Monday, February 18, 2013

Wood Kitchen Cook Stove, part 2 - Operating Ovens and Broiler

Here is part two in the series on cooking on a wood stove. I hope that you like it.

The first question that enters the mind in regard to any range is “How well does it bake?” The range does many equally important things all at the same time. Broiling may be going on at the fire box end, boiling or frying in the center, simmering along the outskirts, baking in the oven, keeping dishes hot in the warming oven, heating adjoining rooms, and supplying a tank full of hot water. Understanding all the functions of the range permits the thrifty housewife to get the most out of it with the least effort.

Fill the teakettle before lighting the fire and get all the advantage of the first flames. When a new fire is built, the strong direct draft up the chimney tends to draw the hot flames close under the center of the stove. Over a fresh wood fire the breakfast coffee sometimes boils quicker in the center of the stove than on the less heated lids directly over the firebox. Perhaps the dish of water for the four-minute egg refuses to come to a boil. Why? -Because the cook has not learned that water will boil quicker if a cover is put on the dish. A cover on the spider has the same effect and also keeps the stove cleaner. A little later, when the fire is well going, the whole top of the range is hot enough for boiling in large kettles or heating the flats for ironing, where electric ironing is not practicable.
Broiling should be prepared for in advance. The fire should be built up high and show an even surface of clear red-hot coals. Good broiling requires intense heat for a short time, over coals that are past the flaming and gas producing stage.

Open the oven damper so the smoke will go directly up the chimney; also give the fire some draft underneath. Take off the two lids over the fire and sear over your sirloin, chop or fish as quickly as possible, with frequent turning. This quick searing of the surface tends to prevent the escape of the juices and rewards the cook with a toothsome article of food impossible to produce in any other way. (A little olive oil on the steak before or after broiling gives a wonderful flavor.) A coal or charcoal fire is the selection of the world's finest chefs for broiling. Anything broiled should be served as soon as it comes off the fire. If that is impracticable, put it on a platter and keep hot in the oven.

The real test of the range is in the baking. Nothing but individual experience is a safe guide in the handling any particular range, but the general principle is the same.

When the fire is first started, the flames rush over the top of the oven and thence directly to the chimney. This heats the top of the oven, while the bottom remains comparatively cool.

The entire oven must be heated and the body of fire must be sufficient to maintain an even heat for a considerable length of time. The oven becomes evenly heated by closing the oven damper, forcing the flames and smoke down one side and under the oven, entirely around and up again to reach the chimney. Foods prepared for baking or roasting differs widely in the time and temperature required for cooking. A little practice will determine the correct temperature and best location in the oven for different bakes.

In a coal range, baking is done directly on the bottom of the oven or on the raised rack. Never attempt to bake with the rack placed on the bottom of the oven.

A little foresight and planning ahead will save you many dollars in fuel and permit you to get greater service out of your range. So long as there is a fire going it should be cooking something or keeping cooked food warm. The old-fashioned stockpot is an example. It remained on top of the stove all the time, taking anything that would contribute to wholesome soups and stews. The stockpot could be used to advantage, where canned soups are not easily obtained. The breakfast cereal, cooked the night before, will be improved if kept warm on the back of the stove.

Coffee, tea, soups and stews-anything that should be served hot-will keep hot much longer after serving if the oven has been used for a few moments to heat the dishes.

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.

We all know the New England Boiled Dinner. Not everyone knows the “Atlantic” Baked Dinner. About an hour and a half before dinner time, put into "the oven, heated as for bread baking, a four to five pound chicken, or a cut from the leg of veal or lamb, and a dish of scalloped potatoes. Keep the temperature even.

Three quarters of an hour later add three large carrots, scraped, and cut in halves lengthwise, placing them on the rack of the pan that holds the meat. In another fifteen minutes put in six tomatoes, in an earthen baking dish. By the time the tomatoes are done-fifteen or twenty minutes-a baked dinner for six persons will be ready to serve. After removing the meat and vegetables from the oven, if you place in it six fruit patties, or six cup custards in a pan with an inch or more of water, these will be ready to serve for dessert.

Popovers, cream puffs, and ├ęclairs, angel cake and sponge cakes are easier to bake successfully if put into a quite cool oven and the temperature gradually increased.

Four mixtures that are of a special shape which should be preserved, like the fancy braided loaves, and Parker House rolls, ought to go into a very hot oven, so that a crust will immediately form, to preserve the shape, and then the baking may proceed at quite a low temperature.

All meats, fish, and poultry are also better cooked at a high temperature to begin with to hold in the juices-then a gradual reduction of heat. Baste frequently.

Bread, cakes, pies, and vegetable may be baked at uniform temperature, or with a slight gradual increase or decrease.

All good cooks know the most important secret of all: WHILE THE BAKE IS ON, MAKE A JOB OF IT

No two conditions of range and draft are exactly alike-in fact they will differ in your own home, depending on the weather or the direction of the wind. There is a wide difference in the quality of coal. Some coal ignites easily and bums out quickly -other kinds hold the heat much longer. A set of exact rules for one situation would not fit another. In any case there must be a good body of fire to hold the oven at a cooking temperature. The articles that are being baked or roasted may do better on the rack than on the bottom of the oven, or vice versa. No definite rules made for one situation would be at all valuable as compared with the stored-up knowledge gained from EXPERIENCE-remembering how the oven acted before under similar conditions and making it serve you better and better with every day's acquaintance.

In many cases, cooking started at a low temperature, gradually increasing, will develop a quite different taste from the same food started at high heat. Boiled custards, if made with cold milk, are more delicate than if the milk is added very hot.

Scrambled eggs or omelets cooked on a fiercely hot pan from the start take on a richer flavor than when started on a rather cool pan. It is necessary to work fast, however, as overcooking on a very hot pan produces a result that resembles rubber in texture.

Those who enjoy a really good cup of coffee will agree that there is a surprising difference in taste. A cup of real coffee has much more in it than hot water and dark brown color. It should be good if you start with a good blend (ground at home just before using) and are not too economical of the quantity used. For some reason, coffee made in one-cup portions lacks the character of the larger brew. Adding the shells of fresh eggs or a raw egg beaten up with the coffee before boiling, both enriches the flavor and produces a much clearer beverage.

Coffee tastes quite differently when started with cold or hot water. It is the general opinion that a better result is obtained by mixing with a little cold water and bringing to a boil-then add boiling water and set back a few minutes to settle.

Cereals take on a different flavor, depending on whether they are started in cold or hot water. Which is the better flavor is a matter of taste.

Wonderful things happen in cooking, and we do not yet know all of them, or the reasons for them-though the reasons for physical changes are better understood than those for chemical changes. Nearly every thing loses weight in cooking. Meat, even when it is boiled in water, loses weight from its shrinkage through heat, which squeezes out much of its water content. Melting of the fat, too, results in loss of weight. More weight in proportion is lost in cooking a small piece of meat than in cooking a large piece, but an allowance of 25% loss in weight is a fair average.

Bread and cakes swell, but though they increase in volume, they lose in weight through evaporation of water. It requires two extra ounces of dough to produce a one-pound loaf of bread. Cereals, also macaroni and other Italian pastes, increase greatly in both weight and volume, through absorption of water. So do dried vegetables and fruits. Though other physical changes occur, those in weight and volume are the most important in cooking.

The change in color of red meat to gray is one of the physical changes that indicate a chemical change. Heat causes a breaking up of the chemical substance to which meat owes its red tint. The brown crust on the loaf, or on the outside of the cake or pie, means that starch has been changed to dextrin, and sugar caramelized.

In boiling fruit and sugar together, as in making cranberry or apple sauce, a chemical change is brought about in the sugar, which is transformed into another kind of sugar not so sweet as the granulated cane that was originally used. This new sugar is only three-fifths as sweet. Here then is a hint for economy of sugar, by cooking the fruit sauce without sugar, and adding sugar when the fruit is done. In this last way, theoretically, three pounds of sugar will sweeten as much as five pounds that were cooked in with the fruit-provided it was cooked long enough to change it completely into the form of glucose that is only three-fifths as sweet as cane. In any case there will be considerable saving of sugar when it is added last.
Many other important and interesting chemical changes occur in cooking, but a review of them here would not add a great deal of practical value in everyday use of the range.
The foregoing hints are confined largely to the mechanical operation and care of the range. So much depends on the preparation of foods for cooking that the temptation to add several pages of palatable recipes is very strong.

If the range "works well" all the time, both the stove and the draft are all right. If the range has "off days," the chimney draft needs attention. A cleaning out may help or perhaps an extension of the chimney to a point where the air currents will improve the draft.

If you are getting good results only part of the time, you should get much better results the rest of the time, by making a study of the conditions of fire and draft, when the stove is at its best. If the range fails to give satisfaction the greater part of the time, look for serious defects in the range itself or in the conditions of its installation or operation. No range could do satisfactory work any of the time if it had serious defects. If it is racked or broken or worn out, it is past its usefulness. Its operation becomes rapidly more wasteful and irritating and the early installation of a new range will be good economy and good sense.

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