Farm life starts early, and we are not early risers. We have been trying to arrive at the farm each morning by 9am, but if we make it by 10 am we are doing well. Once there, we catch up with whatever work has commenced- in my case, I am usually hanging around the kitchen. Olan is still breastfeeding, so that limits my availability for big tasks away from him. It was inevitable that I would have to cook at some point, which, despite my desire to be challenged in life, was really something I dreaded. I am not good at just throwing stuff together, first of all. I like precise recipes and precise directions. Secondly, food processors, blenders, electric mixers and induction stoves are some of my best friends, but sadly, none of them are available in the kitchen on the farm.
What to do? How hard could this be, right? Someone suggested beans and rice- simple, filling, comforting. The beans could be cooked in the pressure cooker, and rice in a pot. Great! Why didn’t I think of that? I was halfway there, having figured out what to make. Now to actually get these things cooked. Both items would have to go on the rocket stove, as there was not enough sun to use one of the solar cookers (just as well- I had no idea how to make that work). And the rocket stove only required me to build a fire. With a few words of advice about managing the smoke on the rocket stove (too much wood will create excessive smoke), I set out to start the fire. I found some small pieces of wood- thin scraps that were laying on the ground. They went into the stove from the top. I knew that the fire would need more than just pieces of kindling, so I shoved some larger pieces of wood from the bottom. Then I remembered that paper would help get things lit, so I dropped some paper in from the top of the stove, trying to make sure that it was touching some of the wood. So far so good.
Well, lighting a fire should be as simple as getting the match lit and bringing the flame to anything flammable. I had lots of experience playing with lighters and pointe shoe ribbons (ballet dancers frequently singe the ends of their pointe shoe ribbons to prevent fraying). As luck would have it, it was a very damp day. The high humidity made everything damp. I found a box of matches that felt soggy in my hand; the tinder on the side of the box appeared to have no traction and was soft from the humidity. Undaunted, I pulled a match out and tried to light it. Nothing. I struck again- nothing except for a little bit of crumbling on the head of the match. A third strike and the flammable red head crumbled off entirely. My second match was the same story. My third match, however, actually lit. A flame! Hooray! Wait- little flame come back- don’t go out- nooooo! The match burnt out before I had the chance to touch it to the paper. I pulled a fourth match out and then remembered I had seen Misha trying to strike two matches at once. This seemed to make sense- a little more fuel to prevent the match from burning out so quickly. But these next matches performed as well as the first ones- the heads crumbled off as they were scraped across the strike.
After about ten more matches, I realized I could use the fire already going in the firs stove to light a match for the second stove. (Did I mention that there was a fire going in the other stove, already? I guess I was too worried about what to make to notice!) Finally- I knew I could get this done! I took a match, held it up to the flame and watched it light. Moving the match to the other stove, however, the flame went out. I tried again with the same results. Maybe if I covered the match somehow? No- the little flame burnt out each time. I started trying to use pieces of kindling- same result. The kindling would light, then as I pulled it out of the first stove, the flame would shrink, the wood would smoke and eventually the little flame was no more than a couple of sparks.I tried holding the kindling at an angle as I transferred the flame, and that helped a little, because after I don’t know how many tries, I did finally manage to ignite something in the second stove…only to have it go out. At this point, I didn’t care if I burned my fingers, I didn’t care how much smoke I might breathe from the smoldering fuel- I just had to get the fire lit!
I stuffed more paper and wood into the stuff and tried lighting the fire again. I crossed my fingers as I transferred yet another flame to the second stove…and it worked! Hooray! I watched the happy little flame begin to catch on…small fibers curled and glowed a ferociously bright orange before vanishing into the flame. The flame grew and began to reach out of the opening (the burner) at the top of the stove. I placed the pressure cooker on top of the stove and after a while it did start to hiss. Whenever the fuel was low, the hissing would decrease and I would add another piece of wood. Watching the flames consume the new log was mesmerizing; sometimes it seemed as if the flames came from nowhere. At one point the fire was reduced to hot glowing embers. Panicked that I might have to rebuild the fire, I discovered that those hot embers easily reignited by adding some wood and pushing the embers around (stoking the fire). By the time the beans had hissed for forty-five minutes, I began to feel I was getting the hang of this!
So- for those of you who wish to attempt the rocket stove, here are a few pointers:
- Make sure your kindling and matches are dry- and try to work on a dry day (ok- that is not always possible, but at least you can hope for dry kindling.)
- Put your paper on the bottom of the pile, an surround that with the slightly larger kindling.
- Don’t pack the wood into the stove too tightly- that causes a lot of smoke.
- Light the paper from the bottom- the flame will travel up from the bottom.
- Cross your fingers. I am certain this is why it finally worked!