I've been wanting to blog about this subject for ages. I just love gear. I love stoves. I love to prepare food and share it with others. I like knowing how to make things happen....
Growing up in Eliot, Maine my family's home was a work in process. My father worked in the construction field first as a laborer and eventually becoming a well known Brick and Stone Mason. Our house was often 'under construction' with one or another addition or project. Though we had a fairly normal electric stove in our kitchen during my teenaged years. We always had one or another version of a wood stove around the house as well. Our basement often held the wood stove that helped to heat my childhood home. Of course with a Brick Mason in the family we also had fireplaces. I also recall the old gas stove my grandmother had in the first of her York, Maine houses that I knew. Grammie Welts also had one of those kewl hoosier cabnets with the flour sifter.
I learned to cook by watching others - My Aunt Delta in her rural Ashland, Maine farm kitchen, my Grammie Welts, my Mother making roasted ears of unshucked corn on the outdoor wood cookstove, the ladies preparing the Church Suppahs. I also learned by reading tons of library books - I loved the library, almost as much as I loved riding my bicycle to the library!
I learned to like camping, perhaps after moved away from home. My ex-Mother-In-Law taught me to make real country biscuits in a cast iron pan and to make iced tea that was so sweet and strong you'd think it had legs and could stand up on its own!
I fell in love with hiking stoves, including homemade ones while I was preparing and hiking on the Appalachian Trail in early 2011. At that time and under those circumstances, I decided to hike with a light-weight Esbit tablet stove and a GSI Haulite Tea Kettle. This worked especially well as I was eating mostly dehydrated foods and bean soup mixes. The fuel tablets were smelly, but I was only using them outside and the kettle heated a full liter very quickly on only 1 fuel tablet. Many other hikers were amazed at my little low-tech set up. I had a little trouble finding fuel tablets along the way. Many outfitters and store owners actually chuckled when I asked for them. When I found them I bought plenty. I believe it was in North Carolina that I stopped in to resupply and send some mail and the store owner was interested in my journey. Probably because I had just gotten a ride with a rude old redneck rebel flag waving country guy who asked me to pay him for the ride with sex --- and NO I didn't and YES I told everyone I met in that little redneck town! This store owner asked about my other travels and we shared a cup of coffee over my stories of Nicaragua and Panama. I was carrying a very tiny basket that held my keepsakes and sewing supplies and he fell in love with it and bought it for his wife. He then traded me my well loved Esbit for a different and smaller Esbit ultralight stove, that I had never seen. Now I was even more light wieght, which just makes hiking more fun!
I still love this set up and would hike with it again in a heart beat - and its good to have an alternative fuel source for when you just can't buy fuels...and or when it's illegal to start a fire or to gather firewood, no matter how small - which I was surprised to find happens in the Western part of the USA.
In Costa Rica, I lived outdoors and very rustically. I also lived in an Indigenous community. Many families cooked over open wood fires and when in Rome do as the Romans --- yup I did. I couldn't find a picture today. We had fogon's which were tables filled with sand with a couple or 3 cement blocks set on top. You built a fire in the middle of the cement blocks and used short pieces of rebar for a grill rack to hold your pot. By the time I was showing my son around the country, I had become quite good at cooking outside and nearly forgot how to use an indoor stove. In one home we 'played' with making alcohol stoves and setting them up side by side to mimic a 2 burner cooktop - to me it was fun!
When I arrived in Quartzsite, Arizona last winter, I was all prepared to cook over wood campfires only to be surprised that it was illegal to pick up firewood - and to buy it was expensive. I used a sterno stove for a while, just to warm up canned soup or a cup of hot chocolate - tho it never quite got hot. Sterno stoves work. They are very low-tech and simple. They are fairly safe although they are fire and one does need to be careful. For an experienced cook, they may be annoying to deal with. You aren't likely to prepare a gourmet meal with one. I would recommend a Coghlahan's stove and Campheat as a more practical low-tech as well as inexpensive stove option. You can also buy Campheat style fuel, sold under another name, at the Dollar Tree chain stores. When I could afford to upgrade my choice was to try a Butane stove. It worked well. It is made to burn very hot in order to heat up an Asian Wok, this is also the reason that the pot stand on Butane stoves has a very wide center space which many average or small pots will not fit into. Butane works well, consistantly. It is becoming easier to find fuel in many towns although it can be cost prohibitive. Recently a family member fell in love with my Butane stove which allowed me to purchase my coveted (hmmm really?) and many years longed after new Esbit Multi Fuel stove! Yeah, I love it! While in Quartzsite, I also toyed around with more hobo stove designs. Some simply #10 Coffee Cans with air holes and a few tent stakes and gifted them to others more needy. As well, I made a contained fire pit alternative that gave those of us with asthma issues a little ambiance in the evenings. It seems I peaked the interest of some fellow Winter RTR goers who have shared some of their new stove projects -- here are a few pictures of Hi-Top Mike's new stoves... Mike told me that he was working with the idea of a cross between a sterno stove and an alcohol stove. He was trying to come up with a cost effective homemade stove that would use an available fuel. Alcohol is very affordable and available - denatured alcohol is common paint thinner, rubbing alcohol is in nearly all supermarkets all over the world. The only major issue with using alcohol is that it is a liquid and prone to spills -- not good in a vehicle dwellers life! So he was experimenting with a wick that would allow for a good burn and heat production as well as less spillage (is that a word? lol).
Anyway - I am very proud of his handywork and can't wait to see what other genius surprises he will share when we meet up again.
Simply enjoy exploring the fun of making your own stoves and learning to use them. There are many guides online - Instructables, You-Tube...search Google!
PS for Ms Roadtrek Dianne -- To make a lung-healthier alcohol fire pit alternative. Get a medium sized metal can, from coffee or a large can of tomatoes. Cut one end off and empty out the contents. Wash and dry the inside carefully so as not to nick your hand on the cut edge of the can. Now simply take one inexpensive roll of toilet tissue (yes TP). Slip the roll of toilet tissue inside the can. You may want to smoosh the roll or stuff the center with more tissue or add some around the sides. You want the can to be full of toilet tissue although not crammed tightly. I use inexpensive rubbing alcohol that comes in a large bottle from the pharmacy at WalMart. It costs around 2.79 and it is about 90%. You may use less expensive 50% or 70% rubbing alcohol and they will work just as well. Take the bottle and pour the alcohol into the can. The alcohol will bubble as it fills in the air holes in the toilet tissue and it will take some time for the tissue to soak up the alcohol. Remember tho that alcohol evaporates in the air so don't leave it uncovered for long. When you can see a small pooling of alcohol on the top of the center of your toilet tissue that is enough. Use a long handled lighter like you'd use to light a grill and light it in a safe outdoor space. The flames will blow with a breeze and may reach a couple feet high so take care as with any fire. You could place this can inside a firesafe decorative pot if you like.... enjoy your evening fire!