While visiting an Irish friend in the Kilkenny countryside a few years back, I admired her mother's charming wood cookstove. It was nearly the size of a twin bed, was always kept burning, and produced daily loaves of delicious brown bread and amazing apple pies. But, until I moved to New York from California, I had no idea that many people in this country still use wood stoves to heat their homes.
I recently bought an old farmhouse in the Adirondack mountains, and I now have my own wood stove. It is considerably smaller than my friend's mother's, and is designed primarily for keeping the house warm and cozy, not cooking. But, as I've recently discovered, it does have some culinary uses.
One of the best (and most unusual) housewarming presents I received was a pair of apple schnitzers, which are little cast-iron dishes for baking apples atop the wood stove (they can also be used in a regular oven if you don't have a wood stove). They are round, covered in speckled blue enamel and have a spike in the center, onto which you place a cored apple, with some cinnamon and sugar, or whatever else you like, sprinkled on top or in the cavity where the core was (the spike is small enough that there is still space). The apple cooks from the inside out.
I hadn't heard of a schnitzer until a few months ago, when, at my other job as an editor of a regional Adirondack magazine, I was helping to edit a cookbook compiled from recipes that have been in the publication in the past 40 years. This being the northern part of New York, a good portion of the recipes were apple-based, and one of them was for an apple schnitzer. According to the person who contributed the recipe many years ago, schnitzers are an old German invention. The origin of the word is a mystery I have yet to solve; my German-English dictionary defines Schnitzer as meaning "carver." Through an Internet search and my iffy college German I gleaned that schnitzers no longer appear to be in common use in Germany, at least by that name (I found a forum where a woman was looking for suggestions on how to bake an apple on her wood stove, and the replies including using aluminum foil, a Romertopf clay pot and something called an Apfelbratgerät, or, roughly, apple-baking device, which may in fact be a schnitzer but I couldn't find a picture). However, it does appear that the Amish still use them. Lehman's, an Ohio retailer that was established in 1955 to serve the local Amish community, sells schnitzers on its Web site.
I tried my schnitzer for the first time last night, using a Macintosh (I think a thinner-skinned variety might work better), some brown sugar and cinnamon. It smelled delicious while it cooked, and, about an hour later, I had a yummy baked apple.
I would love to see what else I can cook on my wood stove. Suggestions, anyone?