Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cooking in the Masonry Woodburning Stove

This is not a very practical post - not too many houses feature masonry (or also known as Russian) stoves. The masonry stove is a large, very heavy stove made out of stone, which absorbs and holds (and radiates) heat very efficiently. They were first designed and finessed in Europe after it was deforested twice over for firewood and wood in general... You can a Russian Masonry stove from our house in the picture above, right.

A little history: the Russian stove design was created to be meet "the most efficient stove" criteria with something like 90%+ efficiency rate. It was designed to use mostly twigs and some regular size firewood. Stove pictured above works really well in the cold New Mexico winters (latest temps: around 0F (-20C) at night); it keeps our house warm working in combination with passive solar design in a super-insulated house envelope (walls made out of straw-bale,  well insulated ceiling, energy-efficient windows with thermal blinds), and a radiant heat backup system. 

Purchased firewood from the mountains nearby as well as twigs that are gathered from the land are used in this masonry stove, making us about 80% sustainable when it comes to heating with wood.
Fresh elm was just delivered to the goat manger,
and yesterdays' branches are picked up; cut up
and placed in a box - ready to be
stockpiled for colder months
During warm months of the year we gather fresh elm cuttings and use them to feed dairy goats. They nibble on the leaves and tender shoots, they love to eat back. Thicker branches are left untouched, too hard for them to chew on. Any brush leftovers are promptly removed and cut into smaller pieces and neatly placed in a wood pile - it takes about 20 minutes every two days or so to keep things tidy.  Come winter, we are heating our house with wood that has been used once as fodder.

Another "byproduct" of elm brush is milk and therefore cheese. In permaculture, where we seek to create sustainable solutions to our needs, the focus is placed on making "each element of design to serve multiple functions". In this situation, elm wood is fodder and firewood; it makes milk and it heats the house......

Farmer's Cheese - Queso Blanco
Come winter, the stove comes into action to aid in keeping passive solar house warm. The first "run" of the season is usually quite long, as the entire mass of the stove needs to get heated. The stove is very large compared to a typical fireplace - it measures around 7' (2.3 m) high; 6' (2m) long and 2' (0.7m) wide. In addition, the stove is incorporated into surrounding walls, which are also made with masonry material - adobe (earth) bricks. That adds another foot (30cm) or so on two sides. When the stove is fully heated, the entire column of masonry - walls and all - is warm and radiating into the living space. To work most efficiently, the stove must be fired every day - as it cools slowly, it also warms up slowly. The goal is to bring its mammoth thermomass to a certain temperature and keep it that way, by topping it off every day.

Besides making the house warm, the Russian Stove is designed for cooking as well. Most wood stoves can be easily used for cooking, though people frequently forget about it and one can often see a house where gas-burning kitchens stove is busily employed as its wood burning counterpart is keeping the house warm - both functions can be met at once on one appliance.

With wood stoves, often the design is not very inviting for culinary activities. In our stove we have an oven over the firebox, allowing us to easily put cookware right where it needs to go.
A clay pot with dinner stew in the oven above;
"used" kindling below near the firebox.

The upper chamber heats to 200F (95C) and keeps the temperature for a long enough time to act as slow cooker. While slow cooker use electricity and are loaded in the morning to be ready for dinner time, this masonry stove uses wood and food is put into it in the evening, just as the stove is getting hotter to keep the house cozy during cold night time. The meal is ready by early morning - and it will be heated up for dinner. The oven is long and narrow, enough space for several dishes. Like anything else, it takes practice to cook a good meal this way, mostly figuring out how much water is needed for rice or beans or potatoes. Everything else (veggies and meat) cook just fine with minimal experimentation. I understand, that even baking may be possible this way, though honestly I have not tried yet!
Rice and veggie dish in front, meat and potatoes in the back


Unknown said...

I love the big stove specially because i like to cook all kind of recipe, how ever i prefer to have a reasonable place. Actually i saw a beautiful stove in a house that was published in costa rica homes for sale it was big and beautiful, i think i will go there because it catched my attention.

Arina said...

Using a masonry stove in Costa Rica is not appropriate - these stoves are designed to heat the dwelling in addition to being useful for cooking. I see a lot of examples when "sustainable" methods are used in wrong settings, wrong climates which renders them unsustainable very fast. Cooking with wood is a great idea, but that would take a different type of stove.