I spent most mornings of my childhood standing, with legs splayed like a saw horse, above an old gas floor grate furnace in my dad's house on the Mendocino Coast. I love that heater. There was a time when nearly every pair of my shoes had grid lines melted into their souls from moments I lingered too long, hoping it would drive the fog from my bones. But this winter—the first I've spent in my childhood home since I left a decade ago for college and beyond—we've turned on the gas heater only a handful of times.
That's because the house (which we're watching after, while my dad and his girlfriend are off on Caribbean sailing adventures) has a life-changing new addition: a massive, cast iron Waterford Stanley wood stove. Made in Ireland, bought used from Craigslist, it's a beautiful machine—one that's transformed not only the way we heat this drafty old house, but the way we cook.
Each morning, we light a fire first thing, then feed it throughout the day. Because cast iron retains heat so well, a relatively small, slow burning fire keeps the kitchen and living room warm for hours. Meanwhile, we can use the stove's range to make our morning coffee, fry grilled cheese sandwiches, simmer homemade chicken soup or anything else we cook over the course of the day. The Waterford even has an oven, which I'll admit I find a bit finicky for cooking that requires exact and consistent heat, but which I love for roasting vegetables or warming already-baked bread.
But burning wood, like everything else we do, has environmental consequences. This recent story on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show got me thinking about the climate impact of wood stoves. It's a worthwhile listen for anyone who uses firewood to heat their homes or cook their food.
Half of the world’s population still burn wood, dung, coal, or other solid fuels for cooking, which leads to environmental and health hazards around the world. So how do you build cheap, durable, clean-burning stoves for three billion people? The New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger reports on the quest for a stove that can save the world.
Here's a link to the original Bilger story in the New Yorker: