Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


Cookin’ with Wood

I’m in love with my wood stove. I can’t help myself. It’s one of those guilty pleasures I just can’t seem to let go of. And while I’m spending so much of my time in the evening sitting by the stove, I may as well cook dinner there too. Last week my brother told me he uses his wood stove to bake potatoes. I couldn’t wait to come home and try it myself, thinking about all the energy I’d save by using the wood I was already burning and besides, now I have one more good excuse to sit by the fire and read while dinner cooks.

Baked potatoes are a good place to start with wood-fired cooking. Many of you have probably thrown a tater or two, wrapped in foil, into a campfire with good results. I know that some people aren’t crazy about cooking with aluminum pots and that goes for foil too. I decided to experiment with two potatoes, one wrapped in foil and one without. If you don’t plan to eat the skin, leaving the foil off worked better than I expected. The inside was perfectly done, soft and moist. It seems a shame to waste all that good skin so another option might be to use parchment paper, unbleached if possible, to wrap the potato so the foil isn’t touching the skin while it bakes.

If you decide to leave your skin bare, just scoop out the center and toss the rest in the compost. I decided not to be overly concerned about the foil touching the potato and have gone the traditional route since then. I never use foil to wrap baked potatoes when cooking them in the oven, but the wood stove feels quite a bit hotter and will char the outside.

First let me say that if you use a wood stove, please be responsible and buy one that’s EPA certified. If you use newspaper to get your fire started, don’t use any printed with colored inks. After the first 20 minutes or so, the smoke coming out your chimney should be clear, otherwise you’re polluting, which defeats the whole value of saving energy. Occasionally we have burn bans here in Puget Sound due to air inversion, usually after several clear, cold days in a row. As we all know, days without some rain are pretty rare but stay on top of it by signing up with Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. They’ll send you an email whenever the air quality drops enough to warrant a burn ban. In general, most fireplaces put out too much smoke to use on a regular basis but if we have a power outage, and it’s your only source of heat, I’d say go for it and you can cook your dinner at the same time.

Perfect Baked Potatoes in a Wood-Fired Stove

Build a good, hot fire in your wood stove using dry, seasoned hardwood. Actually, in our area, you’ll probably be using a combination of hardwood & softwood — alder and conifers like fir & cedar are the woods most commonly available. Each stove has it’s own quirks so it may take a while to find the method that works best for you — teepees, log cabins — everyone has their preferred way.

Let the fire burn until you have less flame and more hot coals. Again, it varies with your stove, but for me that takes about 45 minutes. Push all the coals toward the back of the stove, leaving an area in the front large enough for whatever you’re cooking. It’s difficult to tell from my photo above but the potatoes aren’t sitting directly on the coals. They get plenty of heat just from being in such close proximity to the fire, especially with the door shut. It’s okay to throw a log or two on during the cooking process. Just keep the flame toward the back of the stove and away from your potatoes, especially if you choose not to wrap with foil.

Prick a nice big russet potato (still available from Alden Farms at the University Farmers Market) once or twice with a fork. Wrap each potato in one layer of foil, or not, depending on your preference. My sister-in-law places the pricked side down at first, especially when cooking yams or sweet potatoes, since some juice may run out as it cooks. Set your timer for 20 minutes. Using long-handled tongs, turn the potatoes over. If one is closer to the fire than the other, you can rotate their positions. Bake for another 20 – 30 minutes, remove from the fire, using tongs.

Remove foil, slit with knife and then you know what to do — slather on the butter, salt & pepper.

I’ve baked potatoes several times now with great success and decided to branch out and try a whole delicata squash (any winter squash will work) using exactly the same cooking method. I cut the squash in two before cooking, removed the seeds, put the two sides back together and wrapped the whole thing in foil. It may have been just as easy to remove the seeds after cooking and I’ll try that next time. In my next post I’ll give you the winter squash recipe, mashed with yummy bay butter.

Just to update those of you who haven’t seen my photos on Facebook, last week Charlie & I finally moved our little cabin on Orcas Island onto our property (with lots of help). You’ll never guess what our very first improvement will be, even before plumbing — a sweet little wood stove. That’s just how hooked I am. If you don’t have a way to cook with fire now, give it a try on your next camping trip. Check out Sally & me grilling a steak directly on the coals last summer.

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