Cooking at Mudville has always proved somewhat of challenge. For nine months of the year, late autumn to early spring, meals are cooked on the solid fuel, very temperamental Rayburn and it can often take several hours to boil a pan of water for the vegetables, with a further half a day to bring the water back to the boil once the vegetables have been added. Well okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little but it isn’t unheard of for an entire meal to be delayed by an hour or more because the vegetables aren’t ready yet!
Unfortunately, the very nature of solid fuel cooking, especially in our Rayburn, is that you can’t rely on these marathon cooking times because the wind direction and strength, not to mention the outside air temperature and even the amount or type of rainfall, can dramatically influence the performance of the Rayburn. As a result I can find myself either trying to use a stove that would give the Corus Steelworks furnaces a run for their money in terms of heat output, radically reducing cooking times, sometimes to the detriment of the meal itself, or a stove that wouldn’t even prove a threat to an Igloo, such is its’ reluctance to get above ‘idle’ on the oven gauge.
I can still vividly remember our first Christmas Day in the cottage. We’d only been in residence for 14 days or so and still hadn’t mastered the old Rayburn (the current one was installed some three years ago now), in spite of a hastily downloaded copy of the Rayburn hand book which was the first and only time I have ever seen Mud actually read an instruction manual. Luckily for me, the cooking of the Christmas Dinner is a job Mud reserves exclusively for himself and so I was able to sit back and watch his battle with the stove which, now that I come to think about it, was similar in terms of chuntering, cursing and his use of expletives, to many of the tasks he has had to undertake on the Land Rovers over the last few years.
“I’m aiming to have dinner ready for around 2 o’clock,” Mud stated with confidence and so Eldest Mudlet, who was 11 at the time, and I settled down to a day of cheesy Christmas films, Christmas songs and simply enjoying our Christmas presents …… of course, at this point we were thinking Mud meant 2pm Christmas Day and not 2am Boxing Day.
As 2pm approached, it was pretty clear that dinner wasn’t going to be ready and as 3pm, 4pm, 5pm became dim and distant memories, Muds’ patience began to wear a little thin. The stove just wasn’t playing ball. Mud isn’t usually one for recipe books or instruction manuals but he must have thumbed through the downloaded copy of the Rayburn User Guide, a dozen times, trying to figure out where we were going wrong. By about 7pm it was looking like the Rayburn was going to be history come the 27th of December, destined to be replaced with a gas central heating system and cooker …… and the he spotted the mistake!
The one tiny thing that was in the wrong position, thereby rendering the stove useless.
In plain sight but invisible because we hadn’t realised its’ significance ……
…… the slider valve at the very front of the firebox door. It was over to the left hand side and it should have been at the right!
Having rectified the error, we finally sat down to dinner at 10pm, weary but triumphant.
Of course one of the main difficulties of having a solid fuel Rayburn for heating, hot water and cooking, is that as much as it warms the house during those dark, cold winter nights, the lack of an on/off button for the heating can quickly turn the cottage into a sauna, as the weather starts to warm up, especially at night. So for the 3 to 4 months of late spring through to early autumn, the Rayburn is off and we resort to an electric immersion heater for hot water, and the wood burner (originally an open fire) for warmth on any chilly and/or damp days or nights during this period.
Then there is the cooking. Surely I have an electric hob and oven for the summer? Back in those early years, we did invest in one of those little counter top electric oven things but it was horrible to use, throwing cooking smells into the house, something we don’t experience with the sealed oven of the Rayburn. It was also dreadfully inefficient and cost an arm and a leg to use. No, during the summer, the cooking is, for the most part, done on a large gas barbeque outside.
Summer! The good old fashioned British summer.
Many people have a romanticised view of ‘outdoor’ living, usually revolving round a fun barbeque party, hoping that the rain stays away but not worrying too much if it doesn’t because they have an oven indoors to turn to in the event of bad weather. I don’t have that luxury, and for the first 9 years or so of cooking on the barbeque, I could often be seen huddle in a coat, under an umbrella, stirring a curry or casserole, checking vegetables (at least they cooked quickly on the gas burner), flipping sausages etc. etc. as the heavens opened around me.
“I need to build a covered area for you to cook under,” Mud would say each summer, as I stood dripping wet and chilled to the bone in the kitchen and yet autumn would arrive and still my outside kitchen was exposed to the elements.
You will notice, at this juncture, that I have refrained from commenting on the speed with which a secure, covered workshop went up when a certain Series 2 Land Rover took up residence at Mudville. Nope! Not commenting at all! Just passing on by. Letting it go ……..
Then three years ago, Mud bought a gazebo in the sales. So what had finally prompted the purchase of this shelter? Could it be the health and well being of his wife? Or was it that the picture of his wife struggling for 9 years to put meals on the table amidst monsoons and gale force winds had become unbearable?
No! The primary reason for the purchase of the gazebo was to provide shelter for himself ….. as he sprayed the body panels of the aforementioned Series 2 Land Rover ….. you know, the one with the speedily built, earthquake proof shelter, that I haven’t commented on.
Once he had finished the body panels, Mud looked at the gazebo and said, “You know if we tied it down securely and moved the barbeque underneath it, it’ll keep the worst of the weather off whilst you’re cooking!”
Of course the only place to secure the tie ropes is over near the well and so I do still have to brave the weather for a couple of yards between the back door and the gazebo but, for the most part, the gazebo now keeps me fairly dry when I’m cooking. Unfortunately, it isn’t water proof (although Mud has promised to get some waterproofing stuff – eventually) and so in very heavy rain I do still get dripped on and large pockets of rain water form on all four sides of the roof panel where it goes over the frame which I then have to empty using my patented ‘rain water pocket emptying device’.
Mind you it rained so hard and for so long the other day, I thought I might have to use the Mudlets new ‘paddling pool’ to get back to the door. Yes we really do have a very large, 4 man inflatable dingy on our lawn ……. the product of a shopping trip Middle Mudlet and Mud took a few weeks ago!