Woodstove woes weaken winter well-being

Two weeks ago, our new-to-us wood cook stove broke.

How does that even happen? It’s not like a regular kitchen range: It doesn’t have an igniter, or even any on/off knobs. It’s a big cast-iron tank with a firebox on one side, an oven on the other, and a giant griddle for a top. But the old firebrick inside the firebox had been repeatedly patched by the previous owner, and one day it just broke in half.

Mark and I like to live on the edge — just this morning I used half-and-half that was two days past its sell-by date — but if there’s one thing we agree on, it’s that we’re both opposed to burning down the house. We decided one of the best ways to avoid that would be to stop building fires in the wood stove until we could get replacement parts.

The stove, though a replica of a 1905 model, is only 35 years old. And luckily, parts for it are still being made (proving that there are other throwbacks like me out there). Unfortunately, buying all new innards ended up costing more than we paid for the stove in the first place, significantly cutting into my argument to Mark that burning wood would save us tons of money.

But I was right about a lot of the other advantages of owning a wood cook stove. I thought it would look adorable in our old farmhouse (it does). I thought I could cook on it (I do). I thought wood heat would make the house more comfortable and inviting during the grueling winter months. Oh, baby. You have no idea.

Of course, I knew the whole cook stove conceit, being Olde Timey and all, could come across as a little affected, like those holier-than-thou people who bake their own bread (which, by the way, smells delicious when it is baked in the oven of one’s wood cook stove, or so I’ve heard).

But if any of our friends or family thought it was a bit much to put a vintage-looking wood cook stove in our otherwise normal kitchen, you don’t hear them complaining when they walk in and feel the heat. Go ahead and snicker, but when’s the last time you saw people pulling up chairs around a baseboard heater?

Cooking on the wood stove is easier than I expected — a hot surface is a hot surface, after all — plus it makes use of the energy that is already heating our house. I used the gas range so little this winter that instead of building up with the usual grease spatters, it got dusty.

A surprising number of people practically weep when they see the wood cook stove; it brings back fond memories of their grandmothers, years ago, cooking on similar stoves.

Not my grandmother.

That woman, who was born in the first decade of the 20th century and died in the last, considered the microwave oven the greatest invention of her life. If she ever did cook on a wood (or coal) cook stove, I have no doubt she dragged it out to the curb the second a gas model came out.

But the stove is not just a novelty. Now that it’s not working, I realize how heavily I’ve come to depend on it for both my physical comfort and my emotional well-being. Winter’s greatest joy has been waking up, starting a fire and cozying up to the heat while drinking my coffee. Without the stove, I’m a chilly, irritable mess.

“Central heating warms up the air, but a wood stove warms your heart,” I always say. (Well, this is the first time I’ve said it, but I bet I can find it on a plaque somewhere on Etsy.)

I haven’t been truly warm in two weeks. I told Mark that if I were a lizard, the wood cook stove would be a flat rock in the sun. He didn’t think much of the analogy, which he said makes it sound like I want to lie on top of the stove. But he said he could see the part about me being cold-blooded.

And yes, I’m bitter about the timing: the wood stove is down during a two-week span in which Mother Nature gave us the coldest temperatures of the winter — and threw in a blizzard in case we didn’t get the joke.

But the new parts should be arriving tomorrow, and with any luck we’ll get the stove back up and running right away. In the meantime, I’ll revert to my former habit of wrapping up in a blanket, cursing the cold and threatening to stay in bed until spring.

Wallowing in misery may not be the healthiest way to fight winter, but it’s the one I have the most experience with.

 

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