Doing Research with Both Hands



Barbara provides fun aprons for her students to wear.

Food is a central theme in all of my books. Maybe because it’s such a central theme in my life! At one point, one of my characters was going to be cooking on a wood stove. I ultimately moved the timeline forward and he got an electric range, but I felt comfortable writing about a wood stove, because I’ve cooked on one.

Knowing my grandmother had produced farmhand feasts using a wood cookstove, I had often wished to try my hand at using one. Then I discovered Log Cabin Cooking. Barbara Swell offers cooking classes out of her historic cabin less than 10 miles from my house. She teaches participants to cook on her gorgeous, antique stove as well as in the fireplace.

I and several other ladies learned to make cobbler with dumplings (sinkers AND floaters) on a lovely summer evening. It was great fun and frankly, cooking on a wood stove is, in some ways, nicer than electric. The chopping and hauling wood is a downside, but the fact that the entire cooktop is heated and you can just move your pots around to find the right temperature is fantastic. Baking, though, is tricky.

I left with enough knowledge to write about using a wood cookstove and plenty of delicious cobbler. A win, win!

If you’re a writer, what fun things have you done as research?

8 thoughts on “Doing Research with Both Hands

  1. I love that picture! Mom had canisters like the red one and Granny (Wolfe) always wore aprons like those (and let Pat and I wear them when we washed dishes at her house.)

  2. Ahhhh, the old wood cook stove! I used to have an aunt who (because her husband, my mother’s brother, stubbornly refused to upgrade their house) cooked on a wood stove for years. The food (and the aromas) that came out of that kitchen were incredible! There was only one temperature . . . HOT! Yet, nothing was ever burned or over-cooked. Her iron-skillet fried chicken was to die for! And the made-from-scratch biscuits were heavenly. Of course, if you REALLY want to get a handle on how she cooked and lived, there’s more to it that a wood cook stove. There was this old pot bellied stove in the living room for heat (yep, no central heat and the bedrooms were ice cold in the winter). And, winters were especially nice because you didn’t have to mow the path to the bathroom in the winter time (but sometimes you DID have to shovel it). That was the upside. The downside was that on many a cold, winter night, it was necessary to chip the layers of sleet off the bathroom door in order to use the facility. Yes, the coldest seat in the house wasn’t really IN the house. Brrrrr. My cousin (one of the most beautiful and popular girls in high school) was always scared to death that one of her dates who had come to pick her up would ask to use the bathroom while he was there.

    It was the late 1950s before my uncle upgraded the house with central heat, an electric range, and indoor plumbing. She was still a great cook, but the food never quite tasted the same to me. Some of the good old days were REALLY good, and the cookin’ was one of the best parts. My uncle had grown up without all those modern marvels and I guess he thought that was good enough for his wife and three kids. He was an un-budging product of his early environment. Speaking of that environment, Mom used to tell the story of how she and her four brothers would walk across the cow pastures in the mornings to their one-room school house. In the winter time, when there was frost or snow on the ground, their feet would get cold on the way to school (they didn’t have any boots). So, in a stroke of youthful Yankee ingenuity, they would make the cows (which had been lying down on the grass all night long) get up and move along. Then they would stand in the spots the cows had just been forced to vacate,take off their shoes and socks, and warm their feet on the cow-heated ground before re-covering their feet and continuing on to school.

    Yes, I miss the old wood stove cookin’, too. But I would be hard-pressed to wish for a return of the rest of it. The old adage of, “Be careful what you wish for,” is highly instructive here. I would, however, add the following corollary, “Be careful HOW HARD you wish for it!”

  3. I remember learning to cook and bake on the wood burning stove at the camp at Alton… because I WANTED to learn. But then, I didn’t have to do it three times a day EVERY day. Nostalgia doesn’t match reality in our memories. And like you, I’m drooling over that fried chicken!!
    Aunt Pat PS – I know what you need for next Christmas!

  4. You did see that camp at Alton many times that summer. You were too young to remember playing in the river and campfire smores…

  5. Pingback: Write What You Know. Or Just Research It!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s