The wood stove was a fixture of my childhood. "Hot" was my first word, accompanied by an emphatic "hands-off" motion. Until modesty eventually overcame us, my brother and I would get dressed near the stove on frigid winter mornings – its heat helped to make those painfully early, cold mornings more bearable.
I remember daring each other to touch the hot black cast iron for just a second before pulling our fingertips away and the joy of watching water spit and dance any time a drop of ice or snow landed on it. There was also a brief, thrilling chapter of spitting on the stove's top to enjoy this effect before my mother made us stop.
When we got a little older, the care and feeding of the wood stove was added to our chores – stacking wood in the fall, carrying endless loads of wood inside to feed our stoves and fireplace, scooping the ashes out, dumping the bucket of ashes on the compost pile, and sweeping the ever-present mixture of bark, sawdust, dirt, and ash from the hearth tiles.
But I never realized you could cook in the wood stove until I watched a friend's mom wrap some sweet potatoes in tin foil and toss them into the coals when I was over for dinner. Why hadn't we ever thought of that?!
It's been at least 20 years since that aha moment but the idea came back to me the other night when we were casting about for something easy to make for dinner. I sliced up two eggplants, rubbed each slice with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, then layered on some homemade garlic scape pesto that we'd frozen and smeared on some tomato paste.
Then I wrapped them each in several layers of tinfoil (unless it's ripped or covered with something really yucky like fish skin, we wash this and reuse it).
We popped open the stove door, raked the coals into a nice cozy bed and placed the little eggplant zeppelins on them. We got out the big tongs we use for the barbecue and flipped the eggplants a few times to ensure even cooking. After about 20 minutes, they were done. We took them out of the stove, all covered in ashes, and opened the steaming packages up.
The eggplant was perfect – tender and flavorful. I topped the slices with crumbled feta cheese and drizzled them with a little olive oil. They tasted divine and the clean up was minimal, too. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, give this a whirl.