Winter weather predictions warn: “le irruzioni fredde sull’Italia potranno risultare particolarmente intense” (to sum it up, intense cold due). More than ever, the woodstove will become heart and soul of many an Italian household.
Cold will be nipping, fuel costs are soaring – and fire has been rediscovered. We cook and bake on the woodstove and it heats our water as well as the house (circulating heat through the floors). We have propane gas but don’t use it.
And we’re not alone: the importation of legna da ardere (“wood for burning”) was up over 26% last winter with gas oil consumption plummeting nearly 50% over the last twenty years.
The new wood stove boom took off in 2006 – when gas oil and methane gas prices skyrocketed – with woodstoves fed by pellets (pressed sawdust – introduced here at the end of the 1990′s) or cippato (wood chips) becoming popular too.
Striking technological advances in Italian wood stove design has made Italy the European leader both in production of woodstoves and in acquisition.
Look up as you stroll a medieval hill town: on rooftops, you’ll spot many a wood stove pipe flanking the chimneys.
The kitchen – once the only room with any heat – was always the heart of any farmhouse. The only other rooms? The storeroom and bedrooms.
And the woodstove and fireplace were the soul of the kitchen. On the woodstove top, bruschetta toasted, chestnuts roasted, sauces simmered and the Umbrian flatbread, “la torta,” was spread out to brown. In the wood stove oven, juices sputtered as succulent roasting goose, chicken, duck, guinea fowl, or rabbit roasted.
Hanging off the spokes of a wire contraption encircling the woodstove pipe, rain-soaked jackets – or socks and underwear – could dry. And years ago, that improvised “clothes dryer” was strung with the cloth diapers of our first-born (a January baby, our Keegan).
On another spoke, a rudimentary candle-holder dangled: Pino had made it out of a tin can, cutting one side off, so that our woodstove was illuminated (more or less!).
Below the oven door, there was a warm space where wet boots or shoes dried – or newborn orphaned chicks or baby rabbits dozed in a box.
Winter visitors warmed hands and feet as all sat around the woodstove chatting, sipping wine, munching chestnuts and sharing tales of rural life during la veglia.
A pot of boiling water was always on the stovetop (and in a cauldron hanging in the fireplace): none of us had running hot water in our homes.
We do now. Times have changed. But our wood stove remains the heart of the house, the soul of the kitchen.