Even though electricity and electric heaters have been around for a while, a lot of houses still use wood energy to keep their houses warm. Modern fireplaces are now used in lounge and dinning rooms whereas the humble wood-fire oven was traditionally placed in the kitchen. However, now old wood-fire ovens can also be a feature in a living room. Farmor’s wood-fire oven was bought in 1960 and placed in the kitchen as it was the main means of cooking food. Farmor has a modern oven now but the wood-fire oven is still used to heat the house, to boil water and heat food. During Winter there is not a time when the fire goes out.
Wood-fire ovens are big and heavy. They are made from cast iron and need oiling to keep them smyck. Farmor’s wood-fire oven has rings on the top similar to oven hotplates. These rings are designed to be removed when you want to cook on the oven top with flame. Depending on how big your pot is depends on how many rings you remove. But as you can see in the picture above, you don’t need to remove any rings to make the oven work for you.
Our house has two wood-fire ovens so I’ve had to get used to starting fires every day. One is an elaborate three tier beast and the upstairs one is a small box. They are decorated with country images of flowers, wreaths and stars, and the upstairs one depicts the story of the Billy Goat Gruff (a Norwegian folktale). The three tier oven allows the air in the room to warm up quicker as it has more surface area for the air to move around. We prefer the heat of the ovens than heaters, plus it saves us money from electricity (an outrageous expense in Norway).
There are no special tricks or habits in Norway when it comes to lighting fires. It is the same as everywhere else. We first use paper – un-printed newspaper. Each community newspaper is desperate for people to pick up their rolls of off-cuts so they don’t have to dispose of them themselves. These rolls serve very well as fire starters (and art paper). In Australia we call this ‘butcher’s paper’ but it is also used as florist paper.
Next we put in kibble – little bits of wood but also cardboard like tissue boxes, cereal boxes and egg cartons. Then on top goes the wood. The fire is lit with a match and the door closed. The air vent is how we control the speed of burn which also controls the temperature. If the vent is closed it burns more slowly as the fire has less oxygen. You don’t ever keep the door open to watch the fire in case burning wood falls out or ash floats out and burns your floor.
The sound and the heat from a wood-fire oven is lovely, however, the air becomes a lot dryer. To combat this I learnt a trick from Farmor. She keeps a copper kettle of water on the oven. When the fire is on the kettle warms and the water evaporates into the air keeping the air moist and prevents your skin from drying out. Getting wood from the garage has become a daily (sometimes twice-daily) chore but it is certainly very Christmasy to have fire-heat during cold and frosty Winter mornings.