The first snowdrops promising spring after the winter, the first swallow that may, or may not, make a summer, and the turning leaves of autumn – every season has its herald. For us we know winter is around the corner when we start to use the wood-burner in the kitchen again. We have, obviously, used the fires in the house in the evenings but this has been as a luxury, as a comfort, to give a focal point to the room in the evening. It is different to start the kitchen range in the morning. This is serious and utilitarian.
We don’t use the range routinely through the year. It produces a great deal of heat and in the summer it is oppressive. When we tried it was only possible to stay at the cooker if one was wearing swimwear. This is aesthetically unpleasing and, when frying bacon, seriously dangerous. So, through the summer, we have an electric induction hob and we content ourselves that we are a net producer of electricity. We are not self-sufficient in electricity as our solar system only works by being attached to the national grid but across the year we export more electricity than we consume.
Our problem with solar power is that we make lots of electricity wghen we don’t need it. When it is warm and sunny the kilowatts pour in but we can read, keep warm, and dry clothes without recourse to flipping a switch. We need the electricity when the sun has gone. We are looking at battery and hydro options but the initial outlay is very costly so we are still doing our sums about these. At this time of the year we switch to our second fuel source which is wood.
They say “wood warms you three times“; when you cut it, when you split it and when you burn it. I think this is an underestimate as it forgets the time when you have to heave the wood and move it about the place, bringing it to where it will be burnt. Also, it is at this time of year that you get that warm glow of smugness: the self-satisfied feeling that follows recognizing that, a year ago, you sweated and swore while splitting and stacking wood that is now dry and ready to be burnt. There is something quite special when you see that wisp of smoke above the house; you know the house is going to be warm, there will be food and warm water for a bath.
We normally try to have a full day of meals with our own produce when we start up the range. We have eggs first thing, soup for lunch (with our own produce) and then, today, roast lamb, roast beetroot, and green vegetables. Milk, yoghurt and cheese from our goats compliment the meals. Although we have to buy in the spices and any flours it is reassuring to have a civilized day without making any calls to outside providers. This is a good way to say goodbye to autumn and hello to winter, secure in the knowledge that the larder and freezers are full and the woodstores have been moved near the house in readiness. I think we are ready to see the snow.