Jessie Raymond: Summer cooking puts stove on Ice

What a summer we’ve been having: a seemingly endless run of long days, sunshine and warm temperatures.
Man, I can’t wait for it to be over.
Well, not exactly. It’s just that I miss my favorite pastimes — knitting, cooking and struggling to keep warm. Summer’s all about staying cool and sleeping naked under a sheet. I’d rather be cozy.
“Cozy” is going to be the word at our house this winter because finally, after three years of looking at a non-functional wood cook stove in the corner of our kitchen, we’re having it installed. Every day I crumple up another wad of newspaper in anticipation of future fires.
But I’m a little worried. I’ve been watching tons of YouTube videos on using wood cook stoves (there are hundreds of such videos, although I may be the only person who has ever watched them). And from what I’ve seen, I’m not well-suited for one — not because they’re too hard to operate, but because I am neither a doomsday prepper nor a member of a separatist religious order hunkering down for the end times.
Most of the wood cook stove owners on YouTube live off-grid, mainly because it’s harder for the government to subjugate you if you don’t rely on utilities. Others, displaying modest dress and a marked lack of profanity, simply don’t believe in electricity, although they apparently do believe in video cameras and YouTube. And others just live so deep in the wilderness that the wood cook stove is their most luxurious possession — a fair call when you don’t have indoor plumbing.
What you don’t find a lot of in these videos is people who live on main roads in modern homes with TVs, toaster ovens, dishwashers and all the other amenities that make a wood cook stove a fun accessory rather than a necessity. I may be the first.
I’m an oddball, I guess. I mean, as you may recall, I took up golf a few weeks ago. Golf is a leisure activity generally enjoyed by people who don’t have to sleep on corn husk mattresses or haul water from the creek. But the wood cook stove pegs me as just that kind of person. Will I have to hang up my white golf skort at the end of the summer and slip into a calico dress and bonnet? (I hope not. Calico is so last-season.)
Regardless of why other people are into their wood cook stoves, I know why I’m into mine. For one thing, we haven’t had wood heat in over 20 years, and I miss it. Anyone who burns wood understands the feeling you get from building a fire as opposed to turning up the thermostat. It’s cozy.
True, wood burners will say, but it’s also messy, time consuming, bad for the sinuses and sometimes too hot. Fine. But there isn’t a wood stove owner out there who, glancing outside on a bitter winter evening, doesn’t throw another log on the fire and smile.
Of course, there’s also the cooking part. When you’re burning wood in a cook stove, you’ve got a cooking surface hot and ready to go at all times. So why not simmer your stew on the cast iron stovetop, rather than on the Jenn-Air? Sure, actual baking in the oven is trickier, and I fully expect to produce loaves of bread that are charred on one side and raw on the bottom. But that’s part of the charm of the wood cook stove: working twice as hard to make food that’s not quite as good. That’s my M.O.
Knowing that this stove will be up and running soon means that, for the first time in decades, I’m looking forward to winter, not dreading it. I mean, sure, I’m dreading months of having to scrape ice off the car in the morning, and getting snow in my boots, and having to wear multiple layers, and having to shovel my way to the chicken coop, and dealing with dry skin, and darkness falling in mid-afternoon, and having to drive on icy roads — wait, where was I going with this?
Oh, yes: My point was that I’m eager to try the new wood cook stove, and I can’t wait to crank out a meal or two made entirely with a wood fire.
But I’m also not insane.
My new plan is to spend the next few weeks savoring this long, hot summer. I keep forgetting that, in terms of feeling endless, it’s got nothing on a Vermont winter.

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