After only a short time I am starting to appreciate the work that is needed to not only manage but to learn the ways to get the most out of a wood fired range. The Doric wasn’t strictly designed to burn wood – rather it is a solid fuel stove, but we have adapted it by dropping the grate down into what would normally be the ash box, and adding more insulation to it. Wood needs air to pass over it, whereas coal needs air to pass through the fire bed to burn well.
Much of our day is spent tending to, feeding, and cadjoling the stove. Fail to attend to it at your peril, especially when cooking, which I liken to being a steam locomotive driver, trying to maintain a balance between the heat in the fire and the power available to drive the engine (or in this case, cook the dinner).
Controls on these stoves are basic – a regulator to control how much air gets into the fire, and another to control how much draught there is, by opening or closing a slider at the flue. It’s also possible to alter the proportions of air being drawn over and under the oven (something that I will probably master in old age).
Controls are one thing. Manipulating the heat using the fire itself is another. The position of the wood in the firebox, how long the fire has been burning, what size of fuel has been added to the fire, and which way up the wood is, all have a dramatic and varying effect on the heat and longevity of the fire.
Want a bit of extra heat? You can take out the top of the hotplate (and I am guessing that this is the idea), to get a more direct heat on your kettle, or pan or whatever –
Wood on end gives a high, bright, quick flame; smaller pieces are good for a quick burst of heat – say, boiling a kettle. Larger pieces side on will give a longer, less intense heat, ideal for continuous cooking.
It goes without saying that wood with a low moisture content has a higher energy density, and each kind of wood has very distinctive characteristics when burnt.
All of this knowledge was commonplace as recently as my grandparents time, and it is vanishing, which is why I feel it is vital to talk to those who have a memory of it, so that we can relearn, and store that knowledge. In my next post I’ll share some woodlore regarding types of wood and their properties.