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Cooking and baking on a woodstove

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Cooking over a fire

Why go to all the trouble?

Fires are a lot of work. Gathering wood is a big chore. Chainsaws are loud and scary. Splitting logs is backbreaking. No wonder modern man uses alternate ways to heat and cook. Fires make a big mess too. Leaves and bark scatter across the floor and then there's taking out the ashes. Bending over a low hot fire is a back strain. Dust coats everything. With all the obvious drawbacks to woodstoves, many people think it's well worth the time and effort.

Some of us who already went to all that trouble to get some good coals going think the natural next thing to do is to cook something on it. I'm one of them. I have an additional reason too. This is my only stove, it heats my home. I live in interior Alaska and all winter I have to keep a fire going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Eating food cooked on a woodstove or over an open fire is a much anticipated event. That's because some things take a lot longer to cook over wood flames as compared to a gas or electric stove and oven (or a microwave). But if you've got fire, patience and a few good tools, you can cook and bake many of your favorite meals.

I have a small Drolet Hunter's woodstove designed for small cabins and large tents. It used to hold a fire for about 4-6 hours. The manufacturer advises against using this model for full-time use. I've been burning it steadily in my tents since August 2006 and it carried me through two winters that dropped down to 50 below zero. It's now showing signs of splitting apart at the seams. It's been an awesome stove that overperformed it's intended mission, and it was well worth the $200.00.

For baking I now use a Camerons' Smoker. Designed for cooking fish over a campfire. This little cooker is the best garage sale find of last summer. It's a big pan with inside racks and a handle, about 10x15 inches and maybe two inches tall with a piece that slides over the top.

Not intended as a cookbook, this Instructable includes a sampling of a couple of the recipes I've made that were edible.
 
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Step 1: Making Fire

Anyone who's familiar with fires may want to skip reading this step. It has to be here for the people who haven't had the chance to make a lot of fires. I know a few people who haven't.

Fuel

Firewood can be anything from small sticks to round logs. Some woods burn much faster and hotter than others. Smaller pieces of wood will heat up quickly and die out just as fast, unless you have a way to control the fire's air intake.

Gather your wood ahead of time so you can stack it near the fire to dry it overnight. Keep a small axe handy with a piece of floor board to chop kindling right there on the floor by the stove. If you're going to do this for any length of time it's a big help to have some kind of a cart or sled to pull loads of wood back to your hearth. I've spent years studying cart designs because I got sick of hauling loads on my back or in my arms. Today I use a RubberMaid dump cart that retails at Cotsco for $100. I've also used wheelbarrows, garden carts, kid's wagons, plastic sleds and luggage to haul wood back to my camp.

Coal and other wood burning substitutes work just as well too. In some parts of the world they burn dung and grass. The main thing is a steady source of heat and a hot space to place your pots and pans.

Starting the fire

Box matches work best, they're called kitchen matches for a reason.

Paper -- has a tendency to float away while it's still burning. It's not the best way to start a fire unless you have a metal spark screen to put over it or have a really tall smoke stack. Glossy paper gives off nasty fumes, and some paper just won't ignite enough to catch the wood.

Kindling -- small sticks, wood shavings, leaves and bark all work if it's dry. I used to keep a bin full of firestarter materials near the stove that became a paper garbage can.

Wax -- Thanks to my sister in Valdez, http://fishtaxi.blogspot.com starting our fires now couldn't be easier. She showed us how to save all our egg cartons and fill them with leftover wax saved from burnt candles. (There are other Instructables on this same topic).

Homemade Firestarters -- If the coals in our stove die down too much or we've just cleaned out the ashes and are starting fresh, we tear off one "egg" and put it under and between some wood. Once lit with a wooden kitchen match, this little flame stays going long enough to catch even good sized logs. This can be modified to recycle anything that's burnable; cardboard cut into 1 inch strips and dipped in melted wax and dried are in my emergency pack. The only problem with this method is the scarcity of cheap wax, candles can be expensive these days. I also carry a flint and magnesium shaving bar in my purse, but this is only for emergencies.

Kerosene-gasoline-diesal -- Never use liquid fuels to start a wood fire unless you know how to do that and are prepared to deal with whatever explosions occur as a result. If you want to burn liquid fuels to cook over, there are many fuel designed cook stoves that will serve you well.

Setting the temperature

Small sticks and split logs will give you a brisk fire as long as you keep an eye on it and feed it every ten to fifteen minutes. If you're using a wood stove you can add a couple good sized pieces of dry wood, shut the damper down, and wait for the stove to heat up. This is best for baking that requires a high oven temperature. Wet wood doesn't put off much heat.

Baking makes for a very hot room so be prepared to open the door or window or tent flap and let some of the heat escape. If you don't have a way to cool the room down you'll be reluctant to keep the fire hot enough to finish cooking your food. Wandering outside without a coat on feels fabulous if it's swealtering inside and cold outside. It's a nice way to see the winter skies too, even if only for a few seconds. Plus there's things that need to be taken outside when you're cooking too, like old dishwater and sometimes more wood. We have an outhouse so that's another outside daily routine.

As word about health: Living this way has made me much physically stronger than I might have been at 51 years old. I'm a smoker, I was a heavy drinker in my youth, I eat odd things at odd hours and I used to be about 165 pounds after my son was born in 1990. Today I'm at about 125 and can lift and carry 7 gallons without whining too much.

Anyone can boil water, right? If your recipe calls for bringing water to a boil, build a roaring fire and get your covered pot of water as close to the flames as is possible, or put it on top of a hot, hot stove. Uncovered water on a low flame will turn to steam and float away before it boils.

Metal pots can be placed right in the flames or coals. This turns them a sooty black that is very messy to wash off. Once a pot is placed over an open fire that's pretty much all it's good for unless you like scrubbing. Some wood cookstoves have round holes in the top that lift off so you can open it up and put your pan directly on the flame. I've never had one of those. If you live on the U.S. east coast there are lots of old very inexpensive wood cookstoves on ebay for pick-up only buyers, and I did see one on Alaska craigslist for $500 one time.

Another suggestion might be to get used to filling a big pot for dish water and put it right on the stove and keep it there or near enough to heat the water. If you keep it clean with a lid on it you can scoop it out for washing your face or for cooking water. But what you really want it for is to do the dishes afterwards.

Step 2: Garlic Baked Copper River Red Salmon

Picture of Garlic Baked Copper River Red Salmon
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Copper River Red Salmon are one of the healthiest foods harvested in Alaska. If you like fish and are lucky enough to land one of these, enjoy! These Reds are good even if it's half cooked using a rock on the bank of the river.

Recipe

INGREDIANTS

One Copper River Red Salmon, cleaned and fileted.
Garlic chunks and slices
Medium Onion, diced
Thyme
Garlic Powder
Seasoning Salt (optional)
Lemon and Pepper
Olive Oil

Preheat oven or a flat stovetop container with a cover (cover can be tinfoil). Place filets skin side down on a raised rack inside whatever oven container you use. Sprinkle garlic, onion and seasonings liberally across the top of the filets. Drip olive oil down the center of each filet. Close cover. Bake until done, check often. It takes about a half hour in my Camerons. Note: overcooked fish is dry and loses its flavor. Salmon changes color from a deep red to a lighter pink-orange when it's fully cooked, and it separates easily with a fork.

This fish melts in your mouth and there's never enough garlic for our tastes! Goes great with black bean salza and steamed rice.

Step 3: Baking Soda Banana Pancake Muffins

Pancakes are an Alaskan staple. I always have pancake mix on hand. I'm a big fan of Krustez baking products, they're inexpensive, come in bulk sizes and they make the best pre-mixed recipes I've found. I like foods that can be stored for long periods if necessary and ones that can be stretched out to feed additional mouths. Last week I noticed I had barely touched this big 10lb bag I bought last September. We lived on pancakes for 3 weeks last May, so we just never made them again after I opened it the first time.

As I buy more of my supplies in bulk I'm trying to get it to where everything I buy I USE regularly. I want my stored goods continually rotated and replaced with fresh stuff. I read it on some guy's survival guide a long time ago, and I've found him to be dead right about one thing:ONLY buy "emergency" food supplies that are part of your regular diet.

I also don't recommend having any illusions about what you'll "learn" to like because you think if you had to you'd learn to eat things that are good for you or whatever. The fact is if we end up living off our back-up supplies it's a lot better emotionally to have things we like... period. And I love bread so much I could live off it, and I think it's almost possible.

Recipe

INGREDIANTS

1 cup white flour, sifted
1/2 cup Krustez Buttermilk Pancake Mix
1 cup instant oats
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar, brown or white
1 pkg Kellogs Fruit Snacks
dash salt (optional)
12 oz glass instant milk

Makes 12 medium sized muffins.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven container. Mash bananas in medium sized bowl with pastry cutter (or spoon or fork). Add milk to bananas and stir lightly leaving small chunks of the bananas. Add spices, baking soda. Stir. Sift in a few shakes of flour, stirring every time until it's blended well. Add oatmeal and fruit pkg. Stir. Place 2 heaping tablespoons in each place in a muffin pan. (I got the muffin pan in the pictures at a second hand store for $5. They bend and don't need to be coated with oil or Crisco.) Bake 2 hours or until done over a medium fire, figure about 1 and 1/2 hours over a roaring fire.

OPTIONS

Don't worry about the muffin crumbling, the pancake mix makes it sticky and solid. Leave out the bananas and the fruit pkg and add 1/2 cup raisins and a T molasses. Any fruit should work and I'm going to try meats and veggies next. Maybe an artichoke, onion, garlic fried sausage and cheese version if I ever have the money to try it. Then, well, why not. I might just have to try an English variety that adds liquors.

Step 4: Yeast Bread

Recipe

This recipe is based on what I could remember about a recipe I used a lot in Seattle. I've lost the cookbook but it was Tajahara or something like that.

INGREDIANTS and DIRECTIONS

Put 3 cups warm water in large mixing bowl (not hot!)
Add a palmful of yeast
Wait 10 minutes or until yeast dissolves

Add to bowl and mix:
1 cup sugar or other sweetener, less if you don't like it sweet
dash salt
few shakes of cinnamon
dried milk, powder
3 T olive oil
1 cup of uncooked instant oats -- optional, I just like to add oats to all my breads

Add:
6 cups white flour mixed in slowly until it comes off the sides of the mixing bowl.
pour 1 T olive oil on top of ball
roll it over in bowl
cover with a towel, place in a warm spot, let rise til double in size.
punch dough down with knuckles
knead for 5 minutes or more, adding more flour until it's smooth and elastic
add more oil to top of dough
roll dough over in bowl
let rise again til double in size
punch dough down again
add more flour and lightly knead
separate dough into 5 equal balls.
grease all baking pans lightly with Crisco.

Making the bread dishes

cinnamon rolls
smash down one ball with heels of hands,
cover with apricot jam, cinnamon, and raisins,
roll into a pinwheel tube, slice,
lay out on baking sheet and bake 55 minutes.

loaves
Bread can be made in pans, on cookie sheets or in Stoneware pots with lids.
put one loaf in bread pan, cover it with spices and herbs, let rise
put one loaf in a stoneware jug with lid, let rise
one loaf in another stoneware bowl with lid, let rise
times varied, approximately one hour each.

garlic bread
slice one ball into thin pieces, lay on baking sheet.
top with garlic chunks, onions, basil and olive oil.

pita
roll into baseball sized balls, flatten with palms
manstrom3 months ago
makes me miss Alaska.
Hi TentLady! Thanks for all this - helpful & appreciated. My husband & I live on a mountaintop in Western NC, entirely off the grid, with wood-stoves upstairs & down. The upper one is for heat only; we cook downstairs, & I have a propane 3-burner set on the porch outside, for when it's not too windy to cook outside. My question is how you bake on your wood-stove, or do you use the smoker for all your baking? We've been up here a year now, learning from ground zero, & baking has been a real challenge here. He loves breads & wants sandwiches, etc. (I do make great flour tortillas, as we LOVE Mexican food, & you just gotta have tortillas for that - gotta gotta gotta). Ok, so, how to you do it? I've learned to make biscuits & roll them extra thick, & flip them when browning on the bottom, in a heavy cast iron lidded Dutch oven or skillet. Yeast bread was a big fail, but the birds & raccoons enjoyed it. If you used a smoker, did you modify it somehow? There's one here but the firebox is tiny. We cut all our own wood here, & like you, I'm stronger than when we started on this adventure. It's not easy but it sure is beautiful!
Ok, enuf chat - plz share inside tips on exactly how you get your baking done - my husband is holding his breath. Much appreciated! Melissa
PS, for those interested, Solutions From Science offers lots of great off-grid products (like power packs & solar-bulbs, God-sends for us up here).
Hi, how much dried milk is added? An amount isn't listed.
NICE
karoles3 years ago
very handy input for living in a hungry, chilly january in greece!
so glad to have found you!
thanks!!
carole
jscruggs14 years ago
Thanks for this, it's very helpful. We'll be cabin camping this weekend--first time doing so on our own--and I need help knowing how to get the fire started, etc. I appreciate your expertise.
AlaskanTentLady (author)  jscruggs14 years ago
you're so welcome! hope you had a great time camping and ate some good food. nice of you to write.
EEEEWW!! that egs?
AlaskanTentLady (author)  sthealthraider5 years ago
Yes they are. Salmon eggs (or roe) are what our friend Amanda from San Franciso calls "brain food." She eats them raw and I tried one last august for the first time. The eggs explode like a juicy pomegrant (sp?) in your mouth, and are quite tasty after soaked in sea salt and marinated in salt water.
noelle_tan6 years ago
Wow! That's a whole lotta eggs.
AlaskanTentLady (author)  noelle_tan5 years ago
Yeah we just started saving a few this past summer, used to throw them all in the dog slops.  Too bad we can't sell them for caviar. :)
achollowell5 years ago
I see in one of these pictures there is a fishing machine I havn`t see one in years there were some on the east coast where I live in north Carolina for catching herring in spring
AlaskanTentLady (author)  achollowell5 years ago
Yes, that's a fishwheel. I actually looked up the history of it online a while back and found one account that claimed it was invented by the ancient Chinese and brought to Europe  first and then patented in the USA by two men from North Carolina. There was something about a second patent filed in Washington State so it may even be court record. This account says it was introduced to the Ahtna Indians by the white men who came up the Copper River in the 1870s.

I just got my first official permit to take fish from a wheel here.. I can get 500 a season for myself and my family. It's dangerous, and a lot of work when the river gets high, but not near as dangerous as dipnetting.
adome6 years ago
Dude you throw down in that. What do you do in the wilderness?
AlaskanTentLady (author)  adome6 years ago
Thanks adome, I'm a writer, and I'm not exactly in the wilderness. I live on a main highway with electric and phone lines. :)
Do you write food article 'cause these look delicious!
hi tentlady mabe you should start eating humans lololol after all there are plenty of them to spare over 6 billion of them hahahah, love the fire a lot,is the yurt realy very comfortable enuff for alaska, im in ireland myself dont know much about alaska, thank you for instructable
steadmanjon6 years ago
You need to invite us over for dinner. The food looks delicious. I've always wanted a wood stove, but don't know how to install it in my home. Anyway good instructable.
AlaskanTentLady (author)  steadmanjon6 years ago
You're welcome to join us for dinner anytime. Installing a woodstove isn't as hard as it seems, you could probably find someone to show you how.
AlaskanTentLady, I'm very impressed and inspired by your instructables. I recently found a 10 lb bag of Krusteaz of my own. After seeing this one on fireplace cooking it made me long for a woodstove even more, though currently I use propane for fuel. I am curious though about what you use for a water source. Its got to be tough with the freezing temperatures. Thanks for the knowledge and stay warm this winter!!!
We get our water from a community well and normally haul it home in 7 gallon plastic jugs. We also have a 35 gallon water barell for backup. Most Alaskans who haul water have 250 to 500 gallon water tanks on the backs of their trucks. I'm seriously going to study how to save the rainwater off the roof because even if we don't drink it I could use it for dishwater. Melting snow into water is a huge job but it can be done in a pinch. Thanks for the encouragment!
stacy81556 years ago
Tentlady, I live in North Pole, Alaska and I am new to having a woodstove in my home. I am trying more and more to live a subsistence type lifestyle. I am just starting (I live pretty well right now) and I wanted to start semi-small. I am going to start an indoor herb garden, and I am learning to sew... but cooking on the stove I already use to heat my house is by far the most practical way to move into a more self sufficient way of life. Thank you for the informative blog you posted, it's helped tremendously!
AlaskanTentLady (author)  stacy81556 years ago
How cool is that, thank you. I guess the point of my instructables is that we can just start doing things, and probably a lot more than we realize. We're working out the details for a company that features necessary, healthy, and functional locally made items. We think the trick to subsistance may very well be for us to go back to what all ancient people knew. You can't make everything yourself even if you stop buying what you do need from China. As the American system proved, societies thrive within a protected network of traders that includes crafters, builders, spinners, weavers, potters, welders, candlemakers, bakers (I still can't make croisants on my wood stove!), and really, who do we know who can make their own toilet paper and Qtips? I lived in Fbks for many years and I know a lot of people there who did exactly what you're doing and it made us all stronger, more capable people. Granted, we all went with the luxuries as we got older and could afford them, but I'm living proof that once you learn it you own it forever. There is nothing forcing us to buy neccessary commodities from the Empire so in that respect we are still free to form trade associations. I recommend learning one skill that will be of value to others and to have fun trying all of them while you're seeking your "gift." I absolutely believe we're all good at something, few of us are good at everything. Amazing though how good your own food tastes that you cook on a stove (and add your garden herbs to), even if it's half cooked sticky bread rolls, there's something really yummy at the core. Don't forget, Small sticks make a quick hot fire and it burns out so you can cool the room down a lot quicker too. Down in Kenny Lake a local lumber mill shaves slabs off the spruce log edges and sells it by 2 cords at less than 100. Look around up there for it, it cuts real easy, perfect for learning to use a chainsaw, and then it splits super easy and fast. Keep a hatchet right next to the stove and lay a flat piece of log on the floor to chop it on, cause sometimes you run out right when the stove needs to stay hottest. If you're ready to start dipnetting or running a fishwheel and canning Copper River Reds, come on down next summer and we'll all learn together.
gmoon6 years ago
Your pics are making me hungry...keep on tentin'. The photo of the salmon roe is amazing! (you can attach your replies to individual comments by clicking on the "reply" link, bottom right of the comment....)
AlaskanTentLady (author)  gmoon6 years ago
Thanks gmoon, I'm still tenting (although now I'm in a nice 20 foot yurt) and still learning new woodstove cooking tricks. Don't want to kill your appetite but I recently realized what a horrible smell and heavy, pungent smoke that emits from burning downed spruce that's been a home to ermine or other critters. That never happened before and I had no idea what it was. My friend Tim has burned wood in AK for 57 years..he explained it to me. :) What's amazing about the salmon roe is that most subsistence AK fishermen throw it away! It usually ends up back in the river or eagle, seagull or dog food.
Love the pics and general approach. Have you made a wood-fired sauna or hot tub? Susan in NW CT
I think I can imagine the "ermine effect.." ;-( Tossing the salmon roe seems like a lost opportunity. Do commercial fisheries harvest the roe?
AlaskanTentLady (author) 7 years ago
That's a grizzly bear spine I found when I went to check beaver traps last fall. I don't eat bears or people. It's way too messy. :) Thanks for the dessert idea. Sounds very yummy! I knew there was something simple for the pots in the fire and I couldn't remember what it is. Thanks a bunch for that tip... I've ruined so many pots.
no one eats people but a tribe on an island i forget the name of the island but its true.
inquisitive7 years ago
I saw the spine too-interesting. I used to work in a ticket booth that had a wood stove and loved to have a fire to cook lunch or toast marshmallows. My favorite sweet treat I discovered was to take a can of fruit (peaches/pears/apricots-canned pie filling is great) in heavy syrup and a dash of cinnamon, open can and cover and let set on the hot stove until it thickens and eat with graham crackers or on ice cream-YUM!
That's pretty cool. It looks like a messy place kind of... nice Instructable anyways.
Trans_Am7 years ago
If you rub a pot with dish soap before you cook over the fire with it, the carbon will just fall right off the pot.
billien7 years ago
I see someone's or something spine on the back ground that look kinda like human spine , you don't eat people do you :) lol Love your tent house by the way its really cool