Cooking on a Wood Stove

The Remick's wood stove

Two weekends ago, Dan and I went to the Remick Country Doctor Farm and Museum in Tamworth, NH to take a course on wood stove cooking. I was so excited about this class as Great Aunt Lil, for whom this blog is named, cooked on a wood stove all her life. When she died in 1946 she still was cooking on her wood stove and when her husband, Great Uncle Charles, died he still had and used the wood stove. Dan remembers visiting Uncle Charles for family vacations and how much his mother hated cooking on the stove!

Below the fire box is the ash pan which had to be emptied each day

The class began with learning the parts of the stove. The Remick stove was in the Enoch House, one of two homes lived in by two generations of doctors on the museum’s property. The stove had been moved from the Enoch House to the Remick’s modern cooking addition where all the foodways classes are held.

After learning the parts of the stove, it was time to learn how to start the fire. The firebox on these stoves are pretty small, so you start the fire with kindling. Soft pine which ignites quickly is the kindling of choice. As the fire gets going you move to slightly larger hardwood which burn more slowly. Once the fire gets going it takes 35-40 minutes to heat the stove to a temperature of 350 degrees. Learning how the dampers on the stove work is essential to keeping a fire the temperature you desire. 

Many later models of stoves actually had thermometers on the front so you could gauge the temperature.  But the oven itself wasn’t uniformly one temperature. Because of the stove construction and where the fire box was placed (to the left of the oven), the oven itself was hotter on the left side and cooler on the right. When baking, women had to make sure to turn their cakes, biscuits and breads to make sure the food cooked evenly and didn’t burn on one side.

Ready to make breads and pies

With so many of us in the class we couldn’t cook too much ourselves. We all made small individual soda breads and also fruit hand pies. The Remick staff had pre-made some Turkey Soup to eat with our bread and dessert for lunch.

Since St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, many of us are making Irish Soda Bread. I was curious to research it’s history in America. I had a sneaky suspicion that it, like other immigrant foods, had been altered to suit not only our American tastes, but our more affluent society.

Here’s a great overview of what is – and isn’t – Irish Soda Bread. White flour – nope. Sugar – nope. Butter – nope. Caraway seeds or raisins – nope.  So what exactly is the history of this bread? It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that bicarbonate of soda first became available as a rising agent. But Americans learned from the Native Americans how to use a leavener made from ash to bake their breads.

The first reference in an American cookbook to soda bread goes back to the 1700s.  Amelia Simmons,  American Cookery, published in 1796 has a soda bread. In 1824, The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph was published containing a recipe for Soda Cake. In Europe, soda breads began to appear in the mid-19th century when bicarbonate of soda first became available for use as a raising agent. And if you are intrigued and want to read more check out the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread’s website!

Soda bread going in the oven

The soda bread we made at the Remick was a more modern version with white flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, butter, buttermilk, and raisins.  Baked in the wood stove’s oven, the bread was amazing. A lovely crisp and crunchy exterior with soft dough on the inside.

The bread was a perfect accompaniment to our Turkey Soup made with turkey and vegetables raised and grown at the Remick. Our mini fruit pies were the finale to a another great heritage cooking class at the Remick.

Hand held fruit pie

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