How To Cook on A Wood Cook Stove: The Secret of Better Baking

Original 1925 Edition
By Mary D. Chambers, B.S., A.M.

Associate Editor of American Cookery
Author of Principles of Food Preparation, One-Piece Dinners, Etc., Etc., Etc.


In one of the comedies of a generation ago there is a love scene in which the hero picks up a leathery looking object and makes a show of trying to
bend it over his knee.

“What is it?” he asks.

The maid hangs her head in embarrassment, but replies courageously, “It’s a pie, I made it.”

“I’ll eat it!” exclaims the delighted lover.

But the lady, with an eye to the future, recovers the pie and persuades the youth to prove his valor in less hazardous ways.

Baking a crisp, juicy pie or a deftly browned loaf of bread or managing a Thanksgiving dinner is a worthwhile accomplishment. The kitchen range is close to the center of the home. It not only provides the main sustenance of life, but needed warmth for winter’s cold and plentiful hot water to
encourage the highly regarded virtue of cleanliness.

Hundreds of cookbooks and collections of recipes of famous chefs witness the desire for variety in palatable and wholesome dishes. The
implements of cooking have made equally rapid strides until they approach close to perfection. But a recipe book and the finest equipped kitchen in the world do not make a cook. A good cook has learned how to handle her range so that it does her bidding without effort or “off days.” And the
cookbooks do not tell her. There seems to be very little help for those who are making their first acquaintance with a modern range. This booklet is
an introduction to your stove-just a few hints to make the acquaintance ripen more rapidly and help you to a fuller enjoyment of the hours spent in the kitchen.

Building the Fire

A good modern range is designed to get the greatest cooking and heating value out of the flue used. When the range and chimney draft are right, a properly controlled fire will do all the work required, without wasting fuel.

It is therefore necessary to bear in mind that the first problem of better baking is an understanding of the fire. If a match is lighted, the flame shoots upward. The hot blaze causes a DRAFT, drawing fresh air from below and supplying the oxygen necessary for combustion. The range simply
makes use of this basic principle on a large scale.

To start the fire, then, have on hand plenty of free-burning fuel-dry paper and woodcut small. A folded newspaper will not burn freely, but a few
sheets lightly twisted make a good first layer. Then a moderate supply of kindling wood, lay in loosely.

Before lighting, open the door or slide under the fire, also the direct draft to the chimney (over the oven) and the check slide at the base of smoke
pipe and also the damper in the smoke pipe. The purpose is to promote a free passage of air up through the firebox to the chimney by the most
direct route.

Remember that no stove has a draft of itself. The draft is furnished by the chimney through the stovepipe, which obviously must be tight in all its joints. Light the fire from below and allow it to get a good start. If it burns too slowly, it needs more oxygen, supplied by opening the door wide under the fire. If it burns too fast, it will produce more smoke than the chimney can draw off and the excess will be thrown out into the room. Partly closing the door under the fire will retard it. (The first fire in a new range usually causes a little surface smoke and oily odor. This is harmless and soon passes off).

Before applying coal, add a little more kindling. The grate should be well covered with a brisk fire, both to support and ignite the coal evenly and to
prevent waste through the grate.

Never use kerosene to quicken a slow fire.

When the coal fire has a good start the oven damper may be closed.

The process of keeping up a good coal fire is merely one of adding more fuel, and occasionally “shaking down” to remove the ashes under the coal.

Do not allow ashes to collect close up under the grate. In fact, this is about the only way a grate is damaged in ordinary use.

Some housekeepers, who depend upon the kitchen heating adjoining rooms or for continuous hot water, maintain the same coal fire for months at a time.

When not in use for cooking, the oven door may to help heat the adjoining rooms.

Checking the Fire

If the draft of air through the firebox continues unchecked, the fuel soon burns out, and the top of the range gets red hot-a bad thing for the stove.

This may be accomplished in various ways-by closing tight the door and slide under the fire-by partially closing the damper in the stovepipe or
pushing in the slide near the stove pipe collar on top of the range-by opening the slide in the broiler door at the end of the range over the fire- or by
tipping the lids or covers over the fire. The chimney keeps pulling for air and reducing the amount of chimney allowing the air to rush in over the fire,
instead of through it checks the fire.

Closing the damper over the oven also checks the degree, but the real purpose of this damper is to send the heat around the oven on its way to the chimney.

Use of the Warming Oven

Plates may be kept warm in the warming oven, but this is not all that may be done in it. Dried fruit, such as prunes, figs, and raisins, may be put to
soak in water in the warming oven, left there for hours and hours, developing a richness and sweetness that cannot be otherwise produced.

One of the attributes of a good cook is a knack of serving hot dishes hot. This is not always easy when· there is considerable variety in the “menu.” Here is where the warming oven may play an important part and cause the guests to wonder, “How she does it.”

For example, a thick sirloin. If properly timed, it may be broiled just short of completion. Then while the accompanying dishes are made ready to serve, put the steak on a platter with plenty of butter in the warming oven. The heat contained in the meat with the heat contributed by the warming oven completes the cooking and your steak is done to a turn, juicy and delicious, on a platter that will keep it hot. This is one 6f the secrets of the expert broiler of steaks.

Puddings, such as creamy rice pudding, Indian pudding, apple tapioca, steamed fruit pudding and others, may be much improved by placing in the
warming oven for an hour after baking or steaming.

Stale bread may be dried out in the warming oven for rolling and sifting, and pulled bread and croutons for soups may be put into the warming oven
and they will cook of their own accord, without looking after them.

Jelly that has not jelled will sometimes jell after a day or a half-day in the warming oven, and even fruit that is half-ripe will ripen after a time in this
convenient place, with a dish of water set beside the fruit to keep it from drying out.

How to Care for your Range

Stove blackening protects the stove from rust and takes a high polish. If applied frequently and not overdone, the range will always look like new. A common fault is to put on too much blacking, leaving a surplus that smooches the bottoms of pans and rubs off on the clothing.

Modern ranges of the better class now show little of the raised scroll designs that formerly covered the sides and made a great deal of extra work in blacking.

Ranges finished in enamel are easily cleaned with a damp cloth and require no blacking.
Repeated overheating of the top in time causes a burning off of its original finish, leaving a dull surface.

Whenever the top gets red hot, check the fire immediately. Frequent overheating Causes warping and expanding and sometimes cracking of the

If the range is in a cottage that is closed during the winter, it is a good plan to take down the stovepipe and put it away in a dry place. Also if the
range has a waterfront or coil for hot water, extra care must be taken to drain the pipes dry before closing the house.