to boil down sauce or reheat squeezed applesauce prior to packing without scorching.
Admittedly, the addition of wood may be necessary to keep a boiling water bath canner at a full rolling boil for the prescribed time. When using a pressure canner, once the required pressure is reached, it’s a simple matter of moving the canner around on the top to the “sweet spot”, the spot where the pressure stays steady. But you do have to keep the fire fed because if the pressure drops before the time is up, you have to start the whole process over.
In my opinion, the only drawback to wood stove canning is having to “slave over a hot stove” in the heat of summer. No doubt that’s where the expression came from. I’ve been lucky to have lived in northern regions where nighttime temps generally decrease enough to offset the overheated kitchen, but a summer kitchen, a structure separate but near the house that’s used as the kitchen in warm weather, would also eliminate the discomfort.
The biggest question many people have is how to control the temperature with no knobs to turn for heat regulation. Easy. Simply move the pot or skillet around on the cook top until you find the desired temperature. Because the entire surface is heated, many pots and skillets can be going at the same time at either a boil, a simmer or just keeping warm depending on their location on the cook top. Generally the hottest spots will be right over the firebox or to the upper right of it while the part of the cooktop the furthest away from the firebox will be the coolest.
Baking in a Wood Cookstove
Mastering the oven is the greatest challenge of wood stove cookery. Expecting to maintain a steady temperature throughout the baking time is not reasonable. This is why old recipe books referred to oven temp as either slow (think 250° to 325°), moderate ( 325° to 400°) or fast ( 400° to 500°). Most doors on cookstove ovens have a built in thermometer, but I’ve found then to be guides only and not terribly accurate. For accuracy, I use an oven thermometer that I hang from my oven rack.
Regardless of how carefully you try to regulate oven temperature, vigilance is required throughout the entire baking process. I check the oven at least once half way through the baking time, possibly more, and rotate the item so it bakes evenly. Unlike a conventional oven where the heat originates from the bottom, the heat in a cook stove comes from the firebox which is situated to the left side of the oven. Therefore the side of anything that’s next to the firebox will bake faster than the far side.
How about if the oven gets too hot? Then what? Opening the oven door to let heat escape is one option. Closing drafts and dampers will slow down the fire, however the effect on oven temperature is not immediate. I’ve found laying foil across the top of items keeps the surface from burning while allowing the interior to cook.
Anyone off-grid would be wise to consider installing a wood cook stove and take advantage of its many benefits. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be without it.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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