• Editor's Note Winter 2011

    Editor's Note Winter 2011

    I’ve never fired a gun. The closest I ever came to one as a child was at my aunt’s house. She’s a cattle rancher in Arizona and often kept a pistol by her phone. I’d walk past it gingerly, as if getting too close meant it would suddenly go off like a stick of remote-controlled dynamite. Having grown up in a big city, I’d always associated guns with hot-headed maliciousness and revenge.

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  • Set the Table with Venison

    Set the Table with Venison

    LedgEnd Deer Farm doesn’t have a sign, but the special fencing and the deer give it away. Plus, after more than 15 years of venison farming, owner Hank DiMuzio doesn’t need to advertise. “I can’t raise enough animals to keep up with demand as it is,” he says. “It’s a good problem to have.” And at a time when dairy farmers and other farmers are struggling to stay afloat, this problem has become increasingly rare.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Good Walls Make  Good Gardens

    Good Walls Make Good Gardens

    The phrase “New England stone walls” conjures images of dilapidated boundary walls winding through our forests, half buried by leaves and by the sharp turns of our region’s economy. But stone, and stone walls in particular, are enjoying a renaissance, of sorts, as gardeners are discovering that the simplest stone work can lend structure, meaning, and a living complement to the seasonal and perennial plantings of an outdoor space. I first discovered my passion for stone work while helping a friend build a stone bread oven near Hardwick.

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  • Counting Their Chickens

    Counting Their Chickens

    Yes, there is a knoll—and it’s misty.

    At least it was on the day this past October when I visited Misty Knoll Farms, Vermont’s largest chicken producer. Standing on the small rise at the eastern edge of the farm in New Haven, facing a swath of Addison County dairy land below and the spine of the Green Mountains beyond, I spotted a light fog in the valley that looked misty enough.

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  • A Food and Farming Legacy

    A Food and Farming Legacy

    The spine of Vermont is made up of green, craggy mountainsides whose tops disappear into the clouds, and whose valleys wake up to a cloak of low mist that dissipates with the morning sun. Most accounts of the musical von Trapp family’s arrival in Vermont mention how they were instantly attracted to these views, which reminded them of their Austrian home. A lesser-known tale, however, is that they also fell in love with the land itself: generations of von Trapps, including the youngest generation today, have been working to feed and nourish themselves and their neighbors ever since the family put down roots here.

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  • Why I Hunt

    Why I Hunt

    It’s only been in recent years that I’ve come to realize I was pretty much raised as a localvore long before anyone had ever heard of the word. And it wasn’t due to any sort of middle-class shift in culinary consciousness. This was the early 1960s, and we were a large working-class family with a very rural home on three open acres in Westminster. We planted large vegetable gardens, had a big potato patch, and raised chickens, ducks, and on occasion, grass-fed beef. We also hunted, and venison was a year-round staple. More on that a little later, but all of this was really just a reflection of how my parents’ families had dealt with the Great Depression.

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  • Taking it Slow in Italy

    Taking it Slow in Italy

    Getting together, the listening to and exchanging of ideas— that is the miracle of Terra Madre.”

    With this, Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini welcomed us to the 2010 Terra Madre conference and set the tone for our four days in Turin, Italy. He addressed an audience of 5,000 representatives from 161 countries—small-scale farmers, producers, educators, and observers—who had traveled to Italy to meet with their peers and discuss global issues of food, culture, and justice. We came to take part in the conversation, too, along with two dozen other Vermonters. The experience renewed our appreciation for the value of gathering around a table to break bread and to exchange ideas.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—The Versatile Quince

    Farmers' Kitchen—The Versatile Quince

    When asked “Why quince?” Zeke Goodband, the orchard manager at Scott Farm in Dummerston, will answer, “Because they are a wonderful fruit.” So wonderful that he sips on quince nectar during the farm’s annual Heirloom Apple Day, when he leads three apple tastings and speaks at length about the many heritage apple varieties growing at Scott Farm.

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  • Last Morsel Baking Bread in the Firebox

    Last Morsel Baking Bread in the Firebox

    My 85-year-old friend, Gladys Thomas, used a wood cook stove all her life. After her children left the farm in Jericho and her husband died, she did her best to keep the place going by herself. As she grew older, members of her church tried to help.

    “Now you just let that wood pile be, Gladys,” a church member told her on the phone one day, “and we’ll have a bunch of men come and split it for you.”

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Last Morsel Baking Bread in the Firebox

woodstove

Written By

Chris Sims

Written on

December 01 , 2010

My 85-year-old friend, Gladys Thomas, used a wood cook stove all her life. After her children left the farm in Jericho and her husband died, she did her best to keep the place going by herself. As she grew older, members of her church tried to help.

“Now you just let that wood pile be, Gladys,” a church member told her on the phone one day, “and we’ll have a bunch of men come and split it for you.”

Gladys didn’t argue, but by the time the men showed up with axes and mauls, she already had her wood neatly split and stacked. Hearing this story from her years later, I resolved, at the age of 37, that I wanted to be just like Gladys when I grew up.

As much cooking as I had done on top of my standard wood heating stove, I never had success baking anything up there. I asked Gladys if she thought it might be possible to bake bread inside the firebox of the stove, instead. She considered it a moment. “With a wood cook stove, you stick your hand in the oven and see if the temperature feels right. I suppose it’d be the same inside your firebox.”
I gave it a try. I had a number three cast-iron saucepot with a lid, seven inches in diameter and three and a half inches high. I had gotten it at a yard sale for a good price—what did I have to lose? I greased the inside of the pot and put in a lump of dough. As the bread rose, I let the fire in our Jøtul stove burn down to coals. I held my hand in the firebox. It felt good and hot, the way an oven should be, so I put the bread in there, nestled it snugly among the coals, set my kitchen timer for 35 minutes, and went away to do something else while my bread baked.

When the timer rang, I hurried to the basement to see how my experiment had turned out. The whole basement smelled of burnt toast. Black smoke billowed from the bread pot. I grabbed the pot’s long handle with an oven mitt and raced past the smoke alarm, hoping not to set it off. I made it to the garage and set the pot on the concrete floor—none too gently, as the handle had melted the oven mitt and the palm of my hand was getting rather warm. With an un-melted section of the mitt, I knocked the lid off the pot. Inside lay a glistening black lump. Within minutes, smoke hung in the garage as it might above an all-night poker game.

Never one to waste food, I brought the blackened lump to the kitchen after it cooled. Maybe it’d be something I could feed to the chickens. As with a geode, however, I found a treasure inside. There was bread in there—tasty, fluffy, and moist. Even though the flavor of burnt toast remained, it was the best bread I had ever tasted.

The second time, I stayed in the basement beside the fire. After 15 minutes, I started smelling burnt toast. I took the pot out of the fire with an antique, spring-handled lid-lifter. This second loaf had a quarter inch of charcoal around it, but the bread inside was fine.

By the ninth loaf, I had it down. My hand now knows what’s too hot and too cool. If the coals are too hot and the rising dough is crawling out of the pot, I punch down the dough. If the loaf hasn’t risen and the coals are too few, I carefully add just enough kindling to keep the fire going until the bread is ready to bake.

I’ve learned to stay close to the wood stove when bread is baking in there. As soon as I start to smell that wonderful, fresh-bread aroma, I know it’s almost done. It takes only half the time—15 to 20 minutes—to bake bread in the wood stove as it takes in a conventional oven.

A favorite winter supper in my household is a hearty soup and homemade bread. The soup goes on top of the wood stove at 10 or 11 in the morning and simmers all day. I used to wince at having to turn on the whole, big, electric oven just to bake one loaf of bread to go with the soup. Now, I don’t have to.

Thanks, Gladys!

My 85-year-old friend, Gladys Thomas, used a wood cook stove all her life. After her children left the farm in Jericho and her husband died, she did her best to keep the place going by herself. As she grew older, members of her church tried to help.

“Now you just let that wood pile be, Gladys,” a church member told her on the phone one day, “and we’ll have a bunch of men come and split it for you.”

Gladys didn’t argue, but by the time the men showed up with axes and mauls, she already had her wood neatly split and stacked. Hearing this story from her years later, I resolved, at the age of 37, that I wanted to be just like Gladys when I grew up.

As much cooking as I had done on top of my standard wood heating stove, I never had success baking anything up there. I asked Gladys if she thought it might be possible to bake bread inside the firebox of the stove, instead. She considered it a moment. “With a wood cook stove, you stick your hand in the oven and see if the temperature feels right. I suppose it’d be the same inside your firebox.”
I gave it a try. I had a number three cast-iron saucepot with a lid, seven inches in diameter and three and a half inches high. I had gotten it at a yard sale for a good price—what did I have to lose? I greased the inside of the pot and put in a lump of dough. As the bread rose, I let the fire in our Jøtul stove burn down to coals. I held my hand in the firebox. It felt good and hot, the way an oven should be, so I put the bread in there, nestled it snugly among the coals, set my kitchen timer for 35 minutes, and went away to do something else while my bread baked.

When the timer rang, I hurried to the basement to see how my experiment had turned out. The whole basement smelled of burnt toast. Black smoke billowed from the bread pot. I grabbed the pot’s long handle with an oven mitt and raced past the smoke alarm, hoping not to set it off. I made it to the garage and set the pot on the concrete floor—none too gently, as the handle had melted the oven mitt and the palm of my hand was getting rather warm. With an un-melted section of the mitt, I knocked the lid off the pot. Inside lay a glistening black lump. Within minutes, smoke hung in the garage as it might above an all-night poker game.

Never one to waste food, I brought the blackened lump to the kitchen after it cooled. Maybe it’d be something I could feed to the chickens. As with a geode, however, I found a treasure inside. There was bread in there—tasty, fluffy, and moist. Even though the flavor of burnt toast remained, it was the best bread I had ever tasted.

The second time, I stayed in the basement beside the fire. After 15 minutes, I started smelling burnt toast. I took the pot out of the fire with an antique, spring-handled lid-lifter. This second loaf had a quarter inch of charcoal around it, but the bread inside was fine.

By the ninth loaf, I had it down. My hand now knows what’s too hot and too cool. If the coals are too hot and the rising dough is crawling out of the pot, I punch down the dough. If the loaf hasn’t risen and the coals are too few, I carefully add just enough kindling to keep the fire going until the bread is ready to bake.

I’ve learned to stay close to the wood stove when bread is baking in there. As soon as I start to smell that wonderful, fresh-bread aroma, I know it’s almost done. It takes only half the time—15 to 20 minutes—to bake bread in the wood stove as it takes in a conventional oven.

A favorite winter supper in my household is a hearty soup and homemade bread. The soup goes on top of the wood stove at 10 or 11 in the morning and simmers all day. I used to wince at having to turn on the whole, big, electric oven just to bake one loaf of bread to go with the soup. Now, I don’t have to.

Thanks, Gladys!

About the Author

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Chris Sims

Chris Sims, a lifelong gardener, turned in recent years to full-time homesteading and sheep farming. She and her husband make their home in Jericho.

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Home Stories Issues 2011 Winter 2011 | Issue 15 Last Morsel Baking Bread in the Firebox