Left in Andover: The wonders of the cookstove and the very hungry granddaughter

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On a sizzling hot day last week, I was still able to enjoy a fire in the wood cookstove first thing in the morning. My husband staged the fire box for me the night before.

His homemade bomb of birch bark, twigs and paper towel impregnated with used cooking oil ignites at the touch of my match. Within minutes the firebox is a mini inferno.

I shiver, the air chilly from windows left open overnight. At 6 a.m. on my Andover mountain, there is no hint of the intense heat that will build up by mid-day. I cozy up to my Waterford Stanley cookstove for a few luxurious seconds before springing into action.

Determined to be done with the day’s cooking before my 1-year-old granddaughter arrives for a day of babysitting, I have little time to lose.

Susan’s cookstove filled with apple sauce, cabbage pancakes, brown rice and a tea kettle.

This baby, I have discovered, is crazy for my gluten- and dairy-free cabbage pancakes. She has already consumed a prize-winning quantity of cabbage for her age group.

I agree it sounds weird, but here’s the recipe. I invented it one day after grating a pile of green cabbage but never finished making it into coleslaw.

Basically, just substitute cabbage for the potato in a potato pancake, or latke. I promise, after it is cooked, there will be no cabbage taste. In fact, I challenge the uninitiated to guess what the ingredient is.

The proportions are quite flexible, depending on whether you want a floury pancake or more of a fritter. Grate a nice pile of green cabbage. Add two eggs, pepper, Bragg Liquid Aminos, nutritional yeast, which in this case behaves like flour, plus baking powder and enough tapioca or cassava flour to thicken. Bragg Liquid Aminos is a tasty soy sauce alternative available in most grocery stores.

Fry the pancake/fritters in a cast iron skillet with a liberal quantity of olive oil. My favorite pan is a massive 14-inches wide. It heats up evenly on the top of my wood cookstove.

This noble frying pan belonged to my husband’s great grandmother Agnes Horak. He spent summers growing up on her multi-generational farm in the Catskills, where the pan was in daily use on the wood cookstove. It is still in perfect condition.

When my husband, a carnivore, inherited the pan in the late 1980s, the question was, would it be a dedicated meat pan or a vegetarian pan at our house. Since it is so large and takes up so much space in our kitchen, I won this particular battle.

Even a full tummy is never full when grandmother’s pancakes are around.

The pan, which cradled endless bacon, liver and all things meat, has now seen only eggs, stir fries, ratatouille and the like for the last two generations.

My menu includes fresh applesauce, made from last season’s Empires gone soft. Three big ones bubble away in a saucepan in the hottest spot, in the front, directly above the firebox. The pancakes jockey back and forth for position in a never ending mad juggler dance.

Though I start them on high, I need to move them farther from the heat to ensure the cabbage is cooked before the pancakes burn. If the outsides are crisp but the insides need more time, I pop them in the oven to catch up.

Brown rice completes the bill of fare. My best tip for making it is to first dry-toast the kernels in a cast iron pan, stirring regularly or they will burn. Then add twice the quantity of water (plus some extra) and cover with a lid. The rice will fluff up and assume a wonderful toasty nutty taste.

Adding water to the roasted kernels results in a dramatic burst of steam. After the volcano settles down, move the rice to the far right of the cooktop, farthest from the fire, to simmer until the water evaporates.

All the while, I periodically feed the fire with dry split kindling from the wood box. It keeps appearing there magically without my lifting a finger.

The clock is reading 8 a.m. by now and it is getting warm – inside and out. Time to close the windows for the day.

My tiny visitor arrives. Her mother swears she already ate breakfast. I present my offerings by 10 a.m. anyway. Per usual, this little eater can’t get enough of my cabbage pancakes.

Too late, I remember the organic sweet potato I popped in the oven hours ago and forgot about. It is burnt to a crisp.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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