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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Home fires burning

The home fires have started burning, just as the mountains around us have started losing their blaze of yellow. And with the wood stove going every evening, roasting season is officially upon us.

That means winter squashes of one kind or another — or a mess of potatoes, some Brussels sprouts or chunks of herbed eggplant on a baking sheet — are generally baking in the oven of our wood-fired stove. At the same time, the Dutch oven is working on the stove top, with soup stock or beans, or maybe a chicken stewing with garlic inside it.

It’s our winter way of cooking, and it makes even the miserable, cold-weather-hating Floridian in the family happy. “I love cooking on the wood stove,” he says every year around this time. “Everything tastes better that way.”

I’m not sure why that is, but I think he’s right. An apple pie baked in the oven of the wood stove seems to have more flavor than the one baked in the electric stove in the kitchen — which, of course, makes no sense at all. The beans are definitely better, maybe because they cook slower and longer than on a modern stove. The same is true for the stewing chicken. Once it’s cooked, we pull the tender meat off the bones and serve it in its own broth, with the roasted vegetables. When there’s nothing left but bones in the Dutch oven, we add water, onions and carrots, and put it back on the stove and start making soup stock.

Our sisters call us pioneers, or Luddites, sometimes admiringly and sometimes in a fashion more akin to ridicule. It doesn’t matter. Either way, they’re right.

But it makes sense to us, because as long as the stove is going, we might as well be cooking on it. Why waste electricity in one room when we’re burning wood in another? And besides, we love soup.

We haven’t had any real cold weather yet — despite what the Floridian says — but now is the time we start thinking about ways to keep the cold out and the heat in. There are windows to cover, with storms or plastic, and one yet to repair before winter really comes. There’s that drafty spot behind the kitchen, between the cellar stairs and the door to the back porch, that needs some sort of weatherproofing. Adding a fan to the room with the wood-fired cook stove would help move warm air through the rest of the house.

And this year, I might finally get around to making curtains for the upstairs bedrooms.

The boy is moving into the room vacated by his graduated sister, since it’s a third-again as large as his own tiny room. Her old shades are shot, so it’s time to find some warm cloth, in a style all his own, to cover the windows. And once we repaint and convert the tiny room into a cozy visitor’s nook for the sister’s return visits, we’ll need curtains there too.

I’ll go Luddite/pioneer in my curtain making too, shopping the thrift stores for thick cloth to make into curtains or Roman shades. Used bedspreads, woven blankets or former curtains all work well for new window coverings and are actually affordable. All I need to find is time.

Cooking on the wood stove helps there. Our slow roast or slow stew methods mean that the stove is taking care of the cooking while I’m doing something else, like painting the boy’s new room or hunting down the sewing machine.

And as long as he can cook on the wood stove, my husband does more than his share of meal making as the weather turns cold, leaving me even more time for other house projects.

I think it’s more than the flavor of wood-cooked food he likes. I think our winter cooking style offers him a reason to hover around the fire, stirring beans and moving pots around, warming his Southern bones while being useful at the same time.

Not a bad way to spend the winter.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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