Sunset Acklin Hill 
The Magical Mimbres Valley
Sanctuary to mankind for over 11,000 years  

Aerial Tour
Now just echoes from up and down the Valley

Before we begin a discussion about cooking we must talk first about cookware. The most effective for your wood stove use is cast-iron. Cast-iron includes many sized spiders, Dutch ovens, bean pots, gem pans, corn cake pans, broilers and griddles. All are rugged, provide even heat, and are easy to care for.

If at all rusted, scrub it, wash with soap and water and dry thoroughly. This, and when new, to remove any foundry oils and dirt are the only time soap should be used on your cookware.

After cleaning the cast iron must be seasoned. Coat the piece with linseed, suet or lard and place near the front of the stove to soak in moderate heat for two hours. Apply more oil as it becomes absorbed. After two hours, let the utensil cool and wipe off any excess oil.

Make note that cast iron performs best if it is preheated a minute or so before using. Keep it over a medium to medium-hot heat, for most kinds of cooking a sizzling hot utensil is unnecessary.

After use, rub out any leftover tidbits and grease with scrap linen, or scrape with a spatula if stubborn. Any unremoved stubborn spots can be scoured with salt. Only if absolutely necessary should you soak overnight, in clean water, and scrape clean in the morning.

More on utensils later as we move on to talk about your stove.

 Whenever a mother feels comfortable having her young daughters near a hot cook stove, she must explain the necessities of handling hot pans and pots with due care and caution. It will be necessary to move pots from one kind of heat to another. Each stove will be different and experience will soon teach a novice where to place the pots and pans for the desired effect. Good cooking demands experience and experience is the only way to proficiency.

Because stoves differ, as well the location of the flame in similar stoves, we cannot define a hard and fast rule for which cooking lid one could ascertain to be the hottest or coolest. But generally one would find the hottest lid sits over the back of the firebox and the hottest spot would lie between it and the stovepipe. The coolest would logically be found on the side opposite the firebox. The midrange lids may become nearly as hot as the rearmost lids after the fire has had time to build, and surely very hot after closing the damper.

Many stoves are equipped with one lid that is made of three concentric rings. This allows any sized pan to set over the fire when very high cooking temperatures are needed. If the stove becomes too hot for your needs, place the pot or pan on either a metal trivet or fire bricks to lift the utensil away from the hot surface.

When using the oven.

Experience again will teach the use of the damper and how to control the oven temperature. Much like the top of the stove one must still get to know the hot spots in an oven. The side next to the firebox can be expected to be hotter than the further side and the oven heats from the top down so one must expect the lowest corner away from the firebox to be the coolest. Time and experience shall be your teacher.

An easy way to get started is to bake a large sheet of biscuits. After removal one can judge where the heat is most and least intense by the brownness of the top and bottom crust. For large sheets one might expect to turn every so often for even doneness.

In the absence of a thermometer, there are a couple of ways to judge the heat in your oven. One would be to place a blank sheet of writing paper into it for about 5 minutes. If it is the color of chocolate the oven is the right heat for biscuits, muffins and small pastry. This temperature is called a “quick oven”. If your paper is dark yellow, it is the right heat for bread, pound cake, puddings and puff paste pies. If your paper is a light yellow it is suitable for sponge cake.

The next test would be, if the longest you can hold your hand in the oven is for 20 to 30 seconds, it is a “quick oven”, for 35 to 45 seconds is moderate and 45 to 60 second is “slow”.


Canning on your cook stove.

The aroma and taste of two-day-simmered tomato sauce is unsurpassed and fit for a king.

Large copper tubs can be used for the boiling water bath method as the entire bottom of the tub contacts the stove and can bring the water to a rolling boil. The large tubs can handle more jars and will save much time and your energy by making multiple heating times of the boiling water in smaller vessels unnecessary. Because constant attention must be paid to keep the water boiling, the larger batch will work to your advantage.

When using a pressure canner, a steady steam rate must be monitored and maintained. Fluctuations in temperature can allow the recommended pressure to drop too low and require you to start the process all over again. Preplan where to set the hot canner when the time comes to remove it from the stove.

If you are unfamiliar with proper canning methods seek a knowledgeable person or read a book to guide you through the process. Never rely on recollections of your mother or the advice of friends with limited knowledge. Following the proper course will keep your work and hard-earned produce safe.

Drying foodstuff over your stove.

The blanching, sulphuring and anti-oxidants used to prepare food before drying is a science in itself, and beyond the scope of this writing, but do not pass up the opportunity to save precious meat and produce that might otherwise go to waste.

Begin with an old banked fire, with hot coals. Add only one stick of wood at a time and keep the draft and damper almost closed. Use the draft regulator to govern the fire and maintain about 150 degrees of heat. It may also be necessary to tip the lids slightly to help maintain a constant temperature. If able to control both, the oven and top surface can be used to dry. Surface heat can also be additionally controlled by the use of metal trivets or fire brick.

Corn Meal Mush

All comers will love corn meal mush if it is baked all night in a “night banked” oven.

While my girls were doing the supper dishes, I would mix one cup of stone ground corn meal with four cups boiling water along with one teaspoon of salt in a pan. Cook while stirring on top of stove until lumps are out but before it has a chance to thicken, remove it from stove. Pour mixture into a clean covered bean pot, put the pot in the oven and leave it there all night. In the morning after the fire has been mended, remove the pot and enjoy a hot nourishing breakfast.

Word of Caution

Resist the greenhorn’s temptation to cook meat right on the surface of the woodstove; it’s a mess for sure.

Another Hint

How to know a young turkey: If the lower joint of the legs are a dark red it is a young turkey. If they are white it is an old one. This is a sure sign, not known to fail.

Delicious Cottage Cheese

Place sour milk in a gallon jar with a tight fitting lid. Immerse jar in your cook stove hot water reservoir for several hours. Place clean cloth or cheese cloth in a colander and pour heated curds from jar into colander. Allow to drain well. Empty curds into a bowl, break up with a fork, salt and pepper, moisten with sweet cream and chill.

 The whey or liquid which has drained from the curds can be mixed with fruit juices for a healthy drink or is good used in bread or biscuit recipes.

Another Suggestion

Except for starting the fire, always keep the oven damper closed. This prevents the flames from going up the chimney and igniting any creosote left since last cleaned out.

“Scrapple” or “Ponhaws”

The following recipe for “Scrapple” or “Ponhaws” was most likely brought to the valley by Pennsylvania miners who came to the mining district seeking their fortunes by the lure of finding riches in silver and lead.

Separate one hog’s head into halves. Take out the eyes and brains. Scrape and thoroughly clean the head. Place into a large kettle and cover with 5 quarts of cold water. Add one large chopped onion. Simmer gently for 3 hours, or until the meat falls from the bones. Skim off grease carefully from the surface and place it in your grease pot. Remove meat and bones, chop meat fine and return to the liquor. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add one teaspoon of chopped sage. Sift in stone ground corn meal, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened to the consistency of soft mush. Cook slowly over low heat for about 1 hour watching carefully as it scorches easily. When sufficiently cooked, pour into greased oblong tins and store in a cool place until ready to use. Cut in thin slices, coat with flour and fry in hot bacon fat until crisp and brown. Normally served hot with eggs for a hearty breakfast.

Imma Cooke

Mimbres, New Mexico