It’s a frigid 8-degree day in Anchorage, Alaska, and the ice fog covering the trees and ground and garbage cans makes it feel even colder. There isn’t much color, and there’s no warmth.
How I’d love to step into the kitchen at the farm and sit in the rocker next to the woodstove. My grandfather Ellsworth often sat there rubbing his sore hands and soaking them in Epsom salts – he inherited his mother’s rheumatism, and he felt it in his hands, especially in cold weather. He sat in the rocker on the day before our annual Thanksgiving feasts chopping the onions and celery for stuffing. In the big wooden bowl he held on his lap, he diced the vegetables with a chopper that looked like an Ulu – the Yupik knife used to cut fish.
My grandfather was the one who lit the fire in the stove before dawn each day, warming his hands before he went to the barn. But it was my grandmother Agnes who kept the fire going and baked cookies and breads and roasts in its oven.
In 1934, when my Aunt Lydia demonstrated to the other “Capable Cooks 4-H Club” members how to make jelly, this big, black, cast iron stove was the only cook-stove in the kitchen.
When my mother and father and I lived at the farm, my highchair sat near the woodstove, and I stayed warm enough to eat lunch without my socks on. Sometime in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s my grandparents added an electric stove to the already crowded kitchen, and replaced the old wood-burner with a newer version.
I’m not sure if my memories of the stove are of the ornate black beauty, or of the more modern one that replaced it. Both of them had black cook-tops, and “burners” with concentric rings that could be lifted out by a special handle when wood needed to be added to the fire. How my grandmother regulated the heat I don’t know, but everyone swore that the pies and baked beans and Thanksgiving turkey made in the woodstove’s oven were far superior to the ones made in the “easier,” but much more boring electric one. The woodstove remained the heart of the kitchen. We gravitated toward it as soon as we came into the house. Summer or winter it brought comfort, welcome, and good cheer to the busy kitchen.
On Monday: A Special Day