Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

The simple pleasure of getting a home fire burning

A stove gives great warmth
A stove gives great warmth
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

It was when Robin opened the fridge and said "aah, that's a grand blast of heat" that I finally accepted we had to do something about the ambient temperature in the kitchen.

The room was built as an extension when we were getting married 13 years ago, ("seems like longer," he pipes up from the other side of the table) and it has always been cold.

It has three windows, one to the east, one to the west and a large one facing north. Plenty of sunshine comes in through the westerly window in the summer but the easterly one only gets a few rays early in the morning as it is blocked off by the rest of the house. As for the north one, well, it has a great view.

There is a radiator in the room, also a small electric fan-heater, which make a difference when they are on but, once switched off, the arctic atmosphere quickly returns. On a winter morning, it would often be no more than 12C. When I am working on this column I would usually wear a jacket and hat. When offering someone butter, you could be talking about sugar, "would you like one lump or two?"

But those days are no more. Last week, we installed a wood stove.

This is something we had often talked about, especially since we, like many people, had replaced the open fire in the sitting room with a stove. It is a Stanley Oscar and it has made a massive difference, in that it generates far more heat, from far less fuel. Apparently, they are about three times more efficient.

But we had always felt that this was not an option in the kitchen. We knew the absence of a chimney could be overcome with a flue. But we thought there just wasn't enough space in a room that is 18X12 ft. and has a bookcase, an island, a table along with all the other usual kitchen stuff.

I was bemoaning the lack of space to a friend over the Christmas and she pointed out that an awful lot has been happening in the world of stoves and they are now going into very small living spaces. It was a mini-eureka moment for me. Sure, you even get stoves on barges, I realised.

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So off I went and did some research. This is something I really enjoy doing; going around to different places, looking at unfamiliar stuff and asking questions. At the end of the process, I make what I like to think is an informed decision.

The first issue was location. There was very little free wall space so the one unused corner was the obvious choice. But when I started looking at stoves, I found that whilst there is a massive array in terms of size and colour, few are designed for a corner.

There is also the issue of fuel type. In our other stove, we burn a bit of turf and coal, as well as wood and the likes of old/broken fence posts from around the farm. But, as coal uses air from below to burn while wood draws air from overhead, I felt a dedicated wood-burner is probably a better choice from an environmental point of view.

We ended up getting a Jotul. It is made in Norway. I would have liked to buy an Irish stove but I couldn't come across something that fitted as well in our available space.


When I first saw the word Jotul, I mentally pronounced it something like "jo-tool". But when I got to see it, in Fenton's Fires in Greystones, the staff pronounced it with the emphasis on the first syllable so it sounded like "YO-til", rather like "yodel"; as in the form of singing, originally used by farmers in the Alps to call their stock.

It conjures up images of men in lederhosen and Julie Andrews singing The Hills Are Alive. Just saying the word yodel out loud lifts the heart a little and it's no surprise that the stove has been given this as a name.

Viewed from overhead, the Jotul is what is described as teardrop shaped and, standing higher than traditional stoves on what is a bit like a three-legged stool, it fits snugly into the corner and its big glass face looks diagonally out into the room.

I know the novelty of this will wear off but the first few mornings I have been up before the crack of dawn to light it. As soon as the fire takes off, I sit back on my heels and just stare. I am drawn to it, magnetised, mesmerised.

Long before TVs took hold, people were captivated by flickering flames and, even with all the visually stimulating stuff in our world today, fire still has the power to enchant.

Why do we stare at fire? Is it the heat or the unpredictability? Is it just a light show with endless combinations? Or something deeper, more primeval?

As far back as one million years ago, we know or at least strongly suspect that our ancestors sat around fires under the starry skies for warmth, protection, cooking food and, as language developed, telling and listening to stories, being entertained. So could it a link through our DNA back to the earliest days of human history?

It's nice to walk into the room and not to have your breath stopped by the cold. As I sit here now, at 10am, the stove is purring away and the kitchen is a comfortable 19C.

It's almost company. Actually, along with the dog, it's very easy company. They both give off a nice warm glow and all they ever look for is the occasional stroke/stoke.

One of the most practical benefits is being able to spread the butter without putting it in the microwave and the girls say ditto with honey and Nutella.

Of course, all these toppings plus others including sugar, lemon juice, jam, maple syrup and savouries such as ham and cheese will be called into action later today, for Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day as its now widely known. It's one of the few occasions when there's no shortage of helpers in the kitchen.

My favourite recipe is Darina Allen's buttermilk pancakes (from her Irish Traditional Cooking cookbook). None of your fancy thin crêpes here, these are thick and chewy, moreish. It's a day for healthy eating to take a break.

I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and doing the flipping.

Aah, simple pleasures.

Indo Farming