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Wood Stove Cooking In A Tight, Passive Solar Zero Prefab: SOUP'S ON!

Darkness descends at the zero energy off grid prefab home...

I might kind of be on the dark side right now.
Ever since Glenn and Catherine Vanderspiegel made us get rid of our family's laying hens (hens that they actually had to ask us last year "Do you still have chickens?" Hens they had to ask "How many do you have?" when telling us to "Get rid of them! Richmond doesn't need chickens...") all because of the real reason: They are upset we have violets in our front lawn...

[I have an axe to grind...]

Well, I'm still a bit off.
After over two years of enthusiastically embracing caring for urban chickens, we are now deprived of our hens, our eggs, and it's especially hard knowing that just one hour away, like most cities now, stylish sustainable Charlottesville has no limit on the number of hens anyone might have in their back yards.

Dumb ole Henrico... I'm tired of always waiting for Richmond to catch up. Our normally goofy dogs are furious now, in the city. I never knew my mastiff/pit could bark SO LOUDLY and mean... He has never protected us as he does now, & loudly gallops out, hair raised, to threaten the back yard air.
I'm letting him. Nightly the dogs rush the fence borders... they scowl at the sky and rant, always towards the Vanderpiegels' silent, perfect house.

Right now their house even has a bright red-ribboned heart wreath on their front door to match their heart flag, flying for Valentine's Day. Catherine Vanderspiegel's airbrushed makeup, shellacked hair, and decorated flags gaily waving, always in tune with the current holiday, remind me of someone... someone...

Ironically, a urban chicken supporter just emailed me a clip last night of the last time a group, including Yours Truly, went to ask the Henrico Board of Supervisors to consider laying hens two years ago:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

The children's toys are much more unsightly than the coop...

I know you as a reader must be tiring of the subject of urban chickens in Richmond / Henrico.  Please remember my family has just been deprived of a daily, healthy food source; we are deprived of humanely raised, happy, non-obtrusive chickens, who were a constant source of laughter in our happy home, and the rest of the neighborhood will tell you they were no trouble at all.

The Vanderspiegels disliked our chickens just because they knew they were there. They can't get us on the violets in our front yard, or the gutter that we didn't nail back for two weeks after the Christmas snowstorm (remember that snow storm? The one where we shoveled the Vanderspiegel's walk because Glenn had just had surgery and we didn't want perfect Catherine to exhaust herself?)... so they got us on some tiny laying hens, happy in a big back yard... because they could.

It is now March.
So I want to get one last off grid wood cook stove with energy efficient homes & systems post in before spring arrives.  I had mentioned last week about how we had retrofitted the antique wood cook stove- making sure the firebox is sealed so it doesn't mix with our prefab home's indoor air, adding an external air supply, and how we are able to "dial" the fire to the point that it is extremely efficient, almost flame-less, with no smoky exhaust escaping out the chimney. I thought you might like to see how we work the wood cook stove with the off grid passive solar house.

When we leave the zero energy passive solar prefab house kit, we cap off the external air supply to the wood cook stove to prevent cold air from entering into the prefab home so it doesn't reduce our passive solar gain while we're gone. We have read over and over how critical it is to make sure any fire box within a SIP / energy efficient home was airtight to prevent affecting the indoor air quality. Last weekend we had our first real test: Handsome Husband forgot to uncap the pipe to the external air supply, and guess what? The fire would not start, it had no oxygen to pull from anywhere within the fire box once that pipe was closed.

Here's how we work our own modified wood cook stove for our energy efficient, zero prefab house:

A timeless cook stove within a modern prefab.

1. Arriving
- walk outside to the East wall and remove the cap on the yellow hose
- push down the controls on both far corners of the stove
- open damper behind stove by turning it alongside of flow of chimney
- start fire as you would normally
- once you have embers as you are restocking and stoking the fire, place hard wood on fire. Pull up the left control (air inlet) and begin turning the damper behind the stove to throttle exhaust - the less exhaust the more heat but eventually you also get smoke.
- when you go to bed throw in one Liberty Brick, replace once more when you get up at night.
- in the morning repeat this procedure

2. Leaving
- stoke down the fire to embers
- get a pair of pliers, open the door on the left, open the firebox to watch what you are doing and turn the square knob behind the door with the pliers. As you will see this opens the grate and the embers fall into the ash box. Dump the ash box outside in the appropriate galvanized can and extinguish embers with water.
- put the cap back onto the yellow tube on the East wall.
- turn off the damper ALL THE WAY (now that there is no more fire it is safe to do this and it will seal of the chimney so that heat won't escape)

We randomly discovered Liberty Bricks awhile back, and were excited to test them with the cook stove, especially in regards to helping the fire extend through the night. Liberty Bricks are made from recycled wood waste, are zero net carbon, and allow us to keep the wood cook stove working through the night so we awake to a toasty prefab home with no loss of heat.
They really do work great.

In anticipation of the wood cook stove working in the off grid prefab modern house this fall, I made soups. Lots of soups. I have a freezer full of soup. Anyone want to come over for soup?

I have found two resources I enjoy that are helpful with the cook stove:
Wood Stove Cookery, and Granny Miller, who has a great post on cook stove basics, and whose blog I love to read.

The first soup I made was a Butternut Squash Puree from The Silver Palette. (Also: Here's another great Curried Butternut Squash recipe I love, you could substitute cream for coconut milk...)

The second, a nod to Virginia:

If you're from Georgia, now you just shush. Everyone knows that everything in the entire world first existed in Virginia. We're first, first, first. In everything. We even have Ashland, which is The Proven Center Of The Universe.  First boat making, first palm trees, first architecture ever, we invented fire, first avocado, first... It's in the history books! Look it up!
Adapted from "The Stuffed Cougar": p. 47
  • 6lb stewing hen (I got a free range hen, don't know pounds)
  • 2 large onions, diced (I used really big onions!)
  • 4 c. fresh or 2 (1 lb) cans of tomatoes, hand crushed into small bits, juice also added
  • 2 c. butterbeans
  • 3 medium potatoes, diced small
  • 4 c. corn (cut it from the cob)
  • 3 t. salt (I use kosher, and add more)
  • 1 t. pepper (I add more)
  • 1 T. sugar (I add more -to cut the acidity of the tomatoes but not to make the stew sweet)
Here's what you need to know about Brunswick Stew:

The liquid is stewy, thick, but the pieces are not: when it says dice, that means almost minced. Do not let me catch you cubing the meat- that is supposed to be hand torn, in 1/2"ish long bites.

And always hand crush your tomatoes. For any recipe.

Test: When pulling up a spoonful, you should see each ingredient represented. If you don't, your stew pieces are too big.  Another big factor to consider are the butter beans: they should be intact, not mushed. Now I know you know better than to even consider adding freezer-burned corn, right?  Get that corn off the cob, honeychile, it makes all the difference.
  1. Cut chicken into parts and simmer in 3 qts. water for thin stew, 2 qts. for thick (I just filled up that big ole pot you usually use to roast the turkey in) about 2 hours until you can easily pull meat from the bone.  Remove meat, let meat cool, then start hand shredding into bits. Skim off extra fat and goo from broth.
  2. Add all the vegetables and stir every now and then to prevent sticking but being careful not to mush anything. Cook until tender, then turn off heat.
  3. Add back the chicken, stir, and add salt, pepper, sugar (Virginia Brunswick Stew is not spicy, just salt-n-peppered liberally).
  4. Make at least a day ahead & let it refrigerate so all the flavors blend before serving. 
  5. Be glad I didn't tell you to make this with squirrel like the original recipe calls for. Which would actually taste really good. It's not too late to add! "Heeeeere, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel..."

Y'all have a great weekend.  Our off grid prefab house kit journey continues.

Next Up: HRV, plumbing, and SIP FINISHING updates!

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