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Home for the Summer: The cookstove is more for heating the cabin

When our cabin was built in 1946, a cookstove was installed in it. It was was placed right around the corner from the kitchen door. It still stands there today. It's short and fairly squat and its big round pipe runs up and across to a chimney. As far as we know, that was all there then for the cooking of meals.

By the time we bought the cabin, a very small, scruffy toaster-oven had joined the kitchen crew. We added an elderly crockpot, an electric frying pan and a two-burner hot plate. Either of those burners will heat about 2 quarts of water to boiling in a mere 12 to 15 minutes. Oh, and we also inherited a waffle iron — it was beyond elderly and well into ancient. Gradually we acquired a toaster which could, on a good day, flip a piece of toast right off the counter and onto the floor, an electric coffeemaker and a miserable microwave. Just recently we upgraded our microwave situation with a "new" one bought at a garage sale for $5. It's great.

We'd heard stories of the wonderful bread and cookies that had come out of the small black cave that was the oven of the cookstove, so I had to try. I bought a little cookbook called Old-Fashioned Wood Stove Recipes. Wood stove and cookstove seem to be used interchangeably in this book and everywhere else, although spell check refuses to acknowledge either term. My baked goods were rejected by my family, and often also by the chipmunks outside the cabin. Maybe it was because instead of using hickory or oak or fruitwood for fuel I was using mystery-wood. At any rate we all decided that the reason we loved the cookstove was that it warmed up the cabin in a big hurry.

But this summer, a new way of cooking has been introduced to our cabin. Our daughter and granddaughter brought us a rice cooker. It's silver and black, and sleek and shiny and it seems impossible that its function is in any way related to the function of the cookstove. It has a manual with the usual pages and pages of warnings and safeguards, none of which came with the cookstove, and directions in five languages. And it does for us what the cookstove never could — cooks food until it's perfectly done and then keeps it at the perfect temperature until it is served.

Rice cooker, I wondered. We eat rice, but not a whole lot of it, although that might change with our new appliance. It also steams vegetables, chicken, fish and meat dumplings. And when the cooking time is up, the rice cooker plays a little tune to tell you so.

As I glanced through the recipes included in the instruction booklet I came across possibly the best part of all. You can bake a cake in a rice cooker. Amazing. Now maybe I can make a dessert that either my family and or the chipmunks will enjoy.

Jan Kent spends her summers in a log cabin on Lake Superior and her winters in a suburb northwest of Chicago. Her column, Home for the Summer, first appeared in the News-Chronicle in 1993.