The Good Life by Ami Hillege

Winter is here! It is a season we look forward to as we light the Rayburn stove again. This stove is the heart of the home as it provides us with heat throughout the cold months. At first when we moved into this old farmhouse and I came face to face with a mountain of cream cast iron taking pride of place under the kitchen chimney, I experienced a feeling of dread. In fact, a local who has a similar wood-burning stove issued a challenge to me the first winter we arrived. She said ‘I’ll give you a year, then you’ll pull it out’.  Who can resist a challenge like that?! Not me.


With limited experience, we lit our first fire in the firebox and waited for the heat to build up in the oven. It took a few hours to reach a temperature where a chook could be cooked along with a batch of roast vegetables. It was a steep learning curve, especially as cooking on the top of the stove is very different to a conventional stovetop. It took a little while to get used to the ‘hot’ spots, and before long I was sliding pots and pans around the hot surface like a seasoned station cook!


But we had a problem. This stove was the equivalent of having a three month old baby living with us. Frans would get up two or three times during the night to feed the fire. If the fire was turned down and left for the night, inevitably we’d wake to a cold stove in the morning. In our quest to reduce our reliance on conventional energy, we were determined to work out how to warm our home without turning on a heater.


We discovered that some of the firebricks inside the firebox were cracked, which allowed the heat to escape, reducing the efficiency of the stove. There was only one option, and that was to let the stove cool down, empty it of all the ashes and then set about removing the existing firebricks from inside the hot box. These would then be replaced with a new set.  A project like this always seems easy on paper, but when it came to installing the new bricks, we discovered that we needed to be very good a 3D puzzles! The bricks slotted into their locations in very specific order just like a giant jigsaw. When we finally had all the new bricks in place, they had to be cemented into position with special heat cement.  Was the air a tad ‘blue’ by the end of the day? The simple answer is ‘yes’!


The reward once this little ‘makeover’ was complete was a good night’s sleep for the man who fed the fire. Who would have thought that a small gap in a firebox could create such a problem?


And so our cooking adventure on this stove began. Soon we were enjoying dried fruits and 12 hour slow roasts. The warming box at the very bottom of the stove is perfect for cooking anything long and slow. Heating a stack of plates on the edge of the cooking space is so practical. Winter soups bubble away.

We’ve had to make a few adjustments when preparing meals. I’ve learned that everything takes a little longer, which is fine if you’re organised and get your food prep out of the way by late afternoon.  The fire needs to be stoked and the oven tended from around three in the afternoon to start cooking dinner at six. Trips are made to the woodpile a couple of times a day to load up the wood bucket to keep the fire going.



If this sounds like a chore, it is. But it is a chore that allows us to slow right down and take pleasure in the process of preparing food we’ve had a hand in growing.


Who would have thought that a city girl could learn to love a stove that requires so much dedication!




Challenge accepted and completed.



Come on baby light my fire!


Beef bolognaise. Long and slow.


Drying apples in the warming box



It’s a mystery! Frans relining the heat box.



Winter slow cooking



Lemon butter cooked in a copper pot on the wood stove is a dream to make.




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