“Under this is placed a closet for warming and keeping hot the dishes, vegetables, meats, etc., while preparing for dinner. It is also very useful in drying fruit”
THE AMERICAN WOMAN’S HOME – 1869 Catherine E. Beecher & Harriet Beecher Stowe
Many modern and antique wood burning cook stoves have a top compartment known as a warmer, bun warmer, plate warmer or warming closet. My cook stove is no exception.The purpose of the stove warmer is exactly what the above names imply. It’s a place to keep things warm.
A warmer will of course will keep rolls, biscuits and bread warm and in some ways it’s a glorified crisper.
I usually keep a set of serving bowls and plates in the warmer so that they’ll be warm when I need one for supper.
Warm bowls keep food hot longer and nothing is worse than cool mashed potatoes. It will also keep a plate loaded with food hot for a few hours just waiting and ready for whoever missed supper. To keep a warm supper waiting during a snow storm is an act of faith that a loved will eventually return home safely.
I often use the warmer for defrosting food, cooking rice and keeping a pot of tea warm.
But my favorite use for the stove warmer has nothing to do with food. It’s the place where I dry my hat and mittens during lambing season. Dry, toasty warm mittens make it easier for me to go back outside and face winter weather chores.
The temperature of the warmer depends upon the temperature of the stove-pipe and the top of the stove.
Most of the time my warmer stays a cozy 125 °- 140 ° F.
However, if I’m burning the stove very hot for long periods during the day, the warmer can get too hot for me to touch the inside comfortably.
Back before the days of electric or modern solar food dehydrators, the stove warmer was a good place during cool, rainy fall weather to dry apples, pumpkin rings and other garden produce for winter storage.
Using a warmer was a big improvement over previous methods which consisted of drying food in the sun, or in the case of apples and pumpkins, slicing them into ring shapes, and then stringing them upon strings across the kitchen or in an attic to dry. Humid or rainy weather could mean mold and spoilage and the stove warmer was a dependable way to dry foods especially when Mother Nature didn’t want to cooperate.
Apples were prepared by peeling them first, then slicing them about 1″ thick and then soaking them in a mildly acidic solution to prevent them from turning brown. Usually cider vinegar was employed, but lemon juice was used in some cases. The apples were then arranged upon a tin or plate and set upon the warmer. The apples were turned over every 3 or 4 hours and often the apples were left out to dry overnight.
Slices of pumpkin and other fruits were preserved in the same way. Dried beef, corn and green beans were also favorites to dehydrate in a stove warmer.